Markers of Time March 15, 2014 No Comments

close up of the Cornelius Mandala--Markers of our LIves--photo David Borack

close up of the Cornelius Mandala–Markers of our LIves–photo David Borack

I have a lot of bottle caps and jar lids.  A LOT.  I stopped even attempting to keep track at around 100,000 or so.  10 or so friends and family collected them for me for about 10 years.  I stopped when I could not store any more.  Clearly I had enough to tell the story, paint the picture.

I spent last week at the Art Center in Cornelius, NC, working with the community to make a mandala out of some of them. Over the past decade, I have used and reused these caps making other mandalas.  That said, each time is a new time, each community coming together in its own unique way.

The process begins at my home where I drag out boxes and bins of caps from under tables, from my front porch and from the shed down the street, picking and sorting which colors and types of lids to bring.  When I arrived last Tuesday, Jen Crickenberger and her staff quickly and efficiently unloaded my truck. We conferred about traffic flow in the gallery and what her thoughts on the size and form might be.  Within 20 minutes of my arrival we were at work–measuring and gridding the space and just as quickly counting and stacking caps. Volunteers began dropping in to help.  One man, Shay, a scientist who had recently immigrated from Nigeria, came every afternoon like clockwork.  On Thursday we had students from 2 different elementary schools in the area working on the mandala.

These mandalas are projects of many pieces—containing from 10 to 50  thousand lids and caps.  Coke caps, pickle lids, beer caps, plastic caps in many colors from milk bottles.  Lids from juice bottles, lids from salsa, applesauce, peanut butter and jam jars.  The lids truly are markers of our lives.  They are records of consumption, this consumption necessary for our very survival.  They represent sustenance, yet sustenance processed, one step removed from the ground from which it came.  The first glass canning jars were invented in 1858, coincidentally the same year as the can opener was patented by Ezra Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut.  Both of these items marked the beginning of mass processing and storage of food and we have not looked back for a minute as the caps in my mandalas profess.  Each cap is a mark of food eaten, something packaged, purchased and then consumed.

People think that a lot of people helped me in collecting these caps, but that is not necessarily true. It was the consistency of the collection that gave me the quantity I now have. Personally I buy a glass container of milk every week. Here is the math– 52 navy blue milk lids per year which multiplies to 520 in ten years. One person, one item for ten years. Those blue caps are only the tip of my own personal iceberg of consumption. Like Friday followed Robinson Crusoe on his island my carbon footprint follows me.

5th graders working on the mandala

5th graders working on the mandala- photo Jen Crickenberger

 

“Markers of Our Lives” A community Mandala will be on display at the Cornelius Art Center through April 30, 2014. Special thanks goes to Jen Crickenberger and her hard working staff–Jake, Nicole and Suzanne. Thanks also to the town of Cornelius for believing in this project and the community for helping to make it.
Click on the link below to watch the week unfold in 39 seconds in a video made by Jen Crickenberger!

Making a mandala at the Cornelius Art Center

The Fox January 29, 2014 No Comments

fox close up

“The size of the place that one becomes

a member of is limited only by

the size of one’s heart.”

Gary Snyder

“Though both the red fox and the gray fox live in North Carolina today, the gray fox is the state’s only native fox species. The gray fox is slightly smaller than the red fox and is much darker in color. The overall coloration is best described as a salt and pepper gray with a dark streak extending down the back and along the top of the tail.” NC Wildlife Resources Commission

THE FOX  Urocyon cinereoargenteus

A grey fox is buried in my back yard.  I live in a city neighborhood with lots of oak trees and a stream at the bottom of the hill.  Ellerbee Creek flows along a bike path which ends at the golf course. A while back I used to see a great blue heron wading there. A bit of forest remains between the last row of houses and the stream. Across this slice of water you can see the backs of all the businesses that line Guess Road, a busy 4 lane road that quickly crosses under I-40 and is the home of many gas stations, convenience stores, motels, hotels, pawn shops and other small business. I heard for a while neighbors were spotting a gray fox down there, but I never saw him.

