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A Parade of Flowers and a Football Stadium: Before the Sculpture Garden

Before the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden existed, the space was a formal garden, a playing field and, once upon a time, a swamp. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, it is only fitting to comb through the archives and dust off some maps, memos and moments from the garden’s pre-history. On the […]

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Before the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden existed, the space was a formal garden, a playing field and, once upon a time, a swamp. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, it is only fitting to comb through the archives and dust off some maps, memos and moments from the garden’s pre-history.

On the layout of the Lowry Hill Area in the late 1800s, Minnesota’s first ornithologist, Thomas Sadler Roberts, recalls a forest perfect for bird watching and fishing.

“The oak woods that is now Loring Park was in the country and the lake near by… had a considerable outlet—deep enough for bass and pickerel to come and go—which crossed Hennepin, the old territorial road, about where Harmon Place now joins that avenue. This stream ran into the weedy lake which with the surrounding meadow occupied most of the present Parade Ground. Ducks bred there and in 1877 it was still a meadow…” (Shotgun and Stethoscope, 1991)

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These first recollections of water and swamp would haunt the early history of the space. The Parade Ground, first called Hiyata Park, was an early name for the ten-acre plot that is now the Sculpture Garden. Minneapolitans constructed a magisterial Armory on the site with crenellated, stone walls for the Spanish-American War National Guard volunteers at the turn of the century. The area soon was to house athletic fields and demonstration gardens.

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The Armory would play host to many budding gardeners, eager to trade notes on floriculture in a hardy and challenging environment. A 1913 florist and horticulture convention would “demonstrate,” as park superintendant Theodore Wirth put it, “to the out-of-state visitors that the Minnesota climate is not so adverse to successful achievements in floriculture as some people from other parts of the country are inclined to believe.” Who knew the Minneapolis Florists’ Club Baseball team defeated the reigning All Star champs? Florists all over the country used to enjoy the bat-and-ball sport. By 1940, with field lights and bleachers installed, the Parade was “the place to play.”

A commercial plane landed in the Parade grounds from New York in 1920, setting a world record for freight transportation. In 1928, the year before the Armory was deemed unfit for usage, a public programming extravaganza was staged within its walls. This included an old time fiddlers’ contest, a “midnite frolic,” and a dance “Bearcat” marathon that lasted over 974 hours. Much like the Internet Cat Video Film Festival, “folks say it’s the silliest thing ever witnessed, BUT they all come back to watch the marathon.” (Journal advertisement,1928).  In 1933, the Armory was torn down after sinking nearly four and a half feet into the ground.

It was to change names many times. After the Armory sank, and the space was simply a garden, ideas were thrown around: the delicate “Parade of Flowers,” the formal “Cathedral Gardens,” and the rather academic-sounding “Park Board Demonstration Gardens.”

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The space that the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden inhabits has been of horticultural interest for over a century. While gardens were present for most of the first half of the 1900s, in 1967 the Parade’s flowerbeds were removed for construction of the highway. By 1973, there were only a “few fine elms” dotting the landscape.

In a memo from 1988, Martin Friedman announces, “It’s not everyday that we can grow a garden together—metaphorically, as well as actually.” It is hard to imagine that Minneapolis’s crowning jewel of horticulture and art was once a swampland frequented by ducks.

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All images courtesy of the Walker Art Center Archives.

Listening, Online and Off, with Sound Designer Mike Hallenbeck

The sonic power of phone books. The realm of the acousmatic. Binaural bicycle rides. These are a few of the concepts that came up in my correspondence with sound designer Mike Hallenbeck. With the Walker’s public observance of World Listening Day about 1 week away, my investigation into aural attention continues. As I gather insights […]

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

The sonic power of phone books. The realm of the acousmatic. Binaural bicycle rides. These are a few of the concepts that came up in my correspondence with sound designer Mike Hallenbeck. With the Walker’s public observance of World Listening Day about 1 week away, my investigation into aural attention continues. As I gather insights on listening from professional listeners in our community, I appreciated the opportunity to bend Hallenbeck’s ears for a few questions.

Mike, your writings and audiocraft emphasize sound’s profound variety, its function as a wordless language, and its influence on the imagination. Reflecting on your experiences, what listening prompts would you propose for World Listening Day to facilitate discovery through listening?

