Friday, May 11, 2018

Tree of Pain

Shawn Skabelund first contacted me several years ago about a residency and I began following his compelling installation work. It took a while before I could stop by his studio in Flagstaff, however it was fortuitous that, when I did, he was in the process of installing an exhibition that he had curated. Shawn's work relies on carrying out on-site research and then devising an installation proposal and so he first came to BoxoHOUSE for a week in late 2016. Following a week of research (including an attempt to get lunch at Pappy and Harriets on the day tickets for Paul McCartney were being handed out), Shawn concluded that he wanted to a project about the plight of the Joshua trees. Specifically, he wanted to do an installation using dead Joshua trees....

It was clear that we could not go to Burns Canyon and just lift dead Joshua trees from the side of the road. So I began to ponder how to accomplish this. Luckily, I have had the Mojave Desert Land Trust as a partner since we launched the Reading the Landscape guidelines for artists at the Joshua Treenial 2017. I turned to them for advice and was very happy to hear that we would be able to borrow dead trees from them as long as they were returned. CA only law prohibits commercial use of dead Joshua trees.

With this main component in place,  Shawn scheduled to come back for three weeks, create an installation and be here for a while to talk people through it as well as describe his wider practice. Shawn arrived in early March, 2018. He told me that he was stopping along the way to collect material in the Mojave. I knew Shawn was unlikely to be collecting sensitive material, so I waited to see what he was bringing. When he arrived, he unloaded several bags of broken glass collected largely along Route 66. Along with a taxidermy coyote, the skeleton of another coyote and some staging.

We went out later that week to select and collect a few of the tree carcasses and brought them back to this strange collection of elements. Over the next three days, Shawn worked tirelessly to bring the elements together to create Tree of Pain. The work was ostensibly about the plight of the Joshua tree in a time of climate change, migrating to higher climes to thrive and survive. A parallel reading of the elements, coyote, skeleton and glass, pointed to the plight of migrants crossing the desert. Shawn has been working with No More Deaths for some time and takes high school students to the border to leave food, water and blankets as a humanitarian gesture. 


Shawn's work was well received and stimulated a set of  heartfelt discussions. the weekend following the opening, he gave an artists talk at the weekly Artist's Tea in the National Park organized by JT Lab. Thanks to Shawn for bringing his installation work to BoxoHOUSE and wishing him best of luck in his next projects at Bandolier in New Mexico and then in Alaska.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Collab Project

John Plowman and I first met back in 2011 on the long line for the British pavillion featuring Mike Nelson at the Venice Biennale. I got talking to John and his partner Nicola Streeten about artists curating other artists in rural settings, a focus we all shared at the time. I bumped into John and Nicola again at Documenta in 2012, and so we began to realize that inevitably we would do something together.

John contacted me in 2017 to say that the UK Arts Council had a grant for artists seeking to collaborate in an international setting. John proposed that we undertake a collaborative residency and I became interested int he idea of dedicating myself to regular studio time again. So we agreed and proceeded in planning the residency for January 2018.

Four weeks of the residency is not a long time and so John and I began to collaborate by phone and email. We decided the residency should examine the nature and process of collaboration and that looking at ideas related to place would be a good jumping off point. We emailed ideas about our respective places and what defines place for us and also made a physical work each which we mailed across the Atlantic.

When John arrived, we began the process in earnest. We debated where to start and I suggested making body maps, a process I have used in several settings prior. Key to the process is starting each piece with two parties tracing their outlines on a single piece of paper. This seemed like the perfect visual metaphor for what we were exploring. From there, the work pushed forward fast. We left behind ideas of place and worked together on ideas and topics that came out of the nature of the collaboration itself. 

The idea of shadows and shadowing began to take prominence. While working together, we also made individual works that generated out of the key strategies we were using in the collaboration. John and eventually made 4 short films together and created an installation/exhibition for the open house day. 

The process made me very aware of the pressures of keeping a studio practice as well as tending to everyday admin and other matters - the life of a working artist. I also got to experience the arc of a residency with the initial vacuum, the rush of ideas, the starts and stops of work and final push for the open house.

I am very grateful to John for suggesting the project and for his patience and inspiration in working together.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Cyan of the Times

I met Daniel Kukla when he undertook the Joshua Tree National Park residency back in 2012 and was impressed by the perspective he brought to that challenge. We stayed in touch and I was happy to have Daniel return to the Mojave Desert in October, 2017. 

