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The post Why Science? appeared first on Women Eco Artists Dialog.]]>
AS SCIENCE INFORMS THE WORKS of more and more artists, the commonalities between scientists and artists are becoming better understood. A familiar theme shared by many in both professions is a large degree of social responsibility. Artists and scientists are passionate about taking on the causes of climate change, soil erosion, species loss, and factors affecting the warming of the earth’s atmosphere. Artists incorporate scientific aspects of soil, water, climate and other elements into their work. Artists study oceans, rivers, and degraded lands and discover aesthetic antidotes in the wake of droughts, over-development, and species loss. Artists address issues of soil erosion, water pollution, species loss, climate change, sea level rise, and myriad other problems harming our natural and built environments through their focused and effective responses making these issues visible to the community.
WHY THEN, ARE THERE NOT more scientists seeking out artists and choosing to work with them on contemporary environmental issues?
The relationship of science to environmental art is a dynamic one. Both professions share similar approaches and processes. Scientists searching for new and artistic ways to express their findings often bring artistic approaches to their realm. But artists seeking scientists with which work often find it difficult to initiate collaboration. However, try and imagine moving forward with conservation, climate change remedies, soil conservation, species protection, and restoration of degraded lands without relying on multifaceted collaborations: Artists can, and should, be significantly engaged in such collaborations. The artist-as-activist role is an important strategy for actualizing conservation efforts. Embracing this role can also help further an illusive aspect of this kind of work for artists—access to installation sites.
Projects involving both artists and scientists are usually highly visible and can lead to additional interdisciplinary collaborations. Landowners need knowledge, research, and methodologies that can help them improve soil, correct erosion, conserve water, and direct storm water. Scientific research often extends to the spheres of sociology, demographics, and policy. The “big tent” of environmental art draws on numerous companion disciplines, and aesthetics can be a bridge that sheds light on all efforts engaged in collaboration.
AS AN ARTIST EDUCATED AT A TIME when science wasn’t encouraged as an academic path for girls and women, I found the need to remedy this educational mistake soon after I began to pursue a career in the arts. The amount of data and research I needed to process gave me a different perspective on the natural world. The more technical and scientific information I gathered, the more I began to understand how much environmental loss we have inherited and that we are likely to pass on.
A few decades ago, lands were maintained biologically, simply, organically. Today, advances in agriscience alter the character of rural lands and waterways. In the urban space, the proliferation of impervious surfaces fuels pollution and species loss. Prolonged droughts contribute to soil degradation. Fires expose lands to erosion. Climate change affects the lands, waters, and air that surround all of our homes.
As it has developed, my practice advocates for “softer technologies” using many of the methods of working the land that originated from the Dust Bowl era. Municipal governments throughout the U.S. are “re-adopting” these practices, advocating for and, in some localities, mandating regionally based environmental protections through established best management practices (BMPs). However, healthy practices for preserving public spaces could also be adopted by private landowners, homeowners, and general citizens-at-large. Artists have a role here too—the BMP approach offers opportunities for environmental artists by providing access to sites to create meaningful art experiences through restoration projects.
While governmental agencies run through lengthy processes for regulatory approvals, funding, and site liabilities, artists can help private landowners reach restoration goals based on BMPs. In some of the country’s more politically entangled regions, private landowners are showing the way. In Southern Louisiana, small towns, landowners, and Native American nations are taking on the problems of liquefaction and disappearing lands, lot by lot, island by island. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a host of regulatory bodies struggle to undo the damage of decades of failed policies before new large-scale solutions can be enacted. Will it be too late? Perhaps policymakers can be galvanized behind protections that individual landowners, artists among them, desire to affect.
THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE (NPS) CHAMPIONS environmental art in their restoration activities, advocating “predominately placed art can bring a level of awareness to issues.” Charles Tracey, NPS landscape architect, believes, “Environmental art can capture public attention and animate the goals of community projects.” When artists incorporate science and engage scientists in their projects, they move beyond creating works “that aim to improve the viewers’ understanding of the natural world”1 and directly interact with a site through their environmental works. Choosing to make one’s art a change factor and working in a leave-no-trace manner is a risky, but a highly fulfilling quest for an artist.