I suppose the thing is simply to ask oneself: “What do I hear?” Learn to break down what you’re hearing. What’s happening in high frequencies, mid-range, and lower frequencies? What’s tonal, what’s rhythmic, what’s harmonic? (Any soundscape, from a symphony to a forest to a racetrack, will usually include these elements.) How dense is it? How sparse? Where are things located in the stereo or surround field? What’s happening that you like, and what do you wish was different? This sort of question—”What does it sound like?”—might sound overly simple, but I find it to be central in sound practice. It helps determine how to appreciate and improve sound/music that you’re creating or evaluating, and helps one to respond to the world at large.

But the obvious rejoinder—and one I agree with—is that this isn’t an approach exclusive to sound, or indeed to any sense. Lately I’m asking myself more about the conversation between sound and vision, and to tell you the truth that’s something I’m still exploring in a very elemental sense. I work more and more with sound that responds to and collaborates with visual and/or narrative elements, so these days I’m far more concerned with the interaction of the senses than with sound on its own. To me the important thing is to cultivate a sense of awareness that involves all the senses, incorporating listening into one’s overall practice of mindfulness.

That makes sense—the integration of sound and sight are key to your work as a Foley artist. Like trompe-l’œil for the ear, Foley artists add sounds to recorded media that seem naturalistic but are in fact an artifice. Can you describe a surprising method or material you’ve encountered in Foley art?

Lately I’ve been pondering the unexpected sonic power of the phone book. When I did one of my first Foley assignments for film, I looked up some how-to videos online to figure out how to fake the sound of a punch. I found a video made by an eleven-year-old where he demonstrated how to replicate a punch sound by closing a phone book really hard. It didn’t work for the entire sound—I wound up mixing in a vocalization to add a little sharpness—but it got me pretty far along.

Recently I attended a panel discussion by some Foley artists where two of them shared techniques on how to simulate bodily impacts on a floor surface (other than throwing yourself on the floor, which I can confirm gets old real quick). Both suggested an article of clothing (one a leather jacket, the other some coveralls), but both recommended filling said clothing with—that’s right—phone books. So the idea’s got legs.

I’m looking forward to furthering my phone book savvy soon. I just hope they don’t stop making them, or else I’ll have to start using Henry James novels.

Speaking of books, your “Audiobook” posts on your Synching Ship blog resonate with me. Would you be able to suggest a reading along those aurally attuned lines for World Listening Day?

Sound is really hard to describe using language, but it can be done. Usually I’ll come across a deft description of sound only here and there in books, and the “audiobook” feature is a way to share it with others and (just as importantly) to remember it myself.

Something that comes to mind is “Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier. The descriptions of music performance (the stuff performed by Jack White and company in the movie) are some of the most eloquent I’ve ever encountered. I recall “Company” by Samuel Beckett having some nice descriptions of quiet, subtle sounds, but that’s kind of a vague memory.

In your day-to-day appreciation of all things aural, especially environmental sounds, have you been earwitness to sounds that might be disappearing from our soundscape?

My own day-to-day is fairly banal, so I wouldn’t say there’s much change there. But the demands of consumer society appear to be destroying habitats of many species at a pretty rapid clip, which will silence a lot of creatures’ calls as they go extinct. Bioacousticians like Bernie Krause have demonstrated how nature’s sonic identity has been altered as human-made sounds intrude on the frequency spectrum.

I’m doing what I can to address the problem by typing a bunch of words on a computer screen.

The impact of human noise on the wild soundscape is a fascinating topic. In the Sculpture Garden, for example, birds might be developing an urban dialect and the chattering red squirrels are absent since their extirpation in 1909. Take a sonic snapshot of your environment right now. What sounds are you perceiving and are there any special meanings you make of them?

