with crow energy

Crows: an aceart bookwork including the works of Marian Butler, April Hickox, Joanne Bristol, Karilee Fuglem, Sheila Spence, Susan Mills, Dagmar Dahle, Candace Savage
December 16, 2001

a response to the exhibition  by Jen Loewen

I find myself thinking about crow.

Crow weaves its way in and out of the world. Making its place, it meanders between not-quite-welcome and outcast. A carrion bird who likes to play with shiny objects. It sees opportunity when others would only see death and collects insignificance for reasons only it can know. Crow builds its life, moment to moment, around that which is present. This is its energy.

It is not by chance that crow is a collector of shiny objects. To be open to what is present is to find pleasure in the small. Serendipity is similar to crow energy, and yet, within serendipity there is a yearning – a desire for attainment. Serendipity is finding the last piece of the puzzle, whereas crow energy makes a puzzle out of forgotten objects. Crow energy is a playful recognition that what is needed is what is found at hand, or, that what is at hand can make do.

This “make do” is not a reduction in expectations or settling, but a deep knowing that what is present is what is needed. Crow does not go out and hunt, it does not choose what prey it wants, but rather looks around and, seeing a carcass of an other animal, it knows, “There is what I want.” It is a seesaw energy that fulfills a need and yet does not complete that need.

Crow energy is always accessible. It is simply a matter of tuning into the right frequency. This is the frequency I tune to as I stand before the project crows to experience the artwork with this energy, to let crow lead me through.

As I sit with the box, the container that is crows I think of a nest. It is a tan, cloth-covered box with a simple wooden lid, designed to hold objects. A useful object, its beauty lies in the buttery smoothness of the lid and in the integrity it has in fulfilling its use. As with any closed box, there is a brief moment of anticipation before I open the lid. Within I find a crow’s cache.

To one side of the box, I see a black card with a crow etched into it as title card, below, a tiny silver doorknob. I pull it open to reveal an index covering (masquerading, disguised, or is this inverted, a curator’s essay disguised as an index?) as a curator’s essay. With poetic text, memory and colourful images, Marian Butler traces a path as a finger might trace an outline in the water. “Magnetic force” is a term that is used more than once in just add water to speak about the path that this crows project has taken. The early stages of the project are small caches of objects, ideas and thoughts being shared. It places the box before me in context, the most recent collection of shiny objects, and tomorrow, a new cache will be made.

The first shiny object I pull from the cache is Untitled(flapflapflap), a book by Karilee Fuglem. It is a flipbook of human hands and arms flapping. flapflapflap can be “read” from front to back or vise versa, upside down or right side up, each direction offering a different experience. Small on the large white page, wing/hands are surrounded by a digital aura and I am reminded of a hot summer day when lying on my back: I watched birds fly overhead. In the bright light, the darkness of the bird is all I see – that brief moment, mutable and light, now rests in my palms.

I set down the book next to me and pull out the next object. I think it is a feather. It is a long, black book with little memories caught among the feather pulp. I run my fingers down the edge fanning the black paper that is pliable and strong, as any crow feather should be. Opening the feather/book, I find the four stories Susan Mills has placed inside. 4 Crows tells of memory marking the flesh, of change, becoming and release. I am reminded that small moments can become an integral part of an object. Though I hold this feather in my hand, I know it is for crow – perhaps an exchange for a feather it once offered.

I put down Susan’s feather and notice a green ribbon poking out from under one of the other books. Intrigued, I tug on it and six square images reveal themselves. Sheila Spence’s Reminiscence, almost uncomfortable in my hand, asks to be laid out and played with. I stare at the purple sky square, knowing what it is only in reference to the three squares of blurry flying birds. I wait knowing that it will tell me its place in the arrangement I have laid out, a puzzle with infinite sequences. The sentence I write begins with a loss and ends with flight. Recalling the ribbon, I recognize that it is long enough to be useful for other things (cat’s cradle in particular).

Interspersed among the various objects in this nest are 10 bookmarks, the offering of Joanne Bristol. Varying in length and two-tone colour the images are of different tree branches caught in beak like fingers. The title of this work is ne coupez pas (do not cut). As I meditate on the images, it dawns on me that these branches caught in a hand’s beak are also growing out of the fingers. These bookmarks are repetitive, like a drum rhythm that changes it phrasing but maintains the beat.

A Chronology of Gowns and Bird Extinctions From 1500 to the Present: one hundred and thirty-two birds and eight dresses tell a moving, wordless, story. This chronology of what is lost and what we gave it up for. These fashions are antithesis of crow, who uses what is not valued as opposed to using what is valued until there is none left. Dagmar Dahle¹s book is a kind of warning of what happens when we play at the expense of other and when we take in the present at the expense of the future.

The nest is nearly empty with only two objects left. I pull out a dark rectangular book. The pages of A Brief History of Flight fan out slightly as I open it. I am moving through doubled images, printed once on white paper and again on purple vellum. In each photograph, there is a black feather held by different female figures. For each double image, a brief story is told of a flight into herself. Each history portrays a taking what is needed out of what is present. In each one the feather, the crow, marks joy present.

I pause from my exploration to consider the one artist in this project who does not have an identifiable object in the box. Though there is no object whose author can be given as Angela Somerset, her presence is still perceptible. Her beak peckings can be seen in the design of these shiny objects. I am again reminded that there is a time line present in crows; I am not the first person with crow energy to descend upon these objects.

My eyes return down to the bottom of the box where I find four large black and white photographs, wrapped in transparent white paper sits waiting. As I pull out April Hickox’s images and see the subject matter, I smile. These are photographs of further caches. A plastic box of treasures, the kind that can only be found, hiding at the bottom of a drawer; lost game pieces, unusable foreign money, pencils with only an inch or two of life left, forgotten make-up and guide badges, identification that has been replaced. So at the bottom of one box, I find myself back at the beginning of the exploration. It also reminds me that I have my own collection of treasures that can be found, in the bottom of a purse I haven’t used in the last year, the change jar that contains more than just change.

My last task before I leave this nest is to put all the shiny objects back inside for future exploration. These objects speak to many different characteristics of crow (its playfulness, its challenge to the categories of wanted/unwanted…) yet through them all is this placement of opportunity to engage with crow energy, an object.

As I peck and scratch my way through the box, what is offered is a gift of crow energy. When I turn away from crows, that energy need not be left with the box: what is present is always available.

Palms open, air moving through my fingers–I am crow.

Jen Loewen is a collector of tactile memories and has immersed herself in the joy of making hand-bound books. She thanks Jean-Francçois Lyotard’s essay “Anamnesis of the Visible, or Candour” in The Lyotard Reader for deepening her appreciation of the palm of her hand.