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Biking To and Through a Groveland Utopia 

My blue 1996 Raleigh hybrid bicycle may weigh more than a coat made of 10 Dunkleosteus, and I might not be in the best shape as I creep toward 49, but summer is here and the weather has been perfect and I wanted to check out some art exhibitions. That's all by way of saying that there are plenty of opportunities to check out local art this summer and few better ways than on two wheels.

I live in North Collinwood, close to the Waterloo Arts District, which is an easy jaunt down East 185th and a right on Villaview from my house. It's also an easy ride down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the wonderful array of museums and galleries in University Circle. I already have, or will soon, make those voyages, but the new exhibition of artist Michael Loderstedt's latest work at the John F. Seiberling Gallery, in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, was calling my name and seemed a fitting pairing with a ride. After all, in focusing on the natural world and birds, Groveland Utopia asks the viewer to examine their immediate environments. Unlike any other geological period, the Anthropocene Era, one of the foci in the artist's work, is often viewed as the time when human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Sure, it was a six-hour roundtrip journey — you can easily knock off portions of that depending on where you want to start or end the trek on the Towpath Trail — but it was well worth every minute.

I pedaled west on Lakeshore Boulevard through Bratenahl toward the East 55th Street Pier, continued on North Marginal Road to East Ninth Street past the Rock Hall, then up West Third to Public Square where I plopped my Raleigh on the front of the southbound 77F bus. From there I rode to the Rockside Road stop, dismounted, and rode down to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath entrance, just before Canal Road, and resumed my journey to Boston Mills Road. It's a lovely ride on its own, lovelier still when the Seiberling Gallery is the destination.

A gaggle of Canada geese were swimming in the front pond of the gallery's old stone architecture, eating grubs on its lush green banks when I arrived. Tall conifers line the drive, the bark broken off by some young bucks scratching the old skin from their budding antlers. Birds call out to predators that they have survived the night. Bees and butterflies are flitting and buzzing through air that smells of damp grass. It constructs a bucolic setting and a stark contrast to Loderstedt's pieces such as "Spring Snow at Euclid Creek: Goose with Styrofoam," that are part of the Groveland Utopia exhibit.

Within this archival digital photograph, we are holding court with a single Canada goose searching for food along the snow-speckled brown banks. The atmosphere is gray and cold. Sober trees spring from an island of thick soil caging us with their shadowy reflections. A faint horizon of houses cut through the background. The goose is oblivious to the styrofoam container floating next to it, but we are not. Loderstedt successfully shows us an all too familiar scene and we take note of how shocking it is ... how invasive we humans are.

In "Lake Rain with Swallow," the transient becomes transcendental. The raindrops plink upward and we can almost feel the splash on our cheeks. At first glance we can't tell if we are looking at the swallow or its shadow, which brings us in for closer examination, forcing us to stare and contemplate this beautiful piece. It bears mentioning that swallows are very fast and capturing an image like this is incredible. I found myself standing in front of it for an extended period of time.

"Groveland Utopia represents the general body of work I've been doing for some time now," Loderstedt says in an artist statement. "But I've also built over the past years a small urban farm called Pocket Farm in my backyard, complete with herb and vegetable gardens, various berry bushes and fruit trees, a greenhouse, chicken coop with four hens and two bee hives. I view this project as much more than a hobby, but rather an extension of my work as an artist-citizen. Pocket Farm not only provides us with nutritious food, but helps me integrate ecological habitat and research for my work and my family.

"In addition to Pocket Farm, I think photographing birds (and lake ice) helps create awareness, especially for our urban spaces. Most all of these images were made at Dike 14, a reclaimed parcel of land that was first a city garbage dump, then later a dredge-filled site for sediments removed from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Now the park is an important bird sanctuary bordered to the north by Lake Erie, and to the south by arid urban habitat (ecologically speaking). Environmentally, this park probably shouldn't exist as it does, and speaks to reclamation power of nature. I hope these images, and the sensibility that they might engender, will encourage viewers to take more responsibility for the commons."

If I didn't already feel that way on the ride there, I certainly did on my way home, an extended journey during which I have time to digest what I saw and what I'm seeing.

Throughout Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the towpath is made of soil and lime. After Rockside Road, it is paved up to the Harvard Road trailhead. From there my bike takes me down Jennings Road, then left on Denison as I make my way back to the Steelyard Commons path. Here's where I am witness to broken glass, food wrappers, and Trucker Bombs — containers of Gatorade holding the urine of truck and delivery drivers. For the continuation of my ride, I can only notice the grossly obvious traces of our inconsiderate species. I stop at the Wild Bird Sanctuary near Lake Erie and there's a bottle on the ground mere feet from the recycling bin. The image of "Goose with Styrofoam" is branded into my brain. That's effective art.

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