Yellow with brown marks
Camouflaged, still, and waiting
The first Saturday of every November is usually the day of the Austin Powwow, which I have attended every year since the early 2000’s. I go to honor my Native American ancestors and to support the culture. I go to see other people, especially with Cherokee and Choctaw blood, in one place. I go to feel the drums and voices. They vibrate in my very core, so I am moved to dance near them during the All Tribes Blanket Dance. It’s fitting that it’s the same weekend of Halloween/Samhain and Dia de los Muertos, other days for honoring ancestors and recognizing the spirit world. So when a dancer from my graduate school art program in Berlin, Claire Elizabeth Barratt ( http://www.cillavee.com/cillavee.html ) asked me if I wanted to collaborate that weekend when she was traveling through on her dance performance tour, I said yes, but the event would have to pay homage to those traditions that I would be missing out on celebrating as I normally do. We had worked together before, with me on video and her dance, but I am a dancer as well, so planned to do both…
I wanted the event to be interactive. Being from Texas, where Mexican culture permeates our state with color and flavor, I thought of ofrenda (offering alters). I also lived in Thailand for two years, so naturally I thought of Thai spirit houses, which are in front of all businesses and homes to offer recognition and thanks to the previous inhabitants of that particular piece of land. Things that are included in these are photos or statuettes of people or animals, flowers, incense, food, and other objects which symbolize things they enjoyed. I decided to make a spirit house from fallen sticks in our yard woven together with mustang grapevines growing along our fence. My boyfriend Todd and I had almost finished it at this point:
A Wiccan friend of mine had a gathering for Samhain where everyone held hands under the moonlight and talked about those who they missed. I found it to be a cathartic experience to vocalize my appreciation and love for my great-grandmother who had died recently. I was unable to attend her funeral, but this somehow seemed far more meaningful than any funerals I have gone to. So, I wanted my guests to share stories about their loved ones who have passed away and to bring something to place in the spirit house. Thanks were given to the memories of hands making tortillas that inspired the love of drumming, the tragic loss of a dear cousin to the heroine epidemic, and of the talents and good qualities passed down from ancestors. Things guests brought were photos, a pet cat collar, a drawing done by a dear aunt, and a piece of jewelry given as a gift. Everyone took their mementos home that night, but here’s the spirit house with Todd and mine mementos still on it.
Most people who have lived in Austin for a long time are true music lovers. The wire tree that the spirit house sits on was inspired by the massive escarpment oak behind Central Market. The long limbs are made of wire twisted with guitar, mandolin, and sitar strings strung with an eclectic array of beads that I’ve collected from around the world. Most of the musicians I know in town are paid performers, so aren’t available or interested in playing for other reasons. Luckily, I found out from my coworker, Audra Tillman, that she and her teammate Michael Lopez, are community percussionists, meaning they regularly attend drum circles for enjoyment and/or healing ceremonies such as sweat lodges. I was planning to create a studio piece playing from speakers for the dance performance part of our event, but they generously agreed to drum for it instead. Michael has a large collection of percussion instruments and agreed to bring extras so that guests could join in. He brought several including an ocean drum, heard in the Water (Summoning) video below and a thunder stick, heard in the Fire (Magnetism) video. This way there would be full audience participation from the spirit house gathering to the performance. I had loosely planned arrangements for the music and during our first practice, another drummer, Bob Collier, let me know that his friend Robert Bingham, a seasoned Native American flute player, would be joining us.
Finally, I wanted to do the performance under the massive Pecan Tree in our side yard. Full with growing pecans, it’s branches drooped to the ground like an escarpment oak. It’s far reaching arm extended in the perfect spot in the grassy performance space and was at the perfect height for the billowing fabric. The veil between the earth dimension and those beyond it is said to be thin at that time of year, so our ceremonial dance used that symbolism in its props.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Another tree gave of itself for material for our drapery. I wanted to a braid willow ring like I have for dreamcatchers, but that willow was from Wisconsin. It is too hot for willow to grow easily here. There is a water reservoir next to my workplace, though and a big storm brought a few large sections of it down to the ground. I carried it home and Todd and I wove it into a ring to hang the mesh from. On the night of the gathering, the weather was absolutely perfect. The temp was just right with a slight breeze to ripple the veil~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Below is a collection of videos and photos taken on various cameras, some during the performance, some reinactments and constructions. As much as I wish I had a full video of that night, I really wanted the attendees to enjoy themselves by participating with instruments rather than documenting. I also didn’t want to inject a roaming camera person and special lighting into the performance space. Still, thanks to shutterbug enthusiasts Raphael Umscheid, Todd Rychener, and myself, there is enough documentation to share the story in an A/V format. Additional thanks to guests who attended, improvised with instruments, and shared stories at the Spirit House: Jodi Brooks, Scott Jones, Ayanna Spears, Gil, Emily Summerfield, and Jeremy Simon. If we decide to do this again next year, I will definitely make sure to get photos of guests.
