Suze Woolf, visual artist, and Dr. Diana Six, entomologist and writer, had been collaborating for some time before meeting face to face. PLAYA provided the time and space for them to get together, work in residency, and get to field locations in the nearby forests and mountains. The results of their collaboration are really quite remarkable–books in wood that showcase the advance of bark beetles in Western forests. Here they share their experience at PLAYA and in working together.

Suze: I came to Playa to continue my preoccupation with climate impacts on my beloved backcountry. Hiking through forests burned and yet to burn, I observe the hieroglyphic “scribing” of certain bark beetles on bark and wood. They seem like a script I can’t read, as if their tunnels are cryptograms we fail to decipher. These observations have resulted in one-of-a-kind artist books using materials incised by the beetles.

Because the larvae are no longer held in check by cold winters, and warmer, drier and longer growing seasons create drought stresses that reduce tree defenses, beetle populations have increased to where they can overwhelm even healthy trees. We have also suppressed the fires that created a hardy, heterogeneous landscape and we’ve practiced farming a monoculture of trees that are their favorite meals.

I have been working a part of my project for the Museum of Northwest Art’s Surge exhibit this fall: a short video explaining my motivations and processes that allows viewers to see inside the books, otherwise remote and immobile in a display case. The quiet here at PLAYA has allowed me to work undistracted with deep concentration.
It’s been rewarding as well as thought-provoking to receive input from a forester (Dr. David L. Peterson), two entomologists (Drs. Patrick C. Tobin and Diana Six) and a poet (Melinda Mueller). They have all directly influenced my form and content, as well as the video, so I am particularly excited to meet Dr. Six at PLAYA. I always get new ideas from conversations with other residents as well as with the people doing the science.

We enjoyed a field trip up to the Winter Rim, giving us an apt environment to share knowledge, impressions and ideas. We were impressed by the diversity of conifer species in the Fremont forest. We hope our work in both art and science helps people value that diversity, because it promotes much-needed resilience through cycles of beetle outbreaks and fire.

Nature provides a continuous web of stories. Few of us are exposed to them or even recognize them, let alone take time to disentangle them. These are important stories that need to be heard. Unfortunately, when scientists, such as I, attempt to translate these tales, our language is often just as incomprehensible as the stories themselves.

Suze has a remarkable ability to give voice to nature and even enhance in translation the stories that surround us — particularly those telling the insidious and significant damage humans are having on the environment. Her artist books transcend scientific jargon and complex ecological patterns to reach directly to the human mind and heart. It has been a pleasure to share my science and learn how she approaches translating the stories she sees in bark beetle-killed trees and outbreak-affected landscapes.

PLAYA has been an exceptional setting for us to escape the considerable constraints of email and to learn from one another in the best way possible, one on one.

Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.