Daniel has been moving his practice away from traditional photography into the realm of the lenseless - working directly with chemicals, light and investigating biological processes. What I learned on this residency was that Daniel's undergraduate degree was in Evolutionary Ecology and Biology. This explained the able way in which he approached new ways of making work and how he brought a research approach to bear.

Daniel's residency was cut somewhat short by work considerations however he made the most of his time, working primarily with large scale cyanotypes on fabric. He also made some captivating video using only a leaking aquarium and shadows on the stucco.


Daniel's open house was part exhibition and part presentation on his fascinating processes - both very well received. Thanks to Daniel for coming out from Brooklyn and pushing his practice further in the desert. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Wagnerian Perspectives

Johanna Wagner came to BoxoHOUSe from Karlsruhe, Germany in November, 2017. She had been recommended to me by Aaron Sheppard, a local multi-talented artist and performer, so I knew things would be interesting. Johanna works across several mediums, reacting to the stimulus in the environments she travels to. She also has some series of works which she sought to extend through the residency, particularly her "night shots."


Johanna delved right into the studio, making drawings and paintings on glass, panel and silk. She also got out into the landscape and starting making images and video. Johanna was happy to be invited to participate in JT Lab's Artist Tea series. For her presentation,she devised a meditative performance that focused on the elements around her - wind, sand and water. She also gave an artist talk about her work and then led the audience through some exercises that put them in the performance frame on the topic of binary code. 


n the lead up to her open house, Johanna collaborated with Aaron Sheppard on several short pieces for  performance. Aaron and Johanna have an ongoing collaboration titled Nameless and Neutral and they performed under this rubric. Johanna's wonderful documentation of the open house exhibition and video of the performance are on her site here.

Many thanks to Johanna for coming over to Joshua Tree and providing her unique perspective on the desert experience.

Lou's Men

It was an honor to be part of the 24 hr programming that Eva Soltes of Harrison House Music, Arts, and Ecology arranged for the centennial of Lou Harrison's birth on May 14, 2017. BoxoHOUSE was proud to host Lou's drawings of men along with documentation of his poetry and other writings. This was perfect timing just ahead of the June Pride month. Together with Heather Johnson, we created  a sense of "being at home" with Lou, borrowing his rockers from Harrison House and some vintage cheesecake magazines from John Luckett. The day's proceeding were streamed into the studio and a true celebration of Lou's life ensued.


Full Circle

It was a huge pleasure to welcome Heather Johnson to BoxoHOUSE again in May, 2017 and to exhibit the work from her latest phase of her large project titled "In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful".   

Watercolor paintings and hand-stitched embroideries were on view, based on experiences the artist collected while traveling from Twentynine Palms, CA, to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2015. ISFB was conceived and put into practice through an artist residency at BoxoHOUSE four years ago, and Heather wass delighted to bring this work back to the desert and the community from which it originally sprang.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Sound of Change

I was introduced to Sofie Elana Hodara through Julie Weiman, a friend and Advisory Committee member; the two share a gallery in Boston. Sofie's work ranges from figurative landscape / still life work to abstraction through technological overlays. She initially proposed a project that involved capturing the local landscape and then developing patterns and other outcomes though the use of a technical process.

As our discussions evolved, Sofie modified her proposal to include collaborating with UBIQ, a publicity-shy sound artist that creates interventions in various settings. Their idea was to research the sound of Joshua trees slowly dying in the elevated temperatures now being experienced in the Joshua Tree National Park  - an alternative to documentation through imagery and a poetic approach to the issue.

Sofie wanted to start the residency with a research phase examining the  observable effects of climate change on the local environment. To this end, I connected her with Mark Wheeler, a respected expert on the area's biological processes, as well as with Danielle Segura, Executive Director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust. Mark took Sofie on an extensive field trip into the National Park and Danielle provided valuable input and arranged for Sofie to visit land the Trust had acquired and was conserving.


While synthesizing the information, UBIQ and Sofie took trips into the National Park, recording the trees in various locations.. Sofie was also moved to consider proper burial for the carcasses of dead trees, and she performed a Jewish ritual, draping a tree (outside of the Park!) with a simple white shroud and observing a minute of silence. In parallel, Sofie created evocative weavings using printouts of the imagery she was capturing.

For their open house, Sofie and UBIQ edited a sound piece and two videos as works in progress to share with the community. Sofie also displayed her paper weavings and the road map they had followed in creating their project. Sofie's artist talk was well received with its crafted mix of earnestness and humor. Many thanks to Sofie and UBIQ for coming to BoxoPROJECTS and creating this alternative approach to dealing with the effects of climate change in the Joshua Tree area.