Denis Wood is an old friend who played an important role in nurturing The Paper Plant into existence in the early 1980s. He was an engaging and innovative professor during that tenure of his life, and now has turned his intellectual charms to the theory or philosophy of cartography, writing numerous books and just completing a lecture tour in Germany. His most recent publication, Everything Sings, is a book of radically different maps, illustrating his unique take on what a map can be and how it effects us. It is also a wonderfully quirky portrait of Boylan Heights, and the book’s success shows how interesting and important Denis’ work is, as well as how hot Raleigh is, and how treasured is that neighborhood in its history. The book cover, seen above, displays the location and carving pattern of Boylan Heights pumpkins on a Halloween. Pecan tree locations, utility services, and lot sizes all became subjects of innovative maps created by graduate students under Wood’s tutelage.
Denis spoke and presented this fall at the Boylan Ave Brewery to celebrate the publication of the book. It was well attended and Denis entertained quite well with the amazing story of how his book came to be – an interview for background information with Ira Glass for an NPR story on maps, his casual mention of a long term project with NCSU design students, and the subsequent segment of This American Life which brought the project to the attention of book publishers. The actual production of Everything Sings involved many winding turns, but now that it’s finally out, it is not only selling well, but been nominated for the University of Iowa’s The Essay Prize.
Denis is such a creative thinker and enthusiastic cultural worker. His talk presented small samples of the ideas in his major books – that maps represent not just a set of places but a representation of the way we think about places, if at all. Maps can take many forms, and the formats of our maps shape the way we think about the world. Maps can enhance, shift or corrupt our view of the world. We can also enlarge our sense of the world through creative use and creation of maps, and that is at the core of Denis Wood’s work.
The book that helped promote and elucidate these concepts on the national scene is The Power of Maps, his 1992 book, co-authored with John Fels, that helped literally turn everyone’s concpetions of maps upside down. Last year, they published the title pictured above, which updates and enlarges their approach.
Denis is continually sharing his ideas. His recent presentation at a conference called Mapping Maps: What’s New About Neocartography, in Seigen Germany, was part of a media studies program, and involved people working at what seems to this layman to be right at the edge of cartography: Geo-annotation, The Rise of Aerial Photogrammetry, Performative Cartography, Playful Cartography, and explorations of web resources such as OpenStreetMap. Denis was the main evening speaker and presented his critique entitled The Challenge to Neocartography Posed by Guy Debord and Kevin Lynch. His workshops in Frankfort shared his ideas on the nature of maps with graduate students, and in Liepzig he presented to traditional geographers about “A Place Off the Map: The Case for a Non-Map-based Place Title.”
All this was and is very interesting but I must confess my favorite stories from Germany were about the European flavors and customs, along with some delicious gossip about European academic politics. Denis provokes you to consider new ideas, but he doesn’t press them – mainly because he’s quickly on to some other new ideas – plus the ones you’ve made him think of during the conversation! He is a treasure, he is doing great stuff, and I hope you keep an eye out for him.
Siglio Press on Everything Sings:
Denis Wood has created an atlas unlike any other. Surveying Boylan Heights, his small neighborhood in North Carolina, he subverts the traditional notions of mapmaking to discover new ways of seeing both this place in particular and the nature of place itself. Each map attunes the eye to the invisible, the overlooked, and the seemingly insignificant. From radio waves permeating the air to the location of Halloween pumpkins on porches, Wood searches for the revelatory details in what has never been mapped or may not even be mappable. In his pursuit of a “poetics of cartography,” the experience of place is primary, useless knowledge is exalted, and representation strives toward resonance. Our perception of maps and how to read them changes as we regard their beauty, marvel at their poetry, and begin to see the neighborhoods we live in anew. Everything Sings weaves a multi-layered story about one neighborhood as well as about the endeavor of truly knowing the places which we call home.
That a cartographer could set out on a mission that’s so emotional, so personal, so idiosyncratic, was news to me. IRA GLASS, host of This American Life, from his introduction to Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas
Ira Glass interview with Denis Wood about Everything Sings:
Denis Wood website:
This book is featured on Places, the online journal of architecture, landscape and urbanism
Peter Eichenberger died Thanksgiving morning and proved well his enduring unique qualities with the breadth and nature of his mourning. Just one of those qualities was: if you were ready for it, Peter was down with it, and so he made many many friends. They have mourned the loss of his excellent company and all he might have said, but celebrated a life lived full speed and damn the torpedoes, smelling the roses and leaving no stone unturned along the way. Teasing and sarcasm was our way, as with many, and he would hate those cliches, but he was a man worthy hyberbole, since his life consisted of it.
