BLACK BOX ATLANTA / “EMERALD SPRINGS”
Black Box is an experiment with space, creativity and reclaiming a sense of self and belonging in the world. While its eventual focus is on joining people of African descent who have long been divided by space, time and secrecy, its current iteration focuses on encouraging creatives to engage with endangered spaces and form stronger bonds. This secret garden, which empties out to a large lake behind a public park, is the first step in this project. Over the past few months, I have bathed it in love and attention, on an individual level and then by introducing others to the space to create, explore and dream together. As the weeks continued, I’ve begun to pick up trash in the adjacent blocks, remove invasive species to uncover more of the original stonework, establish relationships with members of the community, and adopt the park as my own personal refuge, while encouraging others to do the same.
Meeting people from the neighborhood has brought up several interesting stories about the space, like it having been covered in kudzu for decades, and built in the 1950s as a gift from a wealthy man to his mistress. The truth of the park comes in second to its beauty and the wonder it evokes. Currently, the big unanswered question is what lays in the mass of kudzu just beyond the park?
Forgotten areas like this one are often easier to destroy than restore. But the practice of existing within these spaces, and seeing them as community areas that all have a right to and may invest in breathes new life into both the spaces and ourselves.
POp-Up #1 / OCTOBER 14, 2018
This was not meant to be the first Black Box, but it had been gestating for so long, it gave birth to itself. A friend and I discussed inviting a couple of musicians to the park, who in turn invited a couple of musicians, and it grew from there. Creative workstations were set up around the park to encourage painting, writing, drawing, photography, tarot, reading, musicianship, and community. I dressed in an outfit I later realized to be embodying the archetype of Pan, and spent most of the time setting out and lighting candles. The musicians were in their own sacred space. Wielding the camera, but outside of the space of pure documentation, I swept through the park, quickly capturing what was taking place before getting back to my role as caretaker of the space. At dusk, we walked the path together to a large lake behind the park, the musicians touting wind instruments. We split paths as I returned to straighten up, and they meandered, finally finding their way back to the park. Our individual processes of navigating time and space catapulted us from city life to working with nature, releasing control, and surrendering to the process. The lit candles, becoming brighter in relationship to the darkness, were blown out one by one. Minuscule ancestors, watching over us all.
Several vases of flowers were left in the park, along with a heavy ceramic bowl that contained water the musicians played around. The next day, when I went to clear trash from the park, the vases were stacked, flowers thrown in the trash, and the heavy ceramic bowl was broken and stacked next to a pile of vases. It instilled a sense of fear with me, reminding me of a childhood memory of building treehouses that neighbors marked “go home _____” in black marker. This private space for our childhood reveries, defiled. The initial fear gave way to a sense of empowerment, go back to this space, overcome it, see where facing fear takes you.
Instead of shying away from continuing Black Box, at the next one, these broken pieces were set where the whole bowl once was, as a reminder of strength and unification. Even when we are broken, split, our pieces scattered across the world, we come from one massive whole, so threatening, some would rather destroy it than let it be.
POp-Up #2 / OCTOBER 21, 2018
Spiritual photographers seemed to be the theme for this Black Box. We all engaged with the space from a place of acknowledging the land, our ancestors, and honoring our spiritual traditions. All three of us sat in the circle, wandered, and greeted friends and strangers that we found along the way. The conversation inside the circle was so beautiful and illuminating, and though it went untaped, stays in my soul.
Why as adults, are we afraid of bravely marching out into the world? Why do we look towards America as the only home for we who have existed here for centuries as people of African descent, always fighting for our “rights”? How aware are we of the effects of her centuries-long disregard for our lives, our needs, our truths? When do we embrace our own freedom, totally?
Together we walked to the lake, cameras in tow, diverging and converging, filled with laughter, wonder, and inspiration. The photographs below represent our collective journey.
Bottom row photographs by Saudade Toxosi (b/w) and Adinah Morgan
POP-UP #3 / OCTOBER 28, 2018
This edition was a couple of days before setting off into the ocean (for work.) On the front end of it, I felt a bit of hesitancy to do the required things, the set-up, the inviting, facing the idea of what it takes to grow something, and the fortitude to remember that the seed is in the ground, even if the sprout hasn’t emerged. This led to me running late on the set-up side until my lovely fairy friend swooped in on her bike, and asked if she could help. I asked her to cut and place flowers, only to find out that she had spent time arranging flowers for awhile. It is interesting how things like that always seem to line up.
Another pixie friend arrived, and it started to become clear that the attendees on this day were all tied to health, women, and travel. She noticed something on the ground, and it was the strangest animal with what seemed to be a face on its butt. Just a regular ole caterpillar with an adaptation for protection, but it was one of the stranger land animals I’d ever seen.
Before this date, I did a small amount of tidying up of the invasive species (kudzu and english ivy) and swept away masses of leaves from the steps. Emerald Springs began to come to life even more in this regard. As we passed the swimming pool overgrown with rocks, a friend pointed out that its shallowness signaled that it must have once been a koi pond. Imagining koi swimming in the back while the fountains cascaded in the front was incredibly heartwarming.
