Post-Residency Roundup : Part 2 of 2

May 3, 2016

Today I'm wrapping up the second of my posts about my trip to Scotland, and this entry includes the residency at Hospitalfield in Arbroath. I'm so happy that as I traveled, I could do updates via social media outlets like Instagram and, with so much support and interest while I worked, I didn't feel like I was that far away!

I departed Edinburgh on Monday morning, after resting all night in a hotel that overlooked the railway, Calton Hill, and parts of Old Town. I was looking forward to being in one place for awhile rather than moving around almost every day, dragging my bag around behind me. On the train ride up to Arbroath, I accidentally slipped while moving my luggage and twisted my ankle, which really swelled and put me in a sour mood. Luckily, I did this after the major hikes I'd planned were done. I felt sad and ashamed that I'd hurt myself, so I called my husband for a pep talk, in which he stated, "Cheer up; remember where you are. You're in Scotland!" He said other really helpful things, too, but this was what I remember.

drawing I made at a coffee shop, waiting for a ride to Hospitalfield

The first evening at Hospitalfield was a sea change. I met so many new people (including other artists of the Interdisciplinary Arts Residency), saw the grounds again on a brief tour, and had a large group dinner with everyone in the galley. It was such an exciting time. I felt so much like I wanted to hug everyone, yet the wounded part of me wanted to open a bottle of whisky and go to bed. But what a bed it was! Staying at a residency in a house that dates from different eras, some going as far back as the 17th century, is certainly part of the experience.

my room at Hospitalfield

Each of the interdisciplinary artists had space to work in that was all their own, and I was assigned the Kinpurnie Print Studio. I ended up using this space a lot less than I had originally planned. I spent a few days wrestling with the fact that my plans didn't match my reality: what was happening for me at the residency was a period of growth, collection, and reflection. I began by simply walking (hobbling) around the grounds, and feasting my eyes upon all the small things there were to observe and interact with. My first action at Hospitalfield was to make a small installation from found objects and leave it, either for someone to find or for it to fall apart.

On site installation with found items, 2016. Hospitalfield

I next worked slowly on a series of monotypes for a book I'm currently finishing in my home studio. These prints were inspired directly by the red, rich sandstones I'd explored the week before down the coast, and partially by my incessant interest in deep time and exploring ways to relate that through my print work. I consistently worked for about three hours per day in the print studio before the cold got into my bones and I felt I had to get inside the house and hug a cup of tea and work on something else. Sometimes I went to the joint mixed media studios in the evenings to see what some of the other artists, Jude Hagan and Charlie Cousins were working on, and warmed myself with a whisky and my laptop. It works.

work things, cold things

When I wasn't in the Kinpurnie Print Studio, I used my time to go on longer walks around Arbroath and the coast. As my ankle healed up, I found I was able to make it further everyday, and by the first weekend, I had a lovely 7.5 mile walk up a very geologically interesting trail around the Seaton Cliffs. If I had continued to follow it, it would lead all the way up to Auchmithie, an old fishing village. I also had a fabulous visit from my friend Amanda Thomson who made a drive all the way out from Glasgow to see me. It did my soul some good to see her again and have long chats about prints, politics, and all things between.

a rock arch known locally as the Needle E'e

I also spent a fair amount of time at the residency wandering the house and grounds, getting familiar with the different rooms and artworks inside, finding different places to become engulfed. I spent more than my fair share of time collecting rocks and sitting at the beach, observing it for all the time I could, and I found inspiration in unintentional places.

drawing in the drawing room

collecting sand and rock samples

a drawing inspired by my bruising

It's very difficult to put a period on or an ending to what happened at my residency. I had to physically leave Hospitalfield House after 2 weeks, but the spirit of creative freedom that I realized in that moment was a thing that has been captured, to a certain extent by my experiences with rocks that make up the surrounding coast and countryside, but also by a particular looking away from traditional methods of working. The time for reflection and writing was fruitful, and timed perfectly with the invitation by my friend Jacob Leveton to come and do a talk in Paris.

presentation time!

Giving a talk about my work at this stage is exciting because it culminates in so much interest in geology, memory, and the attempt to both understand and explain the earth. Concepts about deep time, the Anthropocene, and global warming are interesting, but what really excites me is how much these ideas mimic or are associated with human emotion and complexity. In many ways, printmaking is the ideal medium with which to express these thoughts, and even lends itself to talking about geological "moments." I found myself wondering how it is that I got to be so lucky to be in Paris, sharing my passion with other people.

Jacob and I ended the night sharing crepes from his favorite stand near the Fondation des États-Unis, talking not of the past but of the future. It was the best ending to a trip I could imagine.

