Jan 28, 2010

Fire Shelter

I came to the woods of Caldera with the first month of 2010 reaching out, like a blanket of untouched snow, before me. I had every intention of beginning a book project about the Anonymous Artists of America and/or some of the other topics discussed on Red Legacy. I brought a suitcase of books and a few changes of clothes. I stocked up on wine and stoked a fire in my cozy A-frame and let the swirlings of my mind settle, scatter, ignite, glimmer, rest. I wandered through the burnt up forests and through weeks of unscripted time.

I felt adrift, without a shred of interest in research, much less that which focused on goings on of other places and other times. In my confusion, I revisited one of my favorite texts – it wasn’t one that I brought in my suitcase, rather it’s one of those that I keep bookmarked online and refer to with frequency. Hakim Bey, an American anarchist philosopher wrote The Temporary Autonomous Zone in 1985 and ascribed it an anti-copyright status alongside the note: “May be freely pirated & quoted-- the author & publisher, however, would like to be informed…”*The Temporary Autonomous Zone is not an especially well-written text but influenced the Cacophony Society, the makers of Burning Man, and many music and social theorists. Despite its intermittently vague and flamboyant language, it gives me direction too.

The Temporary Autonomous Zone is a potent but rather abstract concept; it is a phenomenon that challenges dominant culture and may be a model for thinking about daily freedom. Bey does not define the Temporary Autonomous Zone, or the TAZ, as he refers to it; rather, he talks circles around the TAZ, assigning characteristics and giving examples of moments that might somehow inform a larger understanding of what he describes as “a suggestion or a poetic fancy.”

Bey talks about the TAZ as a tactic to be used against the State and its all-encompassing spectacle. He also describes the TAZ as being invisible, something that arises spontaneously and then dissolves to reform itself elsewhere, in order to maintain true freedom. The TAZ is constantly happening: everywhere, always, if not forever. Yet it is imperative that we keep intentionally carving out autonomous spaces – cracks in an otherwise planned development – and to do this through acts of self-determination, no matter how small. These actions of are what move culture forward and are the basis for both personal and widespread liberty. This is the revolution of everyday life.

Bey compares the TAZ to pirate crews and dinner parties, rock festivals and spiritual awakenings. He relays the incredible story of the artist Gabriele D’Annunzio who, after WWII, captured the Yugoslavian city of Fiume (see earlier post on Pirate Utopias) and created an artists state. He designated Fiume as an independent nation with music as the highest order. For 18 months – until the money ran out and the Italian army lobbed a few grenades -- he read poetry from the balconies every morning and threw parties complete with fireworks every night. It’s really quite amazing that Fiume stayed soveriegn as long as it did but the longevity of its independence is not the point. For Bey and for me, the tale of the independent artists state is about a sense of possibility that comes from knowing and creating momentary freedom.

I first came across this text a few years ago and the notion of the Temporary Autonomous Zone has since shaped nearly everything I do.

Caldera has been a provocative place to consider the TAZ, for in winter it is wild and empty and the days stretch on without expectations. There, amidst the devastated forests and the wilderness of my mind, the TAZ dashed my original plan to read and write books, forcing a spontaneous reorientation to my environment and to what is possible. The TAZ took on a different dimension entirely and manifested (temporarily) in the form of Fire Shelter.

Fire Shelter is a place I made in the forest. Fire Shelter is something to which I surrendered. It has been a source of investigation, a muse, a practice, and an object. I have built something that will not last long with only my hands and intuition and with materials found along the way.

What is Fire Shelter? Is it a shelter from fire? for fire? of fire? with fire? It’s certainly not a place to live, but it may be a place to weather a storm. It is something to be discovered. It is something that deteriorates. It is somewhat of a secret. It could easily be overlooked or forgotten. It’s a pile of sticks and rock. It’s a way to pass the time. It’s more than a shelter; it’s a shrine.

Just a few years ago 900,000 acres of forest near Caldera burnt down in the B&B fire. Now the forest is a skeleton, a graveyard of corpses. The blackness of this forest is startling, terrifying, horrible. We all know the enlivening process of fire -- that with fire comes new life. But what strikes me about these forests is the present nature of these trees – they are dead but upright, not yet logs or fuel. These trees are stuck in a sort of purgatory, waiting to fall. They have been burnt into irreversible death, yet they must wait for the scars of their desecration to become useful. I want to push these trees down. I want to burn them up more. I want to light a match and with it, all of the blackness and regret that this forest harkens. I want to stop this waiting and move towards new growth, new life. But this is the forest; this is the way that it is, with all its ghosts and memories and terrible blackness.

