ways of knowing
For this research stage of Branching Songs, we initially wanted to create a noninvasive way to attach our contact microphones to the trees we were recording and performing with. We explored land-based practices and indigenous ways of knowing, led by Lara Felsing, artist and ECU grad student. Lara developed a set of ‘ribbons’ or ‘prints’, based on Métis Ribbon Tree healing practices using plant-based materials. The ribbon method offered more than a practical solution, it also gave us a way to honour the trees participating in the performance through forms of reciprocity.
Cotton fabric dyed with dandelion yellow.
Ribbon Trees are a traditional practice by numerous First Nations and communities. Strips of fabric, called ribbons or prints, are created as vehicles for prayer, and are tied to a tree as an offering to the Earth. The prints are left on the tree and their material naturally returns to the land over time. The colours of prints are created to reflect the colours of the grandfather spirits, and to represent the prayer being made onto the fabric before it’s tied to the tree. For example, yellow represents the eagle spirit and the sun. Ribbon Trees may be made after a sweat lodge or other ceremony, where the ribbon or print is blessed.
Drawing the circle pattern on the fabric.
For the Branching Songs project, the tradition of prints for prayer was adapted into a material offering to the tree themselves who was temporarily participating in our sound art projects. The prints draw attention to the tree as an active participant in the projects—as a listener and creative contributor. The prints also act as an interface of healing, a gesture to the trees and forests subject to centuries of unsustainable colonial logging practices. The ribbons are tied around the tree and hold the contact mics in place for our sessions. They are removed when the session is over leaving the tree intact.
Lara tying a finished print on a tree. (Photo by Gabriella Felsing)
For the process of making the prints, Lara carefully created colour and hand-drawn symbolism. For example, for one of the prints used to hold a contact mic, she created a yellow dye from dandelions in her yard, and dyed cotton fabric sourced from a local thrift shop. The other prints used white, red and blue, dye colours also sourced from plant medicines close to home. Lara integrated patterns on the prints to signify the directions and the grandfather spirits. For example, circles are a sacred symbol of the interdependence of all life. Lara chose to draw circles onto some of the fabric strips to represent the cycles of seasons, the interconnectedness of all life, and also reference connection to land in healing circles. She drew on the fabric with charcoal, clay, chaga and other plant dyes she made by hand.
These are the colours of the prints and their associations:
Yellow: Sun/Eagle Spirit/East
Red: Thunder Spirit/lightning/water/fire/South
White: Buffalo Spirit (all animals and other-than-human life)/North
Blue: Wind Spirit (Breath of Creator)/West
A contact microphone is securely tucked in print – cord is visible running down left side of the trunk.