Friday, December 23, 2016

PLAYA ... a winter return to paradise.

(Above:  The frozen pond at PLAYA, an art residency in the remote Oregon Outback.  Click on almost every image for an enlargement.)

It's been several weeks since I last blogged ... because I was fortunate enough to return to PLAYA, an art residency in the remote Oregon Outback.  I'd spent October 2015 in this magical place and wanted to return in another season ... especially in winter!  The atmospheric change didn't disappoint!  A fairy-tale setting awaited me.  I was productive too!

(Above:  The first four fiber vessels made during my two-week residency.)

I knew that returning to PLAYA would be very different and I tried to capitalize on that knowledge ... but I also didn't want to artistically deviate from the activities that made my first experience so meaningful.  My returning proposal called for work relating to the Western flicker.  Why?  Well, on my third day at PLAYA in October 2015, I found an injured male flicker, watched it die, and buried it ... not removing a single feather because they are migratory birds.  (It's illegal to harvest feathers from migratory birds.)  While it died, I promised that it's death would not be in vain; I'd make art out of the experience.  I did.  I mounted a solo show at Anastasia & Friends Gallery in February.  (CLICK HERE to see a blog post on the exhibit and/or CLICK HERE to see a video made by Barry Wheeler and John Allen that accompanied the show.)

(Above:  Some of the thirty fiber vessels made during my recent residency at PLAYA.)

My returning applications were submitted for two different residencies.  I would really have loved to come during a July Climate Change residency for artists and scientists.  Had I been accepted, I would have created work based on the migratory paths of the Western Flicker.  Unfortunately, I wasn't selected for this experience ... but I did get the December residency and I came prepared ... with a twist on my original flicker-inspired intentions.  I came back to see what remained of my dead flicker ... what experience could I have by digging it up?  Would it still be there? Under the tree? Could I find the skull?  What other artwork could my dead flicker inspire?

I brought Sally Mann's memoir, Hold Still. (I read it passionately!)  I'd already read her book What Remains, a book containing images "of the remains of a beloved family dog and the corpses at a forensic lab" which were "given equal emotional weight." (quote from Publisher's Weekly).  In fact, Steve and I had gone to the Corcoran Gallery in 2003 and seen the exhibition featuring images of Eva's tanned hide and skeletal remains.  (Eva is/was the dead pet greyhound.)

(Above:  My "traveling Bernina" and a fiber vessel under construction in front of the cabin's view to the frozen playa.)

At first (back in 2003), I didn't appreciate Sally Mann's newer work, but I've never been able to get it out of my mind.  I guess that's because my association/fascination with mortality is much the same.  Also, I'm not in the least squeamish. Instead, I fearlessly seek out ways to explore the subject.  Digging up my dead flicker was just the newest idea.  Unfortunately, nothing remained beyond a few scraps of the box in which I buried it.  I was a little disappointed ... but it had been fourteen months ...

(Above:  Snow-covered walkway over the frozen pond.)

... and every winter there is a lot of snow melting into the ground, decomposing the things buried there ... filling up the formerly dried, egg-shell cracked shallow lake bed. 

(Above:  The view across the pond to the playa dunes and beyond to the snow-covered mountains.)

Snow!  I've never seen so much virgin snow ... acres and acres of it.  Every day I took much the same walking route as I'd done in October 2015 ... across the pond and down onto the playa.

I walked this path before dawn every morning and again during the late afternoon ... and frequently by moonlight.

In October 2015, I created a stone spiral formation.  An image of it is still my computer's screen saver, but I wasn't really supposed to do this.  Such creative gestures really do mar the natural landscape.  During the last week, I totally dismantled it.  This time, however, I simply walked in the mud ...

... or in the snow ... my spiral path.  It was marvelous!

Eventually, there will be enough snow to fill the shallow lake bed.  Yet, in December the water is only on the rise.  I had to walk quite far out to see the ice.  (When warmer, it is way too muddy to cover this distance ... even in rubber boots!)

One morning found me at the edge of the water ... where I could walk on the frozen soil and release the water just beneath.  It was pretty cool!

Every day seemed to be different.

Every dawn was amazing ...

... especially watching the sun's descent on the distant mountains as it rose in the east.  I've never seen such glow!

I was rarely the only soul on the playa.  Coyotes could be heard nearly every evening and their pawprints found in the morning.  Yet, my flicker-inspired hopes were dwindling even as I stitched thirty fiber vessels during my stay.  Yet, each fiber vessel really was a lesson from the flicker.  Back in October 2015 I thought that these vessels needed to be conceptually charged.  Alone, I thought they were too ordinary, too plain, too much like a functional work and not enough like a "real piece of art".  The dead flicker, however, taught me that my fiber vessels were perfectly alright just as they were.  When I select the colors, the closeness of the stitches, and the shape ... that's art.  Each one has been created from discarded yarn.  Each retains a little of the aura from whoever once owned the yarn ... and from whatever was once inside.  My flicker vessels once held a beautiful bird.  The new vessels will always retain a little of the magical view from the place where I made them.  I thought this would be enough ... but then something happened. 

