Performative Ecologies

Performative Ecologies

currents 826 gallery, santa fe


Performative Ecologies examines the role of ritual for artists working in and with the natural world. The exhibition includes video documentation and artifacts resulting from performative works by eleven women artists dating from 1971 to 2019. These artists have sought to experience fields of ecological consciousness in both urban and rural spaces, primarily for themselves, although through documentation they share their experiences with others.

In 1991, Suzi Gablik published her radical book at the time, The Reenchantment of Art. This was a manifesto in which Gablik proposed a more engaged, empathetic, participatory, and socially responsible approach to art. She also called for a revival of the mystical, which she felt was often dismissed because of our rational modes of perceiving the world. Gablik insisted that the art world desperately needed a shift at that time and found examples to write about including two artists in Performing Ecologies, Fern Shaffer and Dominique Mazeaud. For many artists the great mysteries of the cosmos and the subconscious, and of the transcendental and visionary worlds, have always been at the interstices of humans connecting with one another and with the earth. Gablik also felt that it’s in the absence of this kind of vision that cultures deny that magic can exist, and that it limits significance in our lives.

Performative art, unlike performance art, does not require an audience. Many artists who work outdoors in nature have chosen to make their work for themselves first. They take on the role of shaman or magical messenger to perform acts of cleansing or engage the spirit world. These other worlds that artists envision have a depth and meaning that has either been long forgotten or is being acknowledged in new ways. What remains of these performative works include photographs, video documentation, artifacts and “magic clothing” that the artists wore.

Artists: Fern Shaffer, Cherie Sampson, Shana Robbins, Mary Mattingly, Jenny Kendler, Minoosh Zomorodinia, Basia Irland, Alicia Escott, Claudia Bucher, Dominique Mazeaud and Bonnie Ora Sherk.

Patricia Lea Watts, curator 

Watts is the founder and west coast curator of ecoartspace, a platform for artists addressing environmental issues since 1999. She has curated over thirty art and ecology exhibitions and has participated on numerous panels at symposia internationally. In 2013 she was curator-in-residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute where she curated the exhibition Shifting Baselines; and in 2012, she organized an artist residency for an independent project Getting Off the Planet at the Institute of American Indian Art digital dome in conjunction with the International Symposium on Electronic Art. Watts recently moved to Santa Fe summer 2019. 

Fern Shaffer


Nine Year Ritual (Shaman) 1995-2003,
The Swamp, 9th Ritual, September 9, 2003, Cashe River Basin, Illinois (included in the exhibition)

In 1980, inspired by her research on clairvoyant Edgar Cayce, anthropologist and Core Shamanism pioneer Michael Harner, and Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade—and while prompted by ecological concerns—Fern Shaffer and her collaborator photographer Othello Anderson began a series of shamanistic rituals sited in and around Chicago. Shaffer would practice her spiritual interventions, special ceremonies performed during equinoxes and solstices, while wearing ceremonial garments made of raffia and canvas. Anderson would document her with sequential shots using 35 millimeter film.

The first performance cycle included four rituals, one for each solstice: Winter Solstice (1985, at the shores of Lake Michigan); Spiral Dance (1986, at Cahokia Woodhenge, the site of an ancient solar calendar); Forest Cure (1986); and Medicine Wheel (1986). Shaffer and Anderson later staged rituals at a beach in the shadow of an Indiana nuclear plant, Big Sur, and Urban Series (1991), uncharacteristic, litter-strewn, urban vacant lots and rubbish heaps. Between 1995–2003, the artists created Nine Year Ritual, a cycle of annual healing ceremonies enacted at sites affected by mining, the greenhouse effect or waste material accumulation, including Death Valley, Temagami Island, the head waters of the Mississippi River, Green Point, Newfoundland, and the Cache River Basin Wetlands in Southern Illinois.

“The significance of what we do is to reenact or remember old ways of healing the earth,” Shaffer states. “An ancient rhythm takes over; time does not exist anymore. We perform the rituals to keep the idea alive.”