Post-Residency Roundup : Part 1 of 2

May 2, 2016

It's taken me about a month to process the experiences I had during my residency in March. Writing about them has been an important part of digesting the journey. I spent about three weeks in Scotland, which was the kind of trip I spent so much time preparing for that once I arrived, it felt like I was walking in a dream. I knew I would be going to places that were important to my work, but to actually be there felt surreal. I think that this post is as much for me as it is for anyone interested in my process or what I did while I was away. It's not only a documentation of my residency and rock adventure, but a look back on the wonderful privelage of travel that I've enjoyed.

city wall at Dunbar, composed of Old Red sandstone

After arriving in Edinburgh, I rested up for a night and then immediately departed via train for Dunbar, the town closest to Siccar Point, one of the most important destinations of my trip, and the reason I was arriving a week before my residency. This is a kind of mecca for students of geology, and although Scotland is filled with geological wonders and sites that could keep you busy for an entire lifetime, nothing compares to this one place for me. After settling into my room at Dunbar, I walked around the High Street for awhile. I still felt as if I was half awake, not really grasping that I was in Scotland yet. I visited the birthplace of John Muir, a gorgeous white building at the north end of the street, with extremely helpful folks inside. I met a local artist named Gordon who helped me plan my journey to Siccar Point, giving me advice on the best way to get there. I think at this point I started to feel like my feet were on the ground.

from John Muir's Birthplace

After a lunch of chips and haggis (which I promised myself I had to try this time), I set off down to the bay for an afternoon walk full of exploration. I wandered around the remains of Dunbar Castle, then scrambled onto the rocks of Lamer Island, tracing the lines of the dikes in the sandstones. I found and collected amazing samples, inculding some slate with pyrite inclusions that I held up like a treasure. I wanted someone else to witness my find! But I was alone and digging around where no one cared what I did. My pockets started to get heavy with how many rocks I was sticking in them, when I realized that this was only my first day in Scotland. I tried to be more selective with what I was picking up, but it was difficult. I went north along the John Muir Way, walking the coast and stopping every 100 yards or so to bask in the richness of the view. I was absolutely astounded at what I was taking in, but moreso, I was getting my bearings. This was the place I had read about, dreamt about, and wished to see -- and here it was in front of me.

walking the John Muir Way with Dunbar Castle in the distance

I ended the evening with a delicious whisky in the bar of the hotel I was staying at, listening the sound of the locals' voices telling stories about their jobs, their babies, and their boyfriends. I knew the next day would take me to Siccar Point, and as I tried to fall asleep back in my room, I could only imagine what the rocks would look like in real life. On Saturday morning, after a full Scottish breakfast, I began my hike out to that fabled point at the entrance of the James Hutton Trail.

entering at Hutton Trail

After 20 to 30 minutes of hiking, my face burned by the cold winds, I finally reached the entrace to Siccar Point. It can be best described as a rocky promontory that juts out into the North Sea like a picture of the broken past. I was standing on the grassy hill above it, looking down.

I'll save the romanticized tales of its visage for another time, however this was truly a moving moment for me. One I won't soon forget.

looking down onto the rocks at Siccar Point

I recall the difficulty at making it down the hill, slipping with each step I took, my shoes caked in mud, and the eventual decision to slide down on my butt toward the bottom. How would I get back up? I'd figure that out later. When I finally reached the end of the steep trail, I was relieved as you can probably imagine. Now warm, I shed layers and left them on the first boulder I found, and set my sights toward the contact point that I'd so longed to touch. Careful not to slip (for one wrong move left me stranded), I reached the boundary of Silurian and Devonian, a ground up conglomerate settled somewhere between the two. I ran my fingers along the tilted greywackes. I found myself giddy, quite like John Playfair when he arrived with Hutton in 1788, but at the notion that these rocks seemed to tell me a story.

looking out onto the North Sea between the boundaries

After all my hours of exploration at Siccar Point, I knew I'd need to begin the journey out, and I'd have to give myself at least an hour to catch my ride back to Dunbar. I started climbing the hill back out, which was not a walk or even a steep hike but a literal free climb along the side of the hill. The hill was stepped in such a way that it was "easy," however I am not accostomed to any sort of wall or rock climbing. I really talked myself through that one like a champ. Once I reached the crest of the hill (cliff), I celebrated by collapsing. Then I took a picture of my tired-ass self.

I went to Siccar Point and all I got was this photo

The following day I returned to Edinburgh with the express purpose of visiting Arthur's Seat. I had one day left until I departed for my residency and I was, in effect, following in Hutton's footsteps. There are some amazing geological features to see at this site, the remains of an ancient volcanic plug. I am not as well-versed in igneous rocks as I am sedimentary ones, but so much of Scotland's geological history includes volcanic activity as an agent of change. I was mainly interested in seeing the Salisbury Crags and then leaving, as I was exhaused from my previous day's trip and still wished to rest up. After four hours of hiking, and one accidental tumble down some rock steps when I lost my balance, I finally came to the crags. I'll again summarize that this is actually another outcrop in which Hutton recognized that previous beliefs about how the earth worked, its cycles and its age, had to be incorrect because of what was factually present just by "reading the rocks." I find his tenacity and ability to understand rocks something of a fascination, to say the least.

