The Reliquarian | Shinrin-yoku
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Shinrin-yoku

It seems the Reliquarian has long been in winter. This is the 6th season of the Reliquarian, and it seems such a long time ago since Cadence wore her father’s coat, and trudged through the snow with a key in her hand. At the time there were no dryad like tree fairy creatures in my mind, they showed up years later. There was only the Dryad King. Later he became the father of many tribes.

I’ve always had an affinity for beautiful words, and foreign languages are like a dance for the tongue. Half the Reliquarian was written while walking within the wilds, listening to mother nature. She herself has a language all her own as easy and difficult to learn as any other.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that translates best as “Forest Bathing” as a means of replenishing ones own health, and restoring the spirit. The center photos below are from the forest paths I often walk with my mother and our dogs. The outer two are the property at Lark Manor here.

Our house is a very tiny old cottage, and much of me wants to live right here until my days are done. I bought it not for the house itself, but for the second building that provided an art studio for me, a theater/music room, and workshop for Michael, and mostly for the grounds that I can step into on any day and practice Shinrin-yoku. From the time I was very small my Grandfather said to buy the property, you can change the house.

My mother was always labeled a tree hugging hippie, and my childhood home was filled with plants that she cared for as attentively as others do their pets. What art is to me, plants are to her. She makes art through her gardens and home, and when I consider my mother’s more maternal energy and think of her in love, this is what I recall from my childhood that I felt envy of, and saw magic in.

We wound our children even with the best of intentions and greatest love in our hearts, because of the wounds we carry from our own childhoods. While we will ask for understanding of this from our own children, we rarely afford it to our parents. Having just ended my 36th year on this earth I am only now beginning to see my parents as the people they are rather than in the role they held as mother and father.

Whatever hardships, struggles, wounds, and fears I carry forward from any piece of my childhood; I think the tribe of tree nymphs in this story are the mythical portrayal of how I saw the spirit of my mother. Both nourishing, and force of nature. I see all mothers in that way, especially mother nature.

The species of dryad like creatures were born from an affection I have for blurring the lines between flora and fauna. A literal reconnecting to nature. In the Reliquarian in general, all beings are afflicted with the gift or burden of having their appearances represent their spirit. What they relate to, what they are in tune with manifests in their physical being. It’s the idea that people judge more based on appearances, and appearances are a fleeting, changing, deceptive thing at times.

How interesting it would be if we could perceive the soul instead of seeing the body, hearing the voice, feeling the flesh… If we understood how we are part of it all instead of separate from it all, how would that change our priorities, and interactions with everything, and everyone else?

I knew that I wanted to take away a bit of the humanism of the dryadic creatures. I didn’t quite want the hooves and fur of the satyrs, but that sleek feel of the shape. For me the tribe carries a lot of nuance to a herd of deer. I wanted some of their anatomy to reflect that in the shape, specifically with the backwards leg joints. I also wanted them to connect with what they come into contact with, so the idea was that the forest floor literally grows up their legs, and rather than heels and toes they root into the earth. They feel it. They are it.

Originally the character was only Ember, though I knew she was part of a tribe. Later I wanted to do one shot with a bunch of the creatures in a grassy field, like a herd of deer in the gloaming hours, but they would have been silhouetted, indistinct.

As we got nearer to the shoot and I found the models, the beings they would play began to take shape, and suddenly I found myself weeks before the shoot making all manners of headdresses and accessories.

The middle headdress at the top was actually one of the first props I made for the Reliquarian when I believed I was simply creating a collection of images and not a series of novels. I thought it was for the dryad king… There may even be a photograph of Uncle Awesome wearing it somewhere in the archives of the past blogs. It has sat on top of the bookshelf Michael built me in my studio… for 6 years.

I’ve been at this so long now that most people shake their heads at me, and more so at the others helping me on this project. To work obsessively with no pay off at your own passion and dream is one thing, to do it for someone else’s vision is far more unfathomable. Most people can’t find the courage and determination to chase their own dreams, especially when others determine them unrealistic, so the idea of chasing someone else’s dreams with them is deemed a different kind of insanity all together.


What good dream was ever realistic anyway?

Still as I move further, what others have seen me spend hours on and then not use, or what others have deemed failed attempts, I have always categorized as learning experiences, but I do find that even when something doesn’t work for what I intended it for, if I am patient, it’s purpose reveals itself.

The Latex was a huge learning curve for me, and as with all new things I immediately dove into something that was far too complex for an inexperienced novice. Some will note it as bravery, and not being afflicted with the fear of failure. Others roll their eyes at my audacity, and nearly consistent tendency of biting off more than I can chew.

While I have an almost maternal affection for the Reliquarian and am the mother of it’s conception, I also very deeply believe that as with all children it takes a village to raise it to what it is meant to be.

Different people come into the project at different times. Some are constants, some come in and go, some fall in love with it as I have and stay when neither I or nor they intended them to.

Beth Claire was someone that crossed my path because she came to a workshop I was having, before the Reliquarian was even seeded in my imagination. We’ve been friends since, and as with many of my “students” I feel I have learned as much from them, I am constantly inspired by their own lives and creativity.

