04 June 2012

Village Building at the Ujima Center

Stage 1 of the prep: Garden boxes have been ripped out.
When Susanna Low-Beer first asked me if I wanted to do something for the Village Building Convergence (VBC,) I said No. For the last several years I have been trying to transition out of my role as a permaculture teacher/leader and someone who goes gardening for other people. I have wanted to focus on writing and creative arts, and to keep the landwork to my own space at home. It just works better for me that way.

But when Susie suggested I take on her front yard, I couldn't resist. I have known her for years and that front yard has always been a pretty big mess. Not to say that it wasn't functional. She had rain barrels out there, catching water, and two large raised boxes for growing vegetables and strawberries. She had lovely little ceramic pots full of succulents all over the porch, and decorative things hanging above.

Work in progress. It happened fast!
The problem was aesthetics. Those blue plastic rain barrels are hideous! And the little pots on the porch were attractive enough on their own, but scattered around, they looked cluttered and made it impossible to sit anywhere. And the boxes? Ugh. I have never liked the way raised beds look. So weird to garden in a box like that when you could just garden in the ground.

I mean, this is her front door we are talking about! The portal to her life. I talked about this a bit before, when I was working on my own porch. But for Susie's house it was especially important because she is creating a permaculture education center there and frequently hosts parties and events.

20 May 2012

Placemaking at Home and Outward

Much of my work in the past, with Food not Lawns and before that, with Food not Bombs, Earth First and Greenpeace, could have been called placemaking, though we didn't use the word at the time. The first time I heard of "placemaking" was when I attended Portland City Repair's first Village Building Convergence in 2002. By then, Food Not Lawns had been actively place-making our neighborhood in Eugene for 3 years, and we were thrilled to find a group of people who were so well-organized toward the vision of natural, thriving neighborhoods where people share resources in friendship-based community.

Truly, the concept of placemaking has been in play since long before I started doing activist work. For as long as humans have existed, we have created spaces for ourselves to dwell, work, socialize, and share needs and resources. 

My current survey of ecorevelatory arts has led me into a renewed foray into the idea of placemaking, and though I haven't had time to dive too deep, the study warrants a bit of sharing.

29 April 2012

Small-Scale Ecorevelatory Architecture: Treehouses, Tiny Houses and Tipis


The first time I heard the term, "ecorevelatory," I was at an architecture conference at the University of Oregon in 2000. It made me think of Gaudi, whose work I had seen in Barcelona when I went there in 1996. Around this time I also became aware of the ecobuilding movement. Since then I have seen a wide array of buildings that I consider highly ecorevelatory. They reveal nature through their form and materials, and they also reveal the nature of the person who designed them.

These types of structures fit well into a classic problem: solution ratio. Thus, the need for shelter, for creative outlets, for a greater connection to nature and each other; these needs and others are met by the actual building we live in. As we know, the medium is the message, and a beautiful space yields beautiful ideas.

It is an ideal situation, to me.

The difference between Art and Architecture? To me, Art is primarily spectative, meant to provoke thought and incite whimsy. Architecture, on the other hand, produces something you could actually dwell in. This makes it extra special in my book, and why I didn't become an architect a decade ago, I couldn't tell you. Perhaps it was the music, knocking at the doors of my perception. Or maybe it was the seed crops, asking for water and weeding. At any rate, here is a list of my favorite examples of ecorevelatory architecture.





Treehouses

Who wouldn't want to live in such an integegrated and inspiring structure? If you don't have vertigo, a treehouse brings out the kid in all of us. Check out:

A treehouse resort in Southern Oregon

Treehouse Workshops

The Treehouse Guys



Tiny Houses
The tiny house movement has taken off, and people all over are starting to agree that less is more. You can find detailed blueprints all over the web, but here are some links to get you started.

The Tiny House Blog

Tiny House Designs

Tiny Houses for Sale





24 April 2012

Land Art


Andy Goldsworthy

“The medium (and the message) is Mother Earth herself.”
--Grace Glueck

I am learning to differentiate between art that is made in nature, art that is made out of natural materials, art that is made to represent nature, and art that directly protects or influences a natural system. A preliminary google search on Land Art yields too much information to explore in a short overview such as this, but I have done my best to conduct a thorough survey of the most prominent artists in this arena, and have highlighted several of them below.

For detailed, debatable definitions, read these wikipedia entries:
And here is an interesting article on definitions:

In his book, Land Art, author Michael Lailach presents the Land Art movement as a radical departure from the last 2000 years of art history, in that the art is made without intention toward indoor display. Of course outdoor public sculpture has always been popular, but Land Art, as labeled by Gerry Schum in his 1969 television special on the topic, is something new.