Last November right after our local elections, my neighbor and newly chosen councilman, Don Moffit (yeah Don!) called me on the phone one afternoon.  “Bryant,” he said, “I was out by the Lemur Center when I saw an animal by the side of the road. I stopped because I thought if might have been an injured lemur, but it was a fox.  Would you like to see him?”  Well of course I would.  Don knows of my interest in wild life and how when I can find the time, I work in my backyard studio making the animals I see around me our of recycled materials. He told me he and his daughter and her friend would be right over. The previous Thanksgiving all of us who were sharing the holiday together took a walk after the main part of dinner and ended up looking at my attempt at making raccoons in my studio.  This was after we had all admired the grey fox that stood on the credenza at Susan and Bob’s. They had come across it by the side of the road while biking out near Hillsborough a year ago and Susan insisted that they should take it to a taxidermist.  Truly, it was a thing of beauty as its beady glass eyes stared down at us as we ate our turkey.  So, for many reasons Don and I had foxes in our history together. Somewhere in the conversation I asked, “Would you like to bury him in my back yard?”  Soon he arrived with a shovel and a fox wrapped in a blue tarp. The two girls were close in attendance. Quickly he dug a hole for the fox. After he nestled the dead animal into the ground and re-covered it with tamped down earth we placed a large garden stone over the grave.

My question is this.  Do we have room in our hearts for wild things?  I am glad I live in a world where foxes forage, where rabbits occasionally show up in my garden and where all the time birds fly above me. I know I am fortunate to have friends who care about these things as well.

Foxes are predators. They catch small rodents and eat them.  Immediately. And then they sleep and mate and do it again.  They do not go to the dentist and are never late. They do not play soccer or drive a car or do anything remotely human and we do not want them to. We want them to be foxes.  The other.  We cannot know them.  We can only be aware of their unfathomable existence in our lives.   Acknowledging the other makes our world bigger, deeper and infinitely more complex.

It takes us out of ourselves. And when we return we are better for it.

snow and animal prints across the fox's stone

snow and animal prints across the fox’s stone

 

 

 

 

NC wild life says: Fox sightings are increasingly common across North Carolina, either because of the abundance of food available to foxes, or because they may have been disturbed from their resting place.

http://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Species/coexistfoxes.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Mr. Duke Thinking? September 25, 2013 No Comments

"Fort Duke" in progress.  Mr. Duke is standing in the center dressed in his recycled plastic bottle cape.  The amazing non-stop architect Todd B is the man in the orange shirt next to the yellow ladder

“Fort Duke” in progress. Mr. Duke is standing in the center dressed in his recycled plastic bottle cape. The amazing non-stop architect Todd B is the man in the orange shirt next to the yellow ladder

Last Friday, on the campus of Duke University in Durham, NC, I made a super hero cape for James B. Duke, himself.  This happened while students built “Fort Duke” out of used move-in boxes in a successful attempt to break a world record.  All of this was a big kick-off for Duke’s Fall Arts Festival with this year’s focus on sustainability.  We worked in front of Duke Chapel on the quad where a statue of James Buchanan Duke presides with cane in one hand, cigar in the other, atop a tall stone plinth.  Under a cloudy sky, over 250 students, staff, and faculty worked all day to make a construction out of over 3,500 cardboard boxes. Architect and Duke instructor, Todd Berreth, designed a structure that was both a fort and a maze.  From the beginning everyone worked together like bees in a hive.  As the day progressed the hum of  activity grew in intensity as the dimensions of the fort increased. Box upon box was assembled, numbered and stacked. The walls grew higher and the paths to the center grew deeper, longer and more convoluted.  Around 6 in the evening a huge cheer rumbled across the quad as the record breaking box was placed on the fort.  It was a race against time and weather with everyone on the same team and in the end, the fort was a joy to behold.  Arwen Buchholz of Duke Recycles told me that it was all unstacked crushed and recycled before 11 that same evening.  Teamwork at its best!  That’s for sure.