Beth made the beautiful Dryad costume on the top left above, and she created the stunning imagery for it. When she had finished she asked if anyone else had use for it. Jennifer Tallerico beat me to it. She does insane underwater photography, and she promised me that if it survived drowning she would send it to me.

To be honest I had totally forgotten about it all together, until I received a message literally a month before the shoot that it had stayed intact and she was shipping it to me. So both these brilliant artists that often play on my side of the lens, impacted this shoot, which is second only to my excitement in them both agreeing to play characters in the book.

There is a different level of intimacy in shooting when both people understand what it is like on both sides of the lens and I think it will bring amazing energy into the future sessions. Of course, as the Reliquarian tends to do, their characters uniquely fit their skills and persona, and I know that this project comes alive because of the people with me through the process.

The other side of the coin has always been the details. {Details that sometimes aren’t even visible in the image.} I am obsessive about every nuance of each image. My hands touch each thing.

I’ve made most everything within the images, and it takes months, sometimes years of dedication to get to an end image that I hope will unlock the door into my mind and madness where these worlds and creatures reside.

{I was particularly proud of the nails and eyelashes in this shoot, and you don’t see a single one in the final image. Sometimes I think half the effort is for the effect on the day so that the magic is potent. It needs to be, in order to briefly for a few moments bring what exists in my imagination to life, and photograph it so that I can share these glimpses and pull you from this reality into my own.}

Pieces of the Reliquarian and those who would play the parts of it have existed for years. Some of the people involved in the project birthed characters that did not exist.

Actually none of the other dryad characters you will meet in the story existed before this shoot. There was mention of Ember, and the rest were faceless and indistinguishable. Members of her tribe, but not important enough for names and stories within the story. Extras, rather than secondary and tertiary characters.

The overlaps of threads that have woven together for this project are not lost on me. As I pull these pieces in for the blogs and documentaries, and as months and years go by in its creation I find new moments of serendipity. Sown like magical seeds awaiting their chance to crack open and fight through the cold darkness of reality and responsibility to share themselves in the light of conscious recognition.

The images above are from series of sessions I have done over the years for clients, and at workshops of mine. I have always had an affinity for the natural beauty of the female form in the expansiveness of nature. Creativity is from the feminine side of energy. We are what carries and births new life into the world, and Nature herself is the mother. The symmetry between nature and women in their shared energy is and always has been alluring to me.

The burning the bridge retreat is where I met Beth as an artist and photographer. Ashley {in the bottom right image above} was one of the models that came to play and was game for being on my grounds, nude, covered in mud, and having someone standing on my balcony misting a hose to make it look like rain. {How I get these girls to agree to some of the things I make them do is beyond me.} That was certainly part of the conception of the species for the book.

When we renovated the living room of my little cottage I brought my sister Megan in, for the dichotomy of her porcelain skin against the rough chaos of a century old house opened up to her bones. I had beautiful boudoir images from the shoot, but played with one and made her into a sort of dying tree, alone in an abandoned room… the individual images I create are often akin to rough sketches by an artist before approaching the canvas for the final painting.

Several years later Beth creates a headdress for her own mother nature shoot. Years after that the headdress makes its way to me, and Ashley chooses it as part of her costume, and those three threads braid together once more. {Incidentally she wore said headdress to the Art Store to get something on shoot day, and that footage is coming in the behind the scenes documentary. because it is hilarious.}

When I placed the call for this shoot it was something like “Need models for next Reliquarian shoot, must be comfortable with outdoor nudity, dirt, and body paint.”

There were of course my regular sirens, that enjoy the artistic ballad of collaborative creativity. The nostalgia of old friends I had not seen since high school, all of us now free from the constructs of adolescent egos and labels. It was the first time I worked with people I had never met on a personal project since my photography book. These women that have become sisters, brought their sisters and widened my artistic family.

I felt the absence of my actual sister. Megan has been my muse since we were teenagers. We spent a year voluntarily living in the abandoned attic of a mansion together, sleeping on the floor and making all kinds of weird art, listening to strange music, and fighting with squirrels even though we both had our own finished bedrooms downstairs. We survived Michael’s first deployment together in this way, and the bond we built during that year has, for me become something that will never break or sever, anymore than you could segregate metals once they’ve been melted together and forged.

When I began planning the shoot I wanted her desperately to be part of it. She, on the other side of the country, stationed with her husband and 3 boys. I was willing to fly her home, but we found out she was expecting, and then with 4 boys it was too difficult to plan. It had been 3 years since I had seen her, and I have missed her desperately. I always saw us raising our kids together.

She did make it home for a short visit with the family, but the timing was off, and the Reliquarian was honestly in hibernation with so much going on personally. It was a long winter. Two years between images…

2 years.

I struggle with that. It’s so difficult when the images are the end result and so much happens behind the curtain and offline between the images that no one can see how much is happening in the in-between.

This past summer Cadence went out to spend the summer with her favorite Aunt, and cousins, and I was grateful for the excuse of coming to get her as my own escape.