My partner, Daniel McCormick, is fond of saying that we take a watershed approach to our work. I like to think about this in an all-inclusive sense, because this is also the way I see the world. The nature of a specific watershed, the history of its ecology, and the characteristics of the natural or built systems help guide our process. We focus on restorative, remedial works that give advantage to the sites were we work. Our work has been described as having a “straightforward and efficient bio-remedial dimension.”2 Some viewers wonder why we let our works “disappear.” That is not our goal, but when the work is designed as a remedial element, an act of restoration is created. We believe that, given the advantage of an artist’s work, even the most degraded elements of a watershed can become part of a ongoing restoration cycle.
The “terroir” of an installation site can provide a powerful aesthetic consideration for artists and scientists alike. Artists may want to take into consideration local characteristics and regional impacts in their approaches. The geology and geography of an installation site are unique and should influence the aesthetics of solutions. Lands, waterways, and ecotones have distinct behaviors, uses, fragility, erosion, productivity, and levels of successful regeneration.
The specificity of place is where scientific methods can become most influential in the design of an artist’s works. Artists can address restoration issues in both urban and rural watersheds, work in a conservation capacity, and address the different regional textures and behaviors of soil, water, climate, and species. Whether dealing with erosion control, urban runoff, flood plain disruptions, wind disturbances, agricultural issues such as overgrazing, suburban development, water use issues, or drought, artists can contribute real and tangible solutions and to the restoration cycle. An artist’s work can also illuminate the restoration process as it evolves.
When artists and scientists work together, their responses can bring attention to these issues. Artists should be willing to embrace societal issues, varying field conditions, and community outreach. Further, when environmental artists are willing to integrate, as well as reflect scientific research, this collective knowledge can become an integral part of the solution. Artists have been served by science for centuries. If we flip that relationship and base our work in service of science, then the larger body of scientific knowledge can help us address real problems with aesthetic, concrete solutions. For me, as a woman, an artist, and a citizen, these acts of restoration take on personal significance, as I ponder the environmental loss I will inevitably leave behind.
IN NORTH CAROLINA, THE NATIVE RED SOIL displays its mineral content on its surface. However, during heavy rains, urban runoff moves soil out from under traditional ground covers such as grass and ornamental plantings into streets, storm drains, and creeks. We created sculptures that helped spread and aid the absorption of groundwater before it reaches drains and creek, by allowing silt particles to settle with the water. Unexpected results were also realized—returning native sedge grass began to grow in newly created sinks along the length of the sculpture.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, we addressed the 150-year history of erosion and siltification and global warming through our sculptures that evolve over time into oyster reefs and natural “horizontal levees” to protect shorelines and help defend against sea level rise.
In Northern Nevada, after consulting with scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the Great Basin Bird Observatory, we created five remedial installations in the Carson and Truckee River watersheds. The sculptures retain seasonal floodwaters, reinforce riparian buffers, help create additional wetlands, recharge riparian zone, and concentrate avian resources, while addressing the habitat needs of threatened species. The works, commissioned by the Nevada Museum of Art and the Nature Conservancy, attracted community in ways that no other Conservancy outreach had previously, with volunteers contributing 2,300 hours to complete the projects. Bill Fox, Director of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art, said, “The work that Daniel and Mary do is unique, but part of a worldwide movement that uses art to address environmental remediation.”3
Mary O’Brien is a sculptor who collaborates on environmental installations with her partner Daniel McCormick in their practice, Watershed Sculpture. These works are founded on the principle that artists, in collaboration with other disciplines, can create works that encourage sustainability and citizen stewardship. See <watershedsculpture.com>”
1 National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, “State of the Environmental Art,” August 2014.
2 Valerie Behiery, in Malcolm Cooper and Abhik Chakraborty, eds., Rivers and Society: Landscapes, Governance and Livelihoods, Earthscan Studies in Water Resource Management. “Art Custodians of Our Rivers: Basia Irland, Watershed Sculpture, and Ichi Ikeda” (Routledge, forthcoming, May 2017).
