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Feeding Trees: making art and rethinking how we live in the world
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odaraia
to view posts on my visit to Korea, see Wiwaxia Travels
© 2011 Alice Dubiel alicedubiel@planetart.us 206.782.7455 USA

Feeding Trees: making art and rethinking how we live in the world
식목(植木) : 예술제작과 세상을 사는 방식의 재고(rethinking)

I would like to thank Una Kim, Park Yeonsook, Ryu Seesook, Park Nam Hee, Harriet Levi, Karen Swallow, Jeonsoo Shin, Choi Seungyoun, and our dear, late sister, Madeline Janovec who made it possible to appear before you today.

[I included the post Part One: Musings on Feminism first.]

Feeding Trees
My opening images are snapshots I took during a residency at North Cascades National Park in Washington State in 2006. While there I received a topographic map drawn by park staff in 1976. This map shows landmarks which no longer exist due to erosion and other natural effects. I have used it in the works which I have brought on this visit and will show others at the end of this talk.

This work by Thomas Moran, Cliffs of the Upper Colorado River, Wyoming Territory, 1882, (와이오밍영역의 콜로라도 강 상류의 절벽, 1882, 캔버스에 유채.) represents a traditional approach most viewers in the US expect to see as a “landscape painting.” Moran made many works like this to impress the US Congress to fund a national parks system. By creating a dramatic, picturesque and pristine landscape, he perpetuated the myth that the western US was unclaimed, open space. At the same time, he showed that the beauty of this land needed “protection” through the park system. Among the problems with this myth is the erasure of the native peoples from the land. Moreover, since most people would never visit it, any subsidized activities, such as mining, oil exploration or livestock production, could continue without scrutiny. This kind of artwork is the tradition within which I work, but which I seek to critique. I wanted to find a different language for expressing our relationship to the land.

As an artist and culture worker, I am less interested in recreating the compelling and controlling power of illusion and representation than in exploring visual conceptions and ideas. I grew up and studied in California during times of social activism and the interest of artists in creating socially responsible work.

I drew inspiration from conceptual artists who worked in political contexts. This is Rheinwasseraufbereitungsanlage (Rhine-Water Purification Plant), (라인강 수질정화 발전소, 유리와 아크릴 플라스틱 용 기, 펌프, 오염된 라인 강물, 튜브형 필터, 화학물질과 금붕어) 1972 by Hans Haake. An installation work made of glass and acrylic plastic containers, a pump, polluted Rhine water, tubing filters, chemicals and goldfish, the artist asserts an attempt to clean as an aesthetic act.
Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971, (맨하탄 부동산 점유, 1971년 5월 1일의 실시간 사회시스템) shows the buildings, mostly tenement slums, owned by members of the board of trustees of the Museum of Modern Art where this work was exhibited and censored. The artist demonstrated the connection between control of land and the nature of these power relations to the art world.

In San Francisco, Bonnie Sherk created the Crossroads Community/The Farm (공동체 교차로/ 농장) from 1974-1980, a working farm below the overpasses of freeways. The striking contrast of an idealized, organic farm with urban transportation such as these freeway overpasses seriously challenged the image of the pristine landscape. At the same time, Sherk offered a utopian vision to solving the problems of industrialization.

Also in San Francisco, sculptor Jo Hanson recycled discarded materials in her work, and she created performances about street aesthetics. Here is an image of the 1980 performance, Public Disclosure, Secrets from the street (대중노출, 거리의 비밀). Her repeated personal acts “of sweeping one sidewalk grew into a celebrated public art practice and citywide anti-litter campaign.... [She] compiled volumes of urban detritus ...[to raise] community awareness as it chronicled rapidly changing demographics. Hanson organized city-wide street sweepings, children’s anti-litter art campaigns for City Hall, and led a famous bus tour of San Francisco street dumping sites—all extensions of her conceptual real-life artworks. Hanson’s community-inclusive strategies set precedents in public ecoart, created models for younger artists, and gave poor neighborhoods visual access to City Hall.”