Mr. Duke at the beginning of the day

Mr. Duke at the beginning of the day

It was clear that Mr. Duke, who was standing tall in the center of all of this activity should be included in the action.  So under my direction we  made him a shining 20 foot cape of plastic water bottles. Many of  the bottles  said “welcome Duke students, class of 2017.”

Early in the day two graduate students from the Duke School of Engineering came by to lend me a hand. Quickly, one of them asked me.  “So why are you putting a cape of plastic bottles on Mr. Duke?”

Good question, I thought and immediately answered, “It is a recycled cape.  He is our super hero today.”

And then he asked me, “So what is Mr. Duke thinking?”  Another excellent question.

I answered, “Mr. Duke is thinking about sustainability.”

“Okay,” the student answered, “well, let’s get going.”

Mr. Duke, the fort and the chapel

Mr. Duke, the fort and the chapel

James B. Duke was a magnate of tobacco and textiles.  He established the Duke Endowment in 1924 in the name of his father, George Washington Duke.  He was a champion of industry and believed in sharing his wealth for  the greater good.  I like to think that if he could have lived another lifetime, he would have put out his cigar and been an ardent recycler.  Like the university he endowed he would be looking for solutions which would make the world sustainable.

In the words of  the  naturalist, Edmund O. Wilson, “The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.”

Sustainability.  It concerns us all, all of the time, yet how much do we really think about it?  Last Friday over 250 students faculty and staff were doing just that as they worked together.  And I can’t help but hope that all of us involved will continue to do so.  The fort and the cape are gone, yet the community created by their making remains as inspiration.  Sustainability.  It is the biggest challenge we face as we live together on this earth.  We have a lot of work to do.  Paying attention and working together are  key factors here.  Building Fort Duke was fun.  All day ever changing groups of people worked long and hard to make it happen.  The mantra “we can do this” was a palpable undercurrent.

Sustainability wise, I am inspired by what the engineering student said to me  on Friday. “Okay, so let’s get going.”

the cape of over 2000 plastic water bottles

the cape of over 2000 plastic water bottles

The first big wall of the fort

The first big wall of the fort

latest Fort Duke photo, just in, send by Todd the architect.

latest Fort Duke photo, just in–photo credit: Todd  Berreth, the architect.

Home September 1, 2013 2 Comments

 

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS–Pliny the Elder

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.

We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

Joseph Campbell

Moulin a nef  Home of VCCA La Moulin a Nef in the port of Auvillar France. My studio is in the building on the right, in front and looking out on the following green water of    La Garrone River.

View of VCCA Le Moulin a Nef in the port of Auvillar France. My studio is in the building on the right, in front and looking out on the green water of La Garrone River and the bridge over it where the pilgrims cross each day.

Earlier in the week, I drove with some new American friends over many kilometers up and down and in and out and roundabout through the farmlands or rural France.  We were on our way from Auvillar, a village on the Garrone River where I have been living for the past week or so to drop one of them off at a point along the Chemin Des Saint-Jaques (the way of Saint James) where she would walk for several days.  We passed field upon field of sunflowers, soon to be harvested and made into oil.  Occasionally the roads were straight and lined with huge sycamore trees planted by Napoleon during the French Revolution to keep his troops cool as they marched along.  Sometimes the roads were old and patched, mostly they were curved and again and again we passed fields, haystacks and tiny villages on hilltops each with a steeple pointing high in the sky.

sunflowers ready for harvest

sunflowers ready for harvest

Certainly it was all a big adventure.  It has left me grateful for the experience as well as pondering the meaning of home.  Besides being a physical thing, I think “home” is a place I carry within me, in my heart, the very core of who I am.  At present, I have left the town, the friends, the house itself, all that I call home in a very physical sense to visit a new world a continent away.  Here in the midst of a language I do not know, a place I have never been, I am living next to the Garrone River in the port of a small village called Auvillar.  The church down the road a few buildings from me was built in the year 900.  History here is palpable.

