Monday, March 23, 2015

Plastic Pledges

The Great Morgani, accordionist extraordinaire, kicked off the Blue festivities, an evening of exhibitions and events at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. The big draw was Everybody's Ocean, a salon style floor to ceiling extravaganza part-crowd source, part curated. It's a love fest for 71% of the earths surface and in this case more than 71% of the gallery walls. 

Throughout the museum there were displays from ocean related organizations including our old friend Rachel Kippen from Save Our Shores and presentations from our new friend marine conservationist Sally-Christine Rodgers.

Our table top activity was billed as Feeling Blue. My able assistant, museum volunteer, nicknamed "Rat," set the stage by making the first example. All evening she encouraged visitors to sort through a mass of blue and colorful plastics to make make artful arrangements. Some folks just fooled around — putting one piece of plastic next to another in spontaneous constructions; others aligned the colors in balancing acts finding creative ways to make an elaborate tower of toothbrushes and straws stand up. All were astonished to learn that all of the plastic was from Kehoe Beach.

In the Lezin Gallery is our exhibit Plastic Pledges (until April 19). Looming overhead, hung from the ceiling is MAW a hulk of a tubular net, a piece of a trawl net with its mouth wide open to emphasize that it is clearly a mouth and digestive tube, that once scraped the seabed taking with it quantities of useable fish and along with it vast quantities of by-catch.

MAW, a gaping trap for all who enter its surround (fish, turtles, birds, marine mammals) carries a powerful message about the problem of industrial fishing practices and overfishing an already strained fish stock. As a twisting and powerful visual force it reinforces our message to stop eating fish, to give the ocean a break.

And, speaking of eating, our prints of plates full of plastic from our Unaccountable Proclivities series graced one area of the gallery and my shadow boxes of jewelry graced the other.

The center piece was a "kelp forest." Strands of rope with tags where visitors can write about their first memory of the ocean and what they pledge to do for the ocean.

After an evening with the calming influence of all that oceanic blue, the next morning it was a shock to the senses to see this window display in downtown Santa Cruz - talk about color!!! My eyes and my teeth hurt.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


In preparation for our upcoming exhibit at the Doug Adams Gallery we were introduced to the CARE community, an affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union. The Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education (CARE), promotes scholarship, reflection, and practice in the arts and religion to serve the Graduate Theological Union.

The party, billed as a "friendraising," certainly was. We were greeted by several old friends and made many new ones. Thanks to our hosts Suzanne and Devin Zuber for making sure that the weather was perfect, the sunset was glorious and the discussions were as dazzling as the sparkling lights of Berkeley, Oakland and beyond. Thanks to Elizabeth Peña and Lily Manderville the party planning was par excellence; with abundant and delectable refreshments to fuel the wide ranging conversations. Thanks to the Hannah and Yohana, volunteer student interns, who have started a blog that will give a behind the scenes look at the development of our project and exhibition. Thanks to Alla Efimova for posting the party pic on her Facebook page.

We were pleased to present the group our "artist statement" for our exhibit, Mining the Collection: Finding Meaning in the Mess:

What we leave behind, what every creature, every culture leaves behind. What the rocks as tales of mountains in motion leave behind. Archeology, Paleontology, Geology. All of these sciences study the remains of something that happened in time, something that left a mark. The fossilized bones of the Archaeopteryx— the Ur bird bridges the "missing link" in the biota of our world. History itself looks into the archives of politics, art, literature; what was left—Cézanne's apples, Mozart's The Magic Flute, the budgetary calamities of Louie XIV, the columns of Persepolis.

When we began thinking about our exhibit at the Doug Adams Gallery/Badé Museum, it was to be a simple exploration of our contemporary archaeology site — Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. In response to the Tell en-Nasbeh collection we would simply catalogue and sort into some kind of coherence the plastic trash we find washing onto our favorite beach. Limiting ourselves to 1000 meters of that beach as a way of establishing a graspable metric in the welter of planetary bad news. A representative sample of what our culture is leaving behind.

Our search for meaning has taken us from the beach to this august institution, and rightly so. The search for meaning swings toward theology as a way of making sense of an untidy universe.

During our 20 year-long project we've been on an ongoing quest to find out how an aesthetic mind transforms plastic pollution into something meaningful, something beautiful to see. Along the way we've met the texts of powerful thinkers like Mary Douglas, Emile Durkheim, Mircea Eliade who all probe the question, what is allowed inside the Temple, the sacred space, and what must remain outside as the profane, as the "dirt?" We wonder if there is there an alchemy in the creative process linked to transformative action? After collecting over three tons of plastic from one beach we have tuned the simplest action of picking up trash to the highest value of re-enchantment. After all, we call our practice "Stoop Yoga" having bent over and picked every piece of plastic in this exhibit, one piece at a time. 

A child walking up the steps of Chicago's Art Institute asks, "Why are there these huge lions outside? This isn't the zoo!" This guileless question unfolds the image of libraries, museums, sanctuaries, shrines, tabernacles beset by toothy beasts. The archetypal guardians. The memorable fanged Bomas of Bali, above every temple doorway, eyes blazing, clawed hands raised in warning, may be just saying. "Booo!" Leave your fear at the door. Or may be saying, "Come in but only bring your best across this threshold." Leave your fear and your greed, pride, gluttony and sloth and the rest of human passion knotted in our ADD culture—come in and feel both your grief for the environmental plight we face as well as a little good humor at the human condition that brought us here. 

