A Bed in the Woods 1, 1976
In January of 1976 I took a class called ‘Conceptual Art’, co-taught by my sculpture professor Don Osborn and painter Tom Klocke. I was 21 years old at the time, enjoying every minute of my art school days at Bethany College located in a beautiful, small town called Lindsborg, Kansas. The class met 5 times a week during that month. Most of the time we’d sit in a big circle in the painting lab, seriously discussing the meaning of art for hours on end. After a couple weeks of this it was time for the students to take action and to create a piece.
This is the “performance art, environmental/location” piece I decided to do: I would place a bed in the woods down by the Smoky Hill River and stay in it from dawn till dusk, describing the scene and recording every thought that flickered through my brain. It was mid-winter, so it was a challenge to pull off to say the least.
44 years later, in January of 2020, I found myself back in Lindsborg on the very day I’d performed the 1976 piece. I simply had to do it all over again. It would be interesting to see what a 65-year-old man would write down and find significant about the day and the ‘performance’ itself.
During ‘Bed in the Woods 2’ I realized one of the main motivating factors for reenacting the piece was the role that Don Osborn had played in my life. He was an art hero for me way back then. He was confident, honest, happy, fun loving yet very serious about his role as a teacher and an artist. I looked up to the man and wanted to be like him.
Don told me he always liked this piece. Why I can’t say, nor could he. He just liked it, and that meant a lot to me.
Maybe that’s all that art is.
Don Osborn, 1976
A BED IN THE WOODS 1
JANUARY 19, 1976
(random thoughts during the execution of the piece)
- I have chosen to spend the 19th day of January 1976 outside in a bed from dawn until dusk. I am on the bank of a green winter river and it is early morning. There is snow on the ground and the day is overcast. There are woods on both sides of the river – thin shrub like trees of Kansas. The basic colors of the landscape are gray, brown, and tan, interspersed with the accents of small red berries and the muted greens of the ice-covered river.
- I can hear farm machinery in the distance – the repetitive guttural racket of some machine. Occasionally, I can hear a car driving down the unseen highway, reminding me of the close proximity of “civilization.” A flock of geese or ducks has been making racket, honking away at each other all morning. A cow will sometimes interject his deep sighing “moo” in the sound scheme. I have heard the ice cracking on the river, slowly thawing and breaking off in sections. It almost seems like some creature is pulling it under.
- The rustle of squirrels foraging in the leaves gives me a start.
- I have tried to retrace the intricate pathways that the squirrels have led through the maze of branches overhead. The thought of a creature that walks on the tops of trees, lightly following pathways above my head, seems magical.
- Crows cawing on the other bank.
- The mesmeric tone of the puttering machines in the distance.
- It is cold.
- The slow shrieks and short perks of two birds intermixed with the laughter of another that I could see high in the branches of an oak on the other shore.
- I wonder what the “natural” sounds of humans are. I lay here in silence afraid to add to the song that is being composed about me this morning. (Perhaps it’s the sound of the cars on the highway.)
- The geese sometimes sound like they are crying out in horrible fits of pain.
- The sound of the cows is sad and melancholic. Slow brute, force condemned.
- A rooster’s crow sounds like a triumphant celebration of life.
- Crows use derisive laughter.
- Some of the birds sing of freedom and beauty.
- The squirrels chatter nervous energy.
- Poetry is anthropomorphic.
- There are strange stretches of silence – the birds cease to sing and all that can be heard is the patter of drops falling from the thawing snow-laced trees.
- My environment consists of:
one plastic tarp
one sleeping bag
one pair of pants (blue jeans)
one pair of gloves
one shirt (flannel)
one nylon down jacket
one paper bag
three feet of toilet paper
two 12. Oz. Coca Colas
one peanut butter and jelly sandwich
one pair of long johns (bottoms) – not on
one extra pair of gloves
two books of matches
one black felt pen
one ink pen
pack of Salem cigarettes
one water jug
two green felt tip pens
- When I arrived here earlier this morning there was snow on the ground – now it has melted. I fell asleep for awhile and woke up to see the sun as a hazy shape of light struggling to break through the overcast. I can see the blueness of the sky to the north and estimate that the sun will really shine in a few hours. Two blackbirds flew across the river. Their cawing woke me.
- The song of this day has now changed to one of the gentle roaring of the north wind and the creaking of the brittle trees swaying in the breeze.
- There was a branch above my bed that I knew would fall. It just did. It missed. I guess fate is with me.
- The overcast finally dissolved into finely patterned wisps of white cirrus clouds.
- So much of my expectations were channeled into the “success” of the day being dependent on the sun shining. It was almost directly in control of my mood. I can see how the sun has been called the “life giver”, and the moon the maker of lunatics.
- My bed is facing the west. I somehow felt it appropriate for me. The western direction, according to the plains Indians, was the direction of introspection – the looks-within-place. The setting of the sun is a time for reflection on things past, and in a way that is how I had intended on spending my day in the woods. So I felt it appropriate to aline myself with that direction and the “power” that emanates from it.
- The North seems to be the prevalent direction today though. Winter is definitely in the air. Suggestions of the warmth of spring have been brief and fleeting.
- Strange. I was wondering if I would see a hawk today and suddenly one appeared overhead shrieking loudly as he glided on the currents of the sky.
- The wind roars on the southern bank and then there is a short lull as the gust crosses the river to fill the trees here on the northern side with life. It makes the wind seem as if it was an entity – something that can be seen. I can still feel its presence as it silently crosses the river.
- A very nervous energetic woodpecker with an intricate pattern of black and white on its back preempted a round goofy little bird on a branch above me. He just pecked around haphazardly and didn’t really get down to work though.
- The artist is his location. You reflect and become an integral part of your surroundings.