Maybe you saw the intriguing postcards that circled around town a few weeks ago.
Something called “The Fog” was opening at the Savannah Ogeechee Canal historic site, but other than a date and time, there was a vexatious lack of information. No website, no address, no explanation.
Let it be clear that people who work on deadlines have little patience for the cryptic. When an event unaccompanied by crucial details ends up on a newspaper reporter’s desk, that reporter will, as a rule, loudly and colorfully curse the event’s public relations people and toss the materials immediately into the garbage.
However, in this particular case, the vagueness kindled an unshakeable curiosity. Far out Abercorn Extension past I–95, the Ogeechee Canal is a special secret among Savannah nature lovers but a strange place for public art. What had someone created within its quietude? And why? It seemed a worthy mystery, or at the very least, an excuse to breathe some fresh forest air.
The day after the opening nebulously advertised on the postcard, the pine–scented woods surrounding the canal were deserted. A few steps from the small parking lot, in the opposite direction from the site’s half–mile paths that lead to the Ogeechee River, a sliver or two of white could be glimpsed through the trees.
A short walk revealed crosshatches of string between branches, opening into a tunnel of fibers woven through the tree trunks. Suddenly, a body found itself cocooned inside an ethereal world of white.
Afternoon sunlight dappled through geometric spaces, slowing down time. The tunnel led through domes and atop platforms, drizzled with fallen leaves and melted wax from the previous evening’s candlelit event. Reminiscent of a large, loosely–knit blanket or the latticework constructed by the canal’s resident banana spiders, “The Fog” had turned an already serene patch of woods into an extraordinary experience.
Whoever was responsible was mad, brilliant and needed to be questioned.
“The Fog,” tagged with the name “The Experience Collective,” turns out to be the work two SCAD students, metals major Emily Brodowski and fibers major Toni Dammicci. The two are longtime classwork collaborators, but this project was completely extracurricular.
The best friends and artistic partners sat down over tea at Foxy Loxy last week to explain why they spent months entwining several dozen trees, how opening night exceeded everyone’s expectations and the synergy of art and nature.
What inspired this magnificence?
Toni: It was conceived from a dream I had last spring. In it, Emily and I were walking through the woods and we stumbled upon a fabric fog. I told her about it the next morning and it kept coming back up in our conversations.
Emily: This is actually an experiment. We’d done other small installations in our classes and we thought we’d just try it to see if we could do it.
Toni: We sketched it and let it simmer for a week or two. In the dream, it wasn’t string but panels of fabric, like sheets. We realized that wasn’t feasible because if it rained, it would be too heavy and droopy.
Emily: It would also catch the leaves and interrupt the cycle of nature, which ended up being really important to us.
As artists you have lots of ideas. What made you commit to this one?
Toni: This project ended up being very personal. During the time, we were part of a close–knit group of friends that started deteriorating. The fog was a way to channel that confusion into something productive, an ephemeral way to counter the unraveling of that community.
Emily: We were going out to the Ogeechee when things were falling apart, to find refuge. We were out there every other day, just sitting, collecting leaves, touching lichen. When we were considering locations for the installation, it was the obvious choice.
How did you get permission from the Savannah Ogeechee Canal to take over a section of the forest?
Toni: We’d never done anything on our own like this, so we put together a Powerpoint presentation and went to a board meeting. We knew there might be some concern about putting contemporary art outside and leaving it, but we showed them our sketches and explained that we wanted to show respect to the space where we’d spent so much peaceful time.
Emily: The board was very receptive and excited, even though they didn’t know how it was going to turn out. Their only concern was whether this would bring people out to the canal.
You’ve installed a semi–contained space the size of a football field out of string. How long was the process and how much material did it take?
Emily: The whole process took nine months. A lot of it is string, but we also used thirty reclaimed bedsheets and three blankets that we ripped into one–inch strips. Altogether, we used sixteen miles of material, which is funny because it happens to be the same distance between the canal and downtown Savannah.
Toni: The actual installation took four months. We were out there summer and fall, with the heat and the bugs, every spare moment we had. We carved out the trail ourselves. We had other schoolwork, but we’d go out two or three times a week, sometimes for four hours, sometimes all day. We began to feel like we were part of the environment, that nature was our collaborator.
Emily: After a few weeks, it was interesting to see how nature integrated itself. Ants began using the string to cross from tree to tree, we found empty cicadas shells clinging all over it.
How did you know it was finished?
Toni: (laughs) We’re not sure it is! We could have gone on and on.
Emily: We decided to have the opening, so that was motivation to create some kind of “ending.” But we actually left an attached spool out there to keep out options open. The intention is to let the elements claim it and see how it evolves, so nature will be the one to finish it.
At the Nov. 12 opening, you invited people to experience the installation by candlelight at dusk. What kind of effect did the candles add?
Emily: The transition from day to night was magical. We had done a test with a few here and there, but the magnitude of having three hundred candles lit was astounding.
Toni: We decided to add the candles at the last minute, after a sculptor friend built us the platforms. We had about sixty people come, and everyone stayed the entire time. So many of them told us how much they enjoyed being inside the artwork, and that it affected them in a deep way.
So why the minimal marketing?
Emily: Again, this was an experiment, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen. Words can explain the structure, but not the sensation.
Postscript: Because of the overwhelming reaction to The Fog, Emily and Toni have decided to stage a second candlelit event this Saturday. The installation will left in the woods indefinitely to interact with the elements.
When: Saturday, Dec. 3, 2–5pm
Where: Savannah Ogeechee Canal, 681 Fort Argyle Road