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.