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.