FLOOD PLAIN WALL, Carson City, NV, 2014. Consisting of woven fascine on the Carson River, this installation is an inquiry into present-day relationships between community, land, and water involving over 1,600 donated hours from local volunteers. Photo © Mary O’Brien.
LINE OF DEFENSE, New Orleans, LA, 2013. This environmental installation for species restoration and storm surge mitigation incorporated recycled mixed-media and newly planted Bald Cypress seedlings on a 1/4 acre island in the Mississippi Delta in Southern Louisiana. Photo © Mary O’Brien.
MULTI-HABITAT SAMPLING, Reno, NV, 2015. Providing five habitat microenvironments for native frogs, lizards, ground bees, birds, and willows, this work includes woven Red Willow and cottonwood. Created in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy of Nevada and the Nevada Museum of Art. Photo © Mary O’Brien.
WAS A TREE (with detail), McCarran Ranch Preserve, Truckee River, Patrick, NV, 2015. Cottonwood and live-staked Red Willow provide habitat sculpture for wood ducks, Western pond turtles, and reptiles. Created in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy of Nevada and the Nevada Museum of Art. Photo © Mary O’Brien.
J-HOOK BRAIDED LOG, Reno, NV, 2014. Providing flow control in the lower flood plain along the Truckee River, this work, consisting of woven, live-staked Arroyo Willow and a downed cottonwood tree, was made possible through collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and the Nevada Museum of Art. Photo © Mary O’Brien.
INTERSECTIONS, Charlotte, NC, 2009. This urban runoff remediation consists of willow, dogwood, and elderberry woven together to mitigate storm water runoff from urban development into Charlotte’s largest flowing creek. Photo © Mary O’Brien.
SUBMERGED (forest), San Rafael, CA, 2013–2016. This work reframes scientific best practices and methodologies to restore the San Francisco Bay native oyster. Made from bay silt dredging spoils processed through a ceramic firing process, the installation provides shoreline protection from sea level rise. Photo © Mary O’Brien.
AVIAN HABITAT RESOURCE STRUCTURE, Reno, NV, 2015. This installation utilizes woven cottonwood, willow, and fiber to provide habitat resources for migrating birds and their prey. Created in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy of Nevada and the Nevada Museum of Art. Photo © Mary O’Brien.
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The post Nature Body Connect appeared first on Women Eco Artists Dialog.]]>
NATURE BODY CONNECT WAS AN experimental, interactive exhibition of digital art and photography. It took place at the AIM (Artists In Mission) Gallery in November 2014 in Pittsburgh PA. This unique exhibition, featuring thirteen art works, explored the visual and in some cases biological similarities between the natural world, the environment, and the human body. Nature Body Connect was created in collaboration with Acupuncturist, Nicole Olsen of Positive Life Acupuncture, in New York, whose hands-on knowledge about the human body was invaluable to the development of many of the art pieces.
With the many advances in research and increased understanding of how the human body reacts with the environment and the Earth, the medicinal and nutritional qualities of whole plant-based food and clean water in relation to sustaining health, and the physiological and psychological benefits of being around and interacting with nature; the awareness of the symbiotic connection between human beings and our environment is becoming increasingly evident. The goal of this exhibition was to provide the viewer with the opportunity to consider the visual and in some cases biological similarities between the human body and our environment in a unique and meaningful way.
A unique aspect of this exhibition was that it was both interactive and educational. Attendees were invited to participate in a poll, which prompted them to choose if they thought each digital artwork or piece of photography was something from nature/the natural world or the human body. After walking through the exhibition, examining and categorizing each piece, participants received ‘answer’ cards, which revealed the origin of each art piece and provided factoids about each piece. These factoids provided information about specific parts of the body or nature relative to each artwork. The results of the poll were then calculated based on each participant’s choice-Nature/Natural World or the Body. The artworks and participatory element provided a context in which to view and discern if there is indeed ambiguity between the aspect of the human body and nature when similarities in both form, texture, color and in some cases function exist.
