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2006 04 26
Angle of Incident
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By Gary Michael Dault

I’ve been thinking as lot lately about what is overgrown, dappled. It’s probably because of the new spring light, settling down through the city’s unfurling leaves. The light is filtered, strained, winnowed. Too gentle yet to burn and bake.

I’m fairly certain it’s improper to drag God into this, but the idea of dappling is nowhere more electrifyingly expressed than in the poem of Jesuit priest and poet, the astonishing Gerard Manley Hopkins, called Pied Beauty, written sometime between 1876 and 1889:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches wings….

And so I’ve been more alert than usual, lately, to “dappled things”, to artefacts and incidents I see representing screening effects, baffling, netting and deflection. Which is why, in the course of walking home one night, I took a quick digital photograph (reproduced here) of prettily managed whorls of vine, the plant’s repeated balletic weaving and turning back on itself forming a kind of projection that masks the angel-brick façade of this everyday house somewhere in Toronto’s west end (I forget now where I was).

I’m suffering from a sort of design-tic these days: I ask myself what I could do to dignify, objectify and ultimately valorize almost everything upon which my eye falls. I began thinking how great it would be, for example, to cast this twisty vine in gold. Or silver. Or—though it might end up looking too much like mere wire—in copper. That’s really why I took the photo: idea-notebook stuff.

This momentary voyage into archiving brought to mind a portfolio I assembled back in the mid 1980s for Toronto Life magazine showcasing expanded architectural ideas for the city (James Wines’ garden communities on hi-rise “shelves” and so forth). I hadn’t thought about this scrapbook-like compendium for years—and I’m pretty sure I can no longer find it—but I remember it now because tucked away on one of its pages (small and faint) was a drawing I made showing this fairly ugly house of mine in downtown Toronto (ugly but doggedly lovable) with a metal grid covering all four sides of it, from bottom to top and across which I had scribbled the words “topiary house”. The idea was to grow vines up the house—flowers (Clematis and Sweet Peas and Wisteria and the inevitable engulfment of Silver Lace vines) and well as vegetables (squash—especially zucchini—and Scarlet Runner Beans and peas and cucumbers; it was one of my horticultural-architectural fantasies that I’d be able to open the window of, say, my second floor study and pluck off a handful of fresh peas).

Topiary wasn’t quite right, of course. It was never my intention to try to alter the shape of the house in any substantive way, as unsatisfactory as it was (I harboured no Edward Scissorhands ambitions about clipping my domicile into the shape of a moose or a Winged Victory)—except by softening its outlines with a miasma of vegetation. I wanted the house to become impossible to focus upon, its harsh planes and proportions made insubstantial, diaphanous, by clouds of greenery, by leaves gently blowing, by vegetables wagging sweetly in the summer breezes. In the winter, the house would be a woven structure of twigs and dry stems, a big bird’s nest, the warp and woof it proof against winter’s howling and abuse.

This never happened of course. I planted a garden like everybody else, with Clematis vines climbing on fences and a silver Lace vine foaming up over an old rickety garage. I still think gridding the place is a good idea.

It was the twisty vine masking the angel brick wall that brought it all back to me.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 04/26 at 06:10 AM

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