Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Environmental Aesthetics closing reception

Fe Gallery is hosting a closing reception for Environmental Aesthetics this Friday; if you didn't have a chance to see hibernaculum during the run of the show, stop in.

Environmental Aesthetics Closing Reception
Friday, November 4th
7pm - 9pm
Free and open to the public

image: still from Birds/Passage of Time by Connie Merriman

Fe Gallery is located at 4102 Butler Street in Lawrenceville, and will also be open Thursday and Friday from noon to 3pm and Saturday noon to 4pm.

Reflections update

Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek has closed its run at Arts Monongahela and will open next week at California University of Pennsylvania. The reception is scheduled for Thursday, November 10th at 5pm.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Official diagnosis

It's official - the U.S. Geological Survey has confirmed that the fungus Geomyces destructans is causing white-nose syndrome in American bat species.

Here's hoping that pinpointing the cause of the bat crash leads to funding, more public awareness, and a stop to the deadly fungus.

Cause confirmed for devastating bat disease

Friday, October 14, 2011

Native American Speaker Reflects at "Reflections" Show

Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek is the show I contributed a mussel-themed piece to, currently on display in West Virginia.

Ann Payne, organizer and curator of the exhibition, writes:

Crayfish, a water-soluble pencil painting by Jana Matusz

A free public reception will be held at Arts Monongahela to honor Joe
Candillo, this year’s principal speaker at the 2011 Peace Tree
Ceremony hosted by the WVU Native American Studies Program.  The 5:30
p.m reception for Mr. Candillo is scheduled for Tuesday, October 25th at
Arts Monongahela’s Jackson Kelly Gallery, 201 High Street.  

Mr. Candillo’s reception and remarks will take place amidst the
artwork of Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek, a collaborative art
exhibit honoring 90 animal species that perished in the 2009 poisoning
of Dunkard Creek, a West Virginia and Pennsylvania stream.  The area
surrounding Dunkard Creek was once home to the Monongahela People, a
late woodland Native American culture.  Reflections: Homage to Dunkard
Creek’s 90 participating artists are all practicing artists whose
lives are connected to the Monongahela Watershed.

Following the reception at 6 p.m., Candillo will share some traditional
Native American perspectives about the role of humans in the natural
environment and the idea of respect for each other and all of creation. 
Candillo, a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, is currently completing
his Ph.D in American Studies at Buffalo, NY.  In addition to his
education in anthropology and American Indian Studies, Candillo has
worked as an artist, curator, and exhibit designer.  Reflections: Homage
to Dunkard Creek is sponsored by The Mountain Institute:  Appalachia

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Environmental Aesthetics opening

Here they are! Pictures from the opening at Fe Gallery!

A view of hibernaculum as you enter the gallery:

 Some detail shots of the bats themselves:

And a view of the installation with people in it, for scale. The walls are about 13 feet tall.

Also a few pictures of some of the wonderful work in the show: Rise Nagin's collage of natural objects and Carin Mincemoyer's mirror-clouds in the gallery's bay windows.

Before I tell you anything about this piece, let me first say that I owe its existence to some very awesome people. hibernaculum would not have been possible without the time, materials, installation help, expertise, and support the following people have generously shared with me: Brandon at Laser Lab Studio, Sam Ditch, Deanna Mance, Alisa Michael, Chris and Kristen Osterwood, Christy Rollinson, David Rollinson, and Katherine Talcott. Also, it was hugely reassuring to work through my first installation with the other artists I showed with - their experience with installation art made everything a little less terrifying for me. Thank you all!

So. About this piece. If you've been reading this blog, you've noticed I've been thinking a lot lately about the invasive fungal infections that are suddenly killing off many bats in North America. This show ended up being the perfect opportunity to work with that idea, and expand on previous themes of paper-constructed animals to create a large-scale work. I wanted to use paper from natural history books to reference my thoughts about how we use science to make sense of the natural world, even in situations where the world is changing faster than we can understand it (often as the result of our own actions). In an earlier entry I mentioned one of the books I used, The Uncivilized Races, or, a Natural History of Man, and supplemented that with more material that was donated to me and that I found at used bookstores: books about native trees of Canada, a textbook on forestry, a book about endangered species from the 1970s, books on evolution.

