I’ve just returned from a location scouting expedition in the Snoqualmie Forest for a project I’m so looking forward to with the Frye Art Museum’s presentation of Susan Robb’s Wild Times Project, coming up on the cusp of summer, as it heads towards fall. I’ll be facilitating an experimental sculpture and movement workshop that combines many things I love, many things that define me as an artist, and sharing this with a de facto performance company of people who come together to go on this journey with me (sign up!). The description provided by the Frye is rather small, and I’m getting so many inquiries about the project, so I want to go into more depth and background about just what it is we’ll be doing.
First off, the timeline details!
This will be an immersive workshop from September 3-7th, 2014. Wednesday 3rd-Thursday 4th, we will be working together at the Frye Museum Studio from 10am – 4pm, in Seattle. Then Friday-Sunday, the 5th-7th, we’ll head to the wilderness of Snoqualmie Pass, and camp together, work together and share food together on the banks of Denny Creek. We’ll use the natural environment as studio and backdrop and collaborator. Among other things, our activities will include a day hike to Franklin Falls to use as a performance site. And then our final day, we will hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, performing “Trail Magic” – acts of simple generosity for Thru Hikers. We’ll end our time together about 6pm on Sunday the 7th, but participants are welcome stay the night, departing our campsite on Monday morning.
So What’s this all about? What Will We Do and Why?
This project will be in conjunction with The Frye Museum’s presentation of Susan Robb’s ‘Wild Times’ project on the Pacific Crest Trail, which if you haven’t been following along on her blog, do that now! My contribution to a variety of programming for her project with the museum, grew out of a conversation this past winter with Susan, who was taking a workshop at my studio and everyone was very excitedly asking all sorts of questions about her impending adventure. Clearly the desire to seek wildness, both internally, in our daily lives and to literally disappear into a space unknown hit a nerve with everyone, including me.
My work has often been about the anxiety and desire of the human animal, teetering on the boundary between the chaos of the natural world and our constructed follies of civilization. I’ve examined our tenuous and ambivalent relationship to nature through our myths and fables, our creation of gods and goddesses to harness, tame and understand the brooding magic that calls to us from the dark boughs of the forest (or the desert or the mountains or the moors). The earliest expressions of art, movement, voice were grounded in ritual that both attempted to repel the chaos and strengthen communal bonds to insure survival, and to revere the majesty of the life-force of everything wild, and usually these shamanistic activities were joined in by the community at large, ordinary people slipped in and out of identities of the natural divine. We fear it, we long for it; this is the subtext for so many human activities, and certainly a continual thrum in the pulse of the spirit of why I am a maker.
So, like the pensive seeker who follows the White Stag into the wood — to either be healed and emerge, or be lost forever — since 2010, part of my process of making has been to take myself and family into remotes parts of the world, where we make things together and respond to what we find there, where the small community I am bound to by blood and love becomes my subject in performance, film and photography. I have always been aware that my aim was to get us lost, so that we could find each other. In extreme or raw circumstances, we find what is most essential to bring us together.
This Trail project will be a way to share this somewhat private process with a larger group, to make you who join me, our interactions with each other as makers and with the wild, the subject matter of a new film and photography series I am working on, as well as a laboratory for developing movement ideas and motifs for a larger installation/performance series I am just beginning to develop for the future. I’ve wanted to knit together this process I have taken on with my family, as well as my sometimes-role as teacher, and also as a facilitator of communal space that has taken shape in my social practice works. I’ve seen it countless times in these spaces I’ve hosted; people making together with their hands breaks down social barriers, begins community.
Making things, making community:
For this project, we’ll be making a wearable ‘headdress’ out of collected natural materials, hand-dyed vermillion silk ribbons and vermillion dyed wool. Each participant will gather natural materials from their daily life, moving through their own natural/urban thresholds finding unseen bounty in forgotten places. I’m collecting piles and piles of waist-high grasses and ivy vines from an overgrown lot in my neighborhood, not seeing it as trash but raw materials. I’ m also collecting sage and lavender from my garden, thistle pods from an abandoned round-about, and rowan berries from a neighbor’s yard (with permission, of course).
I’m asking participants to move slower through their surroundings, move with a Dérive state of mind, shift off your predictable paths and be gleaners, find the raw materials that are free and plentiful around you. We’ll bring in things to share from our lives, and share over tea and handwork. I’ll be teaching crocheting chains and the more complex crochet ‘mandala’ forms prominent in my work. We’ll stitch, sew, twist, knot and tie to make structures to alter our bodies, our movements, our human identities. I’ll also be making vermillion silk tunics for everyone, to wear with our headdresses in the woods (easy to stuff in our packs and take out to look amazing!)
The headdresses will become tools, not necessarily the end goal or product, but the vehicle to get to the goal: developing a responsiveness to one’s own body in relation to the natural site and to the other participants through slow process. As I have observed time and again in my community-based projects and workshops, making with our hands slows the darting mind down, loosening up the social interface, creating a space where people who do not know each other can slowly and intuitively learn about each other, even with times of comfortable, thoughtful silence. I’ve also seen a sense of camaraderie develop through making, where people often slide into archetypes depending on who else is there: as example ‘elder’, ‘seeker’, ‘survivor’, ‘witness’, ‘wounded’, ‘teacher’, ‘child’. I will guide participants through movement, writing and vocalizing, to cultivate this example of how community germinates and ritual persists. We’ll use who each of us are to create our movement scores.
These are the ‘tools’ I use when developing my own performative and site embedded work. For instance, we’ll follow many of the same steps I took with my collaborators in crafting the “Saltus Chori Aevum” performance, which is an apprenticeship model. I’ve lined up several really incredible guest Seattle-based performance artists who will share with us their techniques for digging deep, including the incredible Jessica Jobaris, the choreographer of “Saltus Chori Aevum”, and luminescent multidisciplinary performance artist Kate Ryan, founder of the Jakku House Communal space project, among many other things! We are so lucky to work with these incredible culture-makers. With their guidance, we’ll be creating individual scores and motifs, using writing, movement, and vocalizing, but working with the umbrella of concepts and structures I’ll bring to the table to combine these elements into group performance.
Then in the woods, we’ll play with our scores by exploring the forest, the banks of the creek and culminate with a day at the base of Franklin Falls, where we can wade in ankle deep and sing and shout to the roar of waterfall. The Falls are a curious place, a meandering hike deeper into the forest, climbing around a rocky cliff to a private cove, but also just above the falls is a black swath of Interstate 90, as if right there the two forces of wild and civilization battle it out. But then they harmonize. The roar of the river and falls blend with the roar of the trucks, and it all sounds like water! It’s a perfect place to realize this project.
One more idea we’ll explore that fascinates me ; abandoning the idea of audience, for a time. Like Sacred Harp singers, who sing for themselves, the spirit and the group facing towards each other. We’ll be each other’s mirror. I have often found something absurd and freeing when I am both filming and being the one filmed for a piece, switching between roles where they just start to blur. Nature will accept our song.
Getting Lost to Find Something. In many ways, I see Susan’s journey and the journey of all thru-hikers reflecting this idea. Maybe it is entirely different. I’m so grateful for her efforts to share this journey and instigate ‘wildness’ in others. Though they all walk the same path, each journey is their own deeply personal exploration of the self in communion with the extreme, but also a shifting and almost esoteric community that moves along the spine of the continent. They become the Hero to each of their own stories, and an internal language develops. We cannot know what they know or be a part of that community, but I have the desire to take on the role of another archetype, that of the Helper.
We’ll use the Hero’s Journey story structure as a jumping off point, as well as ideas of caretaking, pilgrimage, sanctuary/shelter, and the practical purpose of ritual. We’ll spend time together making smudge bundles for fire ceremonies, explore knot magic, the importance of the ritual of sharing food, and an afternoon making flowered standards in Alpine meadows. Lastly we’ll honor the actual journeys of the PCT thru-hikers by carrying delicious treats, water and small bundles of generosity up to the trail – Trail Magic- moving beyond thoughts and ideas towards simple and profound acts.
Some nitty-gritty details: You don’t have to be a performer or sculptor to join in, just be a willing adventurer, curious and creative! I am most happy as an artist when on shaky ground trying something new, and learning to use it as new vocabulary. This will be exploratory for all of us! Join in! Sign up here with the Frye Art Museum!
You do need to have some experience with camping and some experience with day hiking. If you have never done either, this might not be the project for you. We will be going on several day hikes; you need to be capable of going round trip 5 miles easily, carrying a pack of what you need for the day, including your headdress. When we hike the PCT 4 miles, we’ll also be carrying up the ‘Trail Magic”. I have hiked all the trails we will be going on, they are relatively easy but with some up-hill and down hill, and they are very well marked and well cared for being so close to the Pass. I am not a wilderness guide, so we will all be responsible for our own needs. Once you register, we’ll supply a list of what you will need for camping as well as the class. But please don’t hesitate to send me messages with any questions! The folks at the Frye’s Public Programs can answer registration questions, including how to get credit for this class from SPU.
With the camping, we will be at the group site of Denny Creek Campground, which has water, a pit toilet at our site, a regular bathroom a few minutes walk away, fire-pit and two grills, and even an electrical outlet. It is drive-up! (no back-packing tents!) No showers, but I found a quick dip in the cold river a few minutes walk away to be quite refreshing! With this workshop potentially having up to 12 people, participants will need to be okay with sharing space, potentially sharing a tent with one other person, and carpooling. The site will not accommodate 12 cars. We’ll also need to car-pool to the PCT trail head, 3 miles from the campsite. All those details we will figure out as a group, but should not come as a surprise as you register. Also all camping equipment, hiking equipment and food is supplied by you, but we will talk as a group about sharing things like cook-stoves and all that stuff, so if you need to share, we’ll make it happen through self-organizing with the other participants. It will be a wonderful time!