Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Urban Wildlife

Fort Amherst is one of my favourite places in St. John's. I try to go over there at least once a week while the weather is nice. It's a decrepit crumbling mess, but I love it. Every now and then something amazing happens while I'm there. Last summer I saw a seal playing in the water. And last fall I saw a weasel there - it came right next to me, literally centimetres from my feet, and glared up at me.

I'm not sure why I decided to go to Signal Hill tonight instead of Fort Amherst as I had planned. I wanted to test my bear bangers and when I left the house I just went east instead of west. But I had a nice walk out along the cliffs and found a quiet spot to make a racket. I shot off one banger. It did what it was supposed to do - it shot straight up in the air and made a big noise. It was a calm night so the echo of the shot rumbled along the cliffs like thunder. The banger actually put off quite the show, so I thought better of setting off a flare so close to the city, and I packed up my gear and turned to walk home. Then, out of nowhere, a fox lunged out of the bushes and ran towards me!

Coming at me through the darkness it scared the daylights out of me first, but when I yelled it stopped in its tracks. It was just curious, and so was I. We played a sort of game of hide and seek for the next 20 minutes, and it came within 3 metres several times. It followed me most of the way back towards my bike, and probably would've kept following me if I hadn't deliberately scared it away before I got back to The Battery.

This is an interesting situation. Not only did the banger fail to scare away this (harmless) predator, but I think the noise actually attracted it. How's it going to work on a polar bear?

Brick Shipping Problem Solved?

Maybe I can use this technique to build my kiln:


A few things of note this week:

I went and had another visit with Renee and Duncan Finlayson, my sailor friends. I borrowed their food dehydrator and have my first load of apples, onions and garlic drying right now. I guess the apples will end up tasting like garlic, but this is just a test batch to see how the whole system works.

Also, I picked up my bear bangers and flares from The Outfitters today. Later this evening I'm going to run over to Fort Amherst to shoot a few off. I need to know how to use these things before I need to use them. Funny story - the guy who sold them to me said "You should buy as many of these as you can afford, because you're going to be bored out of your fucking mind out there alone for three months."

There are a few things that I've been avoiding getting into that I'm going to have to deal with this week. My transportation to and from Conche, and shipping my bricks and other gear to the islands. These necessary logistics are not the fun part.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Here are some fun blogs (art and otherwise) I try to keep on top of:

General St. John's going's on's:

Extreme Craft:

Not really a blog, but an online journal thingy:

News from the world of ceramics:

What the fuck is Dude Craft?

Bicycle art project:

Fellow adventurers:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


This is where it all happens:

My studio/office/bikeshop.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I think I've solved one of my most worrying problems. I've basically had three options in mind for communication while I'm on the islands, none of which was satisfying to me. I've heard there is sporadic cell phone reception from the higher elevations on the island, but it is unreliable and won't necessarily work in case of emergency. Do I really want to have to climb to the highest peak on the island if I've tripped and broken my ankle?

A satellite phone would work well, probably from anywhere on the island, but it is very expensive. $300 per month to rent a unit, plus $4 a minute for air time. I could easily end up spending fifteen hundred dollars if I go this route. That would severely restrict the other gear I want to bring with me.

I've also heard that a two way radio can communicate with nearby communities, but radios are a very complicated affair. There are portables and there are ground units. There are frequencies and wattages. There are battery cases, lithium ion cells, and AC power sources. An inexpensive unit costs over $300, and even at that price no one who'll sell me one will even speculate on what type of range I'll get out of it.

I was feeling a little desperate until I discovered Spot. It is a very simple GPS satellite linked one-way communication device. It has three buttons, "OK", "Help", and "Emergency". It can send these messages to any preselected phone number or to a website, and is made specifically for people like me who are working/playing alone and out of regular communication range. So I can set up a schedule with someone in civilization who can receive these messages and react accordingly. As a bonus, Spot also records your coordinates every fifteen minutes, so when you get home you can see everywhere you've traveled in Google Maps. Pretty nifty.

So I think that between my cell phone and Spot I will have met all my communication needs. Now I just need a volunteer who be willing to receive my distress call should I ever have to make one. Any takers?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


It is freezing out in St. John's tonight. -8C, to be exact, which is a far cry from the +15C we experienced a few days last week. I can't take much more winter, I think. I had to bundle myself so heavily today I could barely move. The North Atlantic Ocean is a very, very cold place right now. Look at this ice map from Environment Canada:

Reading List

Several people have asked what I'll be reading while I'm on the islands. I'm not really a big reader, but there're a few things that I find indispensable. This is what I'll be bringing with me:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - probably all five books, but definitely Life, The Universe, and Everything, because this is the one where Arthur Dent is stranded by himself on prehistoric Earth for five years. Very appropriate.

Cellini's Life - John Bear gave me this a few years ago and I've taken it with me on many camping trips.

Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics - My copy of this book bicycled across North America with me in 2007. It is worn, stained, wrinkled, and torn. It is like an art piece in itself. Eventually, after it's been through a few more adventures, I think I will send it to Bourriaud.

Christian Bok's Eunoia.

