Weaving Together the Many Elements

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Woodcut Print by Antonio Frasconi, Cover for Fully Empowered /Poems by Pablo Neruda

I rarely have the time and distance to reflect on the many threads of human and natural history woven together during public art projects that I design.  This is especially true during the Poetry of the Wild projects which are now in their thirteenth year. This month, a fine and expansive article on Poetry of the Wild written by Professor Suzanne MacAulay appeared in the Journal of Literature and Art Studies. The article is titled Communities and the Poetic Imaginary: A Folklore Essay on the Poetry of the Wild Project.  I am very grateful to Dr MacAulay for giving me that long view, she knows the project well from being one of the patrons when it was installed in Colorado Springs in 2006, to studying it as an art historian and folklorist. In the article she identifies many of the cultural parameters addressed by Poetry of the Wild including, environmental aesthetics, cultural identity, poetic sensibilities, communal creative actions, and sense of place. Reading Dr MacAulay’s analysis confirms the value of orchestrating creative platforms for communities to connect with their places in a reflective, affirming, and tactile manner. She also reminds us that at the core of Poetry of the Wild’s philosophy is creating an excuse to walk and reflect by having to go out and find the poetry boxes. Too often in our contemporary culture our engagement with the natural landscape is replaced by the virtual landscape. This project reminds communities of the simple and transformative powers of walking.

This month I also began the book project for Poetry of the Wild. Its time to bring together the many voices of place that I’ve been so fortunate to work with and learn from. Curating the history, poems, and artwork from this project will generate its own new challenges, long walks will undoubtedly help me in unraveling the thoughts and shaping the book.

Paris 2015/ Ego or Eco

Study for chair forest by Ana Flores/15

The Paris climate talks this week includes representatives from over 200 nations. We are watching closely because there is much at stake. It’s a very positive change that the format for the conference outcomes is structured around each nation proposing their own climate change strategies- with financial and technological help where necessary– and not a top down dictate of what has to be done. This hasn’t worked for the past 20 conferences– no one likes to be told what has to done.

If this brings changes another strategy for a new conference format would be to have open air meetings: sitting in a forest, by a river, by a shoreline, so that the planet could be present and have a voice. Being imbedded in the natural world would moderate all those human egos that surface in windowless conference spaces. The representatives might be reminded of their larger eco-selves.

7KPvFwS We’ve all been to conferences that go on for a days and each day there is less and less oxygen in the room. Too many people have come a long way to state their business and all those egos will want to have their say until there is no air left.  All those emissions from debating and jet travel will add up to more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Maybe during the next climate change conference they’ll invite the planet in to speak. Nevertheless the planet is speaking and there is nothing stopping each of us from listening wherever we are.

 

 

 

 

 

Aloft

A gracious letter from Cuban art collector and friend Ron Brasch recently arrived including a catalog of his collection which I’m in. The image on the front brought to mind a very short and marvelous story by Eduardo Galeano called “The World”. The piece on the cover is by Ernesto Rancaño, who works in Cuba.

ron jHere is the story:    The World

A man from the town of Neguá, on the coast of Colombia, could climb into the sky.

On his return, he described his trip. He told how he had contemplated human life from on high. He said we are a sea of tiny flames.

“The world,” he revealed, “is a heap of people, a sea of tiny flames.”

Each person shines with his or her own light. No two flames are alike. There are big flames and little flames, flames of every color. Some  people’s flames are so still they don’t even flicker in the wind, while others have wild flames that fill the air with sparks. Some foolish flames neither burn nor shed light, but others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking, and if you approach you shine in fire.

Recent news from my friends and patrons who blaze with life…

1. Cuban Art from the Ron and Una Brasch Collection: Spreading its Wings, Colorado Springs Museum of Fine Arts, Oct 3rd- Feb 21,2016,

The show includes two of my pieces: Black Madonna and Soul of Exile

2. Networks 2015 Artist Video Portraits Airing on PBS Dec 20, 6:00—7:00 p.m. and December 27, 6:00—7:00 p.m. ( check RI PBS website)

On Nov 1st the videos created by Richard Goulis premiered to a full house at the RISD Musuem. Richard did a wonderful job of capturing complex lives and working processes in just 8 minutes. I was honored to be among the artists featured including: David Allyn, Jillian Barber, Deborah Baronas, Peter Diepenbrock, Gretchen Dow Simpson, Jerold Ehrlich, David Frazer, Paul Housberg, Barbara Owen, Lisa Perez, and Richard Whitten.  The NetWorks project is supported and produced by the magnanimous Joseph A. Chazan, M.D. who believes in the importance of documenting, celebrating, and fostering  the rich and diverse contemporary visual arts community in Rhode Island. To view previously released NetWorks video portraits, visit https://www.youtube.com/user/NetWorksProject2008

Lost Terrains

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Homage to Cuban Woman by Ana Flores

When you lose something as sweeping as your country you grasp for remnants– old family photographs, a cracked tea cup, a piece of jewelry. These fragments remind you of where you came from and who you once were, then you move on– you must. But this lost terrain stays in you like compost. Unexpectedly the smell of jasmine in the steamy evening breeze  will bring you back home – to Vietnam, to Louisiana, or in my case, Cuba.  

