Laurie Miles is part of Kingston’s current exhibition, Our Voices. In addition to being an active Associate Member at our gallery, she is also in the midst of a Residency at Appleton Farms, Ipswich, MA. Miles, who lives on Boston’s North Shore, will work on the farm through the end of August. I recently talked with her to learn more about her time there.
SDG: Laurie, your work in Our Voices is lovely. I especially like the pieces with graphic qualities, with black marks on dense, textured grounds that look almost like parts of an alphabet of the future. Are the works you’re making at Appleton Farms related in appearance to these works?
LM: Thank you. The graphic element will carry through the new work, but handmade paper will take center stage, creating lighter, more sculptural pieces.
SDG: What made you interested in this residency? How did it come about? Do they typically have one resident per season at the farm?
LM: I introduced myself to the farmers last fall, asking to collect garlic and leek stalks that they had no need for, other than compost, of course. I’ve always been drawn to farms, and a residency was not only a great way to collect organics, but it offered the chance to immerse myself into farming
routines, to satisfy my personal curiosity, and to inform my work in the studio. Appleton does not have a residency program, but they are seriously considering it now.
SDG: What have you been up to so far?
LM: My main project is Organic Papermaking. For the past four weeks (and weeks ahead), I collect and process farm and field material to create an inventory of pulp. The resulting work will be an expression of haute couture textiles, referencing my experience at Appleton Farms and our relationship to the land.
SDG: When you say haute couture textiles, will you be incorporating them into any wearables?
LM: The work will not be wearable, but will reference fashion details–collars, necklines, fasteners, seams. It’s not uncommon for me to find inspiration from the runway.
SDG: Excellent. Tell us more about the materials that you harvest.
LM:Materials and experience with the farm and farmers will be referred to in the work. To date, I’ve made pulp from cabbage leaves, broccoli leaves, grass, hay, onion, garlic, and leek stalks, swiss chard, phragmites, and cat tails. This week’s challenge will be extracting the pre-processed fiber from cow manure. Stay tuned.
Interacting with the farmers also influences what I make. Dairy farming starts with a scenic field of grass. It’s actually a varying recipe of Alfalfa, Timothy Grass, Reed Canary Grass and the weather. It makes up a cow’s diet and effects the flavor of the milk and cheese we consume. Most memorable—standing in a quiet barn at 3:30 am waiting for the cows to shuffle in to choose a spot at one of the stalls. I didn’t know what was going on but they did.
Vegetable farming is a daily expression of teamwork, camaraderie, volume and repetition. It is a massive feat of time management and coordination. I think I gained their respect the day I spent 4 hours topping onions. It was a behind the scenes opportunity for me to get a large supply of resource material, while doing a job that freed a staff member up to do something else. I used the onion tops in my paper-making.
SDG: That is fascinating. It’s a veritable salad of materials. What else is special about the farm?
LM: In addition to the farmers, the event staff also work hard. They create opportunities for the public to learn about and celebrate the farm experience. They host farm dinners, cooking workshops, tours, and camp for kids. Just like everyone else, they love their job and never have enough time or money in the budget. I contributed a high energy day, making paper with 40 Farm Camp kids using recycled pulp.
SDG: Wow, that’s a good number of kids.
LM: Yes, and keeping them away from the hose (water is a key part of papermaking) during our recent heat wave was important. It was just another way to point out the value of conservation during our severe drought. It’s top of mind for all of us and effects everything, including our spirits.
SDG: Indeed, that makes sense. Anything else you’d like to add?
LM: Every facet is connected. It’s a place where not much ever goes into the landfill.
Laurie Miles is a mixed media artist, coming to fine art after a career in print advertising—an industry saturated in design. She works closely with nature, both in and out of the studio, and has led several community art programs related to the environment. Miles received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art. You can follow her on Instagram (@milezart).
This month at Kingston is all about the value of artists influencing and supporting each other. Our current exhibition, I Know Just What You’re Saying, is an all-members effort and a game of “telephone” made visual. While its concept opened selections up to chance and some improvisation, the final result is elegant and thought-provoking. It’s up until Sunday, January 31.
In a lovely case of kismet, a former Kingston artist member, Richard DeVeau, wrote an article on Medium about the fellowship of artists, including his time at Kingston Gallery. The piece primarily focuses on artwork and friendship linking artists Amedeo Modigliani and Chaim Soutine in the first half of the 20th century.
DeVeau writes, “Given the number of portraits they painted of each other, especially the number of times Modigliani painted Soutine, it’s clear they were best friends. Their studio/living spaces were in the same building. And they had a lot of time to talk with an easel between them.”
One of the best things about Kingston Gallery, that’s not always apparent to even a frequent visitor to the exhibitions, is the lively chaos in the form of witty banter and passionate dialogue between members at the monthly meetings. Kingston IS its artists. As DeVeau mentions in his article, it is one of the oldest artist-run galleries in the nation.
It’s no secret that creativity increases when we share ideas, whether directly related to a body of work, generally about art-making, or about life in general. Earlier this week, a friend and former student, Jessica Yvonne Lewis, posted on Facebook:
Do you have to make art consistently to be an artist? Can you be a creative person without a visual element involved? Do you need people to see it for it to mean something? What about conversation? What about how you see and interact with the world?
As is often the case with contemporary art, the questions are more interesting than the answers. Lewis is based in Portland, Oregon. Find her on Instagram @furrawnyvonne.
