Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina is one of the country’s oldest and most respected schools of craft. Opened in 1929 by Lucy Morgan who focused her initial instruction on weaving in order to help local women build cottage industries to help support their families. As noted on Wikipedia “…The school now offers Spring, Summer, and Fall workshops in craft disciplines, including weaving and dyeing, bead work, glassblowing, pottery, paper making, metalworking, and woodworking. It also offers fine arts subjects, such as printmaking, painting, and photography. Workshops are taught by visiting American and international artists and professors.”
Having known of Penland since 1970 when I first visited while attending a nearby alternative, Quaker school (the Arthur Morgan School), we went there twice during my middle school years for folk and contra dancing. It was at Penland that I learned to clog in 1971 so I was honored and thrilled when I was asked to return this spring for a 1 and a half week long residency.
My time at Penland was like an episode of Project Runway in that I had 9 days to arrive, acquaint myself with the community, photograph something or someone that represented the gestalt of the educational center, get this work printed, prepped and pasted. It didn’t help that my first 3 days there coincided with a stomach flu presenting as explosive diarrhea, fatigue and fever. I soldiered on. Arriving late Sunday night I spent the first day on the down low meeting students and staff in various studios. I started photographing on Tuesday knowing that in order to get the work printed, prepped and pasted I’d have to get the files to a printer by the following day. After deciding upon an image to paste, I drove to a printer and hour away in Asheville. Despite having been assured by the printing company that they could complete the job by Friday I was told when I arrived that the job required too much of their black ink and they wouldn’t be able to do it.
Hearing the voice of Project Runway mentor and spirit guide Tim Gunn I had to figure out a way to make it work. I called the printing company in Tucson, AZ I’ve been using for the past 2 years and told them my situation. I was assured that if I could upload the files to them by noon their time Wednesday (the day I was calling them), they’d be able to get them back to me by Friday. I sat the office of the print company in Asheville that bailed on the job to use their wifi and uploaded the files to Reproductions, Inc. (Let me take a moment to give this company a shout out. They’re a small, non-corporate, employee-owned print shop with personable service who charge me 12 cents per square foot for large format, black and white, toner based prints as compared to 80 cents per square foot at companies like FedEx Office. I love them.)
I informed the program director of my situation. Unbeknownst to me she called Reproductions, Inc and asked them to express ship the order such that I’d receive it the following day (which i did. I point this out only to express the irony that FedEx was able to get this order across country in a day when I’ve often ordered shipments from Reproductions, Inc the next day only to have it arrive 2 days later and I’m in the same state.) Regardless, I got the work and the count down was on. Because my glue doesn’t dry properly below 50 degrees and it snowed the day I placed the order, I waited until Sunday to begin pasting knowing full well I had to represent since I was in my home state.
The site I selected for the installation was a 1950s era, cottage with asbestos shingles used to store gardening equipment. It’s called Green Acres. And why did I chose Green Acres? Because Green Acres is the place to be. Farm living is the life for me. That, and it has great visibility. The images chosen was clay pieces waiting to be fired over 8 days in a wood kiln. Thus, the title for the installation is “Clay Pieces Pretending to be Contestants on The Apprentice (i.e., pots waiting to be fired.)”
Textiles student + hardcore, ready to go the distance assistant, Krysten Watson (You rule.)
Adam + Onay adding stoking the kiln to fire the pieces pretending to be contestants on “The Apprentice.”
Much love to the good people at Penland. Thanks for the opportunity and the experience. I hope we get to do it again.
Brooklyn Street Art coverage: http://www.brooklynstreetart.com/theblog/2017/04/17/chip-thomas-wraps-a-house-with-pots-in-penland-north-carolina/
I was invited to participate in the 2017 Joshua Treenial. The theme this year was event horizon. I ventured to Joshua Tree in January to find a potential location for an installation and to obtain source photos.
Thanks to local resident and artist Diane Best I was able to find an abandoned house on the property of Blake Simpson. Per Blake the house hadn’t been occupied for 10 years or more. Upon completion of the installation Blake was moved to use the space for community art happenings. My artist statement describes my thinking about this project.
In general relativity theory, an event horizon is a boundary in space-time beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman’s terms, it is defined as “the point of no return, the point at which gravitational pull becomes so great as to make escape impossible, even for light.”
