The insertion of ecological artworks into the urban patterns offers opportunities to confront our relationship in nature in new ways. Additionally, the location in proximity to density and multi-modal traffic (versus, something tucked away in a far-off location) also gives artists a significantly larger audience to express concepts to. One very central piece in Portland that sometimes hides under the radar is the simple piece ‘Host Analog’ by Seattle artist Buster Simpson.
Installed in 1991 adjacent to the Oregon Convention Center – and in close proximity to the adjacent MAX light rail stop – this piece uses the obvious analog of the ‘nurse log’, which falls and decays, providing a fertile media to ‘host’ the growth of other forest biomass. This common sight on any hike in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, this configuration of death and rebirth provides fascinating iterations of mutualistic ecologies in nature and a story of ecological systems in microcosm. See the similarities below.
:: Nurse Log – image via Wikipedia
Some of the details of the installation, coupled with the descriptive (albeit dated) text from Simpson’s website: “Host Analog teaches us to see the beauty found in the chaos dynamics. Transposing phenomena into aesthetics, this sculpture creates an anomaly with new paradigms. This old growth nursing log, decomposing and nursing a new landscape, is a work in progress. For over 500 years, this Douglas Fir was nurtured in the same watershed which sustains Portland today. In the 1960’s, this monarch fell to the winds and later bucked to determine if suitable for lumber. No harvestable, the eight sections of the old growth trunk, measuring eight feet in diameter by eight feet long each, lay host to way become the Bull Run watershed. Rediscovered by the artist in 1990, the nursing log was moved to rest adjacent to the Oregon State Convention Center to continue its regenerative processes. Over the past nine years, the Host Analog has re-established itself in this new context, nursing both its original indigenous plants, as well as a new ‘invasive’ plantscape from the adjacent urban landscape.”
And the other interesting aspect of ‘living’ installations is to see the evolution over time, creating art that is never complete. The piece is now over 18 years old, and has grown new vegetation (as mentioned, some native and some non-native), as well as continuing further deterioration of the host pieces. See some flash evolution sequences on Simpson‘s website, as well as this evolutionary set of stills from the City of Kent website:
:: images via City of Kent (click to enlarge)
The interpretive elements are relatively small, and often overlooked… it’d be interested to see a poll of users of the Convention Center and surrounding environs to even know this piece exists… but that is part of it’s beauty. It doesn’t confront users in an overt way, but is differentiated slightly from the more traditional landscape treatments by a vastly different plant palette, the irrigating ‘frame’ and some simple signage.