Fellow artist in residence Victoria and I have spent a great deal of time talking about the huge cross over in our process- she is a performance artist, whose practice is rooted in connecting to a community and place and building a performance from the stimuli she is surrounded by. It has been a wonderful opportunity to discuss the fears, concerns and general emotional maps that our shared creative process gives us in common- and that seem completely necessary to the work we do. It is an amazing gift to make a new friend and have so much in common right off the bat. By day 3 I am doing my best to not panic because I haven’t solved it all yet- go figure, who could? But my “ inner control freak” battles my “it will all happen as it should” philosophy that I return to for approaching a new project, culture and landscape. My biggest challenge is patience with myself. Things come in bits- and the order does not always make sense- trusting a pattern, system or idea that can be translated into art will become clear in time is a huge leap of faith. Finding a good work place is first- bright enough, but not windy, not exposed to the sun-somewhere my hands will be comfortable in buckets of water for extended periods of time
-I plant myself outside in the corner where I can hear the rooster crowing and the Latin music from passing cars alongside the clop-clopping of the horses and riders that pass occasionally. I know my own process well by now, and find myself returning to the coiling technique as my entryway into a place; figuring it will lead to something more.
Coiling is an easy technique to teach, works well with groups because of its modular nature for fitting pieces together and is relatively flexible for various materials. What is needed is a foundation- or filler, length is good but not necessary, flexibility helps- but not crucial, and it does not need to be overly strong. A binding twine is the second material required- flexible vines are great, but anything strong and flexible and with some length- this part is like sewing a button on- the longer the thread, the less you need to rethread the needle- but anything from 14 inches to 3 feet is workable. I spotted yucca on my second day here, and know I can make a strong thread from that- the local long pine needles become a good start as a foundation, and the drinking straw left over from my juice in the mercato can be cut into short tubes as gauges for fill. Besides a soaking bucket and some sewing needles or awls no other tools are required. And so we start on our way to something- just what still to be determined.
Tuesday I met with biologist Claudia Hornung-Leoni and ethnobotanist Maria Teresa Pulido from the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Hidalgo and they were very helpful in suggesting places to go harvest- interestingly cattails- (or Junko in Spanish) that I used in Spain are being removed from a number of ponds- and is available for use. Maria also shared with me this great online resource of the weeds in disturbed lands of Mexico which helps greatly for plant identification, and also showed me her collection of locally made basketsand products from various communities using a variety of plants and techniques.
Very humbling to see the skill level of these artisans, but Maria comments that the work is undervalued, and they need assistance in creating more contemporary designs that could reach a larger market place and sell at a higher price-point. One thing I have noticed since being here is how incredibly hard Mexican people work for their livelihood, and I am struck by how difficult I have discovered it is to process the Maguey plant into a fiber compared to the mere pennies that I see small pieces being sold for in the market place. What is a living wage here? I can’t bring myself to ask.
My 2nd day with the group is great, they all learn very quickly- not sure I have ever had a group so adept at using their hands- then again, most of them already knew how to make cordage, it speaks to me of a cultural difference- where hand technologies have been taught, and dexterity with more than a joystick or keyboard is encouraged.
My environment suddenly comes into focus- I am aware and inspired by the intense blue wall and the areas where the stucco has broken loose exposing the rockwork beneath. I can visualize the group and me making a false wall repair-of-sorts, with pine needle and grass bound coiled works sewn together. This idea feels like so many other things I have done in the last few years, yet will of course be unique in its own way- and a starting point feels good to have.
I realize perhaps this is maybe my security blanket equivalent- something to focus on and keep me/the group busy, while we see what else is out there to work with and be inspired by.
I had mentioned to the class they could bring a lunch, snack, or something to eat for sharing if they wished, they had forgotten, and quietly did a money collection and ran to the market to grab beautiful quesadillas to share with the pan del morte I had brought. This group knows how to laugh and work at the same time and are very easy company, I feel incredibly lucky to be here in their midst. Jose Daniel is also a vegetarian, and I am told by another student he is a very good cook- I make him an offer that I will buy the groceries at the market on a future trip, so he can cook in our studio kitchen, and I will do food prep and learn from him. Everyone seems pleased at this idea-the future looks bright.
Thursday and Friday are a holiday and a friend has given FRONDA and artists access to their chalet in Huasca, about an hour from our base camp. The overnight trip allows a chance for gathering some invasive bromeliads, but also for the group of artists to all hang out; Carlos and Jessica join us- we are just missing Yolanda now.
The place is remarkably like a Whistler chalet- but a brick sink and the southern architecture flair speak to the fact we are far, far from Whistler BC. Friday we head to the canyon called Pena del Aire, a breathtaking spot with incredible views, and food vendors out in the middle of what feels like nowhere selling juice, water, and fresh cactus and coconut. I fixate on the view out the window, trying to spot plants I have seen from the weed list- driving at 10k an hour on dirt roads makes this easy to do; I spot plants to find again, but their names are far away yet.
Sunday marked day 8 of being here, and the first day my head was clear when I woke up; Icontemplated how lousy my comprehension of English grammar is while I read 501 Spanish Verbs and drank coffee in bed – no wonder figuring out Spanish is so impossible. Where to begin? Suddenly I realized learning a new language is like learning a new landscape; native plants vs. invasive plants, the culture, history and community connections to the place- everything is different and “foreign”; one does not understand or know a place overnight either- and neither does it happen smoothly or without trials, hair-pulling moments of frustration and gob-smacking lack of understanding. Suddenly I kind of get it- I am going to have to be patient with myself, trust in the process, and believe that if I keep picking away at learning vocabulary, masculine vs. feminine words and verb conjugation I will eventually get there- or somewhere in the vicinity- of being a Spanish speaking person. And like my art practice, it is not all going to be pretty, or concise, but will certainly all be public, as the kind and patient people around me assist and help me poke my way through this new terrain called Espanol. Now to just figure out what my language equivalent of a security blanket is. Tomorrow is class 3 and a roundtable discussion with Maria and Claudia the ethno-botanist and biologist-and again, I am glad for the school of interpreters on hand at my ear ready to help.