I feel very lucky to have explored Cameron Park’s myriad of alleyways on bike with him this summer, and glad that I shared so many drinks at Sad’s with him, and I hate like the dickens I never got him together with my dad, whose stories of Depression downtown Raleigh and Southern Railroad energized him any time I touched on them. He could ably discurse on innumerable subjects, and he taught me much. He reminded me that Willie York had ditched and piped Pigeon House Branch to build the first shopping center in the Southeast when I was writing about that troubled creek, and he explained to me that the “geodesic” dome I liked so much at the Fairgrounds was actually made of hexagons (instead of pentagrams like Bucky’s). He could write in the Downtowner of dog history and at Metro of Raleigh history and in the Indy of technological history, but I loved to hear him talk of cultural history and the local media history he had lived with all these years. He was a writer, Raleigh’s own Gonzo, but he was rooted in the Earth by what he could do with his hands, which was just about anything if he wanted to.
What he wanted was for the world to be right and what he knew was that the world is very very screwed up. He was right, and when those dark spectres bothered him he would share about the Mayan prophecies or the bombed levees or some other conspiratorial tale that bothered some but seemed clearly to be metaphors: the world is very very screwed up.
Peter also gathered the best kind of vibes and lived in the harmony of many positive energies. Thus was he beloved and is honored by so many in the words that have flowed since his passing. He leaves behind many words of his own, but scattered over the town of Raleigh (and the world wide web) like raucous crows, singing a noisy chant of art, art for life, art against the controlling state and the corporate fascists, art for love. Peter love Peter.
Here are some of the many links for the outpouring online for Peter and links for his own writing:
The MUSA show at Cozart’s Antiques in west downtown Raleigh (just closed October 18th) was varied, intriguing and successful in presenting artistic takes on the issues behind the show’s concept – work and making things in the post-industrial age. The show was held in a back space which formerly housed a furniture factory. I have formerly described my personal connections to the space and its employees. I went opening night and then back for more pictures. There were a scattering of very interesting installations within this large show, and these were what I focused on.
One striking installation had some very cool craft history associated with it. Jon Barlow Hudson’s “Felt Hat Body” also offered a chapbook called “The Handmade Felt Hat.” I picked one up and found it, as a papermaker, a wonderful history of the craft and the culture surrounding it. There was also a beautiful accordion book by Kathleen Loeven on display, seen below.
The show was incorporated into its space in a unique way. Many trappings of the former furniture works were still in place – from commercial tin decoration samples to the old paint shop. One of the installations used spray paint and objects to evoke the history of the place’s paints. The large back room featured a working silk screen process as well as the installation of “Invisible,” the music group that played at the opening and other project events. Below, an Invisible member sets the pegs on the player piano wheel that provided some of the random sounds.
The artwork was extremely variable in style and quality. My favorite piece by far was a large contraption that hung clay “icicles” over a pan of water. As visitors pushed the lever that lowered them into the water, the blobs of clay were soaked and softened. Gradually they would slip off their strings and fall into the water creating an evolving pattern in the water. Below is a picture I snapped just after a young woman had been splashed by a sudden plop.
Another very fun piece was the shrine to highway US 1 by Dave Alsobrooks that was installed in a small side room. There was a church pew, a slide show of the artist’s road trip (whose imagery was “desaturated” for effect), and -best of all- a US1 bumper sticker which I have proudly displayed on my car! I liked the artist’s attempt to “find beauty in the mundane” and really like his description of the piece recording “the constant plodding of our human race towards an unknown future…”
The show was a lot of fun and thought-provoking as well. The gritty, down-n-dirty atmosphere provided an excellent setting for much of the art work. Carter Hubbard and Sarah Botwick are to be commended for finding a way to enlarge the possibilities for art events in downtown Raleigh.
