The Wishing Tree

Some ideas take hold of my mind like wildfire. And like wildfire they burn. The best ideas for me are the ones that cause both beauty and pain. Sometimes I fall in love with a thought so hard and so intensely I have to shut it down. It’s too much for my mind to open up to all at once. Like moment you realize something you have been longing for is about to materialize.

The anticipation is overwhelming.

Often, in response to the discomfort of the intensity of longing, I shut it down.

I turn off the podcast, close the book, switch the channel, and if possible go for a long hard walk. I am fairly certain it is a scarcity response: the idea is too good, too powerful; better to save it for later and not consume it all at once.

Listening to Sophie Strand was like that.

In an interview with Kamea Chayne on the Green Dreamer podcast, Sophie talks about the link between oral cultures, mythologies, and ecosystems. It was for me a mind expanding conversation. It provided my mind with new forms and words to pre-lingual thoughts floating around in my head. Sophie weaves together ecology with mythology, allowing each one to inform the other.

“And the really interesting thing about fungi, that they teach us, is they don’t have a distinct morphology. When you pour them into an ecosystem, they find the best shape that maps the relationship. They’re a cartography of relationships. So they teach us a lot about how although we think we are individuals, we really are embedded in environments that are shaping us constantly. And we’re probably going to be most resilient and most healthy when we acknowledge that embeddedness.”

It is just after this part of the conversation that she heads into the Devonian age where plants emerging onto land had no roots. It was fungus that taught plants how to root and live together. She refers to it as “a fungal collaboration, of a multi-species, interpenetrative, anarchic, inter-corporeal, long-lasting, collaboration.”

I stopped the podcast. It was too much for this brain. Too beautiful, too much goodness, too much in my mind cracking open at once.

That night I dreamt of a Wishing Tree.

The notion of a Wishing Tree comes from my adolescence where I was deeply influenced by Arthurian legends. I read the poem below when I was 14. Back then all my longing was focused around leaving the place I was living, and Camelot offered a wonderful idea for escape:

In quest of Beauty I rode far,
With dreams for guide, and a falling star,
A leaping stag and a golden bee:
I found you under a wishing-tree.

I know the road to Camelot,
By leafy glade and ferny grot:
You know, by flash of song and wing,
The silver birds of which I sing.

In Beauty's service still I ride
By grassy track and curling tide.
Now every wood has its wishing-tree
And every rose her golden bee.

Theodore Goodridge Roberts 

Between Sophie Strand and this poem my dreaming mind sprouted a little seed in the sidewalk crack left abandoned from the podcast.

In my dream there was a tree whose roots are connected all around the world. This tree knows all and can share all knowledge. The Wishing Tree has the capacity to hold all things, because they are rooted in a mycorrhizal system connected to and facilitated by fungus. In light of that, the seeker makes the wish and the tree takes that information and sends it the world over. All the animate world takes into consideration the wish. Whether the wish “comes true” is not important. The important thing is for the person to say their wish to the tree and let it go from there. Humans are not meant to hold onto longing because they do not have a mycorrhizal system and cannot have the perspective needed to hold pain like that. It is best for humans with longing to find a wishing tree.

Since dreaming this, I have gone back to finish the podcast. Along with Sophie Strand I have encountered other incredible brave voices transforming the landscape of my mind. Between Sophie Strand, Bayo Akomolafe, Alnoor Ladha, Vanessa Andreotti and Ayesha Khan my mind is being made wild with a new ecology of ideas.

More here.

As these ideas take hold, I feel my art practice is moving from site specific installation, venturing towards what I now understand to be a social practice through ritual, letter writing, and art-as-lifestyle practices.

I am so looking forward to where 2023 takes me.


Letters from the Woods—An Invitation

Dear one,

Have you ever been lost? I mean right properly lost. So turned around you can’t remember where you came from or what direction is the way back.  

It’s unsettling to say the least.

Do you know what your mind does when faced with profound uncertainty? Where do you go in your head? What coping do you use? Do you reach out to blame someone or thing? Bad map or a shit guide? Do you turn inward and blame yourself? Do you forge ahead in uncertainty? Or do you quit and sit down? How long can you “stay with the trouble” before despair sets in?

I had nearly forgotten what it was like.

