Paper-Making on Appleton Farms: Q&A with Laurie Miles

 

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Artist Laurie Miles, topping onions at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA.

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.

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Laurie Miles, Phystostegia, clay, sand, fiber, recycled plant container, pigment, wax on panel, 15.25 x 18 inches, 2016. Currently on view in “Our Voices” at Kingston Gallery.

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

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Dried paper swatches made from cabbage pulp.

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.

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Cabbage leaves after the harvest.

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.

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Cows ready to be milked.

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.

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Miles’ pulp beater. 

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?

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Grass fields for hay.

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).

Photographic postcards from Mary Lang

Mary Lang recently visited Oregon, and one of her destinations was the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club in Portland, where she took a number of photos. This doesn’t mean that model trains are a full-blown obsession of hers…yet.

As she said to me, “I’m not sure I’m doing a project on model railroads necessarily, but I’m interested enough to follow this thread.” Lang had always heard about the Columbia Gorge club, and this visit provided her a great opportunity to play around, have some fun, and follow her intuition. It would not be the first time that one of Lang’s photographic series evolved from focusing on something that was interesting, without exactly knowing what would come of it.

As is evident from the images above, the models as Lang shot them involve her longtime focus on the landscape. As miniature built environments, they bring to mind the traces that people leave in sites familiar to them, such as the tiny trucks parked just so, and to alterations made to the land in order to sustain routine, such as bridges joining two facing embankments.

Photographers often become recognized for specific aspects of their craft: the cropping, the timing, the lighting. Lang’s photography embraces stillness. The stillness that she captures with her lens is a type of attention that magnifies what we see to the degree that it seems as though she invented the textures, colors, and contours that shape her subjects.

You can learn more about Mary Lang at her website, www.marylang.com, and find her on Instagram @marystuartlang.

Studio Visit with Luanne Witkowski

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Luanne Witkowski in her studio

This month marked the end of Lucky Li’s internship at Kingston Gallery. In addition to assisting with marketing, social media, and other duties, she accompanied me on studio visits. I’m very pleased that Lucky will remain with us as one of Kingston’s part-time gallery sitters. Here’s her description of the last studio visit we made together:

 

Recently I accompanied Shana Dumont Garr on a visit to Luanne E. Witkowski’s studio in the SoWa district. She graciously welcomed us and showed us her past and current work while sharing stories as she did so, giving us insight into the evolution of her process over time.

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Detail of artwork by Luanne Witkowski, inspired by and responding to landscape.

Early on in the visit I noted Witkowski’s astute take on how others react to her art. She explained that her work often tends to evoke stories from people. Similar to the way she visually expresses a memory with her art, viewers come to her with verbal memories of their own that were evoked by her artwork. The stories others share with her seem to delight and inspire her, and she shared a few with us. One came from a man who said the piece he enjoyed the most was the one with the large fish in it, and proceeded to show her which work he was referring to. He said it reminded him of an anaconda he saw on vacation once. Witkowski didn’t intend to depict any animals in that particular work, but she enjoyed the man’s vivid description, and even changed the name of the work to reflect the story.

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A display of recent work by Luanne Witkowski in her studio.

One of the things that struck me the most about her from our visit was Witkowski’s passion for connecting with individuals and with her communities she is a part of. She is an active member of several local artist organizations including the United South End Artists, Mission Hill Artist Collective, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. She also offers Basic Training for Artists and Creative People Workshops (Healthy Artist/Healthy Studio) for institutions and individuals.

It is unsurprising that Witkowski is well-respected within her communities for presenting opportunities and skillfully advising those who express passion and potential in their work and personal character. She is an entrepreneur with a history of making opportunities for herself that started when she was young. She sees her responsibility as an artist being about filling the world with art, and supporting fellow artists. As she carries out these responsibilities, she helps others do the same. Always working with a larger vision in mind, her work is done with the interest of bringing the world to her art, and bringing her art to the world.

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A view of Witkowski’s studio, including past series and a work in progress.

All Natural: A Conversation with Al Miner

Installation view, All Natural, Kingston Gallery, September 2015. L-R art by Christina Pitsch, Mary Lang, & Kathleen Gerdon Archer.

Installation view, All Natural, Kingston Gallery, September 2015. L-R art by Christina Pitsch, Mary Lang, & Kathleen Gerdon Archer.

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 Naturalfeaturing 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.

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Greg Lookerse, Two Fish Cut Into Five Thousand Piees, #1, edition of 10, archival inkjet print.

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.

I Am A Century Wide, 2015, 24 x 24 inches, polypropylene print mounted on Sintra under plexiglas, 1 of 10

Kathleen Gerdon Archer, I Am A Century Wide, 2015, 24 x 24 inches, polypropylene print mounted on Sintra under plexiglas, 1 of 10

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.

Near Moutlton Falls, WA, 2015, archival digital print, 20 x 30 inches.

Mary Lang, Near Moulton Falls, WA, 2015, archival digital print, 20 x 30 inches.

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.

Postcard of Christina Pitsch, Fragments of Love and Desire: Loveletter, taxidermy deer hoof, ribbon, 19

Postcard of Christina Pitsch, Fragments of Love and Desire: Loveletter,
taxidermy deer hoof, ribbon, 19″ x 8″ x 7″

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.

Installation View, All Natural, Kingston Gallery, Sept. 2015. L-R Greg Lookerse, Mary Lang, Christina Pitsch.

Installation View, All Natural, Kingston Gallery, Sept. 2015. L-R Greg Lookerse, Mary Lang, Christina Pitsch.