Unfortunately right now I’m listening to Pandora; I’ve created a station that will generate music choices extrapolated from the music of The Shadows. So far I’ve gotten The Esquires, Junior Brown, Link Wray, The Blue Stingrays, and Santo & Johnny (it turns out their track “Sleep Walk” is something I’ve wanted to know the name of for years). I imagine that’s not the kind of answer you were looking for though…

You’re right that I was “looking for” environmental sounds, but your answer aptly demonstrates the contemporary listener’s condition. We are constantly toggling back and forth between mediated and unmediated sound worlds, awash in a mix of “original” and “reproduced” sounds. For me, this calls to mind the work of R. Murray Schafer, the sound researcher whose birthday is honored by World Listening Day. Schafer examined how the Industrial and Electric Ages revolutionized our relationship to listening. He coined the term “schizophonia” to describe the split between original sounds and their copies. From your perspective, what is the delineation between original sounds and electroacoustic reproductions? Could there even be sounds that don’t easily fall into one category or the other?

The light rail train offers a nice example of schizophonia—the train emits electronically sampled sounds of the warning bells at a railroad stop, and—if memory serves—the whistle of a steam locomotive. It’s easy to assume these sounds are produced by actual physical processes, but in fact they’re “fake”. All that matters is that we get the message to be careful in the train’s vicinity.

Yes, a sort of sonic pastiche. The signals’ function is to be interpreted without hesitation, but when we pause to listen, there’s a more complex story behind them.

I guess what we’re talking about here is the realm of the “acousmatic”—an experience of sound merely as a reproduction through speakers, especially when it’s something created electronically in the first place (as with synthesizers, sampled drum loops and the like). The auto-tuned voice comes to mind—it’s gotten to the point where it’s not just an effect in pop and R&B anymore, but just, you know, kind of how voices are expected to sound, like it’s something singers learn as part of their vocal training. It makes me wonder how many people have portrayed Alvin and the Chipmunks over the years—since all you have to do is speed up somebody’s voice, it could be anybody.

It’s odd how technologies like that lose their novelty as we assimilate them into our sonic vocabulary. I’m curious if you can you offer some ways that the Internet has changed our relationship to listening? (For one thing, without the Internet, we’d never have your riotously funny (and schizophonic?) Rickroll chronicle.)

The Internet is a huge topic, since it manifests itself in so many ways. The first thing that comes to mind for me is that it’s ratcheted down appreciation of sound quality. Lo-fi is a new standard in video, and there have been studies that show younger people often prefer mp3s encoded at degraded bit rates to high-resolution audio. Ick.

However, the Internet has been huge in terms of transforming sound practice for the better. I’ll focus on the community-building aspect, which is pretty much universal for any group but has dovetailed especially nicely with sound art. Back before I did anything “practical” with sound, I had no idea just how many people out there were also interested in capturing audio signals “in the field” and curating concrete sounds as art. When I became aware of resources like the phonography listserv I discovered all these other folks out there who were into the same kind of stuff, all over the world—a small community, but a vibrant one. This led to the discovery of all this history, methodology, theory, technical advice, opportunity to share work… you name it. The floodgates opened. It was really transformative.

Your blog curates and draws attention to the language of sounds, sometimes foregrounding sounds produced for effect such as the blat, the beep, the artificial water tank, or Google-translated beatboxing. But you also unplug from time to time and listen to the world of “unmediated sounds.” Along those lines, how would you explore the Twin Cities to get a sense of its sonic texture?

I’d recommend a bike ride around Minneapolis in the summer. One of the things I like about biking is that while you’re traveling relatively quickly, which can be exhilarating, you’re not encased in anything and you’re traveling slowly enough to experience sensory intimacy with your surroundings. I like the crunches and crashes of the recycling stations I pass on North Second Street. When I pass the Metrodome there are sometimes kids skateboarding, and I love all the pock-crack impacts skateboards make. And generally speaking, the tactile crunch and grind of the bike tire against the street is pleasing to my ear as well.

Sure—like a soundwalk but on wheels rather than foot! One of my favorite Synching Ship posts was your binaural bike ride from Easter 2011. It’s delightful and demonstrative of how sounds ground our awareness in time and in space.

Mike Hallenbeck Photo: Amy Myrbo

Mike Hallenbeck is a composer and sound designer active in a variety of media. He adopts sounds both hither and yon, brings them home and helps them decide what to be when they grow up. He blogs at synchingship.blogspot.com and maintains a home page at juniorbirdman.com.