Additionally, the poll or interactive element created an opportunity for viewers to engage in a more meaningful way with each artwork. I believe that involving the viewer in a more interactive way, leads to the viewer engaging longer with the exhibition and perhaps engaging with the artist’s idea or work in a more meaningful way.
MY INTEREST IN THE VISUAL and biological similarities between nature and the human body began when I was in college majoring in Studio Art. I was asked to complete an extra credit assignment for my sculpture class and compiled several photographs of aspects of nature that I found fascinating because they resembled very closely aspects of the human body.
From that point, the research continued to develop in this area until 13 works of digital art and photography became, Nature Body Connect, A Solo Exhibition.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ASPECTS of the human body and our environment was a central goal of the exhibition. Providing viewers with a context in which to view and engage with the art in a more interactive way so they could consider this connection was achieved through the use of a paper poll or survey. This paper survey/poll (pictured below) was presented to each viewer when they entered the gallery. Upon entering the gallery, they were asked if they would like to participate in the poll, which required them to consider/vote if they thought each work originated from nature or of the body. This was indicated by a simple check mark in the “nature column” or the “body column”. All of the titles of the art works provided anonymity about the art works true origin or the title was obscured in this respect.
This interactive, participatory strategy resulted in viewers engaging with the artworks for a longer period of time and in a more meaningful way simply because they were actively participating.
As stated in the article, Engaging Strangeness in the Art Museum: An Audience Development Strategy, “The assumption is that we learn best by doing, and that merely supplying a range of experiences and supporting material for the viewer to look at is insufficient. As a consequence, active participation has become a primary focus for the design of learning experiences in the museum environment.”1 Nature Body Connect was created in part using a constructivist approach where by the artist was raising awareness about the way we view the environment and Earth in relation to ourselves as humans. In addition to this participatory strategy, the exhibition was also in part a learning experience. The viewer became an active participant of the exhibition, rather than a passive viewer by participating in the survey.
As previously stated, the viewers were presented with the option to participate in a paper survey that prompted them to consider each art work and choose if the image originated from the human body or nature. Although the survey was suggested and not required to view the exhibition, the majority of the viewers chose to participate. This art exhibition through the use of the survey, prompted the viewer to interact on an interpretive level with the artwork and to consider the meaning of the ambiguity that exists on a larger scale. The artworks and participatory element provided a context in which to view to and discern if there is indeed ambiguity between the aspect of the human body and nature when similarities in both form, texture, color and in some cases function exist.
It has been suggested that, “through add-in activities, art exhibitions are used as catalysts for learning by providing new experiences and creating challenges…”.1As the viewer moved through the exhibition, voting on whether they thought each piece was of nature or of the human body, another phenomena occurred, discussion. For those viewers in groups or pairs, it was common to hear a viewer say, “Well I think this is nature because… or I think this is the body because…”. This conversation is partly due to providing a context in which to consider the artwork. “Contextualization can put artwork into broader historical, social, personal and political contexts, placing emphasis on the value of discussing ideas that surround the work and forging personal connections”1.
Nature Body Connect also engaged viewers by providing them with an educative element at the end of the exhibition through the use of an “answer card”. After viewers voted and walked through the entire exhibition, they were provided with the “answer card” and compared their choices with the answer card. Many of the viewers were shocked to learn that the photograph or digital art piece they were viewing was actually something in the natural work/nature and not the human body. This answer card indicated the origin of each piece and provided factoids, which detailed the connection between the artwork and nature or the human body.
VIEWERS WERE ASKED TO PLACE their complete survey in a receptacle before they left the exhibition. The results of the surveys were later calculated. Results are illustrated in the bar graph below.