I have really only been deeply lost twice in my life–lost to the point of despair. Once in the mountains of Costa Rica. I could not find my way and at one point believed that I might never get home. The second time I was profoundly lost was when my concrete notions of faith dissolved and I became agnostic. It was an agonizing three months that left me with thoughts of suicide due to the extreme feelings of meaninglessness.

Friend, I am lost again. This time, however, I am lost by choice.

This summer I entered the woods in order to abandon the known routes in my life. I wanted to leave behind all that is familiar—the status quo that is responsible for so many troubling structures. I do not want to only fix problems with band-aids or be a white saviour to the legacy of colonial and racist violence. I do not want my liberation lens to end at white feminism.

I do not want to die knowing I could have pushed harder to change the way I live had I just stayed with the trouble a little longer.

I want to be a better ancestor.

I want to take this life force, this energy, this star dust that is my body and run it as hard as I can into trying something else.

For me, this looks like getting lost in the woods.

‘becoming lost’ is really about losing the specificity of our boundaries, the intransigence of our anthropocentrism; it is about shapeshifting, colluding with plants and rocks and wind, and becoming fine enough to meet the challenge of a dead-end. Perhaps it is more about noticing that we are the dead ends we confront, we are the monsters on our path. It is about broadening our spectrum enough to see that ‘the way ahead’ is not as demanding and as exclusive as our frantic maps make it out to be, but a promiscuous field of threadbare possibilities wanting to be stitched.

Bayo Akomolafe

I cannot go back, and I do not know the way forward. I have no compass, no map, and it feels dark.

It is from this place that I invite you alongside me as I journey through these woods, real and metaphorical. In this time I am questioning everything. I am prying behind the structures I have taken for granted and asking what happens when I loosen the lines–or obliterate them altogether.

I intend to be here for the next five years. I intend to get comfortable not knowing, stumbling my way through this place.  It is sometimes scary, sometimes lonely, sometimes incredibly rewarding.

I know there are many paths through the woods, and the one I am following is maybe just for me. But I welcome your company, if you want to come alongside me through this beautiful, uncomfortable passage.

Your friend in the wild,



My Life is My Art is My Praxis

I remember there was a moment in my studies at the School of Art where I realized that I would never not be an artist. It seems funny to say that now, but I think I was haunted by a productivity mindset that if I wasn’t creating something, ideally something of value, then my status as an artist could be revoked. 

Subconsciously I think I believed “value” to mean something someone would spend money on. Whether that is a product someone would buy, a work a gallery would pay me to exhibit, or an idea a granting body was willing to fund–my status as an artist hinged on that value. 

I had this moment of realization as I was working in the clay studio. It was joined in a string of thoughts that included the realization that I didn’t have to make mugs to be a clay artist, and that I was in love with the material itself and it was going to be a life long affair. Or, to paraphrase spoken word artist, Shane Koyczan, I found my voice and remembered I was an artist.

“Whether it is with food or building robots you will know your medium the instant you realize how in love you are with what it brings out of you”

Shane Koyczan

I will never not be an artist. 

Knowing I am an artist however, doesn’t solve the how to be an artist. With so many avenues, so many mediums and so many ideas, knowing I was an artist was only the first step into becoming one. 

As tempting as it was, I didn’t quit all my jobs. I did not want income to be the the primary motive behind my practice.  In the same way I am allowing myself the freedom to not let gallery exhibitions and grant funding be the primary motive behind my work. I am not opposed to either of these, and will likely submit my work for funding and for exhibits, but this is not my primary motive at this time. 

Instead I am giving myself five years in a tiny cabin to intertwine my life together with my art so that they become a single fabric. As I attempt to attune my personal life somewhere on the periphery of colonial capitalist structures, I am wanting to do the same with my art practice. 

I am curious if I can find value in my cultural labour outside galleries, and grants, and products? Is there is a way for my practice to be relational, tethered to life and less of a competition against other artists and makers?

My intuition tells me that the first step is to erase the hard line between art and life. 

I doubt my intuition even as I write, or at least I am unsure on what happens when you remove the structure.

It feels a little vulnerable. Like having my body altered in a performance. Maybe it is a social practice I am after, or a five year performance, or a five year site specific installation. I am not really sure. 