And so this fort is about the wreckage of fire. It is built from the very waste and want of burning. It is about mistakes, about nature, about the precision of control that differentiates the forest fire from the innards of my wood-burning stove. It is about time and healing and darkness and soot. It is about the unguided act of creation that results from sheer desire.

As a teacher, a writer, a curator, a woman, Fire Shelter is a defiance of my own expectations and also a test of my basic abilities. Can I meet my own needs while evading the assumed plan of action? Can I – through the act of building a fort in the woods – honor the slow, painful, natural, waiting progression of things while still encouraging my life forward? And how can this manifestation of my considerations -- that are physical, philosophical, evolving and hopeful -- eventually become a home for someone else’s dreaming? Finally, can I let my creation disintegrate slowly and quietly, deep in a forest far far away?

Fire Shelter may be a sort of Temporary Autonomous Zone. For me, it was that and much more. As long as it stands and perhaps thereafter, I'd like to think of Fire Shelter as a moment or space in which unscripted things can happen and in which the convergence of human self-determination and natural order might find a fleeting balance.

Bring your boots and hats, your water and a map. Are you ready for a journey into the woods?

*Find the TAZ here: http://www.hermetic.com/bey/taz_cont.html

Jan 26, 2010

Three Words to Live By

I've just returned from a gift of a place. CALDERA.

Caldera is 90+ acres of incredible forests and lakes in Central Oregon. During the summer it is a camp for under-served youth; in the winter months, the grounds are given over to a set of artists in residence. The facilities are wonderful and the landscape is ... well, breath-taking.

A few years ago, the B&B fire burned down 900,000 acres of forest and the damage from that mighty fire is still remarkably visible. In fact, it's a bit of a miracle that Caldera survived at all.

Caldera is built along the edge of Blue Lake, a steep 300-foot deep lake and is the only thing that came between the fire and the camp.

A caldera is "a cauldron-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption." I love this description because, to be there is both an eruption and a settling. It is a surrender to the natural order of things.

Artists are invited to Caldera for month-long residencies during which they/we live in A-frame cabins overlooking a creek. We are given free reign over our time and all of that open space to explore. We are not expected to pay or work or donate anything to the place. There is a real understanding that artists make significant contributions to the world and that their creative processes must be supported and unhinged. It's rather extraordinary to consider this concept. It's entirely generous and forward-thinking, important and true.

The story behind Caldera is sweet and it starts with Dan Wieden, of the famous Portland-based advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy. W+K is the mastermind behind loads of marketing genius but are best known for their work with Nike. JUST DO IT. I heard this and was dumb-struck. Although I've grown up with Nike and seen the ads a zillion times, I never really thought about that phrase coming from somewhere, someone, and that millions of dollars were rewarded for its articulation in the marketplace. JUST DO IT... it seems so plain and simple, so absolutely elemental. Certainly this is a phrase that courses through the minds of every human and is the very instinct that drives evolution and culture forward. How odd that someone could market these three words. It's almost like marketing breath or water.

As skeptical as I can be about marketing, etc. I am in awe of this phrase and very grateful to those who coined it. It's interesting to think that three words can make a person rich and that the fruit of those three words can support an admirable non-profit that advocates for youth and for art. The more I considered these words (while working in my A-frame or circling Blue Lake), the more I heard their incredible power. There were moments of uncertainty -- when I couldn't decide how to spend my unscripted time or if I should veer off the beaten path when "JUST DO IT" would rumble into my head. Not only did the words speak to me as a sort of cheer or mantra, but I began to see the brilliance of the phrase as a marketing scheme. I'd like to think that Dan Wieden has had moments like I have. Even though he's a millionaire now, he's probably struggled through creative process and turned to nature in his times of confusion. It wouldn't surprise me at all if it was in a nature-filled moment, in a flash of uncertainty, that his best-seller came to mind. Isn't this where the best and brightest ideas are born? From our collision between our raw, helpless human nature and the desire to really make the most of ourselves?

I am so grateful for Caldera. The gift of time and space is unlike anything else. And while that gift can be offered by other people, it requires a certain surrender to allow the time and space to do its magic. So often JUST DO IT meant, just do nothing. I had to own my experience; I had to really live it. And so the place, the gift, the forest and the phrase all came together in a fascinating month that I will never ever forget.

