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).

Of the Dense and Porous: More Holes by Linda Leslie Brown

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Linda Leslie Brown, Porous, 2015, mixed media.

We are very pleased to welcome a guest writer, Heather Davis, to our blog, for her essay about Linda Leslie Brown‘s exhibition, More Holes. If you’re around this holiday weekend, stop by the gallery to see the exhibition before it closes this Sunday, May 29. 

The forms emerge from and with the earth. Various materials—plastic, ceramic, wood, metal—are pressed and held together in strange, humorous, bodily shapes. Almost recognizable items emerge from the matrix, as odd characters that seem to have been compressed through the pressures of time and weight, emerging as if from the distant future. The detritus of consumer culture is here reworked to comment on its archaeological status to come. Linda Brown’s series More Holes evocatively produces these future fossils, implicitly asking, “What are we leaving behind? What will remain as our material legacy?”

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Installation view, More Holes, Kingston Gallery, May 2016, photo by Ann Wessman.

“Materials teach you things” Brown asserts. Working with discarded materials, culled from recycling bins and objects she finds on the ground, provokes questions not only about their shape, size, weight and structure, but about their lives, past and future. In rendering the objects unrecognizable, Brown creates abstract remnants of a society hell-bent on technological progress, heedless of the warnings that are all around us.

Despite the beauty of their forms and the way that they seem to beg to be touched, retracing the movements of Brown’s hand as she worked with the materials, there is something rather banal and sad in the waste. Immune to the processes of decomposition and cycles of transformation that govern our bodies and other organic matter, these objects remain stubbornly inert as if found in some future landfill: broken, cast aside, and then petrified. The objects begin to write our era into the geology of the earth.

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Linda Leslie Brown, All Natural, 2015, mixed media. 

The brilliance of Brown’s artistic rendering is in provoking reflection on the meaning of all these objects, all this waste, while still providing holes. The porousness of the work suggests a future already in the process of being reworked. The holes refute ideas of masterful progression, instead creating a sense of the unfinished, while at the same time providing more surface and more entryways into the work. The sculptures look as if animals have already made a home in them, moving through the dense layers of plastic and metal and ceramic. Things that used to have a definitive form, that once had commercial value, appear instead to have become the dwellings of burrowing creatures and waste-consuming bacteria.

Brown’s work collapses the distinction between “nature” and “culture,” and her artworks become an offering that seem to have emerged from the future, eroded and weathered, complete with the markings of many other critters. The porosity of the works reminds us to be humble in the face of our technological advances and the negative sublime of ecological crisis. There is always a way through; there are always more holes.

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Linda Leslie Brown, Hermit Crab, 2015, mixed media. 

Heather Davis is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the Pennsylvania State University where she researches the ethology of plastic and its links to petrocapitalism. She is the editor of Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (Open Humanities Press, 2015) and Desire/Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada (MAWA/McGill-Queen’s UP, forthcoming 2017). Her writing can be found at heathermdavis.com.

Christina Pitsch: All that is Lovely and Fine

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Christina Pitsch, forget me not, porcelain, 11 x 12 x 3 inches, 2015.


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Christina Pitsch, Objects of Desire, detail, mixed media, sizes variable.

Ceramics hold many opposites in balance. They are breakable and delicate, yet made with mud by being fired in extreme temperatures. Glazed ceramics can survive a trip through the dishwasher (although I wouldn’t recommend testing this, unless they were intended as dining implements), but not a trip from a shelf or wall to the floor (crash). Each time an artist sends glazed ceramics into the kiln, there is an element of suspense about how it will turn out. The physicality and closeness to the elements make ceramic sculpture inherently dramatic.

On view at Kingston Gallery through August 2, Christina Pitsch‘s solo exhibition Fancied layers the inherent drama of ceramics with that of chandeliers that she altered to create floor-to-ceiling mixed media sculptures. In place of light bulbs or candles stand her own porcelain sculptures of deer hooves. She shifted the transition from white porcelain to gold chandelier upward on some hooves by dipping part of the hoof in shiny gold glaze that matches the finish of the chandelier.

