TEXT + PHOTOS Dennis Evans
The Saskatchewan Prairies’ low, flat horizon encourages one to pay attention to the enormous blue sky. Because of its vastness, one cannot escape the clear intense light. This recognition is the impetus for building the observatory and using it for image-based investigations. Located at Flying Creek Valley near Craven, the Straw Bale Observatory provides a platform for the documentation of light quality, movement and reflection. As a site-specific work, the structure facilitates the recording of light phenomena.
The exterior dimensions of the blocky structure are roughly 12 feet cubed, but the considerable thickness of the walls means that the interior dimensions are approximately nine feet cubed. The exterior is clad in stucco while the interior is detailed with hand-finished plastered walls and ceiling. The floor is wood. The four walls have two-foot square openings with cardinal direction alignment. These openings, along with an additional elliptical cutout in the ceiling, allow for the passage of light, sound, air and weather. They also serve as viewfinders for making photographs of the landscape.
Observatories for the practice of measuring light movement are universal and ancient. The Kogi, native to the Northern Columbian Highlands, are but one of many cultures that still embrace direct observation of the natural environment to inform their codes for meaningful and responsible living. As part of their nature-based aesthetics, the Kogi build temples to watch the sun “weave” its pattern of time across the ground. These rituals of observation and reading light ensure continued contact with their life source and provide a means for expanding the perception of reality. For them, light is the medium. Creating the Straw Bale Observatory brings these ancient Kogi principles into a dialogue with the Prairie landscape and lifeworld–a place resonant with its own history of First Nations’ cultures and their articulation of the connections between art, nature, spirituality, and healing practices. By using ancient models of observation and contemplation, the intent is to add a contemporary dimension to this profound cultural practice.
As a means to construct order around us, this project is a system of inquiry linking ancient principles and practices with present dialogue to facilitate new modes of perception, communication, and social interaction for a contemporary audience. CA
Dennis Evans is Professor Emeritus at the University of Regina. The Straw Bale Observatory project has stimulated sky/light investigations in Tibet, Mongolia and Ladakh. Flying Creek Valley was documented as part of the television series Landscape As Muse and was featured on the SCN and Bravo television networks.