Before Claire arrived, I had designed four movements from 1) airy/abstract choreography and music transitioning into 2) watery movements, symbolic of summoning, followed by 3) the percussionists creating a circle of sound by playing from left-center-right as a video of silhouettes walking in a loop would be projected onto the curtain (https://vimeo.com/311101181). After whirling around in the round, Claire’s character, The Medium and I, Walker Between Worlds, would finally sense each other between the thin veil…our hands magnetized to each other. 4) The last movement was to embody the material plane with a deliberate dance rhythm and African-inspired action as the Medium pulled me out from behind the veil, removed my pale cloak and handed me a drum to play as I beckoned the guests to the Spirit House altar.
After Claire arrived, she added the missing pieces that would tie the story together by adding distinct characterization of her part as Medium. She would be Animal as Medium and wear her cat suit as she did the magic of the natural world. She also brought beautiful flowing fabrics to dance with that made it clear through visual queues of how the fabric was activated, and which color it was, that it represented one of the four elements.
With no further ado************************************
Water (Summoning and Hypnotism)
It almost felt like the tree giving thanks for us honoring it when we harvested three big grocery bags full of plump and tasty pecans this winter.
Even the shadows
at twilight couldn’t conceal
ripe pawpaw from me
Relentless screeching to mom,
“Gimme more bugs! MORE!”
Sparrow on one arm
Mockingbird on the other
Weathered wooden chair
chirping near window
What kind of night bird is that?
Wait! That’s a frog song.
wings spread, slender neck
curves slowly down then straightens
graceful heron dance
duck swims at high speed
frantic flapping and quacking
paddling bird dog chase
flew through window wings brush wrist
Granna died today
winds build to a gale
foam caresses stone shorelines
birds hover like kites
smell, taste, and hear snow
winter’s blood, water’s sleep dance
All images copyright © 2014 by Stephanie Reid
Click any image below to enlarge
To view the area from a different angle, take a walk on the Chelsea High Line, an elevated railroad track that has been converted into a boardwalk and garden.
If you’re a foodie, be sure to check out the Chelsea Market which holds a wide array of gourmet restaurants, a fresh spice vendor, books, and sometimes an arts and crafts bazaar inside a beautifully restored National Biscuit Company factory. This is also where The Food Network has its offices.
Also recommended is the cozy Co Pane pizza serving 17 unique, wood-fired combos.
Fashionistas! Check out the Comme des Garçons shop. It’s like being in a toyshop elf’s closet. Besides pointy shoes, apparel becomes outrageously fun wearable sculpture in here.
Chelsea Gallery Tour Favs:
Murray Guy Gallery, Lucy Skaer’s exhibit Sticks and Stones takes two forms cut from a dissected mahogany tree and duplicates each in a variety of materials. This successful interpretation of belonging to a group with similarities while retaining individuality gives new, exciting meaning to sculpture.
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Peggy Preheim’s exhibit Archipelago combines nostalgic pencil drawings of people in found photos with pressed leaves or other natural materials such as feathers and fur. The delicate illustrations ask us to imagine stories of interaction between gentle humans and nature.
Gagosian Gallery, Takashi Murakami’s exhibit In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow is exhilarating in its scale and use of cutting edge materials. Taking queue, as Murakami does, from graphic design precious metals sheets are embossed with skulls then over painted with acrylic landscapes and characters straight from a comic book and screened designs of acidic suns. Thick glossy lacquers embedded with glitter enhance the dimensional quality of the works where mandalas of Buddhist masters beckon neophytes to walk the thin line between the land of living and dead, their insane gestures and eyes give warning of what we will experience there. Gigantic guardian sculptures guard the gates of Nirvana and fight those who try to enter before they are well prepared. The gorgeous scent of ancient wood permeates the front gallery which is entered through a replica of a shinto shrine.
303 Gallery, Mike Nelson’s exhibit Gang of Seven takes found objects collected on his tour of the west coast of the United States and Canada and turns them into imaginative and sometimes disturbing sculpture.
During the winter residency for my grad school MFA program, I had the pleasure of visiting several places that I love in New York. In this post, I will share some of the highlights of my first stop, the Museum of Modern Art.
*Henri Matisse Cutouts show. Excellent curation. For those of you are less familiar with art history, the painter Matisse became disabled as he aged and was confined to a wheelchair. This was when he produced a new phase of works from collaged paper cutouts. With the help of his lovely assistants, he was able to create monumental murals and even chapel stained glass designs.
Enter the exhibit: A room of playful works commissioned by Verve Magazine. The circus themes and flowing shapes of the Icarus myth are prevalent. A quote from the artist elucidates his experience making those cutouts, “You have no idea how, during the cutout paper period, the sensation of flight which emanated forms helped me better to adjust my hand when it used scissors…It’s a kind of linear and graphic equivalence to the sensation of flight.”