(Above:  Snow on the roof ... in low 40s temperatures ... gradually melting and sliding lower ... until crashing onto the wooden deck.)

On my last Wednesday at PLAYA, it snowed all morning ... a foot or more!  By early afternoon, however, the temperatures were rising into the low 40s.  It sounded as if it were raining ... so much melting snow.  Every hour or so, there would be a loud crash as another bank of heavy snow fell from one of the roofs.  Not long after I took this photo of Sarah Brook's cabin (which was right next to mine), the snow fell.  (Sarah is a talented installation artist based in NYC.  We had several meaningful conversations about art, life, and residencies.)  To a California quail, this must have been an avalanche ... and it killed one poor male that was in the way.  Sarah alerted me at once.

(Above:  My dead California quail in one of my fiber vessels.)

Back in October 2015, I sadly watched the poor, injured flicker die.  There was nothing I could do about the fact that its life was ending.  It was a very mournful experience.  The quail, however, died instantly ... and out of anyone's sight, especially mine.  For some reason, this made the experience of having him in my hands, my fiber vessel, and being photographed quite wonderful.  It really seemed to bring my cycle of inspiration full circle. 
I photographed him in several positions and on the virgin show ...

... and buried him in the same spot that once held the flicker.  Like the flicker, he was beautiful ... more lovely than I thought while watching others scamper around the ground foraging for food.  Within a year, nothing will physically remain but something of the experience will stay with me.  The land will be richer; my artwork was also nourished; the images will take on a new life.  My residency was fulfilled in ways I couldn't have imagined.

(Above:  Me holding my dead quail. Photo by the talented poet Jill McCabe Johnson.)

 I'm so happy that I had the opportunity to return to the Oregon Outback.  I truly love the isolation, the solitary time, and especially the closeness to the harsh but beautiful natural environment that changed every day.  I could never grow tired of the dawns, the landscape, and the quietness.

In the meantime, my rental car looked like this.  Steve was supposed to fly into the Redmond Airport on Wednesday night.  I was supposed to pick him up early on Thursday morning and get him to Summer Lakes Hot Springs where we would spend the weekend.  (My residency ended early on Friday morning.)  The record snowfall destroyed this plan.  Redmond Airport closed.  He could only fly into Portland. I spent Thursday traveling over very dangerous, snow-covered mountain roads driving six hours to and six hours from Portland!  It was an adventure!  Thank goodness I learned to drive during the winter of 1975 in western Pennsylvania and took my driver's exam in the middle of a blizzard ... as the rental car didn't have chains or transition tires (which flashing yellow caution lights said were "required") but I did have front-wheel drive!

(Above:  Steve beside the cabin we rented at Summer Lake Hot Springs.)

Steve and I had a fabulous weekend together.  I got to share the landscape, the magic of the Oregon Outback.

(Above:  Steve beside the building in which the hot springs pool is located.)

We also got plenty of time in the geothermal waters of the hot springs.  It was like stepping back in time to an era where weary travelers and hard-working cowboys came to relax in an amazing pool of hot water ... likely more hot water than any had ever thought possible. 

On Saturday, we drove into Bend, Oregon to ship back my sewing machine and artwork ... and to go to the High Desert Museum.  The museum was fabulous.  We took a guided tour, saw an exhibit of Ansel Adams' photographs, and saw two, male river otters enjoy three pounds each of baby salmon.  Otters are ADORABLE!

I look dozens of photos ... but otters are also very, very fast.  Most were blurry!

Below are a few more images from my walks at PLAYA, a magical place in an ever changing, wild environment that to me felt more like "home" than anywhere else in the world.

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artwork.


Margaret said...

Thanks for sharing another wonderful adventure. Oh...and that second-last photo? Could be Southern Alberta... ;-)


Jenny K. Lyon said...

What a beautiful post and experience!

Gwyned Trefethen said...

What's second best to your residency at Playa? Reading your post about it. You bring such poignancy and depth to the experience. It is fascinating to see the spirals and cycles throughout. The deaths of two birds, the coils which make up your vessels/nests and even the spiral in the snow. Living in Appleton, Wisconsin I could relate to the frozen tundra vista.

Wanda said...

I really felt the power and awe you feel there. The photographs are outstanding and yet, I know they can't capture it all. But they capture enough so that, looking at them, I can almost smell the air. And the snow!!! How wonderful! Snow energizes and excited me. Too bad we haven't had any this year nor much in the past couple of years.