The first and most amazing truth is how the artists found, saw, loved and preserved the incredible piece of found art that was the Bain Water Treatment Plant. The artists, as a group, put aside individual ambitions (though not their individual styles and initiative) and sublimated their work to respond, so powerfully, to what was given. Almost as amazing was the breadth and rich variety of work generated out of this project. The initial glimpses of responses displayed at the Boylan Art Walk, the slide projections, mail art, photographs and paintings shown at the music fundraiser, the shower of documentation and Bain textures created at the preview show, all culminated with a massive but orchestrated symphony of sense experiences presented on site for two weekends. Last and most is how each person that came could build a totally unique, self-selected, more or less socialized experience for themselves to treasure, hopefully over multiple visits with lots of time for some details. That’s what I did, and the Bain Project became such a personal project that I can only review it from partly inside. But that is perfect, because I repeat: the Bain Project brought everybody inside, inside an amazing space inhabitated by the spirits of water, clean industry, and civil structure, evoked and transmutated into very present and highly charged artistic structures, made by the wonderful Bain Project team.
What an amazing challenge for a bunch of artists. The logistics of a small factory. But there was a ringer in the group. Daniel Kelly, who is Thomas Sayre’s right hand man in some fairly spectacular artistic endeavors, was the founder and leader of the Bain Project. He acted as liason with Greg Hatem, the owner and primary sponsor. He coordinated the artist meetings and kept the activities within some broad parameters, but Daniel found a way to really turn the artists loose and let some serious artistic consensus building take place. The project took on a life of its own and everybody breathed it.
The Bain experience started with finding the damn place. Isolated, sequestered, separated by chasym – all these things fit better than tucked away for the Bain site. Yet the crowds were huge each day. The poster said “site specific artwork,” but I don’t think visitors really knew what to expect. The perfectly lovely red brick art decco exterior led to a museum-like art decco lobby, and then after you were wisked into the “registration room,” all bets were off. Perhaps you would wander back to the front lobby, and discover the noxious but vivid chlorine room. More likely, you would head right into the main hall of filtration tanks, which retained a strong sense of functionality, not least because of the beautiful, pristine restoration of one of the control panels by Christian Karkow.
The row of large tanks, whose top openings are level with the floor, were a bit inscrutable. The symmetry and repetitions of the structures in this largest and least decayed room had a very calming effect. You might start discovering side rooms, or perhaps take the narrow central staircase down to the lowest level with huge pipes and valves, and then back all the way up to the small fourth story level with huge wooden cisterns and a nice view of the acres of outside water storage tanks surrounded by Piedmont meadow. Wherever you go, you see various artistic treatments of the unpolished porcelain balls that constituted the largest aggregrate of the Bain facility’s geological filtration system.
The Bain facility used gravity and the simple but effective filter formed by fixed sand to clean water for the City of Raleigh. There were additives, especially chlorine, and many other complicating factors but the fundamental processes of the Bain plant are visibly inherent in the spaces and equipment. Rather than transform these technical elements or even disturb them much, the artists re-inhabited the human spaces in the Bain facility with installations that responded to and co-existed with the strong presence of water – water magnified and empowered by brute human technology. The Bain art project celebrated and brought out the best bits of this amazing system.
It was a wonderful place to meet and greet, with many spectators and volunteers and also lots of Bain artists on hand at all times, which was part of what made the installation event so unique. By far the most spectacular piece of socializing I did was with my new urban explorer friends, who are going to show me the bowels of Pigeon House Branch underneath Glenwood South. They had been exploring Bain for at least as long as Daniel Kelly had been painting there before starting the project, and a couple of them actually served on the volunteer clean-up crew and also attended the event. They showed me what I had looked for in vain – the passage down to the main pipes leading toward downtown, where an old artist friend told me he had traveled with his spunky teenage daughter. After the event, I contacted the urban explorers and “Snailapple” turned out to be a very gifted and intelligent young man with a unique perspective on our urban landscape.
Above is the hatch that leads to Bain’s darkest recesses, pictured below.
Click on the picture above to see Snailapple’s Bain pics.
I was so lucky to get involved with the Bain Project as the Raleigh Naturalist, presenting to the artists on a Saturday morning last fall about Walnut Creek, Rocky Branch, and Raleigh’s watersheds. Several of the artists were personal friends, and several more became so during this process. I was asked to help with the final details of the watershed mapping activity, and I may yet help with the in-project documentation process. These ten posts have been a blast to write, and I feel I haven’t had so much artistic fun for years. Yeah, Bain!!