KAT PICS! (below)
AN EXPERIENCE / NOVEMBER 6, 2018
After being at sea, and all that it entailed, I returned to Emerald Springs, having missed the first Sunday session since they began. It is always strange to return from the Caribbean to autumn beginning in Georgia, but the park wore fall in all her splendor. Being back was breathtaking, yet I felt called to spend more time at the lake than in the park itself. Arriving at the lake, a large bird sat in the middle of it. An egret, crane? I should live up to the last name Sibley and get to know my birds better. Sitting to observe the lake and crack open a fresh deck of tarot cards (yea, yea…hippie alert), the large bird began to circle the lake, each lap making tighter and lower circles. Deep feelings were stirred up in me, that I am still too ashamed to blog about, but it was incredibly moving. Eventually, I moved to another section of the lake, cloaked in her autumnal splendor, and sat on another space with stairstepped branches, to gaze upon the glimmer on the water. The egret/crane flew its circles again, but this time, the circle felt like it was around me. What a liberating feeling, to be in conversation with nature.
ART-IN INTEREST MEETING / 11.11.2018
The stakes got a little higher today, foregoing a gig to make a meeting, moving locations, using social media for invites. A productive walk and talk took place alongside a couple of curatorial and naturalist minds. Nothing beats discussing enlivening forgotten spaces on Remembrance Day. Beginning a plan for a springtime pop-up felt like a good way to bid the autumn pop-ups adieu and make way for the cold weather setting in. After the meeting, I swung by Emerald Springs, the lighting of the setting sun mixed with the bright yellows and oranges of the trees and the bold pink leaves near the lake were stunning. Two couples held hands by the lake, and it was lovely to think of them sharing with each other. The patterns that rippled across the lake were a little more magical than usual due to a duck’s erratic preening. A short visit, but equally as sweet.
RECESS AT THE PARK / 11.18.2018
The weather has begun to get cold, and the Emerald Spring pop-ups are supposed to be on break. But someone wanted to check out the space so I went. Also, time away was starting to feel wrong. Before heading to the springs, a friend left a message saying she would stop by too. It was interesting to have a day without setup, a day to walk into the park after separation and start to question myself. How could I say I’ve been cleaning up and doing work here when the park had a look, a feel of neglect again. The kudzu and English ivy still taking it over in a way that made me feel negligent, while also calling into question why I feel like the sole custodian of this space. There were moments of attachment of detachment, of an internal reconnection.
But as usual, the park was gorgeous, and this time, a bit more breathtaking than the last. Each visit adding up into something more meaningful. At the corner leading down the first set of a stairs, a whole new tree was in bloom, with gentle pink flowers, that made me think of my grandmother, her name—Camelia. The bright pink flowers also, everywhere. Spending time there with my friend felt good, as we both quietly wrote and worked, until the visitor joined us. She was enamored with the park and told me of other greenspaces to encounter. As she walked and took pictures, her telling me of the trees with the bright pink leaves—sourwood, and invasive species I hadn’t known were there—wisteria—threatening to topple some of the gorgeous oaks. We walked along and picked up leaves and acorns, as she pointed out the difference between white and red oaks, instructed how you could tell the difference between their leaves, whether they were pointy or rounded, erratic or uniform, which ones you could eat from and which were dangerous. The sun setting during the impromptu lesson, the thoughts of working with the amphibian society to revive the koi pond, of bringing a group here on a walk, setting tentative dates, as my thoughts wandered back to the artist who had given me a quote to get the springs running again. Imagining this space is sometimes as gorgeous as being in it, the ponds, the people, new plants, new ecosystems, new spaces to sit and talk and laugh and dream, new beings to visit whose love would form new bonds.
TUESDAY MORNING / 12.04.2018
Sunday was a blur of trying to meet deadlines, falling short, and getting a lot of random things accomplished. The weather somehow hit 70 degrees, and I had planned on going to the park, but not having finished my tasks kept me inside, plus I hadn’t invited nyone since Southerners are averse to fall weather. A few friends who know about the park kept suggesting I go there to get my brain going, frankly, visits have been too few and far between lately with traveling, computer snafus, and application deadlines.
This morning, I made it out the house, even dressing in my running gear, though it was definitely more of a walking session. The path to the park was a bit disappointing, first there was some litter on the way, reminding me of how long it has been since I picked up trash. Then, there were orange cones in the middle of the street, a frightening site, but maybe they had to do with the sewer situation. On the side of the street, there were bits of concrete, piles of it stacked like rubble.
Entering the park, there was a large tree branch almost blocking the path. But the weirdest part was some fresh cut branches that were also laid out to the side. I had spent some serious energy cleaning up the branches in this front area, some of them too heavy for one person to move, so seeing that someone had both cut and haphazardly tossed them was strange.