Fern Shaffer is an American painter, performance artist, lecturer and environmental advocate. Her work arose in the 1980s in conjunction with an emerging Ecofeminism movement that brought together environmentalism, feminist values and spirituality to address shared concern for the Earth and all forms of life. She has been a long-time activist for women in art through her involvement and leadership at the Chicago alternative art space Artemisia Gallery and through her work with the National Women’s Caucus for Art. Shaffer’s ritual work was featured on the cover and written about in The Reenchantment of Art by Suzi Gablik in 1991.


fernshaffer.com

Cherie Sampson

At the Pole of Heaven, 2008-2012 (9mins, 40secs)

This performative work was intended for the camera and took place on Lake Mekri (Mekrijärvi) near Ilomantsi, in eastern Finland. It is a segment from a 40-minute performance titled “Her Blue Sea Fire,” which was inspired by the illustrative ‘myth of origins’ described in canto 1 of the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala.

Sampson's visual translation of The Kalevala is a non-literal, poetic/symbolic representation using chant, movement and sculptural elements. At the Pole of Heaven presents the last 10 minutes of “Her Blue Sea Fire,” which includes a slow-movement climb to the top of the ladder. The three ladders allude to the tripartite earthly/cosmic symbolism in the old runes of Karelia. The birch itself, a tree associated with lamentation in old Karelia (in eastern Finland/western Russia), comprises the ladders, simultaneously representing the archetypal symbol of the ‘world tree.’ Connecting physical existence and body with the celestial domains, the world tree is traversed by the ‘traveler’ as a conduit between the worlds, a means to remember our seemingly disparate origins and place in both the ‘mixture of mud and water’ of the earth and the ‘beautiful and comely stars of heaven…’

In June 2008, while the artist was in residency at the Mekrijärvi Forest Research Station in Ilomantsi, she constructed the props for her performance which took place on a frozen river bed in March the following year at the Valamo Monastery in Heinävesi, Finland. “Her Blue Sea Fire” has also been performed in indoor and outdoor spaces in Iowa, Ohio, Chicago and Koli, Finland. In 2018, the ladders were brought to the shores of Lake Pielienen in Koli, Finland and burned. This ritual-burn occurred ten years after their construction and twenty years after Sampson’s first trip to Finland when she began making sculptural and performance work in the Finnish boreal forests.

Cherie Sampson has worked for over twenty-five years as an interdisciplinary artist in environmental performance, sculpture and video art. She has exhibited internationally in art-in-nature symposia, video/film screenings and exhibitions. Her solo performances in the environment have taken place in the U.S., Finland, Norway, Cuba, Spain, Netherlands and Korea. In 2018, the Pori Museum of Art in Finland acquired photographic and video documentation by Sampson of site-based installations and performances for their permanent collection. Sampson is the recipient of many grants including two Fulbright Fellowships to Finland, a Finnish Cultural Foundation Grant and multiple research grants. She is a Professor in the School of Visual Studies at the University of Missouri, and also spends half-time at her husband’s organic farm in Northeast Missouri. Sampson is the current President of Artists in Nature International Network (AiNIN). She received her Master of Fine Art Degree in Intermedia & Video Art from the University of Iowa in 1997 with a minor in Sculpture.

cheriesampson.net

Shana Robbins

The Other, 2016 Performance video shot in Yellowstone, Montana for Festival del Huerto Roma Verde, Mexico City 2016

Shana Robbins is a painter and performative artist who compares her art practice to the reflective silence and serendipitous moments that can be found in a Zen Tea Ceremony. She feels her work succeeds when there’s a realization that who we are as sentient beings is only possible because of an exquisite, often wild interdependence of Life at all scales, or what is called The Real. This open involvement with Life she states “can be vibrant, tender, magical, whimsical, and terribly mysterious.” In her journeys with teachers, friends, curanderas, and shamanistas, the artist has found a people, a collective—one which is in pursuit of the beauty in life and one which stands to keep lineages and the art they produce alive.

“The Other is bodying forth the desire to connect and co-create with more-than-human beings. Ritualized dances and intuitive gestures arise from an open present awareness of the rhythms and cycles of the Earth. Within a spiritual ecology in which creatures are constantly disappearing, deer, snakes, jellyfish, turtles, jaguars, and owls begin to populate The Other’s dreams. The power of the Earth is a sustaining force. Something unknown is doing we don’t know what." SR

The Other is a mirror we break and step through to dine on stars. -Alberto Roman

Shana Robbins is an Atlanta-based artist who works with multidisciplinary processes that cross a spectrum of performance, film, drawing/painting, video, and installation.Through hybrid personas that arise from her experience of being a fashion model, a Butoh dancer, and a practitioner within transcultural plant medicine healing ceremonies, she is bodying forth ancient instincts and ritualized gestures with the living land. Her work aims to create new cartographies that advance the self as a set of relations; eco ritual as a way of relating with the world; landscape as a cultural mirror; the identity of the in-between. Her performance-based work comes from decades of co creation in natural habitats around the world. Robbins has exhibited and performed in galleries and museums internationally and has received fellowships and grants from the Vermont Studio Center, Andy Warhol Foundation, and Idea Capital. Her work has been featured in New York Times Magazine, ArtReview and has been published in four books including Viriditas: An Anthology of Contemporary Women Artists, Magpie Magazine Publications, United Kingdom, 2014.

shanarobbinsart.com

Mary Mattingly

Pull, 2013

While living in her Greenpoint studio space, Mary Mattingly undertook the process of recording every object she owned and tracking the history of each of her belongings—how it came into her life, it’s distribution via complex global supply chains, as well as where the raw materials for it’s manufacture was sourced. She then uploaded a digital version of each object to her website OWN-IT.US for others to access. Mattingly then assembled her belongings into a boulder-like sculpture, which was held together with twine so she could roll and drag it as a performative gesture. The artist first pulled the heap across the Bayonne Bridge from Staten Island to Bayonne, New Jersey; and then along King Street from Kitchener City Hall to Waterloo Public Square.

Mary Mattingly is the founder of Swale, an edible landscape on a barge in New York City to circumvent public land laws. She is currently artist-in-residence at the Brooklyn Public Library and is getting ready to launch "Public Water" - a performance and sculpture about NYC's drinking watershed with More Art. Her work has also been exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Habana, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Storm King, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Palais de Tokyo; and featured in Aperture Magazine, Art in America, Artforum, Sculpture Magazine, The New York Times, New Yorker, NPR, and Art21.

marymattingly.com

Jenny Kendler

Offering, 2017 (2 hour performance, 2min 55sec loop) + hummingbird feeders

In this performative action, the artist remained motionless next to a hummingbird feeder for two hours—moving only to refill her red-painted ear by slowly dripping a home-made nectar from an eyedropper. This image of cross-species intimacy and gift-giving is a concept that Kendler has considered for many years. At ACRE residency in Wisconsin’s Driftless region, she had the chance to make this ‘offering’ to the many local Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). As the artist stood next to the feeder, remaining still long enough for the hummingbirds to approach and fly past her ears—a somatic sonic experience occured that defied words. This performative gesture contained both an implied threat, considering the long sharp beak and a fragile eardrum; and an embedded eroticism, a vulnerability and a desire.

“Ultimately, the hummers never accepted my offering. This was my expectation, and reignited a hard lesson from a childhood of unrequited friendships with non-human beings. Many humans, like me, long for a closeness and intimacy with the natural world—most especially with the beautiful non-human others we often covet or fetishize.” JK

The true expression of this longing has no ethical way to be fulfilled. We know it is wrong to keep a wolf in our homes, or to clip the wings of an owl so we can enjoy or even possess its beauty. Hence, our longing must simply remain an offering, with no expectation of reciprocity. Though we are certainly animals, in many ways we stand forever apart. We can never truly know “what it is to be a bat.” And yet, this does not diminish our desire to offer ourselves as companions to the non-human world. Whether through acts of imagination, acts of empathy, or acts of care, we can never quite reach the other side. Although, it is meaningful for us to try, and it never hurts to offer.

Jenny Kendler is an interdisciplinary artist and environmental activist whose work asks us to de-center the human, making space for the radical, transformative otherness of our biodiverse Earth. She received her BFA from MICA in 2002 and her MFA from SAIC in 2006. Her work has been exhibited at Storm King Art Center, the MCA Chicago, the Eden Project, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, the Albright-Knox, the California Academy of Sciences, the Chicago Biennial, and has been commissioned to create public projects at urban conservatories, remote deserts and tropical forests. Kendler is also Art Coordinator for Extinction Rebellion Chicago, Board Chair of artist residency ACRE, part of artist collective Deep Time Chicago—and since 2014 has been the first Artist-in-Residence with environmental non-profit NRDC. In 2020, she continues her work focused on climate change and extinction with an exhibition the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, a residency at The Land Institute and a solo show at the MSU Broad Museum.

jennykendler.com

Minoosh Zomorodinia

Sensation 2018, Talaghan, Iran, HD Video 1:53 min loop

“Physical sensations produce different psychological states within human beings. This work is the result of my performative engagements during high winds at different natural sites. I search for myself in nature, while resisting the wind, letting the mylar embrace the shape of my body. I’m interested in the connection between my body and the landscape as an expression of my feelings. My body merges with my surroundings, as reflected on the emergency blanket, so that I can become one with the land and sky. The evidence of my sensory experience of nature is documented through the camera lens.” MZ
 
The natural environment is a source of inspiration for Zomorodina. Over the years, in search of the self in nature, she has created performative works using natural elements to explore connections between her body and landscape. In Sensation, the wind was an intuitive collaborator during her walks at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Northern California. Zomorodinia let the force of the wind define the shape of her body through an emergency blanket, a material that represents heat and protection for refugees in times of crisis. The video camera, the only witness to her actions, documented her struggles with the air, which engulfed her entire body. The blanket made the invisible, visible, emphasizing her every movement and acts of resistance. In her attempts to merge her body with the landscape, the force of the wind illuminated natures hierarchy. Sensation has been performed and documented at different sites, including the Marin Headlands and Talaghan, located in the Northeast of Tehran, the artists’ hometown.

Minoosh Zomorodinia is an Iranian-born interdisciplinary artist who makes visible the emotional and psychological reflections of her mind's eye inspired by nature and her environments. Zomorodinia earned her MFA in new genres from the San Francisco Art Institute, and holds a MA in Graphic Design and a BA in Photography from Azad University in Tehran. She has received several awards, residences, and grants including the Kala Media Fellowship Award, Headlands Center for the Arts, Djerassi Residency, the Alternative Exposure Award and California Art Council Grants. She has exhibited locally and internationally such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission, Pori Art Museum, and ProARTS. Her work has been featured in SF Chronicle, Hyperallergic, and KQED. She is currently at The Artist in Residence (AIR) Program at Recology San Francisco and lives and works in the Bay Area.

rahelehzomorodinia.com

Basia Irland


Riverberations (2015) Ten percussionists on the banks of the Río Grande, beside a constructed wetland pond. Sound Sculptures created from books about rivers were played percussively to a score. (5:32 mins)

Basia Irland collaborates with local communities around the world to focus on important water issues, especially rivers, waterborne diseases, water scarcity, and climate disruption. She works closely with scholars from diverse disciplines building rainwater harvesting systems; connecting communities and fostering dialogue along the entire length of rivers; filming and producing water documentaries; launching hand-carved ice books embedded with seeds into waterways; and creating waterborne disease projects around the world, most recently in Egypt, Ethiopia, India, and Nepal. Her work process most often occurs out in the field along rivers and creeks.

