On June 23 KCCI reported that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimated that Iowa lost more
than 4 million trees due to the August 10, 2020 derecho, nearly identical to the 4,1425,144
known deaths world wide due to COVID, as of July 21, 2021 (New York Times). Cedar Rapids
alone lost more than 700,000 trees (cbs 2 iowa) The trees that are being cut down now are disabled. With their major limbs broken, they only bush up. Trees with a broken leader, more than half of their leaf cover removed or with major limbs down are unlikely to produce enough leaves to draw enough nourishment to sustain the tree long enough to recover (Texas A&M Agrilife Extension). Cedar Rapids is the scene of an environmental crime. Just as illnesses like COVID emerge from human incursion into wild spaces (Scientific American), the environmental catastrophes experienced by states like Iowa and cities like Cedar Rapids derive from the global environmental crisis. Just as disabled and immunocompromised people have been put at greatest risk and have had the most deaths during COVID through lax policy and implementation, so are disabled trees put at greatest risk. Rather than attempts to repair and save them, the trees are slated for destruction. The Log Project is an ongoing intermedia project developed by Karrie Higgins and Alan
Murdock to mark evidence of the crime scene through photography, videography, found objects, collected logs (over 90 logs have been collected) and log slices (at least four slices will be made from each log totaling over 360 slices), that will be built into a wooden codex that will record the history of the derecho on the very body of evidence - the logs sliced, cured and illustrated through pyrography. An accompanying website houses images and writing that is part of the project. The logs have been collected from every quadrant of Cedar rapids and surrounding areas documented - the African Museum log, the Greene Square log, the Hiawatha log, the log of unknown origin, collected at wood debris dump sites.
During the performance where we invite people to burn marks into slices from the log of unknown origin we would like to display the following statement specific to the performance, which will kick off the production of the codex: codex, an ancient manuscript text in book form from Latin caudex for “trunk of a tree.”
A codex is an ancient manuscript book, usually comprised of vellum—not the kind found on the shelves of your local Dick Blick, but sheets of prepared animal skin — bound along one edge. Some codices were made from wood, like the Kellis Isocrates Codex found in Dakhleh Oasis. Visualize the plates of the Book of Mormon, except instead of metal, thin wood plates or boards, strung together on one side through holes.
The ancient person who made the Kellis Isocrates Codex etched an inverted V on one side of a single log before cutting. So long as the inverted V aligned on the spine, the “pages” were in order and the uneven surfaces of facing plates would fit together flat. Our codex will not be made from a single log, but rather, logs collected from sites all over Cedar Rapids. Slices of all different diameters and species will clang together awkwardly and stack precariously. The form is the story: a city uprooted, out of place. It also records the variety of trees felled by the Hurricane Derecho, as Iowans have come to call the storm. In a way, it creates one tree trunk from many, embodying the original Latin meaning of codex. We have been careful to tag every log with its provenance so that each wood slice tells its own part of the story. We will use a pyrography pen to draw and write stories, as well as homemade inks & paints — some made from storm debris. We have been slicing and drying logs over the past year in preparation to create the codex. The first "page" of the codex begins with an interactive installation: One log we retrieved after the storm came from the tree dump site in Time Check, and because its provenance is a mystery, we call it "the log of unknown origin." We have sliced this log and the slices will be installed for visitors to write one line with a pyrography pen (which we provide) for each tree they lost. The City of Cedar Rapids official tree loss tally: 700,000--eerily reminiscent of the number of deaths to COVID-19 nationwide. Around town, many trees are marked with the dreaded orange "x," signifying the chainsaw is coming for them. Their damage from the storm means they cannot survive. They are, essentially, disabled.
Disabled people were largely told during this pandemic that their lives mattered less: hospitals wrote disaster triaging plans explicitly denying disabled people ventilators in favor of non- disabled people, who "contribute more to society"; large numbers of people protested mask mandates and restrictions, not realizing their privilege in not fearing -- or not having to fear -- the virus.
But unlike people, trees do not dismiss sick and disabled members of their forests: Trees often
even continue to feed stumps, long after the tree is dead, via their vast underground fungal
"WOHLLEBEN: ....but in the forest we have a social society which fights for each other, so the
whole forest will survive. Every tree is interested to keep its neighbors because together they
create a special climate, which is cool, which is humid, and where every tree feels comfortable."
This "first page" (or pages) of the codex is a way to meditate not only on missing our trees, but
on our role in their destruction and more broadly, the larger social inequities that pandemics &
climate change disasters expose. We must confront the vast loss. A pyrography pen is literally
writing with fire, and thus, the action of carving into the log slice is reminiscent of other climate
change disasters where large numbers of trees are lost. It also feels familiar: how many of us have carved initials or love notes into a tree to treasure for all time? Here, we are not carving into trees, but rather, into wood -- that distinction matters as we face that it was once a living being, even a sentient being, as new research into trees and their vast fungal networks reveals. Much of the other documentation of The Log Project includes video, photography, and other media. The codex is a record emerging from a complex and untranslatable experience.
About the artists:
is an Intermedia artist & disability activist living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her art, writing, and photography have appeared in numerous publications, including Huffington Post, Western Humanities Review, Los Angeles Times, and The Cincinnati Review, for which she won the Schiff Award for prose. She has two notables in Best American Essays. Her video performance, “The Valley of the Dry Bones” was exhibited at the 2014 Intermedia Retrospective at the University of Iowa.
is a documentary filmmaker, photographer and creative director living and working in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His work spans from documentary, corporate, wedding and educational video to website design, logo design, social media management as well as copywriting and direction for numerous small to medium sized businesses. Alan has 20 years of experience working in higher education as a faculty member and administrator of media, art, design and design research.
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