Friday, February 19, 2021

The Sun is Spotless

 Jenny Perlin makes films, drawings and installations and we have crossed paths for over a decade at art events in New York. In 2018 we started a conversation which eventually led to Jenny's arrival at Boxo in early January this year.


The residency project came out of Jenny's film work which has recently involved documenting various aspects of the movement to relocate to bunkers. There is a lively industry in reconditioned military facilities that have been converted into bunkers for the day when one or more of a variety of cataclysms hits our society.


Some of the rationale used by people securing these spaces comes from an uptick in astronomical phenomena such as solar flares and double stars. Jenny was keen on documenting these phenomena and making work related to them.

A key tenet of the residency is the desire to link artist residents with local subject experts who can assist with the projects and form relationships with the artists that outlive the residency time period. I connected Jenny with the wonderful people at Sky's the Limit in 29 Palms and the conversations began.

As luck would have it, the covid situation opened up an opportunity for Jenny's family in LA and they relocated for the year in summer 2020. This meant that Jenny could come out for the January 2021 residency we had planned. 


Even before arriving, Jenny was able to work with the experts at Sky's the Limit, using their zoom platform. When she arrived, she was provided with a telescope to bring on property and she promptly began her work. It emerged that this has been a very quiet time on the sun and no spots or flares where apparent. Undeterred, Jenny began making drawings and creating an animation incorporating Galileo's sunspot observations from back in the day. She also managed to finish editing the last of her five bunker films.

 On January 30 2021, Jenny hosted a virtual open house which including a screening of the animation and scenes from the bunker films. A recording of the open house can be found here. Many thanks to Jenny for her time here and to Sky's the Limit for their wonderful generosity.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Crust Lust | March 2020

Jim Toia first contacted me back in 2016 after hearing about Boxo from prior resident Will Lamson. Jim researches natural processes and then makes artworks that incorporate the process as a means of production. He is best known for his drawings made by allowing mushroom spores to eject across paper and also for his web captures. I was intrigued by the work and also wondered what such research would uncover in the desert region.

Jim structured a residency built around a research phase to be followed by a second phase delivering the outcomes to a local audience. He is an educator at Lafayette College in Easton, PA and was able to get a grant from the college to support his work. 

The research phase was planned for late September/Early October of 2017. I put Jim in contact with Mark Wheeler, expert botanist and tireless guide to the Park and its surrounding environments. Jim arrived and took an 8 hr hike with Mark, coming back exhausted and elated. Of everything that he had learned on the day, Jim was most enamored with cryptobiotic soil, the thin layer of crust filled with living organisms that stabilize the surface and nourish the surrounding area. So much so, that he came back in March 2018 to take a course in cryptobiotic soil given by the Desert Institute.

Cryptobiotic soil is fragile and falls victim to off road vehicle use as well as disturbance caused by the uninitiated trampling through it. Jim decided that he wanted to make work that could be used as a pedagogic tool to familiarize people with the crust, and thus get them to both appreciate it's role in the environment and proceed with more caution.


On returning to Lafayette, Jim teamed up with Joe Biondo, an accomplished architect, to conceptualize some prototype structures that would serve the purpose. The original idea was to create a set of interlocking panels that would make up a platform that people could walk out onto. The modular units featured images of the soil taken by a macro camera and enlarged 400x. Jim and Joe continued to brainstorm and designed several more ambitious possible structures from shade structures to "halls of soil".

When Jim returned at the beginning of March for the presentation part of his residency, he shipped ahead loads of interesting work he had made. Using molds made by laser cutting foam based on the enlarged images of the crust, Jim created rubber prototypes of the interlocking units. They are shaped as hexagons, imitating the natural form of honeycomb. He also produced a host of large scale prints on a film substrate and made paper prints using the same images. The studio was very quickly converted into Crust HQ.

While we planned an Artist Tea presentation in JTNP on March 15 and an Open House at Boxo on March 21, Jim made new works by manipulating the pre printed imagery and working into it with inks and paints in several ways. He also built a light table to display the rubber prototypes. One of the aims of his time here was to connect with MDLT and the Park and work toward finding a home for the idea in whatever form would suit the hosting organization. Just as the Covid-19 curtain began to fall, we were able to get some folks to see the work in person and Jim was the last artist to present at Artists Tea for this season. Discussions on applications of his work will be ongoing.

Faced with the shelter in place order, we decided to stream an open house presentation on March 21, 2020. The video can be found here. A huge thanks to Jim for all the wonderful work he has done to date and I trust we will find a supportive organization to bring the designs to bear on their heartfelt intent.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Dissected, Analyzed, and Reconstructed | February 2020

Caroline Partamian and Ethan Primason were introduced to me by Angus McCullough, a resident back in 2016. A combination of visual artist, and sound artist, Caroline and Ethan were a unique pair doing interesting work democratizing the airwaves and creating intriguing installations. Importantly, they had decided to move to the Joshua Tree area and a February 2020 residency would provide them a soft landing in following some time abroad.