Riverberations was performed in 2015 by ten percussionists on the banks of the Río Grande, beside a constructed wetland pond. Sound Sculptures, created from books about rivers, were played percussively to a score, for Basia (2015), written by the eminent composer, Dr. Christopher Shultis. The books acted as sounding boards for the attached local, natural materials, including stones, equisetum, tamarisk, and turquoise (a healing stone referencing sky and water). The resonance created in this performance is intended to reverberate out across rivers everywhere helping restore these necessary arteries of our land. The sounds also remind local communities that in our radically interconnected world, it is our collective responsibility to compassionately take care of each other and our environment to ensure that the next generations will have enough clean water to survive and thrive.


Basia Irland is a Fulbright Scholar, author, poet, sculptor, installation artist, and activist who creates international water projects featured in her books, “Water Library” (University of New Mexico Press, 2007) and “Reading the River: The Ecological Activist Art of Basia Irland” (Museum De Domijnen, 2017). These books focus on projects the artist has created over four decades in Africa, Canada, Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and the United States. Through her work, Irland offers a creative understanding of water while examining how communities of people, plants, and animals rely on this vital element. She is Professor Emerita, Department of Art and Art History, University of New Mexico, where she established the Arts and Ecology Program. Her art is featured in over 70 international publications.

basiairland.com

Alicia Escott

Love Song for a Republican in the 6th Great Species Extinction, 2010 (3mins, 44secs)

This performative work was the artists first time taking her handmade drawings outside, and donning them to document on video. The play between the artist’s body and the flat transparent drawing of the last California Grizzly Bear, which became extinct due to bounty hunting in 1927, speaks to our deep longing for the non-human relatives and relationships we have lost; as well as the reduction, essentialization and appropriation of these animals into an image, brand or signifier that we coopt for our own human purposes. This work was made in California where the state flag still presents the bears image, and where it has essentialized the actual spirit of this primal figure into a brand representing a natural “entrepreneurial western spirit.”

Through the artists careful rendering and by being drawn at its actual scale, the grizzly bear becomes both an oversized discarded plastic packaging, while also transcending almost into a ghost. Using absurdity, humor, and the cliché of a pop song about unrequited love— this video, when watched from start to finish, quietly unfolds into a subtly devastating effect. The viewer is left with just the sound of plastic and a last look at the audience before the subject’s hand grazes the edge of the frame and returns.

Escott titled this work as both a play on contemporary societal divisions as well as to refect a relationship she had during grad-school in 2008-2009 and how his being a Republican was the reason that the relationship ended. Using the personal to talk about the larger societal patterns is an onling theme in her work.

“What does it mean that we have branded a states “entrepreneurial spirt” through the image of a ghost that haunts us in tourist brochures, and popular images of the bear hugging the shape of a state cut out of land—the land this bear once knew but lost by the discovery of gold and the subsequent gold rush, and the consumption of the land for development, progress.” Alicia Escott

Alicia Escott is an interdisciplinary artist based in San Francisco. She practices in solidarity with thinkers across fields undoing the construct of “nature” as a thing separated from us and our world. Escott is interested in how we each are negotiating our immediate day-to-day realities and responsibilities amid an awareness of the overarching specter of climate change, mass-extinction and the subsequent unspoken experience of loss, heartbreak and longing— and the related social and political unrest it produces. Escott’s work has been shown in over 80 art institutions, museums, galleries and alternative spaces and was recently reviewed in Momus, The SF Chronicle and many more. She has been Artist in Residence at The Growlery, Recology SF, Irving Street Projects, Djerassi, Anderson Ranch and The JB Blunk House residency. Escott is a founding member of 100 Days Action who were recipients of the 2017 YBCA 100 List Award. She is half of the Social-Practice Project The Bureau of Linguistical Reality featured in The Economist, The New Yorker, The S F Chronicle, KQED and others.

aliciaescott.com

Claudia Bucher

To the Air Born? DAY OF THE DAEMON (Deliberating Anemochore Embryos Manifesting Ontological Noesis) October 20, 2019 (4mins, 53 secs)

Precariously integrated with her kite-like dispersal apparatus, Bucher presents herself as an anemochore embryo in a state of deliberation about whether she wants to become air-born(e). Bucher asks, “If pre-born entities do have some kind of agency and we could somehow access it, would they automatically choose to be born? Are they aware of their own viability? What if fertilized forms are mostly antinatalist and would prefer to avoid existence?”