These bats are all cut with a laser, from a template that I designed. Every single one is attached to cardboard shapes, backed by foam, that were prepared in my studio and installed at the gallery, with some re-adjusting, re-pinning, and filling in as I went. My best estimate of the number of bats is between 6,000 and 7,000, and they average about 100 per square foot.

As far as the shape, I spent a lot of time looking at photos of bats clustered in caves, but for this installation I felt it was more appropriate to respond to the space rather than create a simulation of a natural bat shape. After all, it was already apparent that these were flat paper objects. I did a lot of fussing and adjusting and freaking out about finishing the edges on the sloped part of the ceiling before I realized what I was actually doing was subconsciously making a map . . . which is why those edges remain un-rounded. To me it referenced the geometric structure underneath the bats, which wasn't so visible unless you really inspected the substrate carefully. It also reinforced the analogy between the cities of people, and the cities of bats.

This is the first truly large-scale piece I've ever done. A lot of people at the opening told me it reminded them of lichen, or fur, or leaves, or shelf fungi - all textures I'd hoped it would evoke. I really wanted the piece to be readable and interesting at a lot of levels, from the overall shape and appearance to the individual snippets of non-information legible on each bat.

So there it is! Many thanks to everyone who made it to the opening as well. If you are in Pittsburgh and didn't make it, I hope you can still get to see the piece. I'd welcome any comments or questions. Fe Gallery is open from 12 - 3 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and is located at 4102 Butler Street between Fisk and Main Sts. in Lawrenceville. Environmental Aesthetics will be up until November 6th.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"hibernaculum" install in progress

I'm currently installing hibernaculum at Fe Gallery, so, putting about 8,000 of these guys up on the walls! Opening is this Friday from 7 to 9.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New artist's statement

I have a new statement that I wrote for my piece at Fe Gallery. Because it isn't explicitly printmaking or drawing like most of my other work, I felt the need for a statement that referenced a wider range of media. I struggle a lot with a writing style that is overly academic, and I would consider this piece, like most artist's statements, continually in progress.

Artist statement

As far as we know, human beings are alone in the animal kingdom in our ability to contemplate our existence in the natural world. The paradox of this awareness is that although we are animals, and of nature, we can never know the natural world at first hand. We are simultaneously within and without the natural world; although we belong to it, in the very act of defining and attempting to understand it, we alienate ourselves from it. Systems of learning and labeling develop from our search for understanding and definition. They become lenses through which we view the natural world.

Museums, libraries, academia - these are all culturally constructed lenses through which we attempt to better understand "nature." In my art, I look at the way these systems and lenses affect that understanding; how they influence people's opinions, how they alienate us from or compare us to the natural world, how they inspire awe and wonder, and how they cause us to alter nature in the very act of observing it. Studying the systems tells us as much about humanity as it does the natural world. Nature, on the other side of the lens, becomes a mirror.

a face lift

Taking a break from the ol' green and beige polka dots and trying out a new theme. I've always thought my work looked best on dark backgrounds (more reminiscent of old natural history museums?), so maybe I'll keep it this way.

Friday, August 26, 2011

more paper bat photos

A few pictures of my paper hibernaculum under construction.

And a close-up of some shapes that have captured interesting images:

These bats were made from a falling-apart edition of Rev. John George Wood's The Uncivilized Races, or, a Natural History of Man, a mid-19th century tome about indigenous peoples around the world. It almost deserves its own post, but I'll describe it briefly here. It has pretty much everything you'd expect of a book its age - very period descriptions of the customs, clothing, diets, etc. of a range of populations from the West Indies to Africa to Mongolia. The book is pretty much entirely comprised of descriptions, based on his own travels and also accounts from other Europeans, without any kind of hard scientific content. In some ways it reads much more like a travelogue than what I would consider a scientific text. Surprisingly it's a bit less patronizing and "OOOH look at the natives" gawky than I expected it might be, but obviously, the offensive title of the book and the mere fact that these people are basically being observed as anthropological studies of "lesser" humans says a lot about how some Europeans used to look at the world. (Namely, in a very Euro-centric way.) Many of the illustrations of objects such as pottery, helmets, and weapons are labeled as being from the author's personal collection, which certainly enforces the idea of the subjects of the book as scientific curiosities. 
I have other books I'll be using as well - books about the native trees of Canada, scientific journals, and an introductory text to Forestry (I hadn't realized this, but forestry is much more about how to manage forests for the economic benefit of humans and much less about how to manage forests as a habitat for wildlife). More photos as the installation progresses.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Paper bats

Just a quick update on the paper hibernaculum project - my bats came back today from Laser Lab Studio in Bloomfield and they look terrific. I'm really excited to start putting them all together to make the piece... and anyone who saw my locust installation knows I'm almost crying with joy over the time this will save me. Time I can spend constructing and eventually installing the piece, instead of cutting out a zillion paper shapes and giving myself carpal tunnel in the process. Hooray for technology!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek

Those of you who are poring over every detail of this blog (I know you're out there) may have noticed an as-yet-unspoken-of upcoming show sitting in my queue on the left for a few weeks now. I've finally finished my contribution to this project and wanted to share my efforts.

The show, entitled Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek, is a collaborative, traveling show documenting all the species of river life in Dunkard Creek, West Virginia that died off during a massive toxic algae bloom in 2009. The bloom was the result of chemical mine waste flowing into the river, already at a low level from industrial water withdrawals, and it was toxic enough and widespread enough to suffocate and kill most of the life within the creek. Dunkard Creek flows into the Monongahela River, a source of drinking water for many people in the region, and thusly eventually into the Ohio and, eventually eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.

Artists selected for this project were given a species and a panel, and asked to create a piece of art inspired by (but not necessarily representing) that species. People were assigned everything from herons to minnows to freshwater copepods. Get excited, folks, because I got the Round Pigtoe Mussel* (known by his scientific friends as Pleuroblema sintoxia). Here's my collage, constructed from engravings I made.

The show opens in Morgantown, West Virginia on September 9th, and will be traveling to locations throughout the Monongahela Watershed in 2012 (details over on the left - updated as I hear more). You can also read more about the creek and see what some of the other artists have submitted at the website created by the show's curator, Ann Payne. You may even live close enough to get to one of the shows in person!

*I am excited. Be honest, would you expect anything else from someone who voluntarily draws dead bugs?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bats in crisis

A neighbor spotted some photos of tarantulas and hummingbirds in the last issue of Smithsonian magazine and passed in on to me, but a surprise waited for me within. I stumbled upon another article about white-nose fungus:

What is killing the bats?

It's not too long of an article, but worth reading, since it describes some of the specific ways scientists are trying to study the fungus: how to detect it, how it spreads, how exactly it affects bats. Opinions still seem divided over whether the most deadly symptoms are the weakening of wing membranes, the awakening of bats from hibernation, or some other irritation caused by the fungus.* The longer there is a lack of consensus on what exactly the fungus does, the longer it will take us to develop the most effective way to treat sick bats and stop it from spreading further.

I admit that I fear it could be too late already. This really disheartens me. These scientists are working around the clock to stay ahead of what is becoming a pandemic in the U.S. and their efforts don't seem to be working. White nose is still spreading faster than we can understand it or even track it. Even if we get that far, we're probably looking at losing the majority of the country's bat population, and, as the article states, it will take generations for the population to rebound. And it will come at a high price: a certain rise in the populations of mosquitoes and other insect pests, and thusly a rise in both mosquito-borne disease and crop failures.

I try to take solace in the words of Brooke Slack, one of the biologists studying the bats: "There's a sense of helplessness, [b]ut I don't feel like we can say, 'Well, we've got it, so we give up.' We've got an obligation to move forward."