My piece, “Inside out” focuses on an environmental point of no return. Environmental scientists identify 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere as being the point of no return. As stated on the website of the environmental organization 350.org:
“…Since the beginning of human civilization, our atmosphere contained about 275 ppm of carbon dioxide. That is the planet “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Beginning in the 18th century, humans began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating our homes rely on energy sources that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.
Right now we’re at over 400 ppm, and we’re adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Unless we are able to rapidly turn that around and return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk triggering tipping points and irreversible impacts that could send climate change spinning truly beyond our control.”
Wildlife biologists predict that at the current rate of temperature rise, 1/3 of all animal species are at risk of extinction by 2050 unless CO2 emissions are reduced by 30%. For this reason, stark imagery from the Salton Sea was used to dramatize the urgency with which we need to act to limit CO2 emissions and subsequent temperature and ocean level increases.
“It would take about 30 feet of sea level rise to connect the Salton Sink to the ocean and permanently fill it again. Realistically, climatologists expect at most 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) of sea level rise by 2100. Without significant reductions to our carbon emissions and/or physical intervention to block sea level rise, the Salton Sink (as well as all of the area reaching from Imperial Valley to the Sea of Cortez) will eventually be permanently under water. (https://saltonseasense.com/2016/01/14/the-other-changing-sea-level/#more-1166)”
Our pattern of carbon based energy exploitation and consumption has turned our planet upside down and inside out. The Hopi have a word for this called “koyaanisqatsi” which means crazy life or life out of balance.
The time to act is now.
Images by Diane Best are below:
Images by Gabrielle Houeix are below:
My artist statement was included in the structure with the hopes of raising awareness and prompting people to action.
Video of the dancing joshua tree: https://vimeo.com/212393820
I’ve known Rose and Paul Hurley for the 30 years I’ve worked at Inscription House. It’s been a joy to watch them age gracefully.
collaboration with nick mann for peoples climate movement
So here we are on the cusp of a new year. It’s 2017’s turn to bring forth a new beginning, an opportunity for a re-do or maybe a resetting of our imaginations. I want to give thanks for the beauty around me and to people like Cori Bearshield + her family and to the Hurleys who share moments of beauty from their lives with me. Thank you for the goodness.
Tahnee on hoverboard while Tehya gets her moccasins tied.
Cori adjusting Tahnee’s sash belt.
The Hurleys with + without their great grandson, Batman.
Let’s do this 2017! Happy New Year!
I’m honored to have been invited by students and staff and Fort Lewis College to create a mural in recognition of their first celebration of Indigenous People’s Day October 10, 2016 choosing to tell history from the perspective of First Nations people. Goodbye Columbus Day. The effort to get the city of Durango and the college to recognize Indigenous People’s Day was the result of a long struggle for Dine’ writer, poet and artist Esther Belin, resident of Durango. The day began with an indigenous student led demonstration in solidarity with the protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota, those victimized by police brutality and a call for an end to racism. The highlight of the day was having JC Morningstar, her family and the dog pictured in the mural travel to Durango, CO to attend the festivities. The highlight of their day was getting down to the technotribal sounds of A Tribe Called Red later in the evening.
Dine’ poet, artist, activist Demian Dineyazhi met JC and her family and wrote a poem for the occasion titled Two Stars Rising in the North at Dusk which speaks to the family’s recent loss of JC’s 16 year old brother by suicide.
“Two Stars Rising In the North swings at dusk
One star creates her form in the glittering world
It is inherited strength from resilient ancestors
The other follows her and blesses her journey
It is the wild, steadfast spirit of fallen warriors
Together they breeze through cosmic wind
Intertwined in horse hair and kinetic genesis
Together they guide her movement:
In beauty you are reborn again
In beauty he is reborn again
In beauty she is reborn again
In beauty we are reborn again”
Shout out to Nancy Stoffer, the students at Fort Lewis, Demian Dineyazhi and my assistant Brian Gonnella for helping to make this possible.
If one were to google “…what is the impact of climate change on bird migration,” one of the first links that comes up is a page by World Migratory Bird Day 2007. It seems this organization formed in 2007 to bring light to the issue of climate change on bird migration, had their day then dissolved. However, they created a fact page with 5 immediate changes to migratory birds as a result of climate change. One of the first things they identify is this…
“One of the major effects of climate change is the loss of habitats. The habitats migratory birds depend on are in danger to change and to disappear due to increasing temperatures, flooding or desertification. Coastal wetland areas that migrating birds use for nesting and foraging are an example. During their migration, birds rely on these areas to provide food and resting places. There they can refuel and repose before continuing their long journeys. Rising sea levels due to climate change cause the flooding of these habitats and they are lost for birds and other animals. Without these stop-over places, the birds have insufficient reserves to continue and have difficulties completing their journeys.”