I was suffering a lot of feelings of depression and failure, not just in my artistic but my personal and professional life. Actually a lot of the key people in the Reliquarian seemed to be suffering the past year in particular. I found myself desperate for feminine energy and a place that wasn’t here.

I wither in the mundane and ordinary. I need to marvel at things. I need wide spaces where my imagination can stretch out and roam freely. Most often I need that space to be somewhere in nature where I can feel the connection to everything; the earth, and the sunlight and water and sky. Though I have a proclivity towards abandoned and forgotten places as well.

I also need the tribe. I am certainly a spirit that wants for the herd, the tribe, the flock, though I am now very selective of who is within the circle. I have been told more than once that I collect people as others collect things.

For the 11 years we have lived at Lark Manor it has served as sanctuary and solace for many in hours and years of need, it has always had open doors for needed company, and extra chairs to join us for good food. {I get that from my grandmother’s full Italian upbringing mixed with her loving caretaker nature.}

For nearly Cadence’s entire life Wednesdays were brunch dates with GG that turned into all day visits. One of those days ended with a fall down the stairs that ruptured all the ligaments and tendons in my ankle and landed me in an air cast for months. I almost didn’t get to go on my trip because they said I would need several months of physical therapy before I could even lace up my hiking shoes.

What I actually needed was Cadence. It constantly humbles me how much the child cares for the parent. Cadence has such a darling disposition. She is so smart, so kind, so attentive to detail, she’s fierce and formidable like her grandmother, yet empathetic and compassionate like her great grandmother, and every now and then shows the sense of wanderlust both in the physical and artistic realms that her mother has. The need to find herself in places she doesn’t yet know.

She was so caring and attentive to me, and while I was walking in an almost undetectable limp she was constantly checking to make sure I had my brace and wraps, water bottles, jacket, she insisted on carrying my camera gear, and slowed her pace to match mine without being told, and without making it obvious.

Spending time with her, my sister, and nephews was revitalizing for my feminine energy, and placed me squarely in the space of maternal; journeying with her through the rainforests and beaches that have been on my travel map forever was simply divine for my soul as an artist and a mother. It is something to look at the things that make me feel so little in the world, to look at the things worth marveling over, worth standing in awe of, and then to see Cadence in the midst of it and realize that I too have created something beautiful and necessary and magical in this world.

No one is more an artist than a mother. Nothing else will ever touch what nature creates, and I, much like the creatures in my story needed
Shinrin-yoku to restore and come back to center on this project, and my life in general.

I left for the rainforest the day after the shoot. It was as magical for me as Cambodia, and I realize that the world is my home. Not seeing it, not being part of it is as foreign and silly an idea to me as having a room in your own home that the door is locked to and that you never go in, even to find out what’s there. When I returned home I knew that the places I had been were stitched into the place my beautiful tree spirits resided, that as lovely as my grounds are here, they didn’t quite create the magic I needed them to reside in.

I began editing the Shinrin-Yoku image on August 15th, my grandmother’s 89th birthday. It took 54 hours over the past 5 months, of compositing and retouching to stitch the final image together.

I didn’t know that at the time of writing this I would be without my grandmother. That several months of that would be spent by her bedside in a hospital, and then bringing her home to live with me in her final weeks… to be honest I’m not yet ready to speak of it further than that.

What I can say is that this was the single most challenging image I have created in my life. It required years of gestation as the props and costuming were made, the storyline written, and the time for it to approach. It spanned 3069 miles from one coast of my country to another in order to bring the forest and its spirits together. It took the collaboration of 11 models, 2 makeup artists, 1 hair stylist, 1 body painter, weeks of preparation, hours upon hours of yard work, chasing the dying sunlight, climbing a mountain with still healing ligaments, 12 hours of flight time, 54 hours of retouching and quite a few days sinking into this blog and the images of the process to bring this image to you.

When I see that final image of my grandmother’s tea cup, set at my editing desk, I can feel nothing but gratitude for the gift it is to be a woman, and to have strong, beautiful, courageous women in this image and my life…

I consider how much feminine energy and love is sewn into every fiber and moment of this piece’s creation, the divine connection to the universe, to god, to ourselves is through the feminine. Through the creative. The nature of the feminine is that of love.

May you practice Shinrin-yoku as often as you need it, until you feel in alignment with that energy of creation.

Special thanks to:
Models: Kori, Danielle, Abby, Breonna, Ashley, Taylor, Allory, Siena, Remy, Leigh and Kelly

Hair Architect: Danielle

Makeup Artists: Sarah Jane, and Remy

Body Painter: Jaye

Landscaper/Set Safety/Videographer: Tommy

Patron Saints: Judy, Mark, Katie, Hannah, Sarah, Remy {Support us on Patreon at www.Patreon.com/JessicaLark}

Sponsors: Fundy Software for the Blog Image Layouts, and Triple Scoop Music for the Soundtracks for all behind the scenes documentaries.

Michael, Steven, Cadence: for all the nonsense you live with on a daily basis as I create this.

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