You can recapture the taste of the lost earth by cooking the food of your motherland, drinking its aromatic coffee or wine, eating its ripened fruit . Spoonful by spoonful you are transported back – if only for a few fleeting moments. All it takes is a good cup of cafe con leche or home made black beans for the forgotten island to expand inside me. I close my eyes and see the royal palms dancing and smell the sea. The French have a word for this taste of a condensed ecology, they call it terroir. It’s a word commonly used to describe the taste of place to be savored in a good wine. I embrace the larger concept of that word which is how the fullness of a particular place can be powerfully conjured by smell and taste. 

June 7, 2014 - Mediterranean Sea / Italy: Italian navy rescues asylum seekers traveling by boat off the coast of Africa. More than 2,000 migrants jammed in 25 boats arrived in Italy June 12, ending an international operation to rescue asylum seekers traveling from Libya. They were taken to three Italian ports and likely to be transferred to refugee centers inland. Hundreds of women and dozens of babies, were rescued by the frigate FREMM Bergamini as part of the Italian navy's "Mare Nostrum" operation, launched last year after two boats sank and more than 400 drowned. Favorable weather is encouraging thousands of migrants from Syria, Eritrea and other sub-Saharan countries to arrive on the Italian coast in the coming days. Cost of passage is in the 2,500 Euros range for Africans and 3,500 for Middle Easterners, per person. Over 50,000 migrants have landed Italy in 2014. Many thousands are in Libya waiting to make the crossing. (Massimo Sestini/Polaris)
Mediterranean Sea / Italy: Italian navy rescues Rohingya asylum seekers

This last year I have been thinking a lot about the concept of terroir as a coping mechanism for displacement while working on a public art project to honor and collect Rhode Island Latino immigrant stories. The project called Cafe Recuerdos and commissioned by RI Latino Arts features how coffee can be a memory catalyst for where we came from as well as a ritual to settle us into our new homes. The project is built as a functional coffee cart including portraits and vignettes inspired by oral histories published in Nuestros Raicesbook by Marta Martinez. Cafe Recuerdos will soon be visiting many public sites in Rhode Island and collecting new stories.

Its creation has happened during a time when there is an unprecedented number of refugees globally. Every day on the news I hear tragic tales of desperate people fleeing their home because of war, conflict, economics and environmental disasters. Unesco numbers tell us nearly 60 million people are displaced, in 2014 alone 14 million fled their homes. Many of those millions may never really resettle. There are refugee camps that have residents who have been in limbo for twenty years.

I ask myself what will the long term coping mechanisms be for these people and what can we do to help? With our shrinking resources on our planet and exponential growth of the human population will our sense of place reduce down to scratch smell patches or a taste of something out of a bottle or can? There are no easy answers but then I pause and think haven’t the most successful immigrants always been those who let go of those lost terrains, adapt to their new locales and bring back that lost earth in condensed experiences.  

I’ll be eager to hear the stories collected through Cafe Recuerdos and learn from those.The project launches with an artist talk and viewing on August 15th at the South side Cultural Center in Providence. Click here for more on that and the 2015 schedule for Cafe Recuerdos.

How fast does bamboo grow?

Upcoming Events and a few notes from a recent trip to South East Asia

Dec 7th, Gallery Talk at the Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, Ma

Jan 8-13 2015 Poetry of the Wild/ Tubac Arizona residency begins.  I’m going out to work with the Tubac Center of the Arts and numerous other partners including birding and poetry groups as well as the Anza trail commission. I’m delighted to have an opportunity to explore the fascinating desert landscape on the border with Mexico and the area’s Spanish American history. The project will be installed by March 7th after a second trip out.

Jan 20- 25 2015 Poetry of the Wild/Block Island Upon return from the Southwest I’ll ferry into Block Island to begin work with the dynamic Block Island Poetry Project.Artists, poets, students and other participants will help create the poetry boxes and trail that will open in time for the April workshop. BIPP gathers outstanding poets and poetry lovers from across the country during poetry month, this is their 11th year. Poetry of the Wild will open up the entire island to poetic musings.

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Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov. 1 During the first two weeks of Nov. I was touring through Vietnam and Cambodia, here are early journal notes and photos. Street traffic is an exercise in swarm intelligence which miraculously parts for determined pedestrians. To cross one must let go of the Western models of stop signs and traffic lights and go with the “flow”. The drivers seem to have extended antennae that allows them to swerve at a moments notice and avoid pile ups. Your urban footprint is defined by the moped you own, how much you can carry on it,how far it can take you and where you can park it. Most drivers wear masks because of the problems with pollution, what will happen if they all start converting to cars?

At 5 am loud speakers throughout Hanoi wake up the populace announcing national news like the result of the rice harvest or local news like required vaccinations, they also signal the beginning of fitness time. The elders– I saw no one younger than 30– gets out to exercise by joining an outdoor tai chi class, zumba dance class, or bringing out their bar bells. People do their own thing or join group activities. I saw groups bring out badminton nets that seem to perfectly fit across the wide sidewalks of the urban boulevards. They looked like they’d been playing together for a long time.  At 7 am the city transforms back and its all business. Business is full of the new and old, the Apple store has the latest gadgets and a shrine for the good business god, including little green apples.

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Everywhere I looked I saw a great diversity of bamboo growing. The Vietnamese use it for architecture, for food, for art, it has even been used as for weaponry, The bamboo spirit of growth and resurgence seems to in the very soul of the people; the country has surged upward and grown past the great wounds of the American war. Now they have to maneuver into a sustainable future keeping that spirit. One contemporary Vietnamese architect that embodies it is Vo Trong Nghia. I need to take a trip back just to follow some of his projects.

More on the past, the temples, and Cambodia soon.