Information on a french recycling bin

Information on a french recycling bin

What do I know about where I am?  Certainly, I have seen more sunflowers than I could ever imagine.  I have eaten strawberries sweeter than any I have ever known.  The cheese I have bought–chevre, roquefort and so much more–all of it is food for the gods, as is the local honey.  Bees are everywhere in the flowers which fill the streets.

Just like back home people recycle and are concerned about the environment.  I hear conversations about  how different fruits are late or early depending upon how they were affected by weather that is changing .  In one of my favorite mystery series, centered in Venice, the young daughter of the main character is counting gas miles and eschewing water drunk out of plastic bottles.

We carry our sense of home, our love of it and longing for it with us all the time, and everywhere.  One world, a big world, our world, it is our home.

 

Many thanks to the people of VCCA France, the town of Auvillar, the artists, the merchants, the travelers, the new friends made and the kind people on the streets for loving where they live and sharing it with those of us who are traveling through, on the chemin or as a visitor for a longer time.

tree with sweater made by school children in from of the marketplace of Auvillar

Tree wearing a sweater made by school children in front of the marketplace of Auvillar

The door of the lovely small baroque church of LaChapelle

The door of the lovely small baroque church of LaChapelle

PURIFIED: A River In the Desert June 19, 2013 1 Comment

lead shot
Saturday evening I returned home from Odessa, Texas where I spent last week constructing my newest show, PURIFIED: A River In The Desert.  This installation, at the Ellen Noel Museum of Art, is made of 10,000 plastic water bottles collected by the museum’s small and dedicated staff, led by Curator of Education Doylene Land.  Being a mostly East Coast girl, the terrain around Odessa and its close neighbor Midland was a new world to me.  Both towns are in the Permian Basin, home of the largest inland petrochemical complex in the United States.  This is where we get the fuel to drive our cars and live our lives. It is flat desert land and the countryside is covered with low-growing mesquite.  The climate is hot and dry with big skies and grand sunsets.  Everywhere, in town, close to town and out of town, you can see rhythmic pump jacks working to draw oil out of the ground.  Constantly, all of the time.

A Pump Jack at work.

Pump Jack at work.

The view circling to land in Midland Texas.  Each light square contains a pump jack pumping oil.

Landing in Midland Texas. Each light square contain a pump jack pumping oil.

The Permian Basin has had  little or no rainfall for quite a few years.  Oil is booming and water is scarce. Drought restrictions are a given.  Unless the water is filtered most do not drink it.  Almost everyone drinks bottled water out of necessity.

Last week, with the help of 12 smart, thoughtful high school students, we used all of the 10,000 bottles collected by the  museum to make a waterfall flowing into a river.  Everyone worked all week to make this happen, and we were well-rewarded by our efforts.   PURIFIED, the first word of the title, came from the fine print on many of the water bottle labels and was brought to my attention by one of the students.  This work was a community endeavor.  The museum has a staff of 7 people and everyone began bringing in all of their water bottles in February.  A woman who owns a local maid service heard about the project and began to collect all of the bottles from the houses she cleaned.  And then there were interested citizens who contributed as well.  The gathering of the materials for this work of art was the foundation from which it grew.

doing the plastic bottle stomp

doing the plastic bottle stomp

All week the students came each day and worked hard crushing, cutting and placing bottles. Everyone invested time and energy to make it happen.  I thought the part that was the most fun was squashing the bottles in the river bed.  Every once in a while we would decide we needed more and everyone would stop what they were doing and stomp for a while.  The hardest part was cutting enough plastic bottles for the waterfall.  It took all week with people continually cutting to fill it up with enough plastic.  We used the few green PETE bottles we had to make hummingbirds to fly above the river and several students used some oddly colored bottles to make fish, which swim behind it.  A children’s camp that was running concurrently added yellow and purple flowers made out of painted bottles.  By Friday afternoon the 10,000 empty bottles had been transformed into a river in the desert.

Special thanks to the staff of the Ellen Noel Art Museum, the citizens of Odessa, Texas, and the participating students for making this installation a thought-provoking work of beauty.