Mierle Laderman Ukeles for several years was resident artist in the New York city Department of Sanitation. One of her works, Touch Sanitation, (접촉 위생) 1978-79 documented her shaking the hands of every worker in the department which manages trash collection and disposal, including recycling, incineration, and for a while, notoriously exported trash to other states and countries. She has referred to her work as Maintenance Art, emphasizing the necessity of maintenance in the aesthetics of everyday life.

In Los Angeles, artists Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz coordinated installations and performances to create public discussion of rape. Here Lacy uses a rubber stamp to mark incidents within the time frame (and title of the piece) Three Weeks in May (5월의 삼주), 1977 which expressed the relationship of social action to actual sites throughout the city. All these works developed visual strategies to address social and environmental concerns in real time with viewer participation.

During the 1970’s several artists employed pattern and decoration as a strategy at once to take the “discards” Kiki Smith referred to, and expand the “fine art” definition by including textile arts, traditional arts such as ceramic tile and wall decoration. In the 19th century English artist William Morris created decorative works such as wall paper, fabrics and limited edition books in response to what he saw as the aesthetic impoverishment of industrialism. Here is a wallpaper design, Acanthus, (아칸서스 식물 모양의 벽지 디자인) 1875. Morris’s critique led to activism as a socialist: here is his woodcut design for the membership card of the Democratic Federation (민주연합 멤버쉽 카드). During the 1970’s artists explored multiple visual languages including Kim MacConnel’s Turkish Delight (터키의 환희), 1973, acrylic on found fabric, 51” x 72” which refers to a traditional candy, and the “sweetness” of the imagery; Miriam Schapiro’s “femmages,” feminist collages which incorporate cloth, mementos and formal elements such as the fan traditionally associated with women (부채들, 설치). Here is “Gates of Paradise,” (천국의 문, 북 다코타주), 1980, acrylic, digital images and mixed media on canvas, 50” x 60” . Joyce Kozloff has created public ceramic tile work based on worldwide ceramic ideas, here in Pasadena California (의 분수조각과 타일을 붙인 벽이 있는 켈리포니아 주 파사 디나(Pasadena)의 시청) and among her map work, Mekong and Memory (메콩강과 기억, 도자 타일로 테두리가 된 종이에 혼합재료), mixed media and paper (ceramic tiles along the sides) 1996.

In the Americas, Mexican artists’ murals expressed socialist ideals and critiques. These works created a visual language for narrative and history using cinematic devices such as montage and the notion of architectonic space. In San Francisco during the 1970’s, mujeres muralistas in this tradition expressed local women’s history (미션 (Misstion)가의 여성의 거리, 1970년대.(현재 파괴됨)), and Judy Baca in the Great Wall of Los Angeles showed Latinos’ historic struggle in southern California. These women expanded the notions of public art and the history painting to include marginalized people. Another strain developed by feminists using traditional formats is the altar. Here, Amalia Mesa-Bains’ Altar for Dolores del Rio, (돌로레스 델 리오(Dolores del Rio)를 위한 제단) 1988, mixed media, 8’ high, reclaims the actress’s work and heritage when the dominant culture defined her as exotic and limited her film roles.

During this time, the concept of audience or viewers also developed through critical analysis, frequently from the literary world. Artists who invited viewer participation include Yoko Ono, whose “Painting in Three Stanzas,” (3연(聯)으로 된 그림)1962, from Grapefruit (1964) suggests poetic form for the collaborative act of imagination between artist and viewer. Mary Beth Edelson’s “Story Gathering Boxes,” (이야기 를 모으는 상자)1978 installation at Franklin Furnace invited viewers to tell their own personal experiences, some of which included domestic violence, and place them in the boxes to become part of the installation.

During 1980-81 I created an installation,”A Journey Within,” reflecting personal, environmental and celestial images to depict one year. Using watercolor illustration techniques, I wanted to attract the viewer’s eye, luring them to view the narrative of the interactions of the inside and outside, personal and the natural world. I included a small altar with elements depicted in the painting, rocks, plants, bird feathers, and references in book form because I like to leave “clues,” from my training as an academic in literature studies.

In “Apocalyptic Visions,” 1983-4, I again used watercolor illustration and painting techniques to juxtapose fears, whether fantastical or realistic, about the end of the world through earthquake, pollution, nuclear annihilation. The form consisted of three continuous scrolls, with three or four panels. The panel formats and the content were inspired by Spanish manuscripts of the 10th century about the end of the world. (“우리는 지구의 오염으로 해양생태계와 어류의 죽음을 두려워한다.” “우리는 사랑스러운 모든 것을 잃어버리는 것이 두려웠다.” “우리는 이 대륙 이 바다 아래로 침몰하고 우리의 집이 파도에 뒤덮일까봐 두려웠다.”)

In 1990, I created “Watershrine,” (물의 사원) another altar dedicated to the element in Puget Sound, the body of water which surrounds Seattle. I collected water from different creeks to place in little jars lit from below to resemble candles. The scrolls depict wildlife characteristic of the region and some of the environmental challenges the animals face. This shrine was part of a collaborative installation, Dreaming the Earth Whole,” with other artists on the four elements. There were many opportunities for viewers to respond by adding to a community created shrine. Over 26,000 people visited this work during the Seattle Arts Festival, Bumbershoot, that year.

After the birth of my son, I stopped using watercolor so much because I often had to drop my work at a moment’s notice. I started employing relief print shapes and acrylic media to create brilliant cloth or wallpaper-like works, at first about ecosystems, then about seeds and reproductive issues for women. I use brilliantly colored and iridescent pigments derived from mica. With these techniques, I am trying to express the complexity of overlapping multiplicity and the tendency of natural processes to pursue cycles of life. Here are some images from the series, Re: Seeding Gaia. (응답 :가이야(Gaia) 씨뿌리기) The title of the series is a pun, regarding the seeding or increasing the fertility of Gaia (another name from Greek mythology for the Earth) or suggesting that the Earth is receding, drawing back, paved over as we create an artificial landscape. Here is Flow, (유동”) 1996, which appeared last year in the INWAC exhibition in Portland, and Co-evolution, (“상호 진 화”) 1998

In 1993, I created the installation, The Landscape Tale, (풍경 이야기, 농업으로부터 : 연금술 논문) which didn’t include any painting at all. This is the announcement for the event, made of an art postcard superimposed with a letterpress print of a map of 18th C Paris, edition of 250. I framed reproductions of classic European landscape paintings and hung transparent scans of historic maps in front of the prints. I took quotations from literary and art history sources to create a quotation essay. I included Edward Said, Vincent Scully, Jane Austen, Gary Snyder, William Shakespeare, Raymond Williams. This is the theme: in its relentless desire for control, the Western landscape tradition, represented by Moran’s work, distances the viewer from the outdoors and people. This neighborhood was at the time comprised of light industrial manufacturers, commercial photography and artists’ studios. Now, through urban renewal facilitated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the area is home of Amazon.com, Seattle’s biotech industry and many new luxury condominium buildings, privatizing much of the space.

The series, Penelope’s Web, is about power: the power of personal integrity amid the complexity of domesticity. The web is a symbol of protection. These works are paintings of acrylic and mixed media on paper. Some of the water imagery is derived from recent ocean science research in thermal vents, much by University of Washington biologists.
Penelope was the wife of the ancient Greek warrior, Odysseus, who fought ten years in the Trojan War and journeyed for ten more years before returning home. Penelope waited for Odysseus’s return. As was the custom, the suitors came to her home, exploiting her hospitality, screwing her servants, insulting her son, insisting Odysseus was dead and would never return. She developed a stratagem to delay them: every day she wove the shroud for her father-in-law’s eventual burial, and each night she unraveled nearly all the day’s work.
Penelope’s web of protection can be a metaphor to explore our stewardship of the planet. We can use our creative skills to devise new strategies to protect our earth household, neither to exploit nor abandon it.
The Light Bursts Forth, 1999, 22x30” Naiads Assist, 1999, 38 x 56 cm, The Veil of Ino, Kadmus’s Daughter, now Leucothea, 2000, 60 x 85 cm, refer to the help ocean goddesses gave to Odysseus. Carnage Suited Me, 2001, 38 x 53.5 cm, recounts a story Odysseus, in disguise, tells about his preferences for war adventures over home life, even as in actuality, he is seeking to return.