This past winter I was invited by 516 Arts in Albuquerque to collaborate with an experimental dance troupe. Our setting for this collaboration would be the only urban bird sanctuary in the southwest, Valle de Oro in Albuquerque. I was invited to do an installation on the front of an old milk barn where part of a dance performance would be held.
Upon seeing the old milk storage tank I got excited about installing there as well. I met with the dancers twice – once in April and later in June to photograph them. I’d wanted my focus for the piece that I created to be climate change related but I wasn’t sure in what way. Choosing from hundreds of frames of the dancers I was struck by a series of movements performed as a duet. For me, the three images I chose from the duet are a visual metaphor of our relationship with nature.
In the first panel one questions whether the humans are defending themselves from the birds, shielding their eyes from the too bright sun in the intense heat to better see what’s overhead. The relationship between humans and nature is uncertain and to some degree unsettling.
Panel 2 suggests that with time and observation a dialog may form. Communication may occur.
And in panel 3 there’s resolution and synchronicity. Although it’s a simplistic view of our dynamic relationship with nature it suggests that through observation over time we develop a better understanding of our connection to nature and the need to preserve it by addressing the root causes of climate change.
Shout out to Brian Gonnella, my assistant from Pittsburgh, PA for 6 weeks. He’s seen above capturing one of Albuquerque’s magical sunsets.
From September 6th – 9th, 2016 I was invited out to the Painted Desert Project by Chip Thomas (Jetsonorama) to engage with students at the Shonto Preparatory School on the Navajo Nation. Prior to my time with the Painted Desert Project, Chip and myself discussed making artwork with the immediate community that would result in a wheatpaste and text-based mural. My target community was an Indigenous LGBTQ2S and/or intergenerational group whom I could workshop and collaborate alongside before leading up to the production of artwork for a proper mural. Eventually, we agreed on connecting with a local school over the course of a week to establish a group of youth to work with on a longer engagement slated for the spring of 2017.
As established by Chip, my main point of contact at Shonto Prep was the Jane of all trades, Orleta Slick, whom set up prior arrangements with the interim art teacher, Nicole Laughter. My first day in the classroom was spent introducing the kids ( 5th grade to 8th grade) to my artwork and the themes explored through the imagery. For instance, I began speaking to the kids about Indigenous identity and the importance of self-representation. By showing them images that appropriated photographs taken from a non-Native photographer that simultaneously address Indigenous Feminism, I asked the students to look up definitions of patriarchy, matriarchy, appropriation, and subversion.
Introducing the kids to these themes was no easy task, I realized the concepts I was bringing to the classroom was likely the first time the kids had been introduced to these words and definitions. Ultimately, I was able to link it back to reservation issues that are often seen in Navajo communities and referenced historical events, like the Long Walk, as a way to create context for the students. It was inspiring to see the kids thumb through their dictionary after being prompted to look up some of these words in their dictionaries, but also to see the children make connections between Hopi maidens and Princess Leia without being asked to consider the potential connection and appropriation of Indigenous Hopi culture.
In spite of the challenge of trying to demystify complex concepts to a group of students whom likely hadn’t grasped the social hierarchies embedded into the fabric of Indigenous and contemporary society, I felt my first day with the students was a success. After introducing my work and projects I am a part of, I took a moment and introduced the kids to the main reason why I was in their classroom: to create a mural that was a reflection of their community. Some of the students were familiar with the Painted Desert Project, so I asked them to consider how these images and murals made them feel the next time they came across them in passing. For instance, “do these images make you feel a sense of pride in who you are as Diné people?”
The next day I started the students off with a 5-minute “free write”. After giving the students a prompt—such as, “write about one of your favorite memories or dreams”, “what do yourself doing when you’re 18”, or “write about whatever inspires you most in life”—I told the students that they did not need to share this with the class and that whatever they wrote they were free to do with as they saw fit. I wanted the kids to walk away from the exercise with two things: 1) to spend time with their thoughts and using their hands as a tool of expression; 2) to feel secure knowing that whatever they wrote wasn’t for an adult or for a participation grade, but that writing could serve various purposes outside of conventional school assignments.