PURIFIED: A River in the Desert will be open until September 8, 2013

IMG_1892IMG_1894IMG_1885detail Purified

Mushrooms June 6, 2013 No Comments

Conveyor belt in motion in a local MRF (mixed use reclamation facility)

Conveyor belt in motion in a local MRF (mixed use reclamation facility)

 


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 
― Richard Buckminster Fuller

“Find a problem, not an idea.  Then solve the problem.”  Burt Swersey, professor, Rensselaer Polytecnic Institute

Since late February my world has been a rapid stream of residencies, workshops, shows, and installations. I have made recycled fish with 1st graders, wild animals with 5th graders and high school students, and a two-story “waterfall” with the help of student volunteers at the Cary Art Center in Cary, NC.  I crossed the state delivering my own animal sculptures to Blue Spiral1 in Asheville, NC  and Bull City Arts Collaborative in Durham, NC and I worked with Duke University students on an art installation about bio-plastics. I have seen art using plastic and about plastic by other artists dealing with issues similar to my own. If you are in Chapel Hill, NC this summer, be sure to check out Bright Ugochukwu Eke‘s work made out of plastic bottles at the FedEx Global building.

I have been traveling fast and furious in the river which is my life.  Two weeks ago I rode over to Raleigh with a bunch of interested citizens to visit  the single-stream recycling facility where all of the materials collected from our blue recycling bins are dumped, sorted and processed.  Seeing masses of everyday packaging flowing by on conveyor belts as people and machines separated stuff by type was like watching a river of consumption as it swirled and eddied and finally ended up in a bale or a box or as refuse on the floor.

animals in the studio-VCCA5th grade animals

first grade fish

install shot--Carymaking waterfinishing the fallHere are a few images of my work and the work of many of my students, with the final 3 images being of our local recycling facility –with both process and end result in view:

recycling jobs

recycling separated and bundld out of the stream

 

 

I write this post on a VERY gray and rainy day.  Here in NC we are experiencing the results of  tropical storm Andrea.  The ground is soaked and rivers are filled to capacity, yet it rains on.  Whatever we do, wherever we are, we are influenced by the natural world around us.  We cannot help it.  For some of us, perhaps it is only when the weather gets very wet, or very stormy, or very dry, or very–just VERY anything– that we begin to pay attention.  I have been running from job to job this spring, on the road, in schools, art centers and galleries.  In the back of my mind, always, I have been watching single-use plastic.  Of course, I try not to use it, bring my own bags, say no to straws and that sort of thing.  From the beginning of this blog, that has been my job, and it has not changed.

Plastics with polystyrene at the forefront came into common use during World War II and we have not looked back.  Surely, no one at that time could have imagined the multitude of uses which would be developed for all sorts of plastics. And just as surely, no one could imagine what making cheap plastic items that we use only once but which last forever would cost us.

Why is this post entitled Mushrooms?  If you read Ian Frazier’s article  in the May 20, 2013 New Yorker magazine entitled “Form and Fungus: Can Mushrooms help us get rid of Styrofoam?”, then you will see why. In this article the author tells the story of two young men, Gavin MacIntrye and Eben Bayer, who have founded a company called Ecovative Design.  They are developing ways to make polymers out of natural, biodegradable materials using mushroom spores.  Their products are successful and compostable.  Interest is world wide. A TED talk has been given. Maybe finally we can develop a new system to replace single-use-only-down-cyclable–at-best, plastic.  Such is my hope. Working harder and faster just keeps us working harder and faster with no time to consider the results of our actions.  We are not going to stop using plastic.  Maybe we can learn to use natural polymers for a more sustainable world. Wow–What a thought!  Read this article.  You will be amazed.

The author in the middle of installing Bottled Water--River of Life with can be viewed ant the Cary Art Center, Cary NC through September 213

The author in the middle of installing Bottled Water–River of Life which can be viewed at the Cary Art Center, Cary NC through September 2013

“If I Had Wings….” May 8, 2013 No Comments

what color is the sky

 

The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.

