Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on travel

Spent some time this morning reflecting on when I was an Artist-in-Residence in Costa Rica. The image above is a plate I made there, that I brought back to the US with me to print. The colony I was at did not have a press, so I had a hand-printing setup for some of my work, however, some of the collographs I made I realized needed the intense pressure that only a press can apply.

The print is called Los Amantes, Spanish for The Lovers. It's based on a pair of trees on the border of the property where I was staying, that had grown together over a fence of barbed wire. I have a feeling in reality the wire was woven through the narrow opening between the trees, but the imagery made me think of faery tales in which two lovers, who cannot be together for some reason, are transformed at the end of the tale into trees, or stars, or some other form that allows them to be united. 

I realize now what I was doing was mythologizing the landscape. Which is something I rather enjoy doing, and find that it influences my studio practice quite a bit. Stories of place inform site-specific artwork, which is something I am very interested in. As I pursued this string of thought, it provides understanding of the importance of location for indigenous people - it is not only where their ancestors have lived, the landscape encompasses their metaphysic.

If you think about it, it's why religions such as Christianity, which are not site-specific, have been able to spread. Yes, they have a connection to physical places like Jerusalem, but I have a feeling a majority of people who call themselves Christians will never visit. And some of the settings, such as the Garden of Eden, have disputed physical locations, and are really considered more intangible places. But if your stories are connected to place, and you believe as the Ohlone that Mount Diablo was the point of creation, it's more than just a mountain to you.

As a newcomer to California, I wish I knew more of these stories of place. I'm slowly working on it with the help of my local library, however, it's much easier to find information about post-conquest California, and all of the accounts I have found are interpretations by early Californios and colonists. These stories are important to me because they open my eyes to the historic long arc of the land, beyond the colonial visions of Wild West, Gold Rush, Bear Republic, and so on. By living here, I share location with that history, and I can feel its presence, but must self-educate to understand. Knowledge of such history influences me as an artist, and hopefully I can give such history the respect it deserves.

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