Portrait of a Field

Portrait of Rochester Field

Field: an open place, a pasture or cultivated land, without woody plants, marked off and used for grazing animals or growing crops. In other words, a human-made space.

Rochester Field, located adjacent to a historic house in the suburbs, was once a pasture, maintained by grazing animals and was used by the community as an unofficial cut-through to the Ottawa river and transit in the west-end of Ottawa. 

Early morning before the business of the day, I visited the field and discovered the majesty of an ordinary place. Rochester Field; a nondescript open field, a place under pressure of development, located in the city where green space is seen by some as a development opportunity. I offer this artwork as a way of saying, this is what we lost when the bulldozers arrived.

In the process of making this body of work, I had the experience of seeing a familiar place as if for the first time. My aim in making this artwork is to amplify the perceived value of this “empty field”, especially this green-space in the middle of the city, as it holds a special place for the local community.

While collecting the individual plants found in the field, I started to notice the diversity and quiet magnificence of each plant.  Broadleaf Plantain crowds the edges of the path in thick clusters, tall grasses with their pollen hang down and Curly Dock stridently pokes through the thick grasses. To begin to notice the individual plants that make up this place is to know a place in a new and different way. Each plant seems to have negotiated its place and blooming time within what seems like a tangle of growth. Some reach for the sun, others exist in the thickness of the middle ground, and all the earth is covered with green and growing plants. The only space without plants is the narrow hard-packed dirt path worn by habitual visitors who travel the same path each time they visit.

The images in this series function as memories of a particular time and place and are named by the date they were collected and the image created. They are a record of the discovery of the ceaseless progress of the seasons. The vantage point is decidedly low, it does not tower above as is our habitual point of view. Rather this vantage point features weeds as if they were a forest, giving humans a better vantage point to see the complexity and splendour of this place. This is a view-point of one who has bent a knee and offers an out-stretched hand seeking to know this place, not one who claims dominion over it. I come as an admirer, wanting also to be known by this place. I offer a view that is one of immersion, one that is relational and one of seeing and knowing the more than human presents for the part they play in the whole.

In shifting my approach I have discovered a new way of relating to place; one that is gentle, inquisitive and respectful and values this place in a new way.

Barbara Brown