I'm really excited about my upcoming bat piece - not just from the perspective of working for the first time on a large-scale installation, but also because I want other people to know what is happening too. I think it can seem like a niche issue (as in, Save the spotted two-toed purple hyrax!) but what we are really talking about is our food supply, our protection against disease, and preserving an incredibly important group of animals that occupies a key role in many ecological systems in America. And I really think this message can be spread without the finger-wagging and shaming that sometimes accompanies the most academic or sanctimonious environmental art.

* 9/25/11 A brief update on this - I've since read that starvation from waking up during the winter and irritation of the membrane seem to both be contributing to bat deaths. Better news (maybe) is that the fungus can be killed with fluconazole, which is commonly prescribed for human fungal infections. This of course raises concerns about what else we might accidentally kill if we start pumping aerated anti-fungals into caves, but it's a start. And the scientists are not giving up!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Twelve Batty Bat

New bats for this fall's Fe Gallery installation. It opens September 23rd; I'm aiming for a few thousand bats before then.

These bats will be a little less homogenous than in the last installation; I'm trying to use found paper from a variety of interesting sources: books on birds, maps on species distribution, photos of animal colonies, texts about exploration, invasion, etc.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hibernaculum installation at Crazy Mocha

Here are some newer, better (sorta) pictures of the bat installation I did at Crazy Mocha Bloomfield. The piece was de-installed last night to make room for a new show opening this week, but it - or something like it - will likely reappear in my future works. I used this as a sort of installation "sketch" for what I'm thinking about at Fe Gallery for this fall.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Forest Through The Trees

Hello again, everyone. So I had another one of those "update every other day" weeks in February and haven't paid enough subsequent attention to this blog. Regardless, here are some very overdue photos of my and Deanna's opening for The Forest Through The Trees. Details of some of the pieces can be found in one of my earlier entries.

From left to right: Deanna's work, a collaborative installation of tiny paper birds in bottles, and more collaborative drawings.

The fox on the wall is a watercolor of mine, as is the blue desk filled with paper birds. The birch boxes filled with intaglio and collage are Deanna's.

Two pieces of mine: a "bird chorus" of tiny stuffed intaglio birds, and an installation of paper locusts. I started the locust project in Chautauqua in 2009 and I'm really glad I finally got to try it out. It seemed like I spent forever printing and assembling hundreds of these, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed with how small the whole mass looked on the wall together. 

A shot of our collaborative drawings

Deanna's work and admirers

Since my last update, I've continued to think about the bat die-offs and how I might interpret them through a piece like the paper locusts. Fortunately, I have been invited to explore these ideas in a show this fall, so brace yourselves for more photos of paper animals. 

As I delve into ideas for this show, I continue to find myself influenced by the past too. Most people who have been to the Mattress Factory Museum in the past few years have probably seen Ruth Stanford's What Remains on Sampsonia Way, an installation she made on the front of an old row house commemorating the lives of that house's former occupants. Photos at that link also show the piece she made on the inside, called In the Dwelling House. I had the pleasure of helping Ruth with the installation of the latter work, and getting an intimate view of her perspective on the traces people leave behind in cities has had a permanent impact on my work. (And, um, you'll notice that cabinet stocked with glass jars filled with detritus found in the house - a big visual and conceptual influence for me, obviously.) I draw animals, but in essence I've really felt that my work is about the way that humans perceive nature, and how concepts like antiquity and preciousness and knowledge influence how we show and talk about "nature" to other humans. Also, as I've settled in Pittsburgh, a city truly at the crossroads of ghosts from the past and promises of the future, her works about what has been have continued to resonate.

One of the front stones of the house has been replaced with a stone bearing a quote from novelist Italo Calvino, from his book Invisible Cities, a short work of fiction about Marco Polo in the court of Kublai Khan, describing cities he's visited in his travels across Asia. I've owned a copy for years, but finally sat down and read it. It really spoke to me, a lover of museums and old things, a person who has lived abroad in a place that felt bizarrely more like home, and a simultaneously exploring, begrudging, and affectionate occupant of a very strange city. A few passages I marked:

"This city which cannot be expunged from the mind is like an armature, a honeycomb in whose cells each of us can place the things he wants to remember: names of famous men, virtues, numbers, vegetable and mineral classifications, dates of battles, constellations, parts of speech."

"Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a part of his past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer posses lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places."

"The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls."

Somewhere in the intersection of this, and Ruth's work, and the bat die-off, is the genesis of new pieces. Oh, and I'm planning another collaboration, too, this time with my friend and fellow Chautauqua alum Sara Gibson. A small subset of her work is found at her blog, where it will be obvious that we share a love of nature, glass containers, and clusters of small objects. Stay tuned, everyone. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

bat crash

Last December, an article appeared in National Geographic about the white-nose fungus that is causing massive, frightening die-offs in bat colonies around North America. The fungus has been on the radar of bat enthusiasts for a few years now - everyone in Chautauqua was watching for it in 2008 - so it's not breaking news. (In fact, the PA Game Comission's map on this website indicates that it had already reached Buffalo by the end of 2010, so Chautauqua can't be far behind.)

This article comes at a scary time for people paying attention to animals around the world, especially in the wake of the catastrophic oil disaster in the Gulf. It's even easier to sensationalize every ecological hiccup in the wake of a string of ill-timed (and highly publicized) animal die-offs in the winter of 2010-2011. Yet, it's pretty clear that the fungus is not normal, and it's spreading fast. At this point it's more a question of when the fungus will reach every bat in America, not if. And with many species already critically endangered, and all bats responsible for a lot of pollinating and insect control, the impact could truly be devastating on not just our food supply, but ecological systems across the continent.

I did some poking around to see how much more we'd figured out since the article was published. I'll admit I didn't go digging in library archives - just the internet - but it seems to me that not too much has changed. We're still waiting on evidence, I guess. I read a botanist's website that pointed out that we still don't have absolute scientific proof that the fungus is the actual cause of death. At best, at this point it's assumed to be an indirect cause. Scientists are still not absolutely sure - "scientific proof" speaking - that the fungus is what's disrupting hibernation and causing the snowballing of fat loss, metabolism disruption, and wing damage that is probably leading to mid-winter deaths. Right now, it's a probable guess.

I got to thinking about what it means to have scientific certainty about anything. The amount of irrefutable evidence required, the countless hours spent by lab workers, PhD candidates, scholars, etc. in search of the truth. The enormous amount of effort building skyscrapers of scientific knowledge, brick by brick, that can be dismantled by a public that is ill-informed, uninterested, or driven by fear.

Science, as illuminating as it is, is sometimes like a laser pointer seeking out a fish in the ocean. As much as we're able to discover with our advanced methods of seeing, sensing, and analyzing the word, a big part of me worries that the research won't ever keep up with the rate at which we're changing the planet. I wonder if we will find the truth quickly enough.

Monday, February 21, 2011

new bird collage-box

I haven't been posting enough images lately, so here are some shots of a new piece I'm working on:

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Collective wisdom from my old sketchbooks

One of the hard things, when you're painting, is, "what?"
     Gary Hume, artist

You don't owe anything to the work you've done previously.
     Chris Sperandio, artist

Nature is a mirror onto which we project our own ideas and values, but it is also a material reality that sets limits . . . the nonhuman world is real and autonomous . . . but the paradox of our human lives is that we can never know that world at first hand.
     William Cronon, environmental historian

Don't wait to do your "good" ideas. Act on every idea; you'll inevitably make bad art. Don't strive to get it right on the first try. Strive to make art each time you have an idea. Don't strike ideas down, because you achieve by doing, not thinking.
     paraphrased from Deborah Aschheim, artist

Plato suggests . . . that memory is like an aviary inside your head, with all these birds flying around, such that you might reach in for a ringdove and accidentally pull out a turtle dove instead.
     David Wilson, director of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, as quoted by author Lawrence Weschler

The ivory tower of science is in a ruin. Science is not a pure realm of truth beyond the taints of ideology and business, but a field of ideas enmeshed in a power struggle. Increasingly industry and economics dictate the direction and priorities of research. Whilst informed by science, we are ever vigilant against claims of scientific neutrality, and ever skeptical of the "official story" of natural history presented by scientific institutions.
     Mark Dion, extracted from a manifesto for artists working with or about the living world

We are the species in control, and it is up to us.
     Donald Johanson, anthropologist and discoverer of Austalopithecus afarensis fossil "Lucy"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

so, an update

It's one month later. How has my "make art every day" mantra been going?