-Tenzin Gyatso (14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)

It is a sunny morning on the North Carolina coast. I hear the sound of the ocean and I hear birds.  Birds chirping, birds peeping, birds trilling, birds squawking–Birds just generally communicating in all sorts of ways. The waves crash and the birds sing.  Monday afternoon when I arrived, it seemed that all the pelicans on the east coast were flying overhead.  I like to think it was in welcome, but know more surely that there must have been  good fishing somewhere close by.

I came here to rest after a hectic spring full of residencies all over North Carolina, installations and a few shows.  It has been a very busy year and I am fortunate.

This morning when I went down to take the first load of stuff to my car, I saw a red cardinal on a top of a telephone pole at the edge at the parking lot.  Right now the mocking birds are fighting the grackles at the bird feeders below. Crows and black-headed gulls are flying reconnaissance and small long-legged seabirds are running in and out of the surf.

a bit of the maritime forest where the birds congregate

some the maritime forest where the birds congregate

Why do we watch birds?  For solace?  Out of curiosity? For sheer delight?

I think one of the reasons that I watch them is because they offer a window into another world where politics has no meaning.

For the past few years I have been making the birds I see out of stuff that I find.  Ironically, many of these birds are filled with ubiquitous single-use plastic bags.  Next they are wrapped with scraps of cloth and string and finally bits of found plastic or twigs or bark or feathers or whatever might bring the bird to life.  To me they are meditations on the natural world.  Making them brings me some of the same peace I find in observation of wild things.  Solace, back to solace.  And joy.

Currently my birds are on display at Bull City Arts Collaborative in Durham NC.  My show “If I Had Wings….” is open until May 26.

Here is the statement for that show:

If I Had Wings…..

Dave Wofford of Horse and Buggy Press installing the show

Dave Wofford of Horse and Buggy Press installing the show

Whoever we are, wherever we live—birds are wild and all around us.  Pigeons and red-tail hawks inhabit New York City.  Crows are everywhere.  Can we live among wild things and not dream of their wildness, their ability to fly above us and live beside us in places we do not know?  Like many who live in an urban neighborhood full of trees, I feed the backyard birds.  Daily I watch red cardinals and black, white and grey chickadees as they gather on my birdfeeder with sparrows and wrens.  On the ground are pigeons and juncos and an occasional rufous-sided towhee scratching for fallen seeds.  Most mornings when I open my front door to empty the trash or go to my studio, I hear the crows calling from far above.   As I write this I watch a female cardinal with a bright orange beak and subtle green and brown feathers forage for seeds on the Rose of Sharon bush outside my office window.  I watch the birds and I wish I could fly……….

My birds can be seen at Bull City Arts Collaborative in Durham, NC until May 26.

More birds and animals can be seen at Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville NC.

Or to learn more about my wild animals check out Danielle Maestretti’s blog post about them for the American Crafts Council.

 

back yard bird

made after a robin in my yard, or close to, anyway

STREAMING: New Art Out of Old Bottles September 27, 2012 No Comments

STREAMING. A view of the mountains of bottles, the bamboo plastic forest and forest floor. PHOTO--Robert Vance

STREAMING: NEW ART OUT OF OLD BOTTLES opened at the Gregg Museum of Art And Design at North Carolina State University  in Raleigh, NC–September 27, 2012.  This show will be up until Mid December 2012.

Below is the statement I wrote for the show:

Most plastic is used only once yet lasts forever.  In the past 60 years we have used single-use plastic with abandon.

students working to rebuild the mountain of plastic bottles after the avalanche

It is an integral part of our everyday lives.  Try living with a day or a week or a year without it.

For the past decade my work have been looking at what we throw away here in the United States.  Americans create more garbage per capita than any other country.  This was true 20 years ago and it is true now.  Why is this?  The answers are complex and I believe that awareness is the first step in taking care of the world around us.