Radio Producer as Earwitness: MPR’s Marc Sanchez on World Listening Day

Hearing is a sense. Listening is a skill. Attention is the catalyst that transforms hearing into listening. Just like any skill, our listening skills can be cultivated to approach excellence, and doing so requires a great deal of attention. In planning the Walker’s observance of World Listening Day on July 18, I turned to esteemed […]

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

Hearing is a sense. Listening is a skill. Attention is the catalyst that transforms hearing into listening. Just like any skill, our listening skills can be cultivated to approach excellence, and doing so requires a great deal of attention. In planning the Walker’s observance of World Listening Day on July 18, I turned to esteemed listeners in our community to get their take on aural attention. I corresponded with Marc Sanchez, a radio producer from Minnesota Public Radio, who shares his insights into listening for meaning, listening for a living, and listening for listening’s sake.

Marc, you started Minnesota Sounds, a project on Minnesota Public Radio that captures our state from an audio perspective. What was the most surprising Minnesota sound you’ve experienced?

Probably the most surprising sound came from the Stillwater lift bridge. There’s lots of traffic noise zooming back and forth, and the sound of warning bells clanging is constant as the bridge gets ready to be raised. That’s kind of what I expected to hear. What caught me off guard were the creaking, sticky sounds of the bridge itself. Grease is piled on to the thick girders that act as guides for the bridge to slide up and down. You can hear it at around 1:30 into this recording.

How about the most moving or evocative sound?

I don’t remember how I first heard about the chimes at St. Olaf College in Northfield, but their story is pretty powerful. Suspended in a timber-framed tower built by faculty members, the chimes are prominently featured in the main walkway through campus. The project began after the 2003 school year, when five students in that graduating class died before completing their studies. Each chime represents a student’s life that was lost since that time.

World Listening Day takes place on the birthday of R. Murray Schafer, a composer and sound researcher who coined the term “soundmark.” Derived from the word landmark, “soundmark” refers to a community sound which is unique and held in special regard by the people in that community. If you were to design an aural tour of Minnesota, what soundmarks would you include?

1. For some historical perspective, following the Dakota 38 + 2 memorial ride each December from Lower Brule, South Dakota, to Mankato, Minnesota.

2. Cracking ice is quintessential Minnesota. You can hear it everywhere, and it’s the kind of sound that becomes more distinct as you become more still.

3. Ships in Duluth. I moved here from California, where the ocean was a fixture I took for granted. Listening to the waves of Lake Superior lap against the shore brings that back for me.

4. The Sky Pesher. Walk across the grass from the World Listening Day event in the Sculpture Garden and immerse yourself in this installation. My colleague Rob Byers did a fantastic job of capturing Cantus performing here.

5. The State Fair is an explosion of sounds. My tip: get there as early as possible. That way your ears don’t have too many competing sounds to deal with.

Have you been earwitness to sounds that might be disappearing from our soundscape?

In a way, I suppose. Frogs at Carlos Avery [Wildlife Management Area] haven’t exactly disappeared, but their counts are being closely monitored by the DNR. The steam engines in Rollag will probably always provide a way for people to connect with the past, even if the present and future wants to run on clean energy. The fog horn that you can still hear at the Split Rock Lighthouse is only a pre-recorded replica of the original, which was taken out of commission in the 1960’s.

What about exciting new sonic phenomena on our horizon?

To my ears, there are always new sounds to hear or old sounds to hear in a new way — you just have to stop and listen.

Yes, speaking of stopping and listening, Schafer also talks about exercises to achieve “clear hearing,” or “clairaudience.” Are there acoustic phenomena that for you serve as a kind of “tuning fork” or baseline to hone your sense of hearing?

I have more of a relaxation technique than a tuning fork. It’s OK to close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and try to empty your mind of distractions. You’ll be surprised at how differently you start hearing the world after a minute or two.

Marc Sanchez making a field recording of a tiger

Marc Sanchez making a field recording of a tiger. Photo: Tom Weber

Take a sonic snapshot of your environment right now. What sounds are you perceiving, and are there any special meanings you make of them?

Newsroom chatter of editors and reporters talking through a story… Keyboards clicking… The hum of my hard drives… A squeaky door. For me, these sounds get interesting when I look out the window at the bright sunshine and a summer shower. I’d really rather be listening to the rain splat on the sidewalk.

