Saturday, December 6, 2014

An Imagined Joshua Tree

Eliza Kentridge is based in Wivenhoe, a quaint English fishing village on a river in Essex close to where the water empties into the sea. Quite the contrast from our desert town nestled against the rocks of the National Park. As Eliza was only able to come to BoxoHOUSE for 10 days, she came up with a wonderful idea to give the project some duration. Without resorting to the google machine, Eliza conjured up ideas and images of her imagined Joshua Tree - associations invoked by the name and stories she had heard. She then made a series of pieces reflecting these notions in her Wivenhoe studio, packed them up in a portfolio and traveled a great distance to experience the real thing.

When Eliza arrived in the desert, we immediately began a fairly intensive orientation to acquaint her with the area and provide material for the second part of the project, creating works that reflected her actual experience of the place. From walks in the landscape and hikes in the National park to sound baths at the Integratron and a fairly packed social schedule meeting local artists and even attending the Halloween party at Pappy and Scarriets (sic), Eliza took it all in. She immediately took to working in the studio, documenting her experiences and turning some of them into work in progress. Fabric, paper, drawing, gouache prints, and clay all in motion.



While we were running around the Joshua Tree area, it occurred to Eliza that, although there were many obvious contrasts to Wivenhoe, there were also many similarities. Both are small communities with significant artistic communities, though it also emerged that both are located near large military installations and have connections to a "William Loveless". We compiled a list of contrasts and similarities and posted them at the community open house held on November 8 2014. The open house featured the works made in Wivenhoe alongside the works in progress made as a response to the real Joshua Tree. A great crowd came out on a gorgeous fall day to take in the work and meet Eliza.



Many thanks to Eliza for making the journey and engaging so completely with our desert and community. I look forward to the opportunity to show work flowing from the residency in the future.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful: The Journey Continues

Following her residency project last year, Heather Johnson decided to change up her life and continue her project, In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful, through Mexico, South America and possibly the world. No small feat or ambition. Heather conducted the Mexico portion of her journey in the Spring of this year and then came to the Joshua Tree area to regroup for a while before taking on South America.

Heather was given the opportunity to exhibit her work at the University Gallery at CalPoly San Luis Obispo in November of this year. We got talking and I thought it would be a great opportunity to exhibit the work first here in Joshua Tree in October. As will all open houses for the residency, Heather had only been able to show work in progress with the final pieces being exhibited at BoxoOFFICE in New York last Fall. Now it would be possible to share the work with the local community, including new works made in Mexico and locally.

 We hosted an opening on Saturday October 18 which was well attended on a beautiful Fall day in the desert. The exhibition remained on view during the first weekend of Art Tours and then Heather took the work to San Luis Obispo for the show there. Congratulations to Heather again on a wonderful body of work.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Into Stillness

I was introduced to Hermann Niebuhr by a mutual friend and was glad to be making a connection to South Africa, my country of birth. When Hermann and I spoke on skype, it fast became apparent that a residency would be rich in potential outcomes. 

Hermann's work examines the phenomena of life through the lens of landscape. His latest series of work was examining stillness - one body of work being developed with observation of the landscape in the area around his Cape studio, and the other having been explored on an extended bike tour through the Himalayas. Joshua Tree and the Mojave would inform the third part of the series. 

Hermann's Cape studio is located in the Karoo, a semi-desert area that echoed aspects of the Mojave. Hermann is involved in a permaculture practice on his land there and I saw the opportunity for an exchange of ideas/practices with local practitioners. Hermann was also considering how to develop his Cape property into an artists' retreat as he spends the majority of his time in Johannesburg and his studio there. I saw the potential for some form of exchange and cooperation in this regard.

When Hermannn arrived in May, he took to the environment immediately and was soon off on his daily 10km runs which served as a source of discovery and connection with the landscape. He also set to making the studio his - a rapid reorganization that quickly had the space humming with readiness for his oil painting process. This is one of the emerging points of interest for me - watching how artists transform the space to make it work for their medium, practice and habits.

Pretty soon a series of color studies and abstract works inspired by the surrounding desert began to emerge. These were followed by a delivery of canvas and stretchers that then set the stage for larger paintings made by reference to key images. Hermann drove off on several exploratory trips including a one day marathon to Amboy, Death Valley, Johannesburg, CA and back. Phew. Some rich material quickly flowed from these bursts of energy. On the night following the full moon, we undertook a moonlight bicycle ride in the National Park which sparked the inspiration for one of the large canvases.