STREAMING: New Art Out of Old Bottles was made by me in collaboration with over 150 students from NC State’s Arts Village, University Scholars, and College of Natural Resources, museum staff and members of the greater community.  All who came brought plastic bottles to the project.  The students of Appalachian State University cleaned and de-labeled over 4,000 of the bottles you see here for a previous installation.  This work is about community, process, reuse and looking forward.

It contains:

one of the many student volunteers helping to make the waterfall out of cascades of plastic bottles cut into spirals

1)  A waterfall of plastic bottles flowing into a river of bottle caps and marine detritus.

2)  A bamboo forest or green soda bottles and used chopsticks standing in a ground of caps, lids corks, and marine detritus.

3)  A mountain range of over 3,000 PETE plastic bottles.

4)  A thundercloud of lids and straws.

5)  Two red wolves made out of plastic bags, scarps of fabric and string wrapped over metal armatures.

Head installer Matthew wrangling the "cloud" of plastic straws and lids into position

This exhibition contains over 50,00 bottle caps and close to 5,000 plastic bottles.

All materials in this exhibition have had a previous life.

This work was a community endeavor made possible by the hard work of many volunteers.

Heartfelt thanks to you all.

Bryant Holsenbeck

September 27, 2012

students at work in the "bamboo forest" working with caps and lids making the "ground"

“Is it art if someone says it is?  What makes us value an object as a work of art?  Is it physical appearance alone?  Its aesthetic effect?  Is it rarity?  If diamonds were as plentiful as sand what would we make of them”  John Foster

Don’t miss the two other  shows at the Gregg Museum, as they are amazing in very powerful and different ways.

They are:

Art Without Artists co-curated by John Foster and Roger Manley

SPIRIT – FIRE – SHAKE ! Showing the work of Renee StoutOdinga Tyehimba and Kevin Sampson and curated by Roger Manley

Diamonds or sand, bottle caps and spirits.  Altars, power objects and a lost and found bulletin board of great beauty.  Each time I look I find more to see.

The Gregg Museum of Art and Design–September 27-December 16, 2012

Enter Below.

Night view of the "mountain" of bottles from the window on the Gregg Museum on the second floor of NC State's Student Center

 

 

STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go? April 11, 2012 3 Comments

Here you can see some of the 10,000 plastic bottles and a bit of the "cloud" of straws and plastic "to-go" lids being installed to the left

Big detail of "STUFF" featuring a bunch of the main crew from the Catherine J. Smith gallery


In the United States we buy stuff all of the time, and are very often not responsible for where it goes when we are finished with it.  I look in trash cans all of the time.  In a way, as an environmental artist, I consider it my job.  This is what I know, just by looking–I see lots of aluminum cans and plastic bottles, tossed rather than recycled–all of the time.

I spoke with a woman from Texas today.  She is a curator in a museum in Odessa Texas where she says prairie dogs are her neighbors.  She told me that they have a big problem with plastic bags polluting the environment.  Apparently they get stuck all over the tumbleweeds.  This must be very unsightly, not to mention bad for these airborne plants.

"Bamboo Forest" made out old chop sticks, and green PETE bottles. The floor is covered in to-go brown coffee lids, corks and caps.

Yesterday, while pumping gas, I chased but did not catch a yellow Walmart bag as the wind yanked it into the air and then threw it into the middle of a busy intersection.  With
lots of cars rushing past I gave up my mission and stood and watched it as it twisted and turned down the road, on a journey to the ocean, perhaps getting stuck for a while in a tree or maybe even a tumbleweed along the way.

Leaf made of green and clear plastic PETE bottles

For the past two weeks I have had the good fortune to have been an artist-in-residence at Appalachain State University, at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, installing my show STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go?  I worked with Ben Wesemen and his intrepid cadre of students from the Catherine J. Smith Gallery and the staff at the Turchin Center as well.  By the time my residency was over we had worked with over 200 staff and students installing 10,000 PETE plastic bottles in the windows and making a comet full of bottle caps and beach plastic and a bamboo forest of chopsticks and Mountain Dew bottles.  It was an amazing and humbling experience.  Recycling coordinator, Jen Maxwell, “guesstimates” that around 10,000 plastic bottles are recycled each week at the University.  Helping to clean and then stack 10,000 bottles made me realize in a visceral way, how much plastic that is.