Forty-four attendees and viewers participated in the poll/survey. Results were tallied and assigned to each category: nature or the body. As illustrated in the chart, close to forty percent or five out of thirteen of the pieces were interpreted as being a part of the human body. One of the digital art pieces was split evenly with fifty percent of viewers interpreting the art work as being from the body and fifty percent of viewers interpreting the art work as being from nature. The remaining seven pieces were thought to be from nature or the natural world. Although the origin of each artwork is not revealed in the chart, the fact that nearly forty percent were incorrect in identifying if the origin of the image was of nature or the human body not only suggests but provides evidence that there is a visual ambiguity between nature and the human body since every image in this exhibition originated from nature/the natural world.
As stated previously, at the end of the exhibition, viewers were provided with an “answer” card, which included the ‘answer’ to the question that was posted, “What do you think? Is this from nature/natural world or the human body?” Each artwork was numbered in the gallery so it corresponded with the survey/poll number and answer card number. A mini image of each artwork was also provided on the answer card next to the answer (nature or human body) and the factoid/description.
The factoids provided information about how the image was created, what it actually was and why it was created for the exhibition, including facts about aspects of the human body or the natural world. Four of the images and accompanying factoids taken from the answer cards are listed in Table A, below.
At the end of the exhibition, when attendees viewed the answer cards, they were often surprised that certain images were of nature, and not the human body. This moment hopefully led to the realization that there is a definite visual ambiguity in regards to aspects of nature and the human body. And beyond that, there is a strong symbiotic relationship between the human body/humans in general, and nature/the natural world i.e. the Earth, upon which we live. Perhaps all of creation and all of life shares similar characteristics and traits.
ALTHOUGH THE CERTAINTY OF the viewer reaching this larger overarching awareness about the symbiotic connection between the environment/natural world and human body is unknown, the use of this interactive element and polling strategy undoubtedly led to the viewer interacting with the artwork in a more meaningful way. Viewers became active participants because they had the opportunity to engage with the art using the paper survey and were asked the question, “What do you think?”
I believe that any artist concerned and passionate about the environment, who is creating art focused on the environment, typically has a goal of effectively conveying a message through their artwork. This type of participatory strategy can be used or altered in many gallery settings in order to help convey or support that message. Simply asking the viewer to respond to a question about your artwork will increase their active participation in viewing the work. Through the use of a paper survey or even an electronic poll for example, further viewer engagement can occur. Additionally, adding an educative element takes the idea of active viewing a step further. Art doesn’t have to be something we passively look at and walk by. It can be a mechanism that can transform the human consciousness. It can forever change the way a person looks at the world. They can see things through a completely different lens when a new connection is made.
WHEN VIEWERS ARE PRESENTED with the opportunity to engage with art works and interpret them in a specific context, they will participate and engage more so and longer with the artwork and perhaps in more meaningful way. Those viewers who chose to participate in the poll spent more time with each art piece and in viewing the exhibition as a whole. The results of this exhibition also show that there is indeed a strong visual correlation between the natural world and aspects of the human body as indicated by the diverse polling results.
1 Deeth, J. (2012). Engaging Strangeness in the Art Museum: An audience development strategy. Museum & Society, 10(1), 1-10.
NATURE BODY CONNECT; Stefani A. Allegretti; Collaborator, Nicole Olsen LAc, Artists in Mission Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA; November 2014.
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The post Green Map System appeared first on Women Eco Artists Dialog.]]>
Founder of the Green Map System, Wendy Brawer is living proof that one person has the power to create positive change. In 2009 Utne Reader selected her as one of “50 Visionaries Changing the World.”
Following text is from Utne Reader, November-December 2009:
Since the first known maps were carved into stone some 40,000 years ago, they’ve been used for everything from colonial plunder to family camping. In the early 1990s, designer and Green Map founder Wendy Brawer turned the process of mapmaking into a tool for environmental and community activists.
It was a simple formula: She gathered a group of engaged citizens and volunteer cartographers, and then began gathering information about a community’s sustainability, including compost drop sites, green space, and community gardens. The first Green Map, published in 1992, charted New York City and is still in print. Since then Brawer’s formula has been adopted by squatters in Argentina, students in Cuba, survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the indigenous peoples of British Columbia.