After the writing assignment I spoke briefly again about the Painted Desert Project and whether the students wanted to do a group collage together or create monoprints in the classroom on the last day of my residency. The curiosity of the kids all gravitated toward monoprinting. After that was decided, Nicole Laughter and myself accompanied the students outside for a drawing assignment focused on drawing the surroundings of Shonto Prep. Some kids drew large trees that tower over anthills, the water tower off in the distance, stink bugs that slowly walked by, or imagined entirely different landscapes. This was a short exercise, but it afforded the students the opportunity to engage with the world and consider drawing from real life.
My last day at Shonto Prep started off with a 5-minute “free write”, and was followed by an interactive monoprint workshop with each class. I showed the students some examples of the different types of screenprinting and letterpress (text-based) printing that I have worked on over the last few years. Initially I had anticipated a group project, but the students all gravitated toward individual text, which ended up being really effective because it challenged the students by having them consider how the image gets printed—in reverse. Some students printed their names, characters from popular app games (i.e. Minecraft), school sport team logos, hearts with “MOM” written above them, or the name of their schoolyard crushes.
What interested me the most about this project was the amount the students opened up in such a confined space. They were challenged to work together on a limited surface and while some people were compelled to work on images and prints, other students were more drawn to focus on spreading ink or applying pressure to get a good print. This fascinated me because it was a true example of the benefits of working together and respecting the labor involved with each process. Another thing that I didn’t consider is that not all the students felt inspired to be creative in the exact same way, because for others, physical labor is as valid of a form of creative expression and holds as much purpose as creating a piece of art.
Upon my departure from Shonto Prep, I felt that the workshops and class exercises were successful in exposing students to alternative ways of thinking about creative practice. Another goal was to create a relationship with students and a community that could be nurtured through the coming months. While my time at Shonto was limited, it was important for me to create a prolonged engagement with the community in order to familiarize myself with the landscape and the community that takes care of it and survives in the comforts of what it has to offer.
I also wanted to get a sense of what I felt would be a meaningful interaction and reflection of the community. It became evident that the best representation of this community would come through the form of a photography collage project that asks the students to photograph their families, landscapes, animals, or things that make them proud, and then take those photographs and create a mural that will be displayed outside the front of their school building.
Dan Budnik is a Flagstaff based photographer who first came to this region in the 70s to photodocument forced relocation of Navajos living on “Hopi Partition Land” on Black Mesa. It was his documentation of the conflict that led to the 1985 Academy Award winning documentary “Broken Rainbow” which examines coal exploitation and the origins of the Navajo – Hopi tribal government conflict. His images from that period are compelling. It’s the type of up close + personal, black + white photography that I grew up seeing in Life Magazine. The imagery reflects Dan’s time commitment to telling a story truthfully and the trust the people he was photographing had in him.
Stinkfish poster with MLK criminal justice reform posters.
Collaboration with fellow Justseeds printmaker + activist, Thea Ghar.
I first met Dan maybe 3 years ago; however, it wasn’t until he had a show of black + white, silver gelatin prints and color photos at a small restaurant in Flagstaff in May of 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery that Dan got my attention. I wanted to know what a photographer of his caliber was doing in northern Arizona. He told the story of going to the Navajo nation in the 70s and falling in love with the people and the land. I stopped him at this point and told him he didn’t need to elaborate. I got it. The show was worthy of being held in any gallery in any city in the world. I’m not exaggerating. Though Dan is a humble, gentle spirit, his talent as a photographer is exceptional. It was his image of Dr. King that appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in April 1968 when Dr. King was killed.
I’m proud as hell to be able to say Dan Budnik is my friend. Last year we’d hoped to collaborate on a project in Selma where I’d install some of his images from the Selma to Montgomery march on abandoned store-fronts in downtown Selma. However, the bureaucracy to realize this dream was insurmountable. Instead, Dan let me use an image of marcher Frederick Moss for an installation in Brooklyn. (Yeah, Brooklyn. I like the unintentional symbolism of a black man on his back in the street holding an American flag. This time last year there were several black men on their backs in the street.) When Dan shot the image of Frederick Moss, Mr. Moss was simply exhausted after a grueling 5 day, 54 mile demonstration and laid down in a vacant spot to rest.
I wanted to pay tribute to my friend by getting the Frederick Moss image up in his adopted home of Flagstaff, AZ.
Toren at Moenkopi Wash
Hózhó – a word that defines the essence of Navajo (Diné) philosophy. It encompasses beauty, order, harmony + expresses the idea of striving for balance.