What sound gave you the most challenging pursuit to record?

Probably the biggest challenge was overcoming my nerves and climbing into a pen that housed a pack of wolves. I’d been hearing their howls and observing them all morning, when Peggy Callahan from the Wildlife Science Center in Columbus, Minnesota, invited me to get up close and personal. There’s nothing like standing in the middle of a wolf pack as they run around, growling at their meal. Luckily, that meal consisted of rabbits being tossed into their pen and not me.

Do you have a listening regimen either in the field or when you edit a radio piece that lets you hear with fresh ears?

I like to hear pieces that I mix in multiple environments whenever possible. So, I might mix something by watching my level meters and listening on headphones, then move to a studio where I can listen through speakers. I also mix a lot of dialogue, so natural rhythms and breathing patterns in speech become important. I like to think of myself as a conductor when I’m mixing a story. My goal is to have everything sound so natural that you forget I was ever involved.

In Minnesota Sounds, you’ve encouraged listeners to submit environmental recordings with stories. What advice would you have for an eager and curious pair of ears, someone new to the all-encompassing aspects of listening?

These days there are so many devices for us to record with, so I would really encourage people to not feel like they have to wait for top notch recording gear. That said, if you’re going to use your smartphone, for example, try and monitor what you’re recording with headphones. And even better, use a pair of headphones that are closed-backed — in other words, not ear buds. Headphones will really allow you to hear what’s going to be on the final product. They’ll also let you hear when there’s a lot of unwanted wind noise, volume clipping (distortion), or handling noise (when your mic picks up unwanted sounds like your hands knocking into it or a table being bumped).

Being part of a community like the folks at World Listening Day or Transom, if you’re into radio, is a great motivator too. However fun your experience might be, going out to a remote area with a pair of headphones and a mic can be an isolating experience. Listening to other people’s sounds and stories helps to remind me I’m not alone out there.

Marc Sanchez is the producer and director for MPR News’ weekday program, The Daily Circuit. He has worked on a number of different American Public Media-distributed programs, like Marketplace Tech Report, Weekend America, American RadioWorks, and On Being with Krista Tippett. His radio career began working for Joe Frank and on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. He has helped produce and report stories for This American Life, Freakonomics, and Soundprint, among others. In 2010, Sanchez started a project called Minnesota Sounds (now Minnesota Sounds and Voices), which captures Minnesota, from an audio perspective. You can also hear him as a monthly DJ on MPR News’ sister station, The Current, where he helps showcase homegrown talent on the Local Current stream.

A Listening Experiment

What would a scientist who studies hearing have to say on the subject of listening? I took the opportunity to find out as part of my planning for World Listening Day, a public program happening in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden this July. On World Listening Day (WLD), listening for listening’s sake is celebrated across the […]

What would a scientist who studies hearing have to say on the subject of listening? I took the opportunity to find out as part of my planning for World Listening Day, a public program happening in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden this July.

On World Listening Day (WLD), listening for listening’s sake is celebrated across the globe. Here at the Walker, a public observance of WLD will explore the soundscape of the Sculpture Garden. Typically, the Garden’s horticulture, sculptures, wildlife, and of course people-watching are perceived visually. WLD is a chance to attend to a different sensory modality and become immersed in the wonders of aural experience. In planning the Walker’s WLD, I’ve probed listening from a variety of angles—music, science, history, memory, and mindfulness to name just a few. Given WLD’s emphasis on environmental sounds and soundscape ecology, I set out to connect with people who not only thought about sound in a human context, but also considered the sonic lives of other animals. Enter Dr. Mark Bee.

Or rather, I entered his office. My hope: to borrow some ideas from his Animal Communications Lab and apply them in the Garden. But how? Over the course of our conversation, it became clear that Dr. Bee and his colleague Dr. Norman Lee would approach this question with playful creativity, a willingness to experiment, and a sense of humor. I hope you’ll join us on Thursday, July 18 to hear the entire story. Dr. Bee and Dr. Lee will be in the Foraging Circle  with a playlist of listening experiments that get us thinking about the ear of the beholder. For a sound clip, click this image to view a short video:salmon listen to Beyonce

World Listening Day features a variety of activities, all designed to motivate discovery through listening. Be an earwitness to music as it’s coaxed from the invisible by musician and composer Philip Blackburn. Contemplate the connections between listening and mindfulness on a Garden soundwalk led by Mark Nunberg, guiding teacher at Common Ground Meditation Center. Or pick up The Soniferous Garden, a pamphlet offering a number of self-paced aural experiences written by artist Viv Corringham.