Next: A room meant to mimic his studio with mockups, paper samples, and photos of him, scissors in hand surrounded by scraps of paper which had fallen to the ground – negative spaces of shapes he had cut. Two long walls hold examples of his “Oceania” series which were printed into wallpaper – sandy beige backgrounds with all white cutouts of seagulls, flora and fauna of the waters.
A darker room: Watch a film of Matisse working with an assistant to design vestments (cloaks) for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. Stained glass sections are lit from behind. *In the gift shop I purchased holiday cards with tinted acetate covers to look like one the chapel windows maquettes, La Nuit de Noël (Christmas Night).
The monumental works: The highlights in the last few rooms are works inspired by Islamic art such as Large Decoration with Masks which is approximately 11′ x 32′. You will also see the joyful, immersive work The Parakeet and the Mermaid, which is approximately 11’ x 25’ and meant to give the sensation of being in a garden. It was completed towards the end of his life when he was no longer to enjoy his own garden as he once had.
Souvenir: Amongst prints and lengthy books about the artist’s life and career, I found a gem produced by MoMa who commissioned a cutout artist to create illustrations about Matisse and his inspiration from nature and his garden. By printing it on matte surface paper, the book better represents his cutouts, especially in the bonus gatefold pages of his works.
*In the contemporary art gallery, adjacent the Matisse Cutouts, I discovered a contemporary artist whose work I would like to share here. Her name is Kerstin Brätsch. These works are large scale oil on paper:
*A choice selection from the permanent collection of modern masters was on display. They are hard to capture in photos, especially when they are behind glass and A Starry Night and The Persistence of Memory are now. Sadly, some of the life has been sucked out of them by this addition, which was not there the last time I saw those pieces on tour. I was not in awe of the vortex pulling me in as I had been when Van Gogh’s masterpiece was on view in Houston. This is what happens when people insist on touching the art or using flash! Luckily the Guggenheim had some of his work out (sans glass) and I got a taste of that vibrance on this visit. Less famous, but not less important than the above mentioned paintings, my favorite Matisse oil, Goldfish and Palette, was on view as a nice counterpart to the cutouts exhibit. Other pieces I adore by Léger, Brancusi (Mademoiselle Pogany sculpture below), Cornell, Picasso, and Klimt were present as well.
*In the design section, Tomáš Gabzdil Libertinya presented a vessel slowly made by bees using a “vase-shaped scaffold” for a beehive which was removed to reveal the waxen vase seen here:
*Another special exhibit was a retrospective, entitled The Heart is Not a Metaphor, of the sculptor Robert Gober‘s work. Seemingly irreverent with its wallpaper of penis and vagina line art, other rooms papered like a fall forest scene with objects protruding out of wax torsos and crotches coming out from the bottoms of walls , and the like, his work has a serious tone which requires us to think of domesticity, sexuality, and religion more closely. Within the vast, sparse rooms, I felt less claustrophobic than I normally do when thinking of a permanent home. Sexuality felt like an ordinary and mundane activity that might take a turn for the bizarre if one becomes too familiar with it. A sinister underbelly is exposed inside of a fireplace full of girls disembodies legs, pink Mary Jane shoes and bobby socks intact. A nearby installation of a large vintage suitcase had its bottom cutout to accommodate a sewage grate installed into the gallery floor where below a softly lit scene of rocks and water plants swayed in flowing water and bubbles. This somehow lessened the blow of the previous difficult subject matter by offering an escape for the mind before exiting the show. The denouement of his story played out gently with an easy chair covered in custom designed fabric of pink, yellow, and blue florals and birds and other digestible fare.
*Soul of the Underground, an exhibit featuring works by Jean DuBuffet, contained prints, paintings, and sculptures made from dirt, sticks, aluminum foil, grass, and other common materials used in unexpected ways to evoke gritty, playful, and sometimes shamanistic imagery as antithesis of la bourgeoisie. In the third image below, Landscape with Bulldog, random objects were inked, pressed, and then reassembled to create the final composition.
*Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949 reminded me of the fun and experimentation I had when I started taking black and white photos in the 80’s. The surprise revealed on paper in the darkroom is unparalleled by digital photography and I look forward to working in one again someday. At the height of film photography we can see here that playing with light, shadow, form, and perspective are emphasized when color is taken out of the equation. The luxurious platinum, palladium, and silver surfaces reminded me of a treasure box. This is truly an art form that has been lost, but many young people are recognizing this and word has it that shuttered analog photo departments are being revived around the country. This news has helped relieve some of my melancholy around the matter. For a virtual tour, visit the MoMa page below:
*Finally, I would like to give mention to the Making Music Modern: Design for Ear and Eye section which showcased vintage stereo equipment, posters, and album art. Especially inspiring to me is this print by Koichi Sato for New Music Media and this stereo with swinging, detachable speakers by artist Mario Bellini and Manufactured by Brionvega S.p.A., Italy.
*To see what is on showing at MoMa for during your next visit to Manhattan, check their calendar: