Synchronous Forest Revisited: A Photo Essay

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The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.

—John Lasseter, Pixar

 A recording of the environmental soundscape by Jeremiah Lyman Moore that accompanied Synchronous Forest. Listen to more here.

Standing at the crossroads of nature and technology, the artist is continuously called to re-create and challenge the beauty, vastness, contradictions, and complexities of this world. In 1997, “Synchronous Forest: The Dance Of Nature and Technology” was created in Colorado by Lindy Lyman, visual artist, and Jeremiah Lyman Moore, sound and installation artist. The exhibition premiered in 1998 at Regis University, Denver, and was shown again at The Museum of Outdoor Art, Englewood, in 1999.

 J. Moore and L. Lyman in 1997

In observing the dance of Mother Nature and her offspring, Technology, we were fascinated by the spin of opposites: the real and the virtual, the innate and the artificial, the integrated and the incongruous. Our creative adventure was to envision these insights with paint on canvas, and to amplify and shape them with sound. Drifting from the airy to the mechanical to the ethereal, the acoustic dimension of the exhibition was played through a diffuse speaker array designed to envelop visitors in a bath of sound. Synchronously combining the imagery of analog and digital, ancient and cyber, our intention was to evoke a sense of timelessness, urgency, menace, and blessing.

We invited ourselves and our visitors to listen, wonder, explore, and consider: “Who really has the last word: Nature or Technology?”

To highlight this query, we created a rich textural “forest” soundscape of paintings, surrounding environments, and a central gauze-covered pyramidal listening structure with a small bench. The soundscape was comprised of layers and sequences from natural and technological worlds. The sound shaped the physical space, as well as one’s personal experience of being within it. Bees sang in duet. There was the subtle pattern of human breath. At one point, the sudden swoosh of a passing car overwhelmed the gallery. The recording had been taken at pavement level from the side of a road. Throughout the soundscape, an undergirding, vast matrix merged with/was intruded by sounds of technology—or were they sounds of nature?

Mobiles made from gathered branches were festooned with patterned green circuit boards instead of leaves. A painted “divining rod” branch could be held in one’s hands, symbolically searching out the knowledge and nourishment of underground rivers. Wearable art was fashioned from shiny technological artifacts scavenged from recycling centers and dumpsters. Objects specific to the theme of each painting surrounded each canvas. Sandstone slabs and granite Colorado River stones provided an earthscape below each painting.

Withn the gallery space, four paintings were oriented to the true compass directions of east, south, west, and north, as well as to the corresponding times of one’s life, times of day, the four seasons, and the four elements. The fifth painting, “Ancient Source,” was positioned to welcome viewers to the exhibition, providing a grounding and pivoting point from which to experience the whole environment.

To view the paintings, one processed around the room as the sun processes throughout the day. At the beginning was East/The Forest Primeval: Birth, Morning, Springtime [Air Acrylic, inks, found papers, found objects, on unprimed canvas 50”x 42”   1997].

 Installation view of East

Then came South/The Forest Peopled: Childhood, Noontime, Summertime, Fire [Acrylic, inks, found papers, found objects, on unprimed canvas. 50” x 42” 1997].

Installation view of South

Then West/The Forest Radiant and Reverberant: Adulthood, Afternoon, Autumn, Water [Acrylic, inks, found papers, found objects, on unprimed canvas. 50” x 42” 1997].

Installation view of West

And North/The Forest Deep and High: Elderhood, Life Passage, Wintertime, Earth [Acrylic, inks, found papers, found objects, on unprimed canvas. 50” x 42” 1997].

Installation view of North

At last viewers came to Synchronous Forest/Ancient Source [Acrylic, inks, found papers, found objects, on unprimed canvas. 50” x 42” 1997]. It was the “root” painting from which stem the four other paintings in the Synchronous Forest Series. Here, homage is given to the tree of life from deepest Africa: the drum is given by the tree, and the dance answers to the drum’s ancient rhythms of the universe. “Ancient Source” speaks to the deep legacy of wisdom from the ancients and the ancestors, and to the connecting source that holds all of life together.

Ancient Source

It is now nearly twenty years since “Synchronous Forest: The Dance of Nature and Technology.” Here are the questions we asked in 1997, at the peak of the Information Age: What is the use of technology doing to the world around and within us? Are we causing damage beyond hope of repair? Are we allowing technology to rob us of humanity and respect for nature? Are we distancing and distracting ourselves from the vastness of nature? Are we forgetting that humans are actually part of nature?

Now, in the year 2016, the world is deep within the Digital Age. In addition to the above, there are new questions to ask and to act upon: What are the ethics and ultimate effectiveness of genetic engineering, bio-engineering and geo-engineering? Cyber warfare and the dominion of outer space? The effect of digital media and virtual reality on the human brain, nervous system, and psyche? The preponderance of screen time on our lives? Is technology expanding our worlds of knowledge yet simultaneously putting us out of touch with our real-time, breathing selves within the body of this world?

How can citizens of the planet learn to be the intelligent, connecting link between nature and technology? Can we still transform “a world out of sync” into a synchrony of stewardship, responsibility, conscience, and ethics? Meanwhile, we hover within the vastness of earth time, eternity, urgency, menace, and blessing. We are constantly challenged and inspired by the worlds of nature and technology.

Perhaps from time to time we would find refreshment by remembering to step into the listening place of our own inner Synchronous Forest.

  • Lindy Lyman

    Lindy Lyman is a native New Englander returned to her roots after forty years in Colorado. Teaching and making art are some of her favorite things. Although she is challenged by technology, she is equally inspired by sound and light, day and night, sun and moon, the seasons, the elements, and the wonder of many cultures, all singing and dancing together.

  • Jeremiah Lyman Moore

    Jeremiah Lyman Moore is a practicing sound artist and sound designer working solo and with collaborators across the disciplines of film, theater, radio, interactive work, mobile experiences, haptic augmentation, field recording, and site-specific installation.

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