The artists had proposed creating a sound installation that synthesized a series of daily ritual walks they were to take, capturing sound and observations on a regular basis. This would build on a similar process undertaken at a  residency in Marfa, TX. However, on further research, they determined that February being a windy month meant that they would be mostly capturing the sound of wind on a daily basis. They then decided to turn this to advantage, to record the wind in some remote abandoned location and then dissect and analyze those recordings to create the installation.

Caroline and Ethan got to work hiking out to abandoned mines to get their recordings and researching and developing software to analyze the sounds in they ways they intended. Ethan also set about welding frames for the speaker/fan combinations they designed and for a large metal sheet that would be used to visualize the sounds through projection as well as act as a speaker in itself. Caroline focused on creating the visual elements, mostly captures and drawings on acetate and old school slides.


Caroline and Ethan hosted an artist's tea in the Park on February 23 that got participants involved in various listening and seeing exercises. On February 29, their open house installation drew a sizable crowd to the studio and created a wonderful immersive experience. Many thanks to the artists and welcome to the community!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Stranger No Longer | January 2020

Megan Evans had been planning her return to Boxo for quite some time before her January 2020 second residency. One thing she noted in early December was that she was wishing for an extreme weather event aka snow. Well, she got it and then some. Joshua Tree had a lot of snow over Christmas and by the time she arrived on December 29, the landscape was a pure white. We ventured out  to capture images of Megan in her Victorian era dress (a recreation of her great grandmother's sealskin outfit) examining the flora of the "virginal desert".

Megan came to continue her larger project with takes responsibility for her colonial past and explores issues of whiteness and privilege. She focused somewhat on the colonization of the landscape through the US Geological Survey and made a series of works exploring contour maps and the hubris of laying a grid across the varied topography of the region. Megan also continued her series of sculptures made from antique silver treasures found on ebay and the like. She bolts them together in unstable forms, the deformities of their original cultural context.

The photographic work continued with various explorations in the landscape, resulting and evocative images illustrating the clash of civilized woman and the wild environment that surrounded her. Megan also undertook a large embroidered text composed of an acknowledgment of land to the local Indigenous peoples. She went on a research visit to the Malki Musem on the Morongo Reservation and befriended one of the caretakers here. We were honored to have him attend Megan's Open House and even more honored that the embroidered piece was taken by him and installed in the Museum conference room!

The wild card work that Megan discovered here was a series of sculptures made from screen metal or "fly wire" as it is called in Australia. Megan made a large series of abstract forms and suspended them from fishing line so that they appeared to float in space. This work has continued back in Melbourne where she is currently fashioning social distancing headwear :)

Megan's Open House on January 25 was a wonderful event, well attended by a very engage crowd that kept a q&a session going for quite some time. This was the second time in six months that I found how hungry the community is for discussion of topics related to the history of colonization in this area and the ongoing issues surrounding Indigenous peoples.

Much gratitude to Megan for making this trip a second time and for her great work and engagement with local issues. Cheers!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Long View | December 2019

Tyler Morgan is now based in New York and Connecticut, however, he was a resident of Palm Springs for many years. Joshua Tree National Park has always been a refuge for him and he wanted his residency project to contribute to the effort in some way. With the huge growth in visitorship to the Park, Tyler also noted a large increase in bottled water being sold at the local visitors center. Having made the elimination of single use plastics a personal goal, Tyler set out to do something about this during his December 2019 residency. 


Tyler's first idea was to create a sculpture in Joshua Tree that would also serve as a source of free water for Park visitors to fill up. He was looking to install the sculpture in the central part of town, on land behind the Art Queen. After much research, Tyler determined that this would not be feasible within local authority guidelines. He has since turned his efforts to working with the Joshua Tree National Park Association to install a water fountain and bottle filling station. These facilities are not currently available owing to past restrictions connected to the drought.

While working on his water project, Tyler also returned to the Park multiple times, undertaking an exercise of just listening and observing in several different locations - looking for what opens up after we stop trying to see and hear. On December 15, Tyler offered a session at the Artist Tea in the Park where people where invited to see and listen in new ways to that which surrounded them. Tyler led a group through a  drawing exercise focused on the broad sweep rather than the detail.

For his open house at Boxo on December 21, Tyler created an evocative installation. On his trips into the Park he had filmed a 30 minute sunrise from the North View trail. North being the direction in which the Joshua trees are said to be migrating, driven by climate change. Tyler ordered some rocks, quarried near Joshua Tree and then taken down to Palm Springs to be sold. He had them delivered back to Joshua Tree and installed them in the studio along with the pallets they came on. Evidence of the cycle of commerce that is driving climate change. He inserted all the lights into red tubes, creating a complete and dystopian hued environment. Tyler projected the film of the sunrise with a soundtrack that emulated tinnitus - what one ultimately hears in the Park if one actually finds silence. Tyler inserted a glitch into the video every 5 minutes or so, just in case one slipped into any sense of ease with the human condition and its effects on nature. 

Many thanks to Tyler for his impactful installation at Boxo and for his continued work on cutting back the use of plastics in our region.



Materiality of Exile | November 2019

Ana Sanchez-Colberg and I have known each other for 35 years (since college) and Ana's residency in November was a 30th anniversary of the dance theater company we founded together in London in 1989. Ana has kept Theatre EnCorps alive over the years and has taken it into new directions in Greece. 

