Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bash West

On Tuesday May 21 2013, BoxoPROJECTS held a Bash for BoxoHOUSE at the Los Angeles home of Advisory Board Member Brenda R. Potter. A wonderful crowd of collectors, museum and gallery professionals, artists and Joshua Tree community stalwarts mixed over conversation and great food. Guests were also treated to a viewing of the amazing collection installed throughout the house. A short presentation included Heather Johnson's insights into her project, an overview of BoxoPROJECTS' core mission and activities, and a presentation by Daniel Rothman of the video installation with original soundtrack that he will complete at a future BoxoHOUSE residency. Much gratitude to Brenda Potter for her generous hosting, to the guests for their engaged attendance and to the artists who helped bring the effort alive. Boxo


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Long Distance Residency

Toward the end of last year's residency season, a friend got in touch to alert me to the work of Heather Johnson. I was immediately taken with the detailed delicacy of Heather's embroidery and the striking quality of the juxtaposed imagery she utilized. The site specificity and topicality of her work made it seem right for the BoxoHOUSE program. When I got back to NYC, I contacted Heather and asked if she might be interested in considering a residency in Joshua Tree. I was not prepared for the strength of her enthusiasm or the scope of the project she undertook.

Heather Johnson, Crankshaft, embroidery on linen


When Heather and I got talking, it emerged that she is an avid motorcyclist, a wonderful contrast to the image of embroidery maker. Coming to Joshua Tree tapped into her long held desire to ride cross country, visiting places of artistic interest. On a studio visit to her home in Weehawken, NJ, the outline of the project began to emerge. Eventually named In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful, Heather undertook to ride a southerly route to Joshua Tree and return on a northerly heading. On the way, she was interested in stopping at sites of natural beauty as well as sites were man has interfered with the landscape in some way. Or, as we say it in the desert, places where the land has been disturbed. Many of these sites are on a database created by the Center for Land Use Interpretation. At places that provided a particularly strong experience for Heather, she placed small embroideries that she prepared for the journey in an act of exchange. These artworks also contained information on how to learn more about the project and how to reach her.

Heather set out for Joshua Tree on April 3, 2013 and a detailed account of her preparations and journey can be read here. She carried a tracker which allowed anyone to see where she was at any one point as well as what her speed was. I tracked the journey enthusiastically also following her progress on Facebook. Despite a shortish delay in Lake Charles, LA owing to a flat tire, Heather arrived at BoxoHOUSE on April 24. She was tired and rail thin though happy and safe. That evening we attended a guitar recital at Harrison House, a wonderful way to introduce Heather to the community and vice versa. And the next day was her birthday, an opportunity to sleep in, eat well and just relax.


The relaxation phase did not last long. Late April into early May is a very busy period in Joshua Tree - perfect weather that stimulates a wide variety of events and activities. Heather got a comprehensive tour of the area on the landscape tour which ranged from Twentynine Palms all the way to Landers. The following day, she attended a large groupwide meeting of Transition Joshua Tree and learned about the water challenges we face locally and throughout California. During her four weeks, Heather participated in a wide range of activites ranging from social encounters with artists and the wider community to the monthly artwalk to a sound bath at the Integratron, the JT Music Festival and a swanky birthday party in Palm Springs just for balance. One of the stand out days was a comprehensive tour of the Marine Corps base complete with simulated humvee rollover. Wherever she went, Heather made friends and fans, gaining insights and more material for the Frightening and the Beautiful.

Heather also hit the studio hard, creating templates and sorting through the wealth of material she was amassing. One of the key developments for her work was a change in scale - a move to go to larger pieces using burlap linen and larger stitching. One of the hero images she is developing is an almost full scale template of her motorcycle (Triumph Tiger) superimposed over an aerial map of the BoxoHOUSE surrounding area. The work is painstaking and it was rewarding to witness Heather stitching away. The contrast of the medium with the subject matter - motorcycle parts and rugged topography - continually creates a strong sense of engagement for me.