Learn more about Caldera here: www.calderaarts.org

Jan 15, 2010

Flush with Wildness

"I felt its urgent demand in the blood. I could hear its call. Its whistling disturbed me by day and its howl woke me in the night. I heard the drum of the sun. Every path was a calling cadence, the flight of every bird a beckoning, the color of ice an invitation: come...

"This book [Wild by Jay Griffiths] was the result of many years' yearning. A longing for something whose character I perceived only indistinctly at first but that gradually became clearer during my journeys. In looking for wilderness, I was not looking for miles of landscape to be nicely photographed and neatly framed, but for the quality of wildness, which -- like art, sex, love and all the other intoxicants -- has a rising swing ringing though it. A drinker of wildness, I was tipsy with it before I began and roaring drunk by the end.

"I was looking for the will of the wild. I was looking for how that will expressed itself in elemental vitality, in savage grace. Wildness is resolute for life; it cannot be otherwise, for it will die in captivity. It is elemental: pure freedom, pure passion, pure hunger. It is its own manifesto.

"So I began this book with no knowing where it would lead, no idea how hard some of it would be, the days of havoc and the nights of loneliness, because the only thing I had to hold on to was the knife-sharp necessity to trust to the elements my elemental self.

"I wanted to live at the edge of the imperative, in the tender fury of the reckless moment, for in this brief and pointillist life, bright-dark and electric, I could do nothing else. By laying the line of my way along another, older path, I would lay my passions where they belonged, flush with wildness, letting their lines of long and lovely silk reel out in miles of fire and ice.

"I felt my that my blood could only truly flow if it coursed into red, red earth. That I would only know my deepest glee if I could dive in an oceanful of trilling fish. I wanted to climb mountains till I cracked with the same ancient telluric vigor that flung the Himalayas up to applaud the sky. I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately -- how resonantly -- I belonged there. We are charged with this. All of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice. We may think we are domesticated but we are not. Feral in pheromone and intuition, feral in our sweat and fear, feral in tongue and language, feral in cunt and cock. This is the first commandment: to live in fealty to the feral angel.

"I wanted to put my cheeks against a glacier, to drink direct from her springs, to see vistas untamed. It's ferocious, this feeling: vigorous and raw. Wanting to touch life with the quick of the spirit, to feel the wind in my hair, the crusts of mud under my fingernails, the sun on my naked body, ice cracking my lips, tides flooding my body inside and out. Immersion is all.

"I took seven years over this wok, spent all I had, my time, money and energy...[Along the way] I found a paradox of wildness in the glinting softness of its charisma, for what is savage is in the deepest sense gentle and what is wild is kind. In the end -- a strangely sweet result -- I came back to a wild home."

Photos were taken this week during my residency at Caldera in Central Oregon where I am reading this extraordinary book and examining my own wildness against the backdrop of winter and forest, lake and rain.

Excerpts from Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey (New York: Penguin Group: 2006.)

Jan 10, 2010

Inside the Map

I am proud. It's not often that students are asked to dig into an idea as dense and evasive as that of "site-specificity" and then demonstrate some understanding of the notion through real, tangible projects. The UCCS students enrolled in my Special Topics course Curatorial Project: Site-Specificity in Art have done just that.

Throughout the semester we read Miwon Kwan and Lucy Lippard, examined lengthy passages of James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and discussed the legacies of Richard Long, Robert Smithson, Andrea Fraser, N55, Hans Haacke, and many other artists. For their mid-term project, each student presented a site-responsive exhibition (Creative Time's This World & Nearer Ones, Prospect 1 in New Orleans, Andrea Zittel's High Desert Test Site, to provide a few examples).

While much of our time was spent examining the legacy and theories of site-specificity in art, we also engaged in a semester-long exploration of a particular area of the university's campus. UCCS is an unusual place in that it owns 553 acres of extremely desirable land, most of which was gifted to the school or to the state, including the unique and inspiring Heller Ranch. Learn more about the Heller Center for Arts and Humanities here: http://www.uccs.edu/~heller/

Students developed proposals throughout the semester, first working as groups and then individually. The final projects were designed in concert with one another to illustrate a "curated" and complex sense of place. These projects were produced on-site and then documented in a catalog. This production was called Inside the Map.