Hutton's Section at Salisbury Crags

Tomorrow, I will publish a post that delves into what I worked on at my residency at Hospitalfield, who I met there, and my trip to Paris afterwards.

Journey to Siccar Point

March 12, 2016

selfie with signage, March 12, 2016

I made it to Siccar Point today. I have talked about James Hutton and this site in presentations about my thesis work since first being introduced to the ideas of uniformitarianism in my studies in geology during grad school. In one of science’s landmark events, Hutton interpreted the rocky formation at Siccar Point comprised of Old Red Sandstone accreted laterally atop vertical beds of Silurian greywacke to be an unconformity, revealing to humankind the idea of “deep time.” My thesis work as a graduate student and since has been shaped by a combination of interests, including geological formations, stratigraphy and memory. The process of how humans form memories and create lasting impressions of events correlates interestingly to the processes of earth’s rates of sedimentation and compaction; perhaps where we see unconformities there is no “memory” of that event or time period in the history of the earth.

where eras touch

I explore analogues to our experiences from within the body to what we see in the earth’s strata, comparing our physical and emotional responses to the processes that have shaped the earth now and in the past. Going to a place like Siccar Point and actually seeing the rocks, touching the unconformity, and witnessing what James Hutton must have seen so long ago is an experiene that I really treasure. I am suddenly filled with ideas about the work I can make - ideas that, for whatever reason, didn't come to me until I stood on the contact point of the two time periods of the rocks and had a look for myself. I looked out across the shores at the North Sea and saw the upturned layers stretching out for hundreds of yards and I couldn't help but exclaim, "It's like a book!"

I'll be making books at my residency which begins next week. I hope you can follow my journey to see how going to this site has impacted my practice and what it means to me. I am sure that this will be an influence on what I create at Hospitalfield over the next few weeks.

departing today for Scotland...

March 9, 2016

This morning, my home studio is full. I have recently uninstalled a show, brought in a new work table for making sculptural work, and tried to start reorganizing my supplies to conform to my working life. I could spend hours adjusting and readjusting, but there is no substitute for working. I depart my studio this morning with mixed emotions; I am thrilled to be returning to Scotland, with so many adventures sketched out and new work to be made just on the horizon, but I feel a longing to nest in my home space.

I think the greatest treasure that I have is this home studio. I had the amazing chance to meet bell hooks when I was a youngin', but still old enough to know how important her writing and work was to me. After her talk, I asked if she would sign my sketchbook. She looked thoughtfully at the pages and then chose my drawing of the skyline of New York City to write over. She quipped about having lived in a house full of roommates there, trying like hell to write. She told me how important it is to artists to have their own space, and quoted Virginia Woolf in my sketchbook. She never actually signed her name.

To have finally carved out "a room of my own" to work on thoughts and feelings, to craft my voice, and to make mistakes -- all of this is my treasure. I think of the room my grandmother had where she kept her writing desk facing the front window, and a special drawer just for me, full of colored pencils and paper. She had a room of her own, but made room at the table for me. I carry these thoughts with me today as I head out to go see some amazing rocks and make some new work.

Creating Fossils & Whispers : Part 2 of 2

February 2, 2016

Today is relase day for the book Fossils & Whispers, the artist book that Cat Snapp and I created during our book arts residency last summer. We are so excited to finally present it to the public, with so much thanks for your support and interest while we worked, tweeted, instagrammed our process!

completed edition of Fossils & Whispers

I thought for a long time about how my relationship with rocks and land is connected to being able to "read" them and to pick them up, and I believe Fossils & Whispers really resonates with that feeling. The small and intimate structure works well for me. The size is exactly right for a pocket, to take with you or to share, and makes me think of the kind of field books I like to reference in my life.

It surrounds me with big spirits - stoic, whispering, stern.

This is another field book for your collection, perhaps one for a different kind of journey that joins you to the experience you have with nature.

The earth is alive here.

In reference to a field book, Cat and I made a pocket-sized book that is expressive rather than scientific in our observations in nature. Passages in the book are written by both authors to create a unified voice, and drawings were made together to create the same feeling.

The mountain sits. Still. The mountain stares.

Fossils & Whispers is a book that illustrates our love of nature and the emotional impact it has on us. The feeling of being in the wild invigorates both of us spiritually, emotionally, and creatively. By looking at the spaces around us, we inevitably look back at our own bodies and question our place within the larger cosmos.

close up of end pages

In the weeks before our public release, two books have already been purchased. One is going to the permanent collection of the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art in Washington! In addition, the book is currently on display and available for purchase at Art.Science.Gallery in Austin and will be in the exhibition The Printed Page II at Abecedarian Gallery in Denver this month. If you have an interest in showing the book or obtaining it for your permanent collection, please contact us! For purchases, Fossils & Whispers is also available online from either artist at these links:

Cat Snapp's Shop

Nicole Geary's Shop

Finally, you can read Cat's post on the process and release on her blog! If you have any questions about the books or the process, please let us know.
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