Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: An artist wandering and wading through the once and future Earth | COMMENTARY

I try to imagine what it would be like to stand along a river — say, the Jones Falls as it meanders through Baltimore — and look up from the mesmerizing flow to suddenly see a woman draped in a long cape of plastic bottles. What would I think?

Did she rise from the river, like some gritty sprite burdened and barnacled with trash? Is she a cast member from a new post-apocalyptic movie: “Mad Max in Waterworld”?


Who is this woman in the Jones Falls, bristling with bottles, and each bottle containing a stick with colored string?

“I don’t even call myself an artist, I’m a visual philosopher,” says Jordan Tierney, who created the cape for a narrative about a storyteller who wanders through the late 21st century after climate collapse. A video of Tierney wading through the Jones Falls is performance art; she’s acting out the role she imagined — a shaman-like figure who mourns, remembers and carries the past as she wades the waterways and hikes the woods in and around Baltimore.


All of this comes not from conjecture, but from Tierney patiently explaining what she’s tried to achieve with her creations — the bottle cape for the storyteller, a colorful “winter festival garment” made from a junk shop raccoon coat and flattened aluminum cans, a “ceremonial garment” made from old shoulder pads, twine and wooden tool handles.

Tierney creates art from objects collected while hiking and wading through Herring Run, the Jones Falls, Western Run and small, nameless streams. She’s done this for years, thinking deeply about the environment and how humans have altered life on the planet, the whole time becoming intimately familiar with each place.

It started along Herring Run. She visited every day and came to feel a bond with the place.

“It took knowing it for a year of all the seasons,” she says, “in sun, rain, snow, wind, light, dark, bare tree limbs, spring floods, wildflowers, snakes shedding, falling cottonwood seeds, beavers chewing trees down, ospreys grabbing fish out of the current, when I knew where to find the mulberry trees for a snack, the habits of the deer, mourning a beautiful sycamore that fell … how the shoreline had changed in the last heavy rain, observing a decomposing carcass until only bones remained.

“My curiosity would always be rewarded there. I left the house everyday looking for everything and nothing.”

Tierney collected bones and feathers, the things that come naturally, and the things humans left behind — forks and knives, tools and toys and toy guns, pieces of machinery and lengths of rope, fishing lures and bobbers, the limbs of action figures. Tierney reaches into riffles for objects that have magic, or juju.

“I collect things with juju everyday from the stream and woods so the things in my environment are like the words in my head,” she says. “The things I find come with a story, a history, and have usually gathered more after they were cast off, been folded, rusted, run over, stepped on and traveled downstream.”

The imagined storyteller in the bottle cape, and the bottles with the colored sticks — what about all that?


“The plastic bottles with the sticks inside wrapped in color coded string patterns are just mnemonic devices to help remember stories,” she says. “I feel like my medium is really the energy an object can carry.”

Some of Tierney’s work appears through March 1 in an exhibit called, “Post-Consumption Benediction” at the BmoreArt Connect+Collect Gallery at 2519 N. Charles Street. Also on display are works by graffiti artist Adam Stab. Both turn objects they’ve collected — pieces of the urban past, scraps from our ferocious consumerism — into commentary on the present and future.

Regarding the latter, I asked Tierney if she felt we were doomed. The narrative she’s created — survivor settlements along rivers, a wandering storyteller draped in plastic — shouts resignation about what scientists believe will be the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.

“I am burdened by the knowledge of what we’ve done to the planet,” she says. “But I have learned that to only speak of that horror is to chase people away. … I do believe we have brought about the eventual collapse of the fragile balance that allowed such a lush planet to evolve. … I have so much grief and guilt for what I have participated in and witnessed over my 60 years of living here. My work is now mostly about sharing the beauty and magic I still find out there.”

Tierney has a bone-deep sense of place now. She broke free from the structure of modern life to spend hours in the nearby natural world. “Once I started feeling Earth’s decline every waking moment, I needed a reason to continue to get up every day and to feel I could have a valuable role beyond just planting trees or something,” she says.

“The urban streams are so abused and forgotten I feel completely in a different time and dimension when I am there. It is not part of most peoples’ consciousness. I come home from my wandering laden with imagery and knowledge of the type that the dominant western culture tried to eradicate or devalue. I am existing outside the fracas. People get near my work or in my studio and tell me I have connected them to things they had lost about themselves and the earth. I realized I was acting as a shaman for them.”