Well, I'm reminded of the five-year plan I was encouraged to make as an undergrad in my senior thesis class. On Saturday I'll be participating in a school-to-professional forum at Carnegie Mellon University this weekend, so I dug up my senior packet and five-year plan to take a look at what I thought I had in store for myself back in 2005:

spring 2006: graduate from CMU
summer 2006: work part-time and find a job in one of the following cities: Austin, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago
fall 2006: relocate to new city and begin working part or full time at a nonprofit institution
end of 2006: apply to grad school for the fall of 2007
2007: start grad school

Had I followed this, I'd probably have an MFA by now, and I'd almost certainly be living somewhere else. For those of you following along at home, I've managed to stay in Pittsburgh, work 3 years in retail, get married, buy a house, and ... not go to grad school. On the other hand, I've had over ten shows in the last few years, made enormous strides in my art, had an awesome residency and later job in Chautauqua, and, well, hey, I'm married and I own a house. And finally, after a few years of retail and unemployment I did score a job at an awesome nonprofit. Not so bad.

While I was poking around on my hard drive I also uncovered a lot of old cover letters for job opportunities long past (unsurprisingly, a few were for the Mattress Factory). The letters and my plans were a window into my 21-year-old self, who, at the time, was ready to hit the diving board running and plunge headfirst into a mix of prestigious jobs and higher education.

Let it suffice to say that life rarely unfolds the way in which you intend. I snagged the first steady job I could find out of college and intended for it to be a temporary stop on my way to career greatness. I found myself in the same place two years later treading water in a job I wasn't super thrilled about, plagued by doubt about my situation, my education, even why I was making art and how to deal with it existing solely in the echo chamber of my own judgment. But, after a residency, a year of unemployment, then returning to my old job, and finally moving on to the Mattress Factory, I do feel like I've gone somewhere.

Let it also suffice to say that as a young person ready to flee the college scene I really underestimated Pittsburgh. I confess I thought the city had nothing to offer beyond a few larger museums, but I've found a lot of small galleries, local talent, and a supportive and genuine atmosphere that has been a good place to develop as an artist. I do think we are a city poised on the brink of a greater role in arts, technology, and re-invention than we've had before.

Okay, so, what I am really taking up all this space to say is, it's hard to predict in what direction life will take you. Best laid plans of mice and men yadda yadda. Lesson learned, although sometimes I get pretty down when I think about how much I should have accomplished five years out of school.

Long story short, I broke my promise to myself in early January and, feeling creatively uninspired by nature fast asleep in the dead of winter, haven't made much of anything. Tonight I'm about to sit down and try my hardest to re-start.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010: my year in review. Plus, uh, the future.

This was a fortunate and exciting year for me that involved:

• showing in four exhibitions
• participating in the Three Rivers Arts Fest as an Emerging Artist, and winning Best in Show
• moving on to a new job as Volunteer Coordinator/Visitor Services Assistant at the Mattress Factory
• way more bicycling
• buying a house
• finally going on a honeymoon with my husband
• ending the year with a great collaboration between me and Deanna
• my first official press coverage in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

2010 was chaotic and somewhat stressful, but full of amazing opportunities. I'm looking forward to the coming year, and I've decided to take some time off of exhibiting to create new bodies of work. I need to carve out more time in my life to create and explore, and I felt like a lot of my "art" time this past year was spent prepping work I had already done. Some goals for the coming year:

• make art every day
• draw more
• get back into (clarinet) playing shape
• draw inspiration from the work of others without feeling intimidated or defeated (constant battle. suggestions from those fighting it?)

I've got a big year ahead. Happy 2011!