Discussions on permaculture were held, including an evening spent with Jill Giegrich who was instrumental in starting our local Transition movement and leads the permaculture team. A possible link to the Karoo property was also explored. I look forward to future developments on these fronts.

Hermann worked steadfastly over his three week stay and there was lots to show for it. Beyond the canvases, he created some triptychs painted on vertical slivers of board as well as 50 small works on paper. His open house was a complete exhibition and was well received by the local audience. The next day, Hermann was to be off on his next adventure which included hiking part of the Appalachian trail.

Following several weeks in Joshua Tree, Hermann made the statement that he had not found stillness as expected in the local area. Rather, he found the surrounds to be resonant with a stirring energy - likely what he tapped into to propel the body of work that emerged from his brief stay here.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Soldier's Story

When Daniell Cornell of the Palm Springs Art Museum approached me about hosting Jennifer Karady for a residency, I was immediately intrigued. Jennifer's work is a powerful quest to share the stories that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan bring back with them which continue to affect their everyday. 

I was very happy to be facilitating the project and also saw the challenge in working with Jennifer to make an image here. How to find someone interested in entering into the kind of dialog Jennifer elicits in order make a great narrative image? Joshua Tree's proximity to the Marine Corps Strategic Command at Twentynine Palms was an obvious link and, at the same time, it seemed a possibly closed avenue. After meeting Jennifer in NYC and getting further background on her process, I started to identify ways forward. We agreed to start the recruitment campaign quite early on. Jennifer was doing another project in LA in early 2014 and so would be available to qualify people and come to the desert if necessary before her residency began in late March.

My role on the Board of the local Chamber of Commerce puts me in contact with the Marine Base and I had toured the facility and attended some events. We are lucky to have a community liaison of the likes of Kristina Becker who attends Board meetings, and I started with a meeting to brief her on the project. Kristina was immediately enthusiastic and went away to discuss with her team and consider how to move forward. 

I also identified people in the community who work with veterans - ranging from Mil-tree, a local non-profit working with veterans through the arts, to Copper Mountain Community College, our local institution of higher learning. I spread the word, armed with Jennifer's standard email edited for one important change - I had been informed along the way that Marines do not identify as soldiers. Text was edited appropriately although the project title stood its ground!

There were some great responses by folks in the community and much effort to assist the project though scant response from interested Marines. Jennifer also increased my apprehension by saying she wouldn't call interested veterans - she wanted to hear from them in order to ensure their interest. This was something I came to appreciate later on.

After some time, Kristina came back to say that the project had been well received on base and that she was briefing various unit leaders that would in turn talk to their troops. Pretty soon, some interested Marines were identified and Jennifer was invited to present directly to them a few days after her arrival in Joshua Tree. Jennifer was very enthusiastic about working with active duty Marines and I remained a bit apprehensive as to whether some candidates would emerge.

My concerns were unfounded - several Marines approached Jennifer about her project, some from the Base and some from the wider community, and she went straight into her intensive work process. First, she held telephone interviews to do some basic qualifying. One of Jennifer's chief concerns is to make sure the person is ready to tell their story and unlikely to trigger any negative outcomes through the process. Each qualified candidate then had an initial interview to get into their story and some of the dynamics around the project. Jennifer converted a corner of the studio into a recording booth and several Marines came round for discussions that lasted from 3-5 hour hours. It is then that I got to understand how daunting the process is for Jennifer. Conducting interviews, then reviewing the  entire recording to find excerpts and ideas as well as  to lead to the next round of discussions. Multiple rounds of discussions with multiple Marines - I did the math. 

Called away for some time on a family emergency, I returned to hear that Jennifer had selected the story she was going to focus on. The Marine is an active duty EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) expert who has seen multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was at the Base as a trainer. Jennifer worked closely with him to determine the structure of the image. Naturally, being an EOD expert, the story called for a simulated explosion - an element which set the tone for the production dynamic that then ensued. I immediately understood that location was going to be tricky. Jennifer got working with an FX pro who advised her that getting a County permit was going to challenging. So the unincorporated areas such as Joshua Tree itself and Wonder Valley were out.