Phenology Report: The Future Generation of American Toads

Phenology doesn’t take a vacation, but I do. But before this Phenologist-in-Residence migrates north for two weeks of relaxation, I wanted to share this video chronology. I believe these are American Toads and for now they live in the pond near Spoonbridge and Cherry. Will they hop away before my return in July? And what […]

Phenology doesn’t take a vacation, but I do. But before this Phenologist-in-Residence migrates north for two weeks of relaxation, I wanted to share this video chronology. I believe these are American Toads and for now they live in the pond near Spoonbridge and Cherry. Will they hop away before my return in July? And what other day-by-day changes will transform the Sculpture Garden & Open Field?

May 15:

May 21:

May 25:

June 8:

June 12:


In conjunction with Open Field, I’ll be posting a series of reports that examine Open Field and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden through the lens of phenology. The lens of what now? Phenology refers to recurring life cycle stages, such as leafing and flowering, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. As an amateur naturalist and the Open Field Phenologist-in-Residence, it’s my privilege to observe, document, and share the sequence of natural events as it unfolds on the Walker campus. Read the Twitter chronicle so far @OpenPhenology: twitter.com/openphenology.

The FlatPak Reopens on May 5

On Saturday, May 5 the FlatPak House will begin hosting public hours. The space will be available as an orientation center for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center, and Open Field on Saturdays from 10am-4pm and Sundays from 12pm-4pm. Come and chat with a Walker staff member or simply put your feet up, read a […]

On Saturday, May 5 the FlatPak House will begin hosting public hours. The space will be available as an orientation center for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center, and Open Field on Saturdays from 10am-4pm and Sundays from 12pm-4pm. Come and chat with a Walker staff member or simply put your feet up, read a book, or take a cat nap (dreaming about art and prefab architecture of course). Public hours will continue through September. You may see the space animated at different moments throughout the summer, as it’s a popular spot for Open Field and Free First Saturday programming.

FlatPak (interior)

A cozy, green couch for lounging in the FlatPak on those hotter days.

 

The FlatPak House is located near the northwest corner of the Cowles Conservatory.

 

Phenology Report: Know Your Grackle Vernacular

There’s such a flurry of spring phenomena that it can be tricky picking a focus. But bird behavior is as good a place to start as anywhere. Morning visitors to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will witness the heavy air traffic of Common Grackles frequenting the muddy low waters near Spoonbridge and Cherry. Watch the video […]

Common Grackles, still from YouTube video by NovaScotiaNature

There’s such a flurry of spring phenomena that it can be tricky picking a focus. But bird behavior is as good a place to start as anywhere. Morning visitors to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will witness the heavy air traffic of Common Grackles frequenting the muddy low waters near Spoonbridge and Cherry. Watch the video below and tell me that soggy clump of plant matter doesn’t look perfect for building a nest!

The grande allée’s arbor vitae and linden trees are abuzz with grackles calling and strutting. And if you’re lucky, you might witness a pair of Common Grackles performing a courtship dance!


In conjunction with Open Field, I’ll be posting a series of reports that examine Open Field and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden through the lens of phenology. The lens of what now? Phenology refers to recurring life cycle stages, such as leafing and flowering, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. As an amateur naturalist and the Open Field Phenologist-in-Residence, it’s my privilege to observe, document, and share the sequence of natural events as it unfolds on the Walker campus.

If you’re interested in more local phenological phenomena, visit openphenology.blogspot.com. Or to learn more about the science of phenology, check out the National Phenology Network and the Minnesota Phenology Network.