L-R: Sarah Meyers Brent, Stacey Alickman.
L-R: Lynda Schlosberg, Rose Olson, Lavaughan Jenkins, Christina Pitsch
L-R: Linda Leslie Brown, Mary Lang
Finally, in case you missed it, an all-too-relatable cartoon, What Do You Do? by Jack Sjogren on Hyperallergic.
The January show, the brainchild of Shana Garr, presents an unusual opportunity for making connections between members of Kingston Gallery. Although the members are very familiar with each other’s work, this show is the first of its kind where members respond directly to one specific piece of their peers.
The “game” process consisted of a chain of members: one person responded to a piece by sending it to the next person, to the next, and so on. This process yielded interesting interpretations and connections between artists and functioned much like the game of telephone. Color connections, form emulations, idea continuities, and intuitive responses fill the gallery with work, the last piece having a very different direction than the first. All in all, it’s been a great way for gallery members and visitors to the gallery to gain a deeper and singular understanding of individuals and a manifestation of the gallery cooperative.
Last week, I met with Al Miner at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he works as Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art. He curated our current exhibition, All Natural, featuring Kingston member artists Kathleen Gerdon Archer, Mary Lang, Greg Lookerse, and Christina Pitsch. Each artist examines humankind’s attempts to commune with, control, or contain nature. The exhibition includes a broad representation of media, including photography, sculpture, and performance.
It didn’t take long for me to see that, although Miner says he’s not obsessed with landscape, it holds some fascination for him and, well, for all of us. “It’s a theme that clearly spoke to artists throughout time,” Miner said. Landscape paintings are among the most popular works in the Museum, he said, which is part of why he curated the long-term exhibition, Landscape, Abstracted, on view from August 2014 through July 2017. It includes an immense (24 x 80 feet) mural by Jason Middlebrook that Miner says has become “selfie central.” The point of the exhibition, he said, was to give examples of how artists today are not bound by the same constrictions as artists were in the past. There are so many contemporary takes on landscape, and artworks including Jason Middlebrook’s mural, green chenille beanbag “Topia Chairs” by Barbara Gallucci, and a site-specific installation made with thread and staples by Anne Lindberg demonstrate just how far they can abstract nature. They use color and pattern, among other visual tactics, to respond to the museum’s architecture, while simultaneously evoking nature and seizing upon natural phenomena.
When I inquired about Miner’s own interactions with nature and how they might influence his thinking he said, “I’m curious about whether anything real still exists,” Miner said. He does not want to camp, hike, or otherwise immerse himself in the outdoors. Really, he just wants sit outside at a cafe with a beverage and a piece of cake in the sunshine. That still feels like an authentic outdoor experience, especially if you’ve previously been in a windowless space and/or staring at a computer screen before arriving at said cafe.
“With this group of artists at Kingston,” Miner said, “I found that all four artists were making compelling and consistent bodies of work.” From there, he realized that all four of them dealt with nature, but with boundaries, compromises, and constructs.
Kathleen Gerdon Archer employs alchemy (turning water into ice, then ice back into water), using her own power to transfer elements from one state into another state.
Mary Lang compares dioramas of state parks with actual state parks. First, there is the issue of the gates, stairs, and other fixtures that may be meant to protect the park, but also alter the original landscape. Then there is the contrast of being intrigued by a real place, but realizing it isn’t real.
Greg Lookerse’s performance, Two Fish Cut Into Five Thousand Pieces, exaggerates the rules and constructs we follow when we interact with nature. Photographs documenting the performance are part of the exhibition, along with works from his Honey Storage series, where he folded cut paper from the book The Great American Forest, by Rutherford Platt, into honeycomb shapes. Lookerse, like Archer, alludes to the attraction of alchemy in his work.
Christina Pitsch created clear trophy mount deer heads with cast plastic, sewn vinyl, and sheet acrylic. “They become empty vessels, sucking out the meaning we expect from taxidermy,” said Miner. Pitsch employs her own clean and symmetrical aesthetic to interrogate why we hang something like a hunted and killed deer in an interior space.
Miner appreciated the depth and prolonged exploration evident in each artist’s work. Presented together, viewers become aware of the way all four artists manipulate natural elements,sometimes leading audiences in one conceptual direction, only to complicate our notions of this subject matter with an unexpected conclusion or eschewing one at all, but rather allowing nature’s mysteries to remain unsolved.They also remind us of how far we may have come from having a direct relationship with nature.
Miner is now working on a large group exhibition for the MFA entitled “Megacities Asia,”which examines the way artists in some of Asia’s most quickly expanding cities respond to the urbanization around them with found object practices.One thing that has become clear to him as he works with artists based in Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai and Delhi, is that, as he puts it, “being “green” is a luxury.” For instance, there is not yet a vibrant“green movement” in China. Citizens of Asian megacities experience natural spaces in more limited and different contexts, and, as the whole world is urbanizing at a staggering rate, we may soon experience nature this way ourselves. Will every city of the future incorporate green space? Is it and should it be important to every culture or not? Can they build green spaces indoors, or by maintaining a view of the horizon from the upper floors of a high-rise building reinforce a fading connection to the natural world? The artwork Miner included at Kingston raises these and other questions, too. Further, the MFA exhibition will be staged not only inside the Museum’s galleries, but also outdoors.Both exhibitions make it clear that contemporary conversations about landscape are as much about being human as about relating to nature.