Critical Habitat: Bark's Artist-in-Residence on Protecting Our Wild and Creative Places

Ten years ago, Gary Wiseman began to create art emphasizing Possibility. He organized tea parties in industrial lots and costume parties on public busses meant to give the community captivating spaces in which to rediscover the social experience. These unassuming locations are an aesthetic ecosystem for the observant artist. They provide inspiration, contrast, and most importantly, the unexpected. Portland used to be full of these spaces.

“It is becoming very challenging to have an autonomous experience in Portland.” He told me. “The conceptual spaces in Portland are diminished, and people are noticing.” This, Gary thinks, is not unlike disappearing ecosystems in the non-human world. Maybe the limits on possibility created by purposeful design, money, and privilege are part of what drew Gary toward Mt. Hood and Bark’s work to protect the natural processes that still exist there.

Gary has been working out of our office for a couple months now. He has a small workspace set up near the bookshelves full of timber sale binders, field guides, lichen collections, and histories of Mt. Hood. In the few weeks since he arrived he has collected charcoal from four forest fires on Mt. Hood and developed a process for turning that charcoal into a kind of paint. His test swatches show that older material is less lustrous. He boils the charcoal to break it down.
samples of charcoal from Mt.Hood National Forest
In his explorations he has also collected objects that signify a distinctly human presence, namely metal targets in unexpected designs from illegal shooting ranges. The production and subsequent use of these items piques Gary’s interest in the transformation of something pragmatic into an object out of context and imbued with personal narrative.

I asked him about his experience at Bark and am glad to report: Gary has been having a blast. “I’m excited. This feels very relevant. It’s becoming more and more clear how important Bark’s issues are,” he said. He’s learned a lot about how Bark works, what we do, and the science that supports our advocacy. Recently Gary joined 30 other volunteers and staff at the annual summer camp out, this year held near the proposed Polallie-Cooper Timber Sale on the north slope of Mt. Hood. He joined teams of groundtruthers, working to document the condition of “roads” in the area. The Forest Service claims many of these old roads are viable and want to use them for access to the logging project. The groundtruthers scrutinized miles of these proposed roads, documented the diverse plant and animal species, and counted trees that would be logged if the sale is approved. At the end the campers hiked Lookout Mountain for a 360-degree view from Rainier and Adams in the north to Jefferson and Washington beyond the Warm Springs Reservation.

the shape of the forest fireThis was an experience Gary deems significant after he had been spending so much time focusing on micro-activities in the forest. In his project at Bark he aims show the connection between the minute and the global, the office and the forest, what is good for the people and what is good for the place, how the forest is used and how humans come in and out.  Gary has a thoughtful and exciting perspective. His art is relevant and purposeful. It’s important, he says, for an artist to be open and responsive to their environment, to be flexible in their method, and to explore the world around them– seeking possibility. It’s smart, he says, to bring artists out into wild places, places they care about, to discover where art interacts with the world.

Gary Wiseman's work from this residency will be shown in October at the Portland Pataphysical Society. Stay tuned for details on the opening event and other opportunities to see the evidence of his time at Bark.
This month see Gary's work as part of "
doing, undoing, repeat." at PSU Littman Gallery.
His other work can be found online at

More information about Signal Fire's Tinderbox Residency can be found here.

Courtney for Bark

Courtney Rae, Community Organizer

test swatches of paint made with charcoal from forest firesartists workstation at the Bark office