Blowout: The Accumulator Barriers and the Locator Cone

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Oxbow School of Painting and Sculpture, Saugatuck, MI

Materials & Dimensions:
Oak, sassafras, willow, vine, grass
400 feet shore to summit x 160 feet wide (top barrier); cone 15 feet high

"A blowout is a deflation basin excavated in dune sand due to absence of vegetation (by the wind)." -
Introduction to Physical Geography, Longwell and Flint

The work was determined by its circumstances-----

The nature of the site
A dune with a blowout at the top and a climax forest behind, and the expanse of the oxbow of a river at the bottom. The blowout was accessible by three approaches: a path that went diagonally across the dune to the top, a path straight up the neck of the blowout from the water, and a path from the climax forest behind the dune. Only the path from the water permitted seeing the blowout before reaching it.

The materials available at the site
Only indigenous materials were used. Nothing living was cut. The barriers were made of fallen oak and sassafras from the climax forest. The cone was created from fallen sassafras, vines, and willow saplings killed by high water.

The time available to build it
Six days, the time of my artist’s residency at Oxbow.

The piece spanned the space between the top of the blowout and the banks of the oxbow and was concerned with points of view. The cone was located at the only shore point that provided an unobstructed view of the blowout and was in line with a dead tree at the top center of it. The shape of the cone was the positive inverted volume of the negative space of the blowout. It was thatched with branches from a stand of dead willows across the water. Its structure was made with sassafras and vines from the forest behind the blowout. The blowout was reciprocal with the cone; its barriers were built with forest materials, and a path connected it with the cone.

The whole purpose was an interference with the natural course of erosion in the area. It became an integration as the barriers blocked human traffic, accumulated sand and debris, and allowed grass growth, while the cone weathered and disintegrated.

To establish a foreshadowing of the blowout on the diagonal path, I made an inverted triangular area by tying bundles of dune grass in rows using dead grass from the previous season. This, too, eventually loosened and dispersed into the prevailing order of the site.