To the Air Born? is a location-specific wind inspired project that contemplates agency in the not-yet-born. Created during a month-long residency at Buckwheat Space in Morongo Valley, CA and presented during the Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours, the pro-choice artist had become alarmed by a spate of legislative attacks on reproductive rights throughout the country and felt compelled to dive deeper into a contemplation of self determination, consent and the presumptuousness of the living regarding the ontology of nascent fertilized forms.

Inspired by the forceful crosswinds specific to the the location, Bucher looked to wind-driven phenomena to shape the expression of the work. This led her to combine a fascination with the class of wind-dispersed organisms known as anemochores, such as dandelions, with the equally mesmerizing kite forms created for the Guatemalan Giant Kite Festival in celebration of the Day of the Dead. This multi-phased project included a series of smaller kite-like objects that incorporated drawings of cellular activity, a large site-specific dandelion-like sculpture that incorporated organic matter from the location, and the five-hour durational performance-installation presented on the last day of her residency.

Thanks to: Yvonne Buchanan & Dorene Quinn; Video Footage: Jessica Dacey, Sant Khalsa, Evi Klett

Claudia Bucher is a Southern California artist who creates performative sculptural installations exploring ideas about extended sentience. She’s interested in the crossover between art, science and technology, architecture, mysticism and science fiction. Her recent work is inspired by space exploration, the Mojave Desert, biomimicry, biomorphic design, and DIY culture. She has an MFA from Art Center College of Design and has taught new media at UCLA, Otis College of Art and Brandeis University. In 2019, she was artist-in-residence at the North Dakota Museum of Art’s McCanna House and at Buckwheat Space in Morongo Valley, CA.

perfec-art.com/claudia-bucher

Dominique Mazeaud

The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande (September 17, 1987 to April 17, 1994)

Mazeaud weaves together her roles as a ceremonialist, a cultural peacemaker and a heartist to create sacred artworks and performances. In The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande, the artist walked the tributary Santa Fe River monthly doing a literal cleaning and a symbolic cleansing over a seven year period, which she describes as a performative pilgrimage.

It was by the Rio Grande River in August 1986 where Mazeaud experienced a great sorrow for the planet's environmental conditions. Her sorrow created a deep knowing that art would be a way of responding, and that ritual would be the form of communication. Each month Mazeaud would walk the river's bed and banks with garbage bags donated by the City of Santa Fe, doing a deep-listening while collecting found objects or what she has referred to as gifts from the river. She would be bring friends and sometimes students would accompany her to pick up discarded items. Mazeaud kept a journal titled “Riveries” recounting the experience of walking in the most endangered river according to the American Rivers national advocacy group. She would walk slowly to capture strong images in her mind, what she refers to as soul imprints that she can always carry with her. Only a small collection of photographs document this project.

“There were numerous encounters that provoked serious meditations, like a statue of Jesus laying in the grass of the bare river or the plastic bags filled with sand looking like glistening body parts, equally eerie and intriguing. What I discovered about my river journey was that both darkness and beauty (in all their shades) were always present. Remembering the pain of the Earth had prompted me to be an artist and knowing that pain and grief had been the hallmarks of my life, this was a major realization that, in the long run, brought me much healing.” Dominique Mazeaud