The Open Green Map project, designed as an electronic community platform and launched this year, removed the burden of recruiting cartographers and paying printers, and instead relies on users to do the plotting. Amateur mapmakers were quick to adopt the technology, and there are already more than a hundred Open Green Maps created for cities from Baltimore to Copenhagen. “I made our common future my client and went from there,” Brawer quips.
Green Map has grown significantly since 2009, and today, there are more than 950 projects in 65 countries. In 2017, we are developing new open policies and a stories-based website to share more about the maps and spinoff projects developed locally to guide the way toward regenerative, resilient communities. An example below using our energy-themed mapping and a decade of creative visualizations and experiences that make climate change apparent and actionable. We’ve also added projects around the community where Wendy has applied the capacities, networks and knowledge developed through mapmaking. Contact us anytime with questions, and watch for the new GreenMap.org later in the year!
THE GREEN MAP
PDF of Green Map available here
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The post Common Dilemmas appeared first on Women Eco Artists Dialog.]]>
THIS ESSAY CHRONICLES OUR artistic collaboration, offering a personal account of the advantages and complexities of shared projects and exhibitions. The narrative begins with our vague desire to do something together, progresses to a series inspired by a shared material and finally results in an exhibition of work made individually but nurtured collaboratively.
We were both residents at the Vermont Studio Center in December 2014, where we developed an interest in each other’s work and in creating together. Our collaboration began without a project in mind. A search through our respective material caches netted a catalyst: three ostrich eggs sourced from Lorna’s cousin’s farm in Ohio. Inspired, but without a clear path forward, we researched the ostrich and our relationship with it. We pondered where to focus our creative endeavors and scheduled monthly meetings to check in on progress and to discuss changing thoughts, new thoughts, assumptions and doubts.
NATIVE TO AFRICA, THE OSTRICH is not only the largest bird species; it also lays the largest egg. Though unable to fly, it can run up to 43 miles (70km) per hour, allowing it to escape formidable predators such as lions and cheetahs. It’s frenzied mating dance, which consists of alternating, rhythmic wing flaps, is guaranteed to entertain.
Humans have hunted ostriches and kept them in captivity since the Bronze Age. Mid nineteenth century millinery fashion popularized ostrich feathers, resulting in near extinction of the species. In response, ostrich farming developed, beginning in the 1900s and quickly burgeoning to over 700,000 birds in captivity. World War 1 dampened the ostrich feather industry, but interest in the ostrich’s lean meat and fashionable skins prompted a resurgence in American ostrich farming in the 1970s. The Stroup farm in Atwater, Ohio, purchased three birds including Mabel, who laid the eggs that are the foundation of this project. The Stroups soon learned that ostriches can be aggressive and possess a powerful kick potentially lethal to humans and dogs. This adversarial relationship led them to abandon ostrich farming.
Both of us were struck by human commodification of the ostrich as a resource for plumage, meat and skins. Survival of the species became a concern only when supply dipped dangerously close to extinction. Our response was to search for ways to nurture, protect, enliven and enhance the eggs.
WE TOOK THE EGGS TO OUR studios, where Lorna made the works Repair and Protect and Joanne created When you think you’re done. Repair had an inauspicious beginning, prompted when Lorna watched in horror as one of the eggs rolled off her work table and broke into many pieces. Repair is her lacquer reconstruction of the egg following the Japanese Kintsugi technique. Kintsugi not only renders the broken vessel usable again, it embraces the imperfect by highlighting the repair seam. Developed in the 15th century, the technique involves applying successive layers of lacquer to rebuild the broken object. Each lacquer adhesion needs to cure for a few days, so piecing together the shards took almost a year to complete. To further express strength despite breakage, the egg is filled with sand to weight it to stand on end.