Phenology Report: It’s All about Appearances

Many of us are especially aware of the natural world come spring, when new things show up every day. It’s apt, then, that the word “phenology” comes from the Greek word phaino, meaning to show or appear. Last week, my friend Rachel and I noticed little pink and yellow cones adorning the boughs of the […]

Many of us are especially aware of the natural world come spring, when new things show up every day. It’s apt, then, that the word “phenology” comes from the Greek word phaino, meaning to show or appear. Last week, my friend Rachel and I noticed little pink and yellow cones adorning the boughs of the pine trees. I reached out and was taken by surprise by the appearance of pollen!


In conjunction with Open Field, I’ll be posting a series of reports that examine Open Field and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden through the lens of phenology. The lens of what now? Phenology refers to recurring life cycle stages, such as leafing and flowering, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. As an amateur naturalist and the Open Field Phenologist-in-Residence, it’s my privilege to observe, document, and share the sequence of natural events as it unfolds on the Walker campus.

If you’re interested in more local phenological phenomena, visit openphenology.blogspot.com. Or to learn more about the science of phenology, check out the National Phenology Network and the Minnesota Phenology Network.

Phenology Report: Hibernation is so over!

In conjunction with Open Field, I’ll be posting a series of reports that examine Open Field and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden through the lens of phenology. The lens of what now? Phenology refers to recurring life cycle stages, such as leafing and flowering, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. As the Open Field Phenologist-in-Residence, […]

In conjunction with Open Field, I’ll be posting a series of reports that examine Open Field and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden through the lens of phenology. The lens of what now? Phenology refers to recurring life cycle stages, such as leafing and flowering, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. As the Open Field Phenologist-in-Residence, it’s my privilege to observe, document, and share the sequence of natural events as it unfolds on the Walker campus.

Photo: Mnmazur, Wikimedia Commons

Hibernation is so over! For ground squirrels and people alike, we’re ready to emerge from our winter digs and stand up in the sun! On March 15, I saw my first 13-lined ground squirrel of the season. Unlike the ubiquitous gray squirrel, these smaller rodents hibernate during winter months. And now they appear to be emerging from their dens and burrows.

An attentive visitor to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will recognize these animals, which are frequently seen standing upright and surveying their surroundings or scampering for shelter under the arbor vitae hedges. And since these animals eat insects, you could interpret their appearance as a cue to get close to the ground and look for six-legged crawlies.

If you’re interested in more local phenological phenomena, visit openphenology.blogspot.com. Or to learn more about the science of phenology, check out the National Phenology Network at usanpn.org.

Field Trip: Birding with Nathalie and Hans

One Tuesday morning in early September, artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg took a break from marshalling in The Parade to go birding. With binoculars at the ready, they flew the coop, accompanied by Susy Bielak and Abbie Anderson. What follows is a glimpse into their field trip, but first, a brief background on our birders.

Left to right: Abbie, Hans, and Nathalie

One Tuesday morning in early September, artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg took a break from marshalling in The Parade to go birding. With binoculars at the ready, they flew the coop, accompanied by Susy Bielak and Abbie Anderson. What follows is a glimpse into their field trip, but first, a brief background on our birders. Nathalie and Hans were spending a week in Minneapolis to install their exhibition, The Parade, which  includes new sculptures informed by the psychology and natural history of birds. Abbie just concluded a summer of weekly nature walks around the Walker and was eager share that experience with visiting artists. Susy, in addition to serving as photographer, interviewer, and scribe for this outing, manages public and interpretive programs at the Walker.

Our excursion began at the picnic tables as Abbie distributed binoculars and describes Open Phenology, her series of nature walks focused on observing ecological phenomena in the Walker’s vicinity. 

Abbie: I’m interested in noticing the life forms around us and observing how they change through the seasons. This means looking for birds migrating, insects molting, flowers blooming, etc. These observations, in turn, are the basis for conversation and learning.

Nathalie and Hans admiring Gehry's Standing Fish

Sculpture technician at work cleaning Frank Gehry's Standing Fish (August 16, 2011)

Wandering through Cowles Conservatory, the group admires Frank Gehry’s Standing Fish and commends the work of sculpture technicians who recently cleaned the glass scales, one by one.


Before spotting any avian species, Abbie gathered the group to inspect the insect world. Getting low to the ground at the water’s edge near Spoonbridge and Cherry, the group examined the exoskeletons left behind by metamorphosing dragonflies.