Below is the curatorial statement I wrote for the catalog, followed by some images of student work. I wish I could upload the catalog in its entirety as it is quite impressive. Working with students has been one of my very favorite experiences. Especially rewarding are the retrospective statements of students who have struggled with difficult content. As one of them said, "I think site-specificity will change the way I look at art, but more importantly LIFE, from now on." Three cheers!

Inside the Map is the culmination of a semester-long exploration of the Heller Center by eight students enrolled in the Special Topics course, Curatorial Project: Site-Specificity in Art. Guided by an in-depth survey of site-specific trends and theories in contemporary art, students designed their own investigations of UCCS’s Heller Center. Their projects were produced in concert with one another, with aims to create a broad yet fluid representation of the property and its complex attributes.

These research-driven projects were produced on the Heller property; they were designed to respond to the place, getting beneath the surface or “inside the map” of formal understandings of the place. The projects are interdisciplinary, involving performance, social engagement, scientific inquiry, and other cutting-edge art practices. This catalog is the only public presentation of the artists’ work.

The power of art is that it offers new ways to see the world. Through site-specific practices, artists illuminate uniqueness and detail, confronting generalizations about people and places and providing opportunities for expanded sensual intellect. Our project, like many site-specific projects before it, removes art from the context of the gallery or museum, activating a new space – the world – for art’s consideration, production, and presentation.

We have come to regard site, not only in physical or spatial terms, but as a particular cultural framework characterized by a complex set of social conditions, historical happenings, geological, economic, and political circumstances that change over time. Each of the student projects in Inside the Map amplify elements of the Heller Center, illustrating that this, like any other place, is a hybrid of memories, fragmented events, and incredible potential. This concept of site as something more than a location signals an important development in defining the role of artists as harbingers of in-depth cultural considerations.

Lucy Lippard has said that “Artists can make the connections visible. They can guide us through sensuous kinesthetic responses to topography, lead us from archeology and land-based social history into alternative relationships to place. They can expose the social agendas that have formed land, bring out the multiple readings of places that mean different things to different people at different times… The dialectic between place and change can provide the kind of no-one’s-land where artists thrive.”[1] For us, the Heller Center is a tremendously rich context in which to develop site-specific projects, testing a variety of concepts and methods while cultivating an inherently progressive sensibility about getting “Inside the Map.”

[1] Lippard, Lucy. Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New York: The New Press, 1997, p. 19.

Idea Fund for Big Ideas!

Great news!

PLAND has been awarded a project grant from The Idea Fund!

The Idea Fund is the second re-granting initiative supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, following the lead of San Francisco-based Southern Exposure’s program, Alternative Exposure. The Idea Fund is a Houston-based enterprise supported by Diverseworks, Project Row Houses, and the Aurora Picture Show.

As the Idea Fund’s website boldly states: “The Idea Fund is committed to new, risk-taking forms that help to define new practices in contemporary art.”

Also: “The Idea Fund favors projects that exemplify the unconventional, interventionist, conceptual, entrepreneurial, participatory, or guerrilla artistic practices that occur outside of the traditional frameworks of support.”

Read more about The Idea Fund here: http://www.theideafund.org

With our grant of $3,500 we intend to support a week-long summer work party as well as a visiting resident artist or collective. Here are some excerpts from the awesome grant that Nancy wrote:

PLAND: Practice Liberating Art through Necessary Dislocation is an off-the-grid program that supports the development of experimental and research-based projects in the context of the Taos mesa.

PLAND focuses on open-ended projects that facilitate collaboration, experimentation, and hyper-local engagement. We do not hold expectations about prescribed outcomes. We privilege process over product. We believe artists can do amazing things when supported and encouraged in new contexts. We believe that no context exists like that of the Taos mesa.

PLAND is initiating project-based residencies to transform our parcel of land into a more inhabitable outpost while challenging artists to create, experiment, and produce their own work within this unique context. Inaugural PLAND residents are encouraged to marry survival-based goals with big ideas, aesethetic decisions, social engagement, and experimental methods.

I would add that:

PLAND finds its inspiration in a legacy of pioneers, entrepenuers, homesteaders, artists, and other counterculturalists who – through both radical and mundane activities – reclaim and reframe a land-based notion of the American Dream.

As we enter into a new year, big ideas promise big action. Stay tuned for more exciting developments with PLAND.

Thank you, Idea Fund, for your support of this exciting project!