In Protect, Repair’s corollary, the egg is encased in a large ball of woven steel wire. Inspired by a desire to simultaneously safeguard the egg from harm and to engage viewers with it, Lorna created a work that may be sat on or rolled around. Barely visible in its secure nest of tangled cables, the egg clinks against the wire when moved reminding us of its presence. Protect’s construction began with Lorna’s collection of salvaged wire and progressed to larger gauge material as the piece grew in size.
As in Repair, Protect is created by repeatedly adding material until a desired outcome is achieved. The resulting two works embrace simplicity and materiality, characteristics the artist learned to appreciate when she began creating sculpture in New York during the Minimalist movement.
Joanne’s piece titled “When you think you’re done” is a suspended mobile made of altered umbrellas, steel and feathers. The fabric of the umbrellas was removed revealing the aluminum skeletal spokes. The spokes are each adorned with a cut ostrich feather. A motor opens and collapses two facing umbrellas simultaneously around a central egg.
Our diverse approaches are revealed in comparison: Repair is still and contemplative; When you think you’re done is like an iron lung.
Joanne created two additional works focused on ostrich feathers. Still Life is a painted glass vase holding three ostrich feather dusters. The vase and the handles of the dusters are painted black. Fascinated by the ubiquity of this object, its use in domestic settings and its function, she wanted to create a piece that re-contextualized the ostrich feather duster.
The second feather piece, Going 43mph, grew from our initial ostrich research. The ostrich is the largest and fastest land-bird, facts that resonated with both Lorna and Joanne. Lorna offered the theory that because the Ostrich could not fly; it could be farmed, therefore contributing to its current semi-domesticated but thriving existence. Joanne was interested in understanding the speed of the bird, reportedly reaching up to 43mph. She created a series of photographs that document an ostrich feather flying at the speed 43mph.
EARLY THIS YEAR WE WERE invited to create a “With the Earth“ exhibition at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes, California. After much deliberation, we titled our show Common Dilemmas, a play on the economic theory of a social shared-resource system also known as the tragedy of the commons. The concept analyzes human response to mutual and unregulated resources such as access to prime pasture land, trout filled rivers and fashionable bird feathers. We decided to use bird stories to address the complexity of sustainable practices, filtering this shared focus through our distinct creative approaches to produce diverse and complementary works. The show features the recent ostrich egg and feather pieces and extends to work from our individual practices including the Huia, the Passenger Pigeon, the Drinking Bird Toy and the Thirsty Bird Oil Derrick.
Lorna has long been interested in the adverse effects of unsustainable practices on the natural world. Her series Huia: A Story of Extinction honors this extinct New Zealand bird and chronicles its demise due to overhunting and habitat destruction. Focusing on the devastating effects of clear cutting lumber practices, where entire swaths of New Zealand bush were cleared to feed the burgeoning timber industry from 1860-1970, she created an installation of lumber, native branches, birdcall and documentation. The birdcall, the only known recorded sound of the huia, is whistled by Maori tracker Henare Hamana. The documentation, a large-scale photo of clear cutting by James Bragge, is placed under the sculpture.
In addition, Lorna created new work in homage to the passenger pigeon. Once the most abundant bird in the world, the last passenger pigeon died in1914. Considered cheap meat, the birds were zealously hunted throughout their native North America. To tell this story, Lorna collected clay pigeon shards from the Santa Clara Field Sports Park Shooting Range and configured them into bird-like forms.
Joanne visually comments on our insatiable need for natural resources in “Sisyphean Toys,” an open-stage shadow-puppet display with a working motorized model-train Oil Derrick and a Drinking Bird toy, both continuously bobbing up and down together. The characters and the operations of the puppet show sit atop a steel oil barrel. A flashlight creates the projection and a semicircular sunset halo on the projection screen. All the pieces are visible for the viewer in this lo-fi animation setup.
These descriptions attribute the works to each of us individually, but all the pieces were informed by our frequent interaction. Some ideas were abandoned by one of us only to find their way into a piece by the other. Studio days were filled with photos of work in progress sent back and forth. Responses were honest and carefully considered. The process saved many a trip far afield. Like a good GPS system, we kept each other on track, aware this was our show, not an individual endeavor.
