The sweet sticky smell of summer cascades down with the light. I stroll down the road, wanting to take the scenic route. Or at least that is what the sign said.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art has added some devious direction to their 100 Acres art park by bringing in the work of Colorado native, Kim Beck. The installation called "NOTICE: A Flock of Signs" creates a misleading path, both encouraging and discouraging observers to follow the path.
Beck, an Associate Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, intended her installation to remind visitors of signs you typically see in a park telling you not to trespass or to walk a certain way while, in fact, her signs are a little more creative.
At the beginning of my walk through the 100 Acres, the hum of a mosquito pulsed in my ear, whispering a reminder that humans do not belong. Conveniently, a sign not far off pointed out "human," reaffirming the unsent invitation from Mother Nature. Ignoring the rejection, I stepped off of the path to read some other signs set back away from the path. Everything seemed to echo a world gone mad.
These farther off signs seemed to extend a hand of welcome. No longer pointing out how invasive I was, rather they pointed out what was around making my place in the woods feel as justified as the marked "bee" buzzing nearby.
These signs lead me to an odd realization. Some of wooden white signs pointed out exactly what was there, while others pointed to only what lay within possibility.
This, apparently, was part of the artist's intention. "I wanted to point to this competing desire for experience and information," said Beck.
Walking off of the path suddenly became a game or a scavenger hunt of sorts, looking for signs that were labeling the wild world around.
A "tiny tree" pointed out exactly that.
A "bug" where there were none to be seen.
Trills of cicadas snapped my attention away from signs and a subconscious checklist. Suddenly it is clear: everything is here and nothing is where it should be.
"It is about the abundance of information where you don't need it to be," explains Beck of her work. "When you go to a park part of what you want to do is leave behind all this overload of information."
The signs seemed to be overflowing with information. While some of the phrases made the park seem like a lyrical stroll through Alice's Wonderland (where I in fact did know the difference between a raven and a writing desk) others were filled with scientific names and one-sentence history lessons.
"Duchman's Breeches aka Staggerweed,
aka Eardrops aka DicentraCucullaria:
Noxious wildflower historically used as a love charm."
I felt skeptical. Staggerweed? There was no such name. I wanted to know for sure though and so I pulled out my smart phone. After some quick research, though, the distrust was squelched. It turns out, stagger weed is actually a poisonous plant to animals, causing those who ate it to literally stagger about and often fall.
As I continued to wander down amidst all the twisting and turning signs, I noticed that there was only one set with neatly justified arrows. It was a list of Native American tribes. Arrows saying Illini, Muncie and Miami all pointed toward the lake, and off of the path. Once again, nothing was where it should be, but this time on a historical scale.
To Beck, it seems that the tribe names marked a memorial of sorts, remembering our own displaced and rightful owners to the land. A constant theme can be traced throughout many of the white painted boards: remember who was here, is here and what we are doing to our home.
In contrast to the ordered tribal names, most signs are stacks of angled arrows. Some seemed to create an iambic pentameter for those so inclined. One read,
"A little patch of
A gentle breeze,
The occasional fox,
Carbon sequestering tree,
A little patch of weeds."
The rhythm of the signs and the singing of birds carried me down to a circular path. It wrapped around what Beck calls the clearing, an island of thick grass housing birds and little white butterflies. They fluttered about, seeming to come from the paint of the signs themselves. Rising from the circles of foliage, a dense cluster of tall blank arrows caused me to walk and look every way possible, not knowing exactly what I was looking for.
Further down the path lay a series of smaller 'flocks', both in number and in height. This time they collectively pointed at the ground. The humble, baby arrows seemed like they wanted to grow with the trees around them.
As I made my way out of the park, I was thinking how this was no ordinary walk through the park. I found myself still trying to find a balance between information and experience after leaving. In an age of information overload, it is easy to forget what is right there. I began to cherish the last part of the walk without any signs, the part where I could simply notice the community of organisms and the woodland creatures. Check.
It was a flock of signs that ruffled even my orderly feathers.