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!