Christo and Jeanne Claude
Land Art is art that changes (and often disappears) the way life does. This is fascinating to me because I have always thought of my art as my legacy, and of the works I leave behind as the replacement for the children I have chosen not to have. The idea of making art that is designed to disappear is simultaneously terrifying and inspiring.

The primary curiosity of this kind of art (and also, perhaps, its power) is the fact that it is so difficult to show it in a gallery. Some artists seem to prefer it that way, eschewing gallery politics and making bold statements about the way humans interact with art, nature, and each other, such as Walter De Maria’s famous quote “God has given us the earth, and we have ignored it. ”  (page 15)

When De Maria was commissioned to create a show for an upscale gallery in Munich in 1978, he filled the entire gallery with dirt and barricades visitors from entering. This was a statement about the way the natural world is barricaded from our upscale gallery culture.

17 April 2012

Springtime in Portland: An Ephemeral Art Collaboration

In these early stages of my inquiry into land and ephemeral arts, I felt it necessary to get outside and make some stuff. My friend and colleague, Seattle-based photographer Audineh Asaf came to Portland for the weekend and we spent a day paying tribute to the resilient, multifunctional, and misunderstood dandelion. These are just the very beginning of a body of work that Audi and I intend to co-create.


We started with three simple pieces: The first piece was a spiral around the fire pit in my back yard. I live next door to a houseful of young, vibrant people, and we share a large urban backyard that is in much need of proactive garden energy. I was hoping the little gesture of affinity for the plants would stir up some interest and intention between us.

How to Make a Sock Cthulhu (and other fun ways to reconcile with your mortality)

I stumbled across this silly and delightful project. I mean, who doesn't need a cute little effigy to the Sleepless Dreamer?

Here's the directions for making a sock Cthulhu. But I warn you, this is a gateway doll-making project! After I finished this one I spent the weekend obsessed with turning lonely old socks into goofy little creatures.


When I make monster art, I always think about how small we are in the universe, and how inexplicable reality is.












Last night I watched the Secret Life of Plants and was reminded that every living thing has a consciousness, and responds to the consciousness of those around it.







Another relevant film is the deliciously ridiculous mockumentary, Trollhunter. I found it quite provocative in its revelation of the contrast between humanity and the unknown.

And who is to say that there aren't great beings--not gods--just creatures that are too large for us to see? I understand that millions of people believe in gods. But I am talking about mortal, breathing beings that exist in places we have yet to have explored. I enjoy the humility that comes from this type of contemplation.



16 April 2012

Life Drawing Class: Pyxie in a Halfshell

The other night I hosted a Life Drawing session at my tiny studio in Portland. My friend Pyxie was the model and four of us circled her, drawing and painting in a variety of media. We had her do four 3-minute poses, three 10-minute poses, and two half-hour poses. It was really fun! And really challenging.

The drawings here were all made by the other women at the session. Only the painting at the bottom is mine.
It has been about ten years since I tried to draw from a live nude model. I felt like I was in third grade, drawing lumpy, ugly sketches that didn't look at all like Pyxie. It was humbling but also very interesting. In the final pose I decided to go abstract, focusing on how her lines and angles made me feel, rather than trying to get it all shadowed and proportioned correctly.


I know that, for art to have the resilient qualities that bring about culture change, it usually needs to have a human figure represented in some fashion. Sure, there are plenty of examples of artwork that doesn't have any eyes, but for the most part, the art that moves me most often contains some aspect of the human form.


I enjoy trying to think of ways to use figures and silhouettes in eco-revelatory work, whether visual or performance-based, as a means of connecting more deeply with the audience.


29 March 2012

Self Portrait in 7 Levels

I have been working on the little box I got at the Goodwill, making a self portrait in seven levels. I researched the seven chakras, and in each little section of the piece, I am assembling a symbolic representation of seven aspects of myself as artist. I also like the number 7 because that's my birthday, July 7 (7-7; same day as Ringo Starr and Marc Chagall!). So it is a good number to use for a self portrait.

For each section, I am doing a short mediation on the nature of that chakra, and manifesting a background image in a different medium. Here are some photos of the work in progress, starting from the root:

1. Root Chakra, representing the earth element, my passions, and the gardener side of myself. For this section I made a lino-block print of a five-petaled flower, in tribute to the rose family which provides so much of our food. I colored in the background with colored pencil and painted over in acrylic.

