Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Surveying the Landscape | November 2018

In November, Ben Stanwix came from Cape Town where he had already spent a good amount of time on his residency project involving the ways in which we perceive landscape. From that distance, he used google maps to survey the area and then made a gigantic fabric tapestry, titled One, that approximated the digitization he experienced when trying to zoom in.

This strategy continued once Ben arrived - surveying the land and local history from various vantage points and then making work related to the initial perceptions and distortions he encountered. The grid, true north vs. magnetic north, historical images and even the yellow marking on electrical poles all became material for a range of works including drawing, photography, sculpture and assemblage. And the studio was turned into a veritable laboratory for the exploration of materials and form.

Ben gave a wonderful presentation at Artists Tea in Joshua Tree National Park where participants were able to workshop making art pieces using string, ribbon and magnets. Ben also got participants to read texts illustrating the mistranslations that occur when we allow the narrative to run through technology. One was prominently displayed on a rock overlooking the event. 

For his open house on December 22, Ben created a very full exhibition of works with One again presiding over things from the nearby rock pile. The open house for was well attended and the work very well received.

Many thanks to Ben for winging it over from such a distance and for reflecting back the local landscape in such an innovative and comprehensive manner.

Friday, December 14, 2018

One woman's trash is another woman's treasure.... | October 2018

Constance Old up-cycles pieces of plastic and paper using the traditional technique of rug hooking. We met at Art Palm Springs 2018, and I liked her work a lot. I immediately had the idea to team Constance up with the Joshua Tree Clean Team, a tireless group who keep the desert looking close to pristine. She was very interested in the idea, and I put her in touch with Cynthia Heaton, lead organizer. 

Constance arrived in October, 2018 just a few days ahead of the next Clean Team outing. She carried out a test run, carefully organizing a taxonomy of her findings. On the appointed day, Constance went out with the team - eleven people filled thirteen large trash bags in just one hour! Constance hauled all thirteen bags back to the studio for processing.


She sorted the items, selecting the most promising pieces and refilling the bags with her discards. Selected items were then washed and sorted into categories by size, color and material. Constance then began making work. Her pieces in Joshua Tree differed from those in her home studio. They were much larger in scale and composed of differing elements. Box springs, pop cups, a thoroughly recycled fridge, traffic cones, shoes and other jetsam were all incorporated.

Constance installed one large sculpture, titled Always One Shoe, Never Two in an empty advertising frame along Hwy 62 - a hint at the work to come. She also participated in November's Artist's Tea, an event held weekly in Joshua Tree National Park. Constance brought Always One Shoe with to the talk and led the group through a weaving exercise. She concluded her residency with a very well attended and received open house on November 17 featuring the diverse array of work she had created.

Many thanks to Constance for venturing cross country to help clean the desert and make compelling work from her finds.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Tree of Pain | March 2018

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 on March 18, 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.