Given that the last weekend of Heather's time at BoxoHOUSE coincided with both the JT Music Festival and Shaktifest, we decided to do an open house for the community the previous weekend. Heather shared works in progress, templates and images from her adventures and the community came out in strong support. As there was still a week to go, Heather offered guests the opportunity to provide an interesting experience to her in exchange for one of the pieces she had made to leave along the road. There were some weird and wonderful suggestions with the winning suggestion coming from local artist and good friend Diane Best.



During her last week of the residency, Heather also made further excursions to an abandoned mine site that just recently was saved from becoming a major landfill site, as well as to the large windturbines that fill the valley above Palm Springs. Another local artist heard of her trip to the mine site and went in search of the piece she had left there - successfully snagging it.

Heather's last contribution before she headed out on the road for more adventures, was to attend and speak at the BoxoPROJECTS fundraiser held in Los Angeles on May 21. Her support was much appreciated and she made yet more fans out of the guests at that event. I am very grateful to Heather for having undertaken such an ambitious project and look forward to featuring the resulting artworks at the upcoming exhibition in New York at the end of September. Boxo



Thursday, June 6, 2013

saul melman: untitled redux

Saul Melman returned to BoxoHOUSE in April, 2013 for a two week expansion of his earlier project which involved turning the former garage, now finished studio space, into a camera obscura.  

The new project was expansive in every way. For weeks ahead of his arrival, Saul's materials began to be delivered. Large quantities of silver gelatin and developing chemicals. Large boxes of large papers - one batch the result of Saul's residency at Dieu Donne in New York City. Large sheets of handmade paper on which he was to paint silver gelatin making handmade photographic paper. And boxes containing black light absorbent cloth.

Saul had been inspired by Giotto frescoes and the new direction for the project involved his donning garb to create images that responded to those works from an earlier time. He arrived, brimming with enthusiasm, and proceeded to pull various iridescent cloths and other props from his bag like a conjuror relishing the making of magic.

Saul started with making the studio light tight - made easier by the insulation and drywalling yet challenging in terms of not wearing too much on the finished surfaces. The other upgrade was running water in the studio and then again the challenge of not putting chemicals directly into the sink to avoid killing the septic system. We debated these points for a while and reached an agreement on what was necessary and tolerable.

As the papers were oversized - 40 x 30 and larger - Saul had to build baths for developing and fixing from scratch. He also built a black grey water tank which we put out behind the studio to hold the used chemicals until they evaporated. And he built a light tight container for the papers - several iterations of which were trialed. A photographic project of sorts that also involved a lot of sculpture. Within three days, the studio was transformed into a functioning lab with pounds of heavy duty black plastic everywhere to protect surfaces as well as protect papers from the light.

The production process then began - tests with different props and positions.Saul fashioned halos of sorts from cardboard and silver tape. As the images were actually negatives, anything white appeared black and vice versa. Luckily, the hot weather was not yet on tap as Saul spent most the performance time wearing a black ski mask with the halo velcroed to the side of his head, a large black cloth draped around him and black rubber gloves. Ultimately, he determined a sequence of three images he wanted to create and then cycled into producing multiple versions of each to shift the variables and witness the results.

The exposure time for each image was a lot less than last year - six to eight minutes vs. the sixteen to eighteen previously. This meant that production could speed up - a mixed blessing for Saul as the preparation of the papers and subsequent development still took a fair amount of time. Ultimately, this meant falling back into the schedule he had developed last year of shooting in the morning into the afternoon, developing into the late evening and then preparing papers into the early hours of the following morning.


I worked with Saul at agreed times, primarily in the mornings, to adjust the drapery and halo he was wearing, over and over. Early one morning, we had a visit from Edie Nadlehaft, a New York artist passing through with her husband on motorcycles. They were quickly drafted into the working team. Brian Leatart, a Joshua Tree stalwart and artist, also came by to document the process of dressing and posing. On the penultimate evening of the residency, thirty plus people came for a gut expanding dinner prepared by the El Dorado Supper Club team. Some of the images were mounted and the props were displayed on a shelf. The studio  converted from working environment to restaurant in a flash.

Saul is still developing some of the images and I look forward to seeing final works. Selections from the work will be exhibited at BoxoOFFICE in the Fall. You can read more about Saul's process in this article.