ABOUT TRAIL SIGNS
Trail Signs are site-specific improvisations, put together with whatever natural materials are found on hand -- sticks, stones, feathers, bones, leaves, etc. When built of stone, they often remind people of Inuit inukshuks (to which they are definitely related because they come from the same part of the human spirit). They belong to a "folk art" tradition and could be seen on roadsides by our grandparents in their younger days when they went north towards Algonquin and beyond. They can still be seen on the sides of the road today, especially when you travel north. The tradition lives on.
However, recently they have also mysteriously found their way into mainstream art galleries (gatherings of sticks and stones displayed as "new" advanced or environmental art). Having been raised in this ancient folk art tradition, this taming of an essentially wild activity is something I see as the triumph of false blind yapping over the truth and sensuousness of simply seeing. To be true to the nature of the art form and its materials, trail signs must remain wild and free in nature (with the emphasis on spontaneous doing rather than on mere documentation).
I have built what we call "Trail Signs" all my life. Trail signs are a part of the ancient Canadian folk tradition I was raised in and are a way of life with me. They’re related to other common folk-arts-- pumpkin carving, sand monsters on the beach in summer, snow men in winter, snow angels, scare crows. Participating in these essentially anonymous but highly inventive and creative activities inspired me to become "an artist".
In my travels and day-to-day life, I have left trail signs behind me almost everywhere I go -- in Europe and North Africa, on both coasts of Canada, and in most provinces. But most often they appear around Cootes Paradise because that is where I habitually go for walks or to paddle my canoe. They are sometimes documented with photographs in the same way that family photos tell of a summer vacation or a birthday. (I have photographs of only a very few of the thousands I have made because they tend to be spontaneous occurances and usually a camera is not present.) It's alright. Trail signs shouldn’t be confused with gallery art.
Assemblages of found-objects are similar to the site-specific foundness of the elements that make up trail signs. The making of both are similar activities. I think it comes from a compulsive attraction to artistic making. Styrofoam cups, ashtray contents, spills on counters, miscellaneous found objects, hand-made shadows, snow, condensation on windows, pumpkins, beach sand, etc.--- this is the raw material for spontaneous and compulsive artistic doodling. Its profundity is not the realisation that it is profound, but the thing itself. We must see without preconceptions, without rules, without dogma, without explanations and words, words, words. See in silence and timelessness.
READING THE LAND
at the BROADWAY GALLERY
(The Broadway Cinema)
Nov 1 - Dec 14, 1994
(Photographs of trail signs and this explanation of trail signs
accompanied Reading The Land, a large exhibition of paintings.)
Monument to Canada Geese, Cootes Paradise
See more examples of Yates's trail-signs under MISCELLANEOUS #4 / TRAIL SIGNS