The series, Resistance/Resilience and Strategic Clearing integrate topographic maps of the North Cascades, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens with the acrylic painting approaches of earlier work. I’ve incorporated texts I have written, some poetic.
Children of the Rivers, White Pass and Bumping Lake(exhibited in Daegu in 2006), The Marine Origin of Minerals, Mt. Rainier
Collagraph prints: Ape Cave, Worm Flows

In recent years, I have been thinking about the legacy of slavery in the US and its continuing influence in social justice. The work, “1492,” oil on canvas 125x125 cm, 1992 by Mexican artist Sylvia Ordonez refers to the year when European powers began to colonize the Americas. She depicts foods, now part of our world heritage, which came from this trade, superimposed on a map of the area. Artist Marita Dingus (one of the artists which whom I collaborated on Dreaming the Earth Whole) has created an imaginative body of work about slavery using recycled and cast off materials. Here is “Fence with Skeleton Hand,” 2000, 27x14x1” I incorporated the words of the great 19th C African American orator and essayist, Frederick Douglass, on maps showing areas of slave rebellion, including Haiti which continues to struggle for social justice today. I used nets, textural relief and stamped images of skulls and coffee beans to represent the extremely oppressive and restrained work conditions in the sugar plantations. The map work combined formal ideas of The Landscape Tale with the decorative approaches of my recent painting.

Finally, I’ve been working on a retelling of the tale of Cinderella. Based on variants such as Grimm’s fairy tales and the ballet by Sergei Prokofiev, The Hazel Tree Mother retells the story with the heroine as a botanist specializing in trees. The prince is an arborist. There are political intrigues involving the environment in his court. This series offers cultural and environmental contexts to explore symbiosis, especially in the care of offspring and loved ones during fearful times. Cinderella’s loss of her mother and her subsequent adventures require her resourcefulness, imagination, devotion and persistence. I wanted to expand the notion of syndicalism developed by the labor movement to include the planet’s environmental systems. I have used handmade papers, watercolor and collage techniques and digitally manipulated images of my own photographs and cultural artifacts. The work appears here with the support of 4Culture, King County’s arts ministry and is dedicated to the memory of my parents.
The Tree In Winter, acrylic, digital imaging, ink, paper, 2007, 78x60cm refers to the tree Cinderella planted on her mother’s grave and where little birds brought her the dress for the ball. (Cinderella’s mother leaves a dress in the tree, 2005, diptych, 24x19cm each). The Summer Fairy, digital image chine colle, collagraph, and mixed media on paper, 2010 50x21 cm

In response to my residency at North Cascades National Park, I have made new works to reflect the landscape’s change over time. Here is Lake Ross from late fall 2006. Here is a picture of me in front of “Liberty Bell,” a peak in the North Cascades, from late fall 2006. Using maps of the areas given to me by park staff, here is a piece for the park’s collection, The effect of snowmelt on past cultural landscapes: Beaver Creek 1976, acrylic mixed media and digital media on handmade paper, wood, 152 x 91 cm
The print edition I have brought to Korea is part of the same map series, using collagraph, acrylic paint and lithography. I have incorporated texts concerning the effect of climate change on the glaciers in the park: every glacier has shrunk, although not at the same rate.

Visual traditions and themes create a kind of language that exerts a powerful effect on social consciousness. Artists choose particular traditions and themes to explore and alter these ranges of expression.

Feeding Trees refers to the journey of salmon, the totem animal of the Pacific northwest of North America, whose anadroumous life brings minerals from the ocean to the great temperate rainforests. This is Reunion by British Columbia artist Andy Everson of Comox and Kwakwaka’wakw ancestry. Salmon spawn in freshwater creeks, journey to the ocean where they feed and grow, and return to spawn and die. The sea minerals from their bodies are found in the trees and the soils of the forest, and this cycle reflects the integrity of the ecosystem. Forests have been described as the lungs of the planet. With human caused imbalances in this system, I believe our ethical choices require action to feed trees.

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