2. Base Chakra, representing water, creativity, and the side of myself that loves to paint. It is curious that I did not realize this chakra existed until I began this project, and yet I am considered a very "watery" person. More on that, later. For this section I painted a tiny self portrait in oil, with a field of marigolds in the background.

3. Solar Plexus Chakra, representing fire, energy, and those more practical things that I do with my hands, such as ceramics, sculpture, mask-making, jewelry-making, sewing, etc. I used the Hand of Fatima image in this section because it is a symbol that comes up in all aspects of my life. I drew and colored it with pencils.

4. Heart Chakra, representing air, touch, trust, and the side of myself that is a dancer. For me, dancing is all about opening your heart, trusting yourself, letting go of the need to keep defenses. For this section I made a stencil of an abstract heart with wings, printed it onto the linen paper, colored it with pencil, and painted over that with acrylic.

5. Throat Chakra, representing ether, sound, communication, and the musical part of me. I sketched a graphic that implies a banjo, and will paint it in acrylic. I envision installing a tiny audio player so that people can push a button and hear a sample of my work.

6. Third Eye Chakra, representing intuition, wisdom, and my writerly nature. So many aspects of myself come out through my writing that I couldn't settle on a symbolic image other than that of the eye, with my own shape reflected in the iris an and eight-pointed lotus around it to represent the crossroads at which I so often find myself. I drew this image in ink, colored in with pencil, and added acrylic paint some sections.

7. The wooden shelf I started with only has six sections, so I needed to create a seventh level to accommodate the crown. I built a little shrine for the crown in papier-mache and painted it in acrylic. Then I made a little paper flower with seven petals, and glued it in.


I also wanted to associate each of the seven sections with a different aspect of my genetic and cultural self: Mexican, Spanish, Cree, Chihuahua, Irish, French and American. Further, I want to infuse symbols that speak of the seven virtues/vices...I haven't quite figured out how to incorporate it all just yet...

26 March 2012

Cthulhu, The Birds, and Exquisite Corpse

I have started this inquiry into ecorevelatory arts, and am casting a wide net. Sure, Andy Goldsworthy and the green building movement are obvious examples.



But also, I have been thinking a lot about how stories like Lovecraft's Cthulhu and Hitchcock's The Birds are also ecorevelatory, in that they take humans out of the center of things. I am curious about this exploration, this direction of it. I am curious about the monsters.





23 March 2012

Painting down the bones

I've been reading Natalie Goldberg. She wants me to write about the light coming in my window. The windows in my new apartment are old and get covered with condensation and it drips down onto the windowsill and then onto my bed. I don't mind. I like living alone. The price is right and, though north-facing, my apartment gets a ton of light. I'm not crazy about the neighborhood but I am revelling in the sanctity of this little apartment; having a place to work, to write, to host friends and lovers. It makes me feel like a grown up. I guess it seems ridiculous to say that at forty years old but I'm just now starting to feel like an adult. I feel capable and willing to do something meaningful with my life.

When I was in my twenties and an activist, I talked a lot about meaning and empowerment but there was so much ego in front of it. I was always trying to prove something. Now my actions feel like they are infused with actual meaning in themselves. It's not about proving anything to anyone it's just about doing the act.

(So I wrote the exercise above, from page 20 of Writing Down the Bones, using dictation software for the first time! It was super fun and reasonably accurate. )











I spent the day painting. My friend Eric came over this morning and we chatted while I put the finishing touches on a portrait of him I started five years ago. I used copal resin as a medium for the oil paint. I had never used it before and it opened up a whole new world. Normally I don't do such accurate portraits, but this one came out easy. After he left I just painted and painted. It has been a really long time since I painted all day. I feel blissed out now! And spent.

The first picture is what it looked like this morning, second picture what it looks like now.



20 March 2012

Design a Recliner

I took the day off from studies. Well, kinda. I met with Susie Low-Beer about doing a mandala garden in her front yard as part of the Village Building Convergence in May. I am going to design and install the garden for her and teach a workshop.

Today Susie and I came up with a plan to do a yin-yang garden, filled with medicinals and surrounded by fruits like figs, kiwi, currants. I think it is going to be a lot of fun!

We are also going to do a sister-workshop at Brenna's house, part of the Portland Collective Housing project. It will be interesting because the microclimates of the two sites are very different but both households want attractive, productive perennial gardens. More to come on that one...








Today I went down to the farm and picked up a few things. I miss being out in the country, chopping wood, hanging out with little baby plants all day. Agriculture makes these rainy days of early spring go by so fast. Hopefully the Equinox will bring some sunshine.