Thanks to Daniel Kelly, Tracy Spencer, the Bain artists and documenters, New Raleigh, Empire Properties and all the other sponsers for a great show!
The Bain Project has garnered its fair share of attention and brought together an amazing array of artistic and journalistic support. It also crossed and melded artistic media in an extraordinary fashion. The installation itself captured sights, sounds, smells and memories in a unique way, and a fitting emblem of this is the Bain Music Project cd, which will certainly stand the test of time as a valuable record of the Bain Project experience and a fascinating album of boundary-pushing music in its own right.
The cd offers short interview excerpts with a former Bain employee, mixed with cuts of local bands recording inside the Bain space. The remaining pieces constitute primary Bain Project work by Lee Moore, whose maternal condition precluded extensive on-site participation. Lee and her husband (and longtime musical partner) David Crawford put together some amazing sets of sounds as Le Machine, and also did me the great honor of building cut # 12 with an old water-based poem of mine. I recorded it with Jen Coon, and then Lee put it over ocean sounds and her newborn baby’s heartbeat! I could never have dreamed that a piece of my writing would have such a stunning setting. Thank you Lee.
I enjoy every track of the cd, especially Crowmeat Bob’s highly Bain-ful sounds and Xopher Thurston’s string interpretation of Dana Raymond’s pipe symphonies, but am totally un-equipped to remark on the local popular music. I just know my 20 year old daughter was thrilled to see me on the same album as the Rosebuds! I also know that the cd cover is masterful and fits so well with the project, thanks to Ladye Jane of New Raleigh fame. New Raleigh published the cd, and was a tremendous support to the Bain Project overall, including provision of the Bain website.
Starting from the website, let’s trace the main branchings of media and online response to the project.
May 09 “State of Things” interview with Dana Raymond, Marty Baird Sarah Powers and JenCoon
SpokenWord.org archived radio link
Volunteer call hosted by New Raleigh
January 09 Missing Plaque Mystery
February 09 Music Fundraiser
March 09 David Millsaps essay
May 09 Ladye Jane’s Q & A
May 09 State of Things alert with links to Sarah and Dana
May 09 Toxic Lead Alert with Bain concerns
March 09 Music Fundraiser guide
April 09 Indie Blog article
May 09 Calendar listing
May 09 Site and project description by Hobert Thompson
May 09 Indie blog Q & A with organizer Daniel Kelly and others
May 09 Art to suit city’s fluid identity
NC Museum of Art
May 09 blog interview with Museum staffers Jen Coon & Stacey Kirby
DESIGNlife news with listing of the numerous alumni involved
30 Threads feature
Raleighwood,NC John & Clydes visit with informative links
Queen of the Pavement - huge and lovely pics
Digital Photo Project with another, and one more – nice photos and text by Kevin Greene
almost two weeks – wonderful blend of Bain and life
a weed is just a flower out of place - just one nice photo but who can resists that title?
Bain poster critique – proof post-Boomers do not read :) actually a nice post
not to mention
youtube Triangle Rock excerpt
The following excerpt from an email sent out by SWCAC Chair Mary Bell Pate for the Caraleigh neighborhood.
The Bain Project, located in the SW CAC area, is all about the E. B. Bain Waterworks/Water Plant that once was the source of water for Raleigh and now is on the Historic Register. What was a beautiful Art Deco building had been ignored since it was “de-commissioned” as our water plant and now needs massive amounts of money for restoration. Empire Properties came to the rescue by buying the Bain and saving it from total destruction. Within the next few years a street will connect South Wilmington and South Saunders Streets (needed for years as an efficient cross-access between the two streets) and will go right by the Bain.
With lots of help from many people the Bain Project will become another outstanding asset for Raleigh and especially for our southwest part of Raleigh. Right now it needs your interest and participation in events designed to create awareness of this beautiful, old building opposite the Eliza Pool Park. From time to time I will be giving updates on Bain Project activities and encouraging your participation.
and last but not least
National Park Service Bain site page
If you’ve made it this far I’ll remind you that here at Raleigh Rambles ALL my work to document and preserve the Bain Project is organized and referenced on my Bain Page. The list above grew out of a reference post on the Bain Project website, which has obviously been a rock for me in this project. We can all thank Daniel Kelly for conceiving of and effecting this project, and I personally appreciated his encouragement as I participated in and documented the project.