Blurring the line between “real life” and “art practice” with no clear picture feels risky.   

But I am too curious not to try. 

So here I go: five years in the woods. Five years to inhabiting a liminal space. Five years of practicing something different with my art. Five years where my life is my art is my praxis.


The Idea

Last year I set out to “unsettle” myself by planning to live in a tiny house on wheels on land I did not own. My core thesis was that how we regulate land regulates ourselves. I wanted to explore this idea through site specific installations and intentional living practices producing a body of works at the end of the 5 years as well as a collection of personal reflections on the experience.

I have had to shift this whole project, however, learning that it was not possible to build a tiny house on wheels under current regulations. I won’t go into the details, but at this point living in a tiny house on wheels on land I don’t own, is just not possible.

So, instead I am living in a tiny cabin in the woods on land I share.

This summer I bought a ½ acre in Woodridge. On this land there was a hunting shed and work space. Over the last three months I have worked to renovate the shed into a tiny cabin, and the workspace part of the structure I am turning into an unheated studio.

My intention is to cultivate a seasonal studio practice where over the winter months I move my work indoors, spending time in reading, writing, sketching and dreaming. In the warmer months I move my practice into the studio where I am able to produce the work I have mentally cultivated over the winter.

Like my original intentions, I am exploring my relationship to land, to self and to community. I am interested in how my relationships to each of them have been shaped by exploitative colonial and capitalist power structures and whether I can divest myself of these and the privilege that comes from being a white American.

By taking on the work of disrupting convenience in my daily life and cultivating a seasonal life, I am hoping to surface the ways these colonial and capitalist structures are present in how I live. I am widening my circle of community to include the soil, the elements, the fungi and bacteria, the plants, insects and animals who cross my path, as well as the humans who are a part of my life.

I am uncertain what this body of work will look like. Currently I am moving towards a clay practice that is ephemeral, a print practice that is illustrative, and a photography practice that is documentary.

As uncertain as I am, and as unsettling as this past year has been, I am, nevertheless, looking forward to the work ahead of me.


She’s a self made man

I did not want my body.

Female bodies were weak bodies. My body was not weak. I was strong. I had immense capacity.

Female bodies were targets. There to be viewed, groped, harassed, and assaulted, female bodies belonged to people with power. My body wanted power. I learned to fight and to disgust. I could burp louder than a man, eat just as much and knew how to kill with a well placed hit to the jugular. I wore my camo pants and flattened my chest. I was no one’s girlfriend: I was a comrade.

Female bodies were ill bodies. They bled, got sick and stayed in bed. My body was not a sick body. I could push through any pain, fight through any illness. I found my physical limits and challenged them. I leaned into pain.

Female bodies were subservient. Made by God to be “help meet suitable” they were weaker and more susceptible to sin. I was born under the authority of a man.

There was nothing I could do about that.

I told God he had made a critical error when he made me a woman.

Wasted opportunity.

Much later, in the violence and ruins of a crumbling belief structure, I came home to my body.


Today I put on a terrible strength

I memorized the breastplate of St. Patrick while on my way to the International Christian Youth Group in San José. I carried the ancient prayer in the side pocket of my camo pants along with traditional Gaelic songs, ballads of middle earth and Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot.

I worked hard to unite what my unschooled mind knew about science and what I knew about Christian ontology. I knew Jesus was true because I understood how the space time continuum functioned on earth.

I knew that I moved in the intersection between the 3rd and 4th dimensions and that all life was only a shadow of the real. In a spectacular union of theology, medievalism, romanticism, and Eurocentric idealism, I came up with a formula for how to know if something was true. If it felt good, it it was beautiful or held a hint of what the German romantics called Sehnsucht, it was core to reality. In other words, it was a “shadow of truth” suspended in space and time for eternity.

Aslan is Jesus is King Arthur is Aragorn.

If you couldn’t see it, you weren’t looking hard enough.

“Today I put on a terrible strength
invoking the Trinity
confessing the Three
with faith in the one
As I face my Maker”

I mumbled the words as the bus headed south to the city. Protection against the supernatural forces that tore at my soul trying to disrupt my task as a spiritual warrior.

I left the compound in Costa Rica when I was 18 to discover what kind of warrior bard God had called me to be.