Here again, my Chamber relationships came into play. Fist we connected with Cynthia Truitt of the Twentynine Palms Chamber who speed-networked us to several people with sites in that City. Off we went scouting. Then, I reached out to the Joe Guzetta, City Manager of Twentynine Palms, who had been a fellow Board member on the Joshua Tree Chamber some time back. Bingo - The City owned a large tract of land up against the iconic mountains of the National Park and they were willing to let us use it on the condition the land was restored to its prior condition. We scouted that location and were overjoyed to find several spots suitable for the shoot. Joe and his staff were highly accommodating in helping get the permit arranged and providing some on-site facilities for use during the shoot.

Jennifer continued on overdrive working with the FX guy on getting the explosion right - several videos of test explosions flowed from an LA suburb (the neighbors must be used to it).  There were also myriad other production aspects such as lighting, set and extras. Jennifer's shoots are akin to small movie shoots - an entire story told in one powerful narrative image.

A week or so prior to the shoot, Jennifer mounted 18 previous project images and associated stories on the walls of the studio. We welcomed the Board of the Photographic Council of the Palm Springs Art Museum for a viewing and discussion with Jennifer. A couple of days later, we held an open house for the community and Jennifer spoke about her work. The intense focus of the community when viewing the works was palpable and several people were overcome by emotion. Stories that needed to be told and heard. 

The next day, Jennifer worked with the Marine on some test shots using production spec equipment, both to get the positioning and facial expressions rehearsed as well as to ensure that the flashes would not trigger any strong associations or discomfort. All proceeded smoothly. The rest of the week was spent in high gear by Jennifer, attending to all the production details, continuing to refine the simulated explosion and shopping for props and costumes.

The shoot itself proceeded quite smoothly - all Jennifer's hours of crafting and attending to details paid off. I was not present again due to the family emergency and so cannot give further details. Fortunately, Chuck Mobley, former Director of SF Cameraworks, was able to step in and work with Jennifer on the shoot. I have seen the resulting images and am looking forward to seeing which one Jennifer chooses for the series. Jennifer will be having a solo exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum from December 13 through March 29 2015. The whole series will be exhibited in full 4' x 4' format along with the related stories. I look forward to celebrating with Jennifer and thanking her, and Daniell, for bringing this amazing project to the Mojave and to BoxoHOUSE.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sailor Days

Biddy Connor, composer, musician, and vocalist, arrived in February from Melbourne Australia and kicked off the 2013 residency season. Biddy's aim was to delve into the Joshua Tree experience and compose music which would be used as a soundtrack for Megan Evan's video work entitled Stranger in the Desert. Megan completed the residency last summer and Biddy had received an Australia Council grant to create this collaborative sound piece based on the work in progress.

As Biddy was here for only two weeks, we jumped right in. Straight from the airport to a showing of Eva Soltes ' documentary about the composer Lou Harrison which was screen at Furstworld, our local world class venue. The next evening we dined with Eva and the musician in residence at Harrison House, Saba Alizadeh. 

Biddy setup in the studio and started to work - coming back from a sound walk, she told me she had played a barrel cactus and I listened to the recording pleasantly surprised. I learned a lot about sound art over the two weeks as Biddy went from one inspiration to another sharing the highlights. 

Toward the end of the first week, we ventured to the Integratron for a sound bath and Biddy brought along her musical saw. After the group present had woken up from marinating, Biddy played in the acoustically perfect space and the effect was quite haunting. later that evening, Biddy played a working draft of her new piece while we watched the video with a neighbor. Live soundtrack is quite a joy.

Early into the second week, Biddy performed at the Culver Center for the Arts in Riverside. She played several of her songs from her album, Sailor Days (available here), and then finished with the new piece for Stranger in the Desert. At points, Biddy's viola, voice and saw were all looped live through electronic controls and she became a veritable one woman band. It was a wonderful performance and the audience was most appreciative.



The Riverside gig was ultimately the warm up for Biddy's performance at BoxoHOUSE. She played in the studio/exhibition space which had works by Diane Best and David Mackenzie hanging. The film in progress was projected on a wall over Mackenzies' minimal works. There was a capacity crowd that listened quietly throughout and then participated heartily as Biddy invited all to chant "home" as she looped the word repeatedly through the software. A very touching moment for all. 


On her last day at BoxoHOUSE, Biddy and I took a walk and she used the opportunity to play one more unusual instrument - a sculpture on the nearby HDTS land. Biddy then headed off to New York and Princeton to play and record for a few days before returning to Melbourne. Biddy's was the first non-visual artist in residence and I am very grateful for the new perspective she brought to the program.