Mule on Walnut and Hackberry

This page of both charcoal on paper rubbings and the photographic documentation of the site is a discrete instance of my ongoing practice that provides a view into how an idea of information collection and stewardship is both a practical part of my working method, while conceptually questioning what counts as an archive, an image and/or document, who assembles it, what that says about the assemblers/constructors and the context of what information is retained as well as the role of time and “use.”

The tree photographs are part of a larger collection of ongoing documentation of a specific site in rural Franklin County, Missouri critical to my own art practice. However, these photographs are not to be perceived as an archive itself, but are instead documentation of a sited archive in the form of mule bites on living Walnut tree trunks.

The photographs shown here are part of a constellation of supporting documents orbiting this series of charcoal on paper “Mule Tree Bite Rubbings.” The rubbings themselves are of trees where mules have bitten away bark in large swaths. Eventually, given more time, this "collaring," as it is called, could continue around the trunk's circumference, killing the tree through a kind of nutrient suffocation. Looking closely at each rubbing, it is possible to see the pattern of teeth marks as well as the bark texture around the perimeter. By the process of rubbing with charcoal, my own fingerprints are also visible in the pattern of dark marks made on the paper.

In the case of these rubbings, information that is overtly visible in person or in photographic form becomes a more abstracted field that has been carried away from the site and stands for it, in much the same way as writing on a page. The rubbings, none the less, are a direct result of physical activity and evidence of that activity between a minimum of three actors: the tree (it’s external and internal makeup and any healing), mules (their ornery action and teeth marks which could indicate factors of nutrition, health, pleasure, boredom, and/or personality), and myself or the person (as indicated by fingerprints) that made the rubbings on paper. In this abstraction, I call written language into context; word as the attempt to translate corporeal lived experience, perception and history into an abbreviated, conceptual, and very transportable form. I propose the biting as an act of transcription that can be and is read.

I propose these trees as the sited archive of collected information that the bites of which having been carried out through the agency of animals, has intersections with the pattern of tree growth both on the scale of forest/field itself and an individual’s own survival, health and record of living (size, color, weathering, “scars,” etc.) as well as other atmospheric and environmental conditions. 

The photographs of the Walnut trees that have been bitten, can be seen as a place of reference for the seeming abstraction of the charcoal works, however were not made to be presented with or alongside the rubbings. These were for my own documentation of this very ongoing decades-long conversation.  There are two photograph collections of the bitten trees seen here which show a passage of time, and the aging and healing that occured in the intervening years.

The work is “Untitled” followed by the straightforward numbered description to encourage the reading of the marks as nonverbal field first. Making this work, I recognize myself as a collaborator on the back end of what’s been going on all along, but my subjectivity is on the surface as to admit to it, and release it as an invitation of sorts.