I surfaced as an ordinary human somewhere between cups of tea and chopping onions for supper at L’Abri.


Work in Progress

Last night each artist presented about the work we have done over the past year for Rural Arts Mentorship Program. Brenna encouraged us to make a short video about our work. It was a great way to condense my progress and ideas around my work into a short introduction. I am nowhere near complete, but by now I have a really good sense of the direction.

Also, I now have a YouTube channel!


Jessamyne Polson was my closest friend in Costa Rica

Jessamyne Polson was my closest friend in Costa Rica/ Alexandra Ross/2021/digital photograph

Jessamyne Polson was my closest friend in Costa Rica. I don’t know what normal teenage relationships are like, but teenage friendship in isolated zealous Christian expat communities in the mountains of Costa Rica was intense. I was an isolated unschooled American expat living on a family compound in the Mountains of San Isidro de Heredia. Jess was a homeschooled Canadian MK living with her family in the missionary compound a forty minute walk away.

We entangled each other in the webs of our primary social circles and forged our own tangled friendship. She was my closest friend and comrade against the constraints of family, but she was my fierce competition when it came to establishing my social identity.  

Sometimes I think about what my relationship with Jess would have been if it had been safe to be friends. I play the what if game.

What if I had seen examples of healthy relationships?

What if it had been safe to be intimate?

What if we had lived outside a patriarchy?

What if it had been safe to inhabit my body?

What if it had been safe to be vulnerable?

What would friendship look like in that context?

I try to imagine our friendship in that context, but I can’t. It’s an impossible task for my cynical imagination that only knew one reality.

I play a reverse game what if game:

What if you only see abuse of power in relationships?

What if intimacy is used to control?

What if you believe women are the cause of human ill?

What if you believe your body is sinful?

What if any vulnerability is exploited?

What would friendship look like in that context?

I can tell you.

You come away with intense moments of beauty, and painful moments of regret, and a shit ton of dissociation.

If you’re lucky, you meet a friend who, throughout the tangled web of life, is resilient as fuck and can cut through the knots of teenage friendship and see its core intention.

Jessamyne Polson, you are one brilliant, beautiful, resilient woman.


The Public Brewhouse and Gallery

Folks, I have been sitting on this big announcement for a while now, and I am SO excited to finally be able to go public with The Public!

Together with my dear friends and husband, we are starting a microbrewery and art gallery in Steinbach, Manitoba! Based on the idea of a public square, we have designing a place where you can meet up with people, view the work of rural based contemporary artists while you drink beautiful craft beer made onsite!

Along with a gallery for viewing work we are also bringing The Tiny Gallery on board and it will travel around to rural towns with a reproduction from our main gallery.

I cannot even express how excited I am.

There is a shit ton of work to do, but for now, I am just so proud to be making this announcement!

You can follow the adventure on Instagram: @thepublicbrewhouseandgallery


The Experience of Conversation

Panel discussion from April 21st, 2021.

This past month I participated in an online group exhibit titled, Momentum. Last week we had our online opening which consisted of a zoom panel hosted by artist and professor, Sarah Fuller. A week prior to this Dana Kletke, Co-Executive Director of MAWA interviewed me about my work in the exhibit.

It is my first exhibit experience that has included not only the opportunity to craft a group curatorial statement, but also to experience both a panel and an interview specific to the exhibit and my work. What I now know: I really enjoy the process of making work coupled with conversations about process and ideas. I love how both the process of making art and the art itself brings this expansive capacity to conversation and allows viewer and artist to experience, view, and talk around ideas within the art.

As a new experience, this feels like such a generous “art world” tradition. Every artist should have the experience of exploring their work with safe, curious, interested viewers. What a thing.

Though, now that I am reflecting on all this, it occurs to me that I should credit the organizations of MAWA and MAN (such an unfortunate acronym) for being safe, positive spaces for artists to talk about their ideas.

The exhibit and the interviews have been really helpful as part of the Rural Artist Mentorship Program. I will write about my participation the program soon, but I just want to just to mention this exhibit and interviews on my blog. Momentum lands as a mid-point in the mentorship program and, as such, provided a fantastic opportunity to forge and small body of work, and fine-tune the ideas, complete them, document, and then communicate about them.

Conversation with Dana, April 12, 2021