Abbie: See these?
Hans: Like ghosts.
Abbie: Larvae is actually Latin for ‘ghost.’
Hans [on metamorphosis]: It’s like one-day evolution.
Nathalie [clearly curious as to why an art educator takes such interest in biology]: So, what exactly do you do at the museum?
Abbie: Yes, I see what you mean. I’m a biology geek who works in an art museum. So beyond my job, which is supporting the Walker’s education and community programs, I’ve appointed myself as the Walker’s in-house amateur naturalist.

The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg with music by Hans Berg, exhibition view

As the group marched over to Loring Park, the conversation shifted to Nathalie’s recent body of work, a veritable parade of sculpted birds (left, click to view larger image).

Susy: Why birds?
Nathalie: Before, birds were the least interesting to me—flock animals. Boring. I love animals and watch a lot of nature programs, but avoided bird programs. Then I came across David Attenborough.
Abbie: His documentary on birds of paradise?
Nathalie: Yeah, that guy!
Abbie: After watching Attenborough in Paradise, I felt like this planet is suddenly a totally different world! An astonishing place, but weird, right?
Nathalie: Yeah, though it was before that one that I got into him. And it changed how I see birds. I had no empathy for birds before. Now I really do.

 


Once across the Hixon Whitney bridge, we again gravitated to water, looking for birds around the pond. By the reeds we discover ducks—not only Mallards, but Wood Ducks, a regal looking waterfowl with a crested head, thin neck, and striking plumage. We spot them as we approach the pond, then peer from the bridge for a clear view. Nathalie runs with her binoculars to the water’s edge for a closer look. We follow.

Abbie [chasing after Nathalie]: I love the investigative impulse!
Abbie [catching up and training binoculars]: You can recognize the Wood Duck by size and shape as well as by its plumage.
Nathalie: Are they named after wood or the woods?
Abbie: It’s the same.
Hans: But one is a forest, ‘woods’ with an S.
Susy: Same stuff, but woods with an S is the environment, without an S is the stuff.
Abbie: Their nesting habitat is a tree cavity. Now we build boxes to help them out.
Hans: Are they rare?
Abbie: They’re not too rare, but many birds nest in dead trees, which we cut down. There’s a dead tree by my house that every morning is full of woodpeckers. It’s marvelous to see them. It’s a dead tree, but it’s living to them, because it’s full of bugs.
Nathalie [focusing her binoculars on a male Wood Duck]: Look at its eyes! They’re bright red.
Abbie: The Wood Duck is the showiest bird here.


Nathalie Djurberg, studio view of a work in progress, 2010 Courtesy the artists, Zach Feuer Gallery, New York and Giò Marconi, Milan

After this satisfying encounter, we make our way around the pond, geting back to talking about Nathalie’s sculptures.

Susy: How much of your birds come from actual birds in the world, and how much are derived from sheer imagination?
Nathalie: Most started by my looking at pictures, then really transformed in the process of making them. There were about thirty that came from my imagination. The rest were something specific at the start. Some have transformed so much I couldn’t recognize how they started.
Susy: How do you chose your birds?
Nathalie: I choose the ones I find interesting. Their personalities. How they move their heads. Their colors and patterns.

To witness the pageantry of these feathered forms with your own eyes, venture into the Walker’s Burnet Gallery—The Parade is on view through December 31. In addition to a flock of over eighty delightfully varied bird sculptures, the walls are brought to life by a selection of the artists’ claymation films and the entire space is awash in Hans’ music.

Birding and conversing with Nathalie and Hans has amplified my enjoyment of the show, which is emphatically rich and wild as it is. But after discovering a shared enthusiasm for Attenborough’s BBC documentaries, I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t David Attenborough just have a field day here!” In a flight of fancy, I imagine a gallery tour led by Attenborough: Clad in khakis with a field guide in his vest pocket, he trains his binoculars on the multitude of exotic species. His hushed voice can hardly contain the exhilaration of catching sight of such strange birds. And lucky for us, this episode of Attenborough’s adventures doesn’t entail travel to an inaccessible tropical paradise, but unfolds in our own back yard.

—Co-authored by Abbie Anderson and Susy Bielak

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