Here is my statement for the show:

I saw it on 60 minutes tonight so I know it must be true.  Our oceans are filling with bits and pieces of plastic.  The plastic comes from us, via our rivers, our streams, the wind and roadways.  It is going there all the time and the fish and birds are eating it. Plastic is polluting the waters of our oceans in big ways. The next time you see a plastic bag caught in a tree or a gutter full of plastic bottles, straws and lids, you might ask yourself, now where is this stuff going?

Captain Moore of Algalita Research Foundation, who has been traveling and documenting all of the plastic flowing into our oceans says source reduction is the only answer. 

I have been documenting the “stuff” of our lives for over 20 years.  The things we use once and throw-away.  What I say is this–what all of us do every day really matters.  Recycling counts.  So does remembering to bring your own bag to the store and saying no to single-use plastic when you do not need it.

My job as an artist is to transform the materials I find around me. “STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go?” here at the Turchin Center has been my biggest opportunity yet.  Thank you all for helping in collecting, installing and most importantly, looking, seeing and asking your own questions.  The world belongs to all of us.

All the time.

Street view--Mandala--caps and lids, cans and bottles, beach plastic. Windows are full of plastic bottles

 

Meanwhile, a blackbird watches over us all.

Going up the mountain March 27, 2012 2 Comments

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”  Dr. Seuss

My truck is full of plastic lids, straws, and bottles

Tomorrow, I travel up to Boone, NC to Appalachian State University to begin my residency at The Turchin Center for the Arts.  With the help of staff and students I will make an installation entitled STUFF: Where Does It Come From and Where Does it Go? The Turchin Center was a church before it became an art center and it is a lovely building.  The exhibition space has high ceilings and large windows.  The staff have been collecting, or it sounds like corralling, lots of plastic water bottles to fill the windows.  I am bringing my  collection of ubiquitous plastic lids and straws which I see everywhere, and this year have been picking up.  I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work in such a beautiful space and I know it will be a privilege to work with the students as well.  What will the results of our endeavors be?  Stay tuned as we all find out.

coral reef complete with plastic fish and plastic seaweed

Last week, I helped the 3rd and 4th grade students of  Chocwinity Primary School in eastern NC make a coral reef out of plastic bottles.  We used lots and lots of PETE bottles, mostly water, but some soda, and made a very beautiful installation.  The students made schools of plastic fish and lots of plastic seaweed.  We had lots of fun transforming a breezeway in the school to an underwater grotto.

Where do all these bottles come from?  Do any of you remember the advent of curbside recycling?   I do and in my hometown of Durham, NC it was over 20 years ago.  I also remember that in the beginning, plastic was controversial.   Our  recycling trucks did not pick it up because there were no markets for it.  And the recycling of it was not full circle, mostly meaning that it would be down-cycled into another object but not recycled into itself over and over.   Many more things were in glass containers.  By now, plastic containers are such a part of our culture that most people assume that we could never live without them.  Here is the thing–plastic is recyclable, it is just not biodegradable.  It comes out of the earth and does not go back into it like leaves from a tree or rain to the ocean.  I am thinking that what may change our point of view on our over use of plastic might be the rising cost of the petroleum that it is made of.  Plastic and gasoline are mostly from the same source.  Petroleum is an extremely valuable and non-renewable resource.  Plastic, made to use once, to fit our single-use life style, is just not the value it seems.

Okay okay, I bet you have heard me say all of that before.  Yes, and it is still true.  Here is some interesting news sent to me by my friend Sarah B., one of the best collectors of stuff in my life.  A bunch of colleges in the northeast have begun to ban plastic bottles from their campuses.   Hummm….Now isn’t that interesting?

Meanwhile, grab your reusable water bottle and come on by the Turchin Center to see our show.  We welcome you.