The only colors in Fancied are white or gold, a limited palette that allows a focus on the smooth and shiny textures of the metal and the porcelain. The cluster of Forget-Me-Nots, gloriously floral stems, linear or colorful details, betrays a delicacy quite different from a bouquet of real flowers.

Robert Chamberlin, from the Fill me Up series, porcelain.

Robert Chamberlin, from the Fill me Up series, porcelain. http://www.robertchamberlin.com/

With a similar erasure of specifics balanced by a recreation of essential mood and forms, Boston-based Robert Chamberlin creates vases inspired by the French Sèvres style popular in the 19th century. Absent figures, color, and designs, his series, Fill Me Up, removes narrative and adds a dash of absurdity and a graceful bow to the temporal nature of food arts by applying the ornate, scrolling flourishes with a cake decorator.

In Pitsch’s work, fantasy and absurdity play significant roles. She questions the boundaries of why we find certain things beautiful, in the continuum of natural to human-designed. She sculpts an exaggerated idea of luxury. Her floor-to ceiling sculptures are eye-catching for the same reasons that luxury items are, but their excess and repetition, and illogical insertions of porcelain sculptures interrupt our usual intake of admiration.

The chandeliers she selected are not expensive or antique, and that is part of her point. Walk into any Home Depot and see styles of the past represented in the light fixtures. For $99, you can buy an elaborate, faux-cut crystal (plastic) chandelier. What is it about maintaining Baroque or Victorian tastes in our light fixtures, but not in other parts of our home? For one, the many curving lines of a Victorian table are less practical for a family to dine upon each day. Ornate chandeliers may float above our heads, dusted possibly a few times a year, and work as aspirational forms toward imagined polite and cultured past eras. By contrast, the clean lines of modern furniture translate well into busy households.

Kurt Pio, from his "Diamonds" series (see http://www.kurtpio.co.za/ to learn more)

Kurt Pio, from his “Diamonds” series (see http://www.kurtpio.co.za/ to learn more)

In addition to questioning why we decorate the way we do, Pitsch’s work also references the tenuous line between inspiration and robbery in the realm of fashion and interior design. Some of her ceramic sculptures of birds perched amid blossoms may appear similar to ones you could buy for much less at either a lucky thrift store find or at Anthropologie. By definition, innovation takes form before there is the chance for it be mass-produced, and thus less expensive. There is an undeniably stronger tension between new and the mass-produced ceramic art than, for example, paintings, which may be recreated with giclée printing, but less convincingly. Do we pay for the idea, expressed with matter, or its semblance that is also an object? Do we support the artist or the corporation?

The chandeliers and smaller sculptures in Fancied operate on a continuum between artifice and nature. Much of art consists of making something, or a reality, that you do not in reality have access to by making a version of it with art. Kurt Pio, of South Africa, paints giant diamonds, among other natural forms including the moon and plants. Pio’s diamond paintings are photo-realistic, but done at such a large scale that the refracted gems seem geometrically exaggerated, like lovely, radiant, abstracted mosaics. Viewers feel more than one level of desire or admiration as they appreciate the two-dimensional art. It resonates on the level of luxury AND achievement at how well he rendered a facet of the physical world.

Also on view right now a short way from Kingston Gallery is All at Oncea twenty-year survey of Arlene Schechet‘s art at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. From 2012 to 2013, Schechet did a residency at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory in Germany. At the entry to that section of the exhibition, an introductory text explained the significance of porcelain as a medium in the eighteenth century. “Porcelain was thought to have a living, breathing quality that other sculptural materials lacked,” and we may not be able to relate to the “sense of magic, mystery, and modernity” an eighteenth-century person felt. But I think that ceramics, and porcelain in particular, is having a moment in Boston. I encourage you to see Schechet’s exhibition at the ICA, and Pitsch’s exhibition at Kingston. Please comment to suggest where else we may see ceramics continue to make their mark in fine art.

-Shana Dumont Garr

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Christina Pitsch, Objects of Desire, detail, mixed media, sizes variable, 2015.