Dominique Mazeaud came to the United States from France in 1967. She lived in New York City for twenty years where she worked as a director of a fine art gallery. In 1979 she attended Experience Week at Findhorn, the ecovillage in Scotland, where a deep artistic path was revealed to her through mystical experiences in nature. "What is the spiritual in art in our time?" then became the question that guided her work, and still to this day. In 1987 Mazeaud was invited to present her very first work as an artist for a project titled Windopeace, in which she inhabited a Soho storefront window for one week, a performative piece titled Forgiveness: Key to Peace. 52 women were invited to participate over one year. That same year Mazeaud moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her encounters with the Rio Grande inspired over twenty peformative projects to date, including: The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande 1987-1994; The Most Precious Jewel 1998-2002, a participant based interactive piece where beads are stitched on a fabric globe of the earth on the Santa Fe Plaza; and 60 Water Weaving Women 2008/2009, a collaborative ritual performance at the Capitol building in Santa Fe. Her Rio Grande project was featured in Suzi Gablik’s The Reenchantment of Art published in 1991.

earthheartist.net

Bonnie Ora Sherk

Public Lunch, 1971

Bonnie Ora Sherk refers to her early performative artworks as Environmental Performance Sculpture. For these works the artist either used found environments or environments that she created, sites systemically integrated with performative elements. Sherk also considered herself as a material to work with, a person in a place, sometimes with other performers like live animals. Her persona, her being, was one element in the installation.

For her Sitting Still Series, which culminated with her performative work Public Lunch in 1971, the artist ate a meal in a cage in the Lion House at the San Francisco Zoo adjacent to the cages of the lions and tigers. The piece began at the public feeding time of 2pm on a Saturday. Sherk was let into the cage in the same way as the other animals, from an outdoor cage through a door that opened automatically and then closed again. She was one of the animals being fed on that Saturday, which was a surprise to most of the spectators who had come to see the Zoo animals eating. Sherk had previously placed certain objects in her cage, which she thought of as a proscenium stage: a well appointed table set with a white linen tablecloth and silverware, a chair, a ladder to the platform above, and another small cage, with a rat in it. The artist paced waiting for her human meal, which she had arranged to be catered by a then-famous SF restaurant. Her lunch was served in dishes and delivered from a wheelbarrow by the Zookeeper in the same way that he delivered the raw meat to the lions and tigers. After she ate her meal, paced, climbed a ladder to the platform above, wrote what she experienced, and laid down to rest on the platform, something extraordinary happened. What was really significant for Sherk was that the tiger in the adjacent cage had got up on his haunches and looked at her. Sherk thought: Is he thinking? Is he feeling? What is he thinking and feeling?

Sherk's placement of the cage with a rat inside, within the cage she performed, represents the deep layers of containment in society; a cage within a cage, within a cage. This opened up a lot of other kinds of questions. Beliefs can be cages. Fears can cages. We are also victims of cages created for our well being and we invent cages to contain the parts of ourselves that are unacceptable, voluntarily and unconsciously throughout our lives.

Bonnie Ora Sherk is a San Francisco and New York-based environmental performance sculptor, landscape architect, planner, educator, and founder of A Living Library, a project that engages communities in creating unique ecological transformations. Her pioneering conceptual performances in the 1970s evolved to become systemically integrated community programs and/or hands-on, transformative, interdisciplinary curriculum - always relating directly to the place. She was the founder of Crossroads Community (the farm) in 1974, a pioneering, urban agriculture, environmental education, multi-arts, community gathering place that incorporated a major freeway interchange in San Francisco. Sherk’s varied projects are united by her interest in cultivating what she calls the human and ecological garden: connecting people to new expressive landscapes such as the multicultural diversity and natural ecosystems that surround them. In her public art practice, Sherk has staged performance-based interventions that bring the experience of nature into unexpected locations, presaging artists interest in “pop-up” architecture and parklets.

alivinglibrary.org

About CURRENTS 826 Gallery:


CURRENTS 826 on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico is Parallel Studios’ year-round exhibition and experience space. In addition to the annual summer CURRENTS NEW MEDIA Festival, this permanent space was established to increase the community’s interaction with new media arts in an accessible, experimental environment. CURRENTS 826 features interactive art and installations as well as a futuristic gift shop featuring objects fabricated using digital technology.

currentsnewmedia.org/826-canyon/

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Mailing address: PO Box 5211 Santa Fe, New Mexico 87502
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