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Process: Tedi Tafel

blurred woman in corridor

Thoughts on the making of From the Cougar Cabin to the Seven Cedars

My first days at the Reserve are overshadowed by a lingering cold, so I choose to stay close to home. I hang out with the guys in the mornings, busy at work inside the adjacent cabin, and go for short walks along the nearby stream. After awhile, I venture further out and end up at in small grove of cedars, seven in all. I rest. I repeat this pattern for a few days; spending time at the Cougar Cabin, then walking to the cedar grove and resting. I feel my energy return. It occurs to me that this pathway has something to do with the work I want to make. Out of curiosity, I begin to do rubbings of the patterns of the bark of a birch tree, using tracing paper and charcoal. Because the textures vary, depending on where the paper is placed, I decide to systematically circle the trunk, tracing the details as I move around.

(That night I look up circumambulation in my book of symbols and find... "a progressive concentric movement towards the discovery of one's true nature". I decide to continue.)

These walks and rubbings become my daily activity. I leave early, sometimes dropping by the Cougar to see how things are progressing, then head into the woods. I follow the same path toward the cedars but stop along the way, drawn to different trees for different reasons. The black markings I uncover are like a multitude of fingerprints, each with its own distinct rhythm of surface. I feel like I'm exposing some sort of primordial language or code; lines, indentations and swirls of an ancient text. Each page is beautiful to me.

This simple act of circling is calming. Moving slowly around each vertical centre sends my awareness out to the wider spaces. I begin to notice the more subtle life of each place that I stop; the shift of light and wind, the distinct smells, all sort of prints in the snow. Things happen each day, events and encounters that mingle with the mood or thoughts I take with me into the woods. Over time, it , I return home with a blackened face and hands, looking begins to feel like I'm part of a narrative which has its own unfolding logic that includes me in its telling. At the end of each daylike a coal miner. I wash up, happy to see everyone again.

When deciding where and how I will place this collection of tracings, I think about the commonly used pathways inside the main cabin. I want to make a link between our indoor and outdoor routes of passage so I hang the work in vertical lines (10 sheets of 8 x 10 paper for each tree, 25 trees in all) along the length of the hallway that connects the bedrooms to the kitchen and the living room. The 'trees' are placed in the order that they were traced, starting near the Cougar Cabin and finishing with the cedar grove. Because of the lightness of the paper and the way each piece is attached, they move with the current of air created whenever someone passes, making a slight rustling sound with each coming and going.

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