Real del Monte: After a 15 minute conversation with US customs for my 1.5hour lay over in Dallas, my suitcase then being x-rayed coming into Mexico ; I was happy to arrive with my luggage intact- though apparently it was inspected for my own safety by homeland security for contraband- I wonder what they thought of my billhook( scythe) and other knives? And also wonder how many other tourists coming to Mexico bring potential weapons- but luckily, I got the green light, not the red, and was cleared- good to go. I seem to be doing some physical adjusting to the altitude… minor headache, slow going up any hills- something unusual for me and the head cold I had been fighting off since Vancouver may have just caught up with me. My mashed potato brain is struggling in English, never mind even trying to find the few Spanish words I know- all I can come up with is Catala words! Go figure…. It is FRONDAinstitute that has brought me here- a program called symbiosis, a melting pot of Mexican and Canadian artists having a chance for creative and cultural exchange with each other.
I am the third artist to arrive, Victoria Stanton from Montreal, and Taiga Chiba also from Vancouver- funnily enough my neighbour! Taiga and I will know each other much better by the time we go home. Others are yet to come- including Yolanda Gutierrez, who I can’t wait to meet- I have admired her work online for a few years since I first became aware of her, so what a treat to get to meet her and work alongside.
We have a large house to share- the top floor above shops, sandals, wool ponchos, leather coats and cowboy boots available right underneath us-I am going to try really hard to stay away from the shoes- my shopping weakness.
Our studio is 4-10 minutes away- depending on if you are coming or going- it is uphill, and my shortness of breath allows opportunities to stop and enjoy the spectacular views in all directions.
Our studio is graciously donated for our use by Issac, a local man who plans to turn the once restaurant into a coffee shop down the road. Boxes of cups and saucers are scattered around and a few vintage espresso machines he has collected as well, Issac made us coffee and tea the night of my first day here- a treat, and loved watching the use of his iphone as a timer for the boiling of water, steeping, and process.
Our last weekend here, December 8, 9 will be an openhouse with works set up- the place offers many opportunities for site responsive installations, both inside and out.
Sunday was down to business, had to find some plants to work with, as my first workshop was Monday. Elena took me into the forest and we found long pine needles on the ground that will be good to work with, and also some yucca that will be useful as a binding twine- we will start with pine needle coiling and see what comes from there… I am inspired just by the beauty of how the pineneedles catch in the branches of the foliage below.
Monday, first class at the art school with the group that will work with me twice a week throughout my stay. This group I think will be the backbone to whatever installation is created.
Isabella is my translator and has done her homework- my recent webpages are printed off with highlights for questions and words she needs to understand.
A round of introductions proves very exciting; most of the participants are art students at the school, but Julia is a teacher here, Eric is an environmental geologist, Jessica is one of the emerging artists who is participating in Symbiosis with us- and believe it or not, of the 13 people, 11 of them know how to make cordage! Jose Daniel has worked with artisans learning backstrap loom weaving, and Irakandi has worked with the soon to be discovered local Ixtle… what a treat! There is a community of women(Yamuntsi behna- reunited women) nearby whose husbands are working in the states who have formed a collective to process the Ixtle from the Maguey plant- a large relative of Agave and they make products like body scrubs that are sold to places like the Body Shop. This 5 minute video shows the process for ixtle cordage. A future field trip to meet these women is being planned…
So, off we go on walk led by Fabien( who I give my billhook to for carrying) to gather some Maguey and to see what other plants we can find to work with
We harvest some grasses, remove most of the seed heads and leave them behind- the grass seems strong and flexible and should be good for working with.
We cut some of the Maguey to bring back to the studio-
it is amazingly very heavy, so we cut it in lengths to share the burden
our next problem will be to cook it for 3 days- at least I think this is what the video said! ( when I can find the link again to that video I will post it…) Jocelyn works at a cultural centre nearby and thinks we might use their oven, she is going to ask, and there is an old pizza oven in the studio kitchen-
I am going to find out if that is possible to use- we need to try and cook the fibre now so we can then scrape it and wash it for further processing…. We also gather some dead Maguey to try soaking and see if anything can be done with it.
Now- tomorrow apparently a radio interview on community radio and I get to meet the biologists that will be sitting on a panel with me- who can also answer many of my questions about what is invasive, poisonous, native and endangered- all good things to know about plants we will work with!