Native Cookery and Edible Wild Plants of Newfoundland and Labrador - Hoping to use some of the local resources to sustain myself. This was published by the government of Newfoundland in the 70's.

Edible Fruits and Herbs of Newfoundland - Published by Memorial University in 1975.

and, of course, The Grey Islands by John Steffler.


First polar bear report on the island of Newfoundland this season:

Sunday, April 12, 2009


My friend Lee just pointed out that The Grey Islands has an uncanny resemblance to a Douglas Adams story. It becomes a little more canny when I reveal that I was inspired to do this project partly by the story of Wonko the Sane in So Long and Thanks For All The Fish.

Wonko, you see, had given up on the world and decided to build an insane asylum in which to keep it. The final straw, the thing that drove Wonko to construct the asylum, was a set of instructions printed on the side of a package of toothpicks: "Hold stick near centre of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. Insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion."

"It seemed to me," said Wonko the Sane, "that any civilization that had so far lost it's head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a package of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane."

So Wonko the Sane simply turned his California beach house into an asylum.

"It was like this:
"It was inside out.
"Actually inside out, to the extent that (Arthur and Fenchurch) had to park on the carpet.
"All along what one would normally call the outer wall, which was decorated in a tasteful interior-designed pink, were bookshelves, a couple of those odd three-legged tables with semi-circular tops which stand in such a way as to suggest that someone just dropped the wall straight through them, and pictures which were clearly designed to soothe.
"Where it got really odd was the roof.
"It folded back on itself like something M.C. Escher, had he been given to hard nights on the town, which it is no part of this narrative's purpose to suggest was the case, though it is sometimes hard, looking at his pictures, particularly the one with all the awkward steps, not to wonder, might have dreamed up after have been on one, for the little chandeliers which should have been hanging inside were outside pointing up.
"The sign above the front door read 'Come Outside,' and so, nervously, they had.
"Inside, of course, was where the Outside was. Rough brickwork, nicely done pointing, gutters in good repair, a garden path, a couple of small trees, some rooms leading off.
"And the inner walls stretched down, folded curiously, and opened at the end, as if, by an optical illusion which would have had M.C. Escher frowning and wondering how it was done, to enclose the Pacific Ocean itself."

Wonko never left the outside where he could sit next to the ocean all day long, while the rest of the world went busily about its affairs safely contained within his thoughtfully constructed asylum.

At this point I feel the need to point out that I read the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy obsessively. It's not that I once read through the five books of the inaccurately named trilogy a few times. Since my cousin Sinead gave me the box set during my visit to Ireland six years ago I've probably read each book twenty times. The only reason I haven't been reading them obsessively in the past two years is that when I left Regina I put the books in storage. Last week I picked up a copy of So Long and Thanks For All The Fish from Afterwords, and I've read it twice already, much to the detriment of my plan to reread Nicholas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics. Over the past two years my obsessiveness has been otherwise directed - if you have any idea how much I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer these days, then you know how much I used to read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

You see, I believe that Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy explains a whole lot about everything, particularly, and this may be on account of my interest in art practice and theory, postmodernism. For example, the antagonist, Arthur Dent, is thrust into an existential quandary when Earth and everything on it except him and the pyjamas he is wearing is destroyed by the Vogon construction fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Following years of aimless wandering through the galaxy Arthur somehow finds Earth - brought back from oblivion by superintelligent dolphins - only to leave it again, this time willfully, to follow a woman. Doesn't he learn anything?

And the story of Wonko underlines the principle that there is no privileged frame of reference from which one part of the universe can objectively observe another part of the universe. What is insane to one is sane to another, and what is inside can be outside from a different perspective. The only actual definition of an art object is a relationally determined consensus between individuals. The Grey Islands won't be ceramic art because their soils contain a particular ratio of silica to alumina. The Grey Islands will be ceramic art because I am bringing it into a discussion of what, exactly, ceramic art is.

Cone Packs

I just realized I will have to make cone packs for this firing. How should I approach this? In a typical firing one places a cone pack on each shelf near a peep hole. This firing will not be typical.

The logical approach would seem to be to leave them at strategic locations all over the island. Perhaps at the geographical extremes of the island - the northern-, southern-, eastern- and western-most points. Probably also one near the kiln site, one at the site of the old settlement of Grey Islands Harbour, and one near my campsite. And perhaps anywhere else I find interesting. This way I will get a good overview of the firing temperature throughout the area.

Which brings me to another point - how exactly does one flip a kiln inside out? I've got a few ideas, but nothing really solid yet. I think it's going to be particularly difficult to control the flame path and the oxidation/reduction cycle. Time to get out the sketchbook and have a go at it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gambling With Bears

"In recent years, many coastal communities, including St. John's (particularly a lucky bingo hall!), have been visited by polar bears."

I found this quote on the Wordplay tourism website. I haven't yet determined the accuracy of this statement, but I will do some research and see what I can dig up.

In the meantime, it has been a lovely spring for looking at the sea ice. It's been onshore many days here in St. John's and around the east coast. Last night while walking home from an A1C meeting an iceberg was perfectly framed in the narrows. I wonder what this means for ice conditions later in June...