Stranger still was the clean steps leading into the park. Having come out there with a broom and swept the steps and the main paths, I was aware of the type of work it required. The park was all cleaned up in the pathways, probably a leafblower, and yes, I should think this is nice, but the way they had left stacks of branches in the entrance made it seem like there was a sense of haphazard care. This is where the relationship to space becomes weird. Where is the line between stewardship and proprietary thinking? In order to continue the conversation, I began searching for fallen flowers, and stacked them around the base of a tree, a beautiful invitation to anyone who entered the park.
I went to the lake, and it was as beautiful as always. The rippling on the water and the reflection of the sun, a new pathway explored where four female ducks and one male traveled together, the male staying close to one particular female, until another one came to his side. And then walking, a huge bird flew overhead. The egret! Or…the crane! I need to get up on my bird game, especially being a Sibley. It’s beak was incredibly long, it’s legs equally as thin. Shifting its weight from time to time, it perched its huge body in the tree, watching, or waiting, or doing whatever birds do.
As I continued walking, the number of small paths became more apparent, and I looked down them a little more. Walked down the upraised roots towards the fishing stoop, took a strange new path that led back up to the main park. It felt a little frightening, but that’s what led to stumbling on Emerald Springs in the first place. The ruts in the ground were a little disconcerting, questioning the difference between manmade and natural. And before entering back into the pathway to Emerald Springs, I noticed for the first time, there was a cute sign with an arrow saying “ducks” done by the Beltline Bears guy.
In general, it is interesting being at the Springs and the Lake in the winter. You can see the lake right when you enter the Springs now, and so much is revealed as the leaves drift away, clinging to the ground to be swept up again, invasive species maintaining the false green that lulls one into false notions of autumn.
SOMEONE CLEANED THE PARK! 12.06.18
A major cleanup was done in the park. Grass cut, kudzu and english ivy removed, koi pond cleaned, some bamboo cut, leaves removed, pathways exposed. And of course, those innocuous pink flowers removed from the base of the tree. But, back to the beginning.
Walking to the park, there was so much garbage, it made me certain I need to get out and do some litter pickup asap. The kudzued space next to the park was looking a little sparse, so for the first time, I journeyed down to its base to answer the curiosity: Was it an extension of Emerald Springs? If there was stonework visible the answer would be a clear yes. Despite my venture staying kind of restrained, no stonework was visible, but the trees with the glossy green leaves (I have no idea of their name) that are in the Springs were also there.
Entering Emerald Springs, the first thing that jumped out was the lack of obtrusive cut branches in the entryway, the freshness of the steps. Taking a different entrance than usual, I meandered towards the main pool and up the rocks towards the top, spotting for the first time where the water really originates from and realizing it’s separate from the lower pool where musicians once played. Seeing the Springs from the top was a very grand feeling, new streams were evident, ad the paths that flowed down into the base were easy to imagine filled with the water’s cascading sounds dimmed by the laughter of children and friends.
Walking down in this pleasant state of mind, it took a while to notice all that had been done to the park. The leaves that had been so haphazardly piled in the entrance to the koi pond were now gone. Actually, all the pathways were clear, a tabby cat sat basking in the sun. Walking further, it was amazing to witness that everything was cleared! All the kudzu, English ivy, the overgrown branches in the koi pond, the invasive species that had once stood as obstructions to the stone chairs. Every tile, broken and intact was visible in the pond, and it even seemed like some of the sitting water was gone. The bamboo between the koi pond and the Springs seemed to have been cleared as well.
Today, the Springs were brown instead of their characteristic green, invasive species having been removed.
I went down to the lake, noticing more and more little changes, new pathways along the way. Arriving at the lake, it was hard to sit there long. My thoughts were meandering, excited about this development but also wondering about the intentions behind it. I had gone up to the tree where I laid the flowers, and even they were all gone. It’s a little thing, but there is something you can tell about the actions of breaking large ceramic bowls, or throwing away flowers.
This is also where I start to ask myself questions on the line between stewardship and proprietary thinking. The bird’s eye view approach that I’ve come to adopt concerning the changes in our city is wht makes me recognize this as an endangered space, though others may not have this assessment. With all the cleaning that was done, it appears again, that the place has been loved. And surely, the people that live in the complex nextdoor have shown it love for awhile. Of course, park management must do work in the park. But where have they been for the past five months or so? Why did I move out the garbage on my own, even picking up burst bags that sat at the entryway, that had burst and spoiled apparently under the vestiges of time. Where were they in the time the invasive species had to take root?
I returned to the park, trying to quell my doubts. I sat on a bench that was that was now freed from all the kudzu around it, but found myself preferring a bench under hanging trees with green shiny leaves. It was this that reminded me of my childhood treehouse. (The second one after fear chased us out of the first.) Those enclosures that feel safe, hidden. Knowing I should just be happy for all these new developments, there was still a wondering, hoping, that all this change was made with good intentions.
On the trip back home, it made sense that the neighboring greenspace was now brown because the kudzu was gone from there too. The winter had browned the native species, so if the invasives were still there, it would have turned green. This brought up even more questions that it seems only time will tell.