Ana and I have been looking for a way to work together again and her current series of projects dealing with prime numbers presented the opportunity. Ana was looking for a project to deal with the number 11 and we were able to schedule time in November (11) of 2019. Her original idea for a desert project was to examine perceptions of the aging female body and the desert as sites of inhospitability. As I have been developing a focus on Unseen Faces/Unheard Voices, I asked Ana if we could build in an element of working with the local Latin community which makes up 24% of the population however is rarely seen in cultural presentations.

The resulting project, 1[-1] Materiality of Exile, saw Ana work with eleven local Latin women, creating "portraits" of them and the manner in which they work to make  inhospitable territory into hospitable. The idea was to create an eleven minute video for each of the women, in which material from interviews and movement exercises would be cut with Ana's choreographed interpretation of the woman's story. There would be several excerpt performances at different venues and a final installation in the studio at Boxo that would bring all the stories together. The project was awarded a prestigious MAP Fund grant and Ana arrived at the beginning of November to undertake the work.

I had to reach wide to find eleven women willing to enter into the unknown territory of meeting with Ana, undertaking movement with her and telling their stories on video. We offered compensation for time however recognized the challenge of the project. Luckily, by the time Ana arrived, I had recruited a group and exactly eleven women turned up for the introductory meeting. Following the meeting, Ana set to work. Luckily, a former student Dawn Schultz, arrived from New Jersey to work with Ana on capturing the stories and some of the footage of Ana dancing in the landscape.

All the sessions with the women were completed within several days and then Ana set to work. She set herself the grueling task of editing the eleven audio tracks, inserting original sound elements, and eleven video tracks, incorporating footage of her movements, and then bringing it all together. Along the way, she presented the project at an Artist Tea in the Joshua Tree National Park, and in performance at the Palm Springs Art Museum and Rubens Ranch in Coachella. Each woman had also created a memory box of sorts in clear acrylic boxes that were brought to the venues.

Toward the end of November, Ana created an installation in the studio using cell phones, mylar blankets and set of white clothing she had danced in to make each video. On November 30th, the final performance took place with Ana dancing all eleven stories in the outdoor field whole the individual stories could also be viewed in the indoor installation. Many brave souls came out in the 40 something degree weather to witness the work.

In parallel to this entire process, Ana had recruited eleven artists, including Dawn, who undertook parallel projects working in their individual communities. All of this can be viewed on the blog. The project also lives on in a tour of the installation which will be viewed next in Miami and and then in Palo Alto, TX. Future plans are being made to get the work to New York and Puerto Rico. All events were also live streamed and archived and the audience therefor extended virtually.

A huge thank you to Ana for bringing such an extensive project to Boxo and for the new opportunities for community collaboration that it has opened up.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Displacement | October 2019

I was introduced to Eli Hirtle through another artist named Shawn Shepherd who I was introduced to by Deborah Page, a collector from Palm Desert. One things leads to another. I was on my summer travels discovering artists and places in the PNW and beyond. Eli lives in Victoria, BC and is a nêhiyaw(Cree)/British/German filmmaker, beadworker, visual artist and curator. Eli has made several films about indigenous language revitalization and makes work related to his journey of reconnecting with his true heritage.

In 2018, I was looking for residencies that could fit into the Unseen Face/Unheard Voices focus that I wanted to bring to the program. While a lot of good art is made in the Joshua Tree region, very little of it addresses the pressing social issues outside of climate change and I wanted to kick start the discussion. I had been looking for emerging contemporary artists with an Indigenous background and was disappointed to find a vacuum in the Southern California art scene. 

Eli and I spoke honestly about the challenge of bringing someone from a very different heritage to the Joshua Tree area to make work and take up the issue. We determined that as long as he was able to meet with some local Indigenous artists and research the local context, we could use the lens of dislocation to view the process.

On the back of an extensive tour for screenings of his latest film in Western Canada, Eli arrived at Boxo at the beginning of October, 2019. Gerald Clarke, a Cahuilla artist who has participated in the Joshua Treenial, agreed to spend a day with Eli touring him to the Morongo Reservation and familiarizing him with local traditions. Gerald is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum. 

When Eli arrived, he was taken with the night skies we enjoy in the region and decided that his residency project would involve telling the alternate stories of the constellations which are derived from his Cree traditions. Using the medium of beading, he created an evocative piece beaded onto black leather. In addition to beading the constellations themselves, Eli beaded their names in the nêhiyaw language. 

Eli's open house on October 12, engaged viewers with discussion of the parallel dark histories of Indigenous people in Canada and the US as well as the possibilities of different tellings of the stories of our skies. There was a very lively discussion and several attendees followed up with articles and emails demonstrating the appetite in the region for discussing these issues.

We were also able to have Eli included in programming at the Palm Springs Art Museum where he screened his newest film, Voices on the Rise, and again engage the audience in a discussion of the issues.

A huge thank you to Eli for venturing so far south to help raise awareness and for the wonderful work he was able to accomplish while at Boxo.