OUR EMBRACE OF COLLABORATION and diverse creative approaches is most apparent in the Ostrich Feather Wedding Dress Project. Research into our relationship with the ostrich, specifically our desire to adorn ourselves with its feathers, led us to purchase an ostrich feather wedding dress on eBay for $50. We experienced many false starts before we realized that the dress didn’t need transformation; it was itself an interesting object rife with interpretations. We decided this was where we wanted to focus. Both being teachers, we delight in our students’ varied and unique responses to the same assignment. And, since we were truly enjoying our collaboration, why not extend our shared endeavor to the artistic community? We invited artists to borrow the dress for a week and create a two-dimensional or wall hung three dimensional work inspired by it. For many months the dress travelled between various studios in the bay area, resulting in twelve diverse creative responses. Each Ostrich Feather Wedding Dress Project work reflects both the dress and the aesthetic perspective of the artist. The dress inspired photographs, drawings, paintings, relief and sculpture that visually comment on fashion, gender, desire, waste and more. When hung together, the pieces reflect many facets of this loaded garment.
We installed the Ostrich Feather Wedding Dress Project pieces salon style on a prominent wall in the gallery. It was late in the day and the rest of show was already in place. We had made life-size templates of each piece and we spoke a bit about which pieces worked well together before we went into a silent duet, moving the templates around the wall until they fit together. It was a learned synergy; one we would not have experienced a year ago.
How did the Ostrich Feather Wedding Dress Project artists respond to the project? The difference in our ages (Lorna is in her 60s and Joanne in her 30s), and recent experiences (Jo completed graduate school last year, whereas Lorna received her MFA in the 1980s), resulted in a group of artists diverse in age, approach and influence, and a body of work reflective of it. Many of the Ostrich Feather Wedding Dress Project artists were unaware of each other’s work and appreciated the introduction to a wider group through this shared project. They expressed a sense of freedom to work, tangential or otherwise, from their regular practice as a result of this project and some are inspired to create additional work based on their response to the dress. One of the Ostrich Feather Wedding Dress Project artists, Judith Selby Lang, said of the collaboration:
Since each of the artists in the Ostrich Feather Wedding Dress Project used the same garment as a point of departure, one might think that their responses would be cut from the same cloth. Tailors use fabric from the same piece of cloth to make sure that the pattern matches perfectly and that the dye lot is an identical shade throughout. One might assume that the artworks would end up being similar but artists, being who they are, interpreted the assignment with lively, unique, and unexpected outcomes. Their artworks are inspired by the same cloth but magic happens when that cloth happens to be a diaphanous dream.
WHAT CONCLUSIONS CAN WE draw from our collaboration? First and foremost, it started with our desire to work together. It grew with our choice to work with three ostrich eggs. Those works were made collaboratively, and would not be what they are without input from both of us. Thanks to Gallery Route One, we were offered an exhibition opportunity based on the strength of the ostrich egg pieces and our previous work. We were able to integrate our previous projects and revise them together for the show. We are very aware the Ostrich Feather Wedding Dress Project could only happen within our collaboration. We needed to pool our resources to determine the artists and administrate the project. It was lots of work, and so worth it.
What did we learn? It has been exciting experience fully each other’s approach. We see tendencies: Lorna adopts a narrative approach whereas Joanne’s work is more experiential. Joanne has a more whimsical perspective; Lorna is more serious.
What are the takeaways? Inspired by Joanne, Lorna has a desire to further complicate and animate her work. She’d like to explore humor. Joanne came away with new practices of clarity and refinement inspired by working with Lorna. We share a greater understanding of the richness in detours and expansion that happens in the process of making with others.
We hope to find new avenues for the expression and advancement of this project. In the meantime, we continue to consult with each other about our next endeavors. We come away inspired, invigorated and feeling part of a wonderful community of artists, glad to have made a life-long mentor, collaborator and friend.
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