Lions at the gate? Chapter 7 of the Gospel of Thomas poses: "Blessed is the lion which the man eats, and the lion will become man; and cursed is the man whom the lion eats, and the lion will become man." Bringing this riddle into the sanctuary of the Bade Museum is turning the polemics of anger at consumer recklessness in to the solutions of joy, pleasure and understanding. The joy of discovery, the pleasure of collecting, and turning the hungry lions in our soul toward understanding the mess we have gotten ourselves in to. 

Finally, we return to the animistic beginnings when the world was an enchanted place where we can imagine everything/everyone was living in sacred space. Maybe this is a pipe dream but after years of work in our art studios we do know the enchantment of creative thinking leads out into a world where the temple evolves into the whole world, where we can transform the mess into meaning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Vale of Tears

Claudia Chapline, curator, puts the finishing touches on Judith's Vale of Tears. Her invitation to participate in Connections, an exhibition at the Red Barn Gallery, was the prompt to get the water flowing in this piece composed of hundreds of pieces of candy, food and cigarette wrappers, plastic bags, translucent pieces of plastic collected from Kehoe Beach.

Connections is part of an arts program related to the 2015 literary conference “Mapping a New Geography of Hope: Women and the Land."

Claudia is a tireless supporter of the arts. Not only is she a fine artist, she is the instigator and visionary for Art Contemporary Marin a non-profit that presents art in public places throughout Marin County.

James Elkins in his Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings tells stories about paintings that have brought people to tears.  A letter from Angela C. describes her trip to Tokyo and the extraordinary scene of the impeccably formal Japanese crowding in to view the painting scroll of Nachi Falls. Even the typically reserved elders were weeping. The painting awakened a religious experience for the onlookers who believed that it was not just a painting of God, but was God itself. The Nachi waterfall is a holy site and a stop for travelers on a religious pilgrimage.

Elkins laments the scarcity of tears today, attributing it to the head-over-heart school of art that has made crying passé.  Which brings me to the question —  have I ever been so moved by a painting that I was brought to tears? Could I create a work of art that would bring others to tears?

Any amount of plastic found on Kehoe Beach should evoke a tear. The amount of plastic displayed here (all from Kehoe Beach) should evoke a cascade of deep crying. 

We hope that while Vale of Tears is on display at the Red Barn Gallery it will be revered as a sacred site for meditation and reflection; a place on the trail to Kehoe Beach where pilgrims will go to pick up plastic.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

In Threes

While Judith was greeting her fans at the Geography of Hope exhibition, Doug Woodring, his dad Doug Sr, and Richard headed for the beach. Drakes Beach, that is.

The configurations of the cliffs along that stretch of strand (Purisima Formation outcrops) make it a perfect place to find fossils, sea creatures and rare stones. And on this day, the three found all three.

Doug won the day with his find of not one but two fossilized whale vertebrae and talk about sea creatures — an adorable baby shark!

Like the fossil hunters of Olduvai Gorge, it takes long hours of careful hunting to gain the skill to pick out something like a tiny plastic rock from the rubble at the foot of the Drake's Beach cliffs, the New Albion of Captain Drake's famous 16th Century landing. This nickel-sized plastic pebble—made in China, is one more piece of evidence that the world is both micro and macro. It's not one of the plastic stones described in the New York Times as a future fossil composed of plastiglomerate from the Anthropocene. Richard's stone was a singularity from our own Plasticene Discontinunity.

Doug, Sr holding the planet in place, hey… Got the world on a string, sittin' on a rainbow…

Sing it, Frank!

The Sandwich

My Sandwich 
by Jane Hirschfeld

So many things
you’d not have thought of
until they were given.
Even the simple—
a cottage cheese sandwich,
a heron’s contractable neck.
You eat. You look.
Then you look back and it’s over.
This life. This flood—
unbargained for as lasting love was—
of lasting oddness.

Maybe it was because after giving up eating sea food...

Seafood indeed! — Not that we don't love it in all it's iterations: sushi, canned, scallops quick-fried in butter, oysters, chowder, even gefilte fish, but—For God's sake!! Its sea life not sea food, as our friend Sylvia Earle calls it — who encouraged us to give up eating things that come out of the water; to give the ocean a break. We'd sooner eat a rabbit than a halibut. We think it's time to give the ocean a break. Market hunting was banned with the Lacey Act of 1900 — hunting then selling wild animals. Aren't tuna the leopards of the sea? So when Jane Hirshfield's poem mentioned "Herons" we heard "Herring" as in cottage cheese and herring sandwiches. Mmmmmmm...herring, maybe just this time...

Every morning during our commute to San Francisco we listen to Garrison Keillor's The Writers Almanac. Two days a week we are together. But, on this day, March 5, we were each separately in our own cars, tuned in and both heard "Herring" not Heron — wishful thinking? Judith calls from the car...yes we both heard and loved the poem. And so, as a offering of affection, in honor of our "unbargained for as lasting love was—" at the store that evening Richard picked up a jar of "forbidden" herring and some cottage cheese for our sandwiches the next day.

Next day, and giddy with the thought, that we had actually recreated THAT poetic sandwich, we sat down to lunch together in front of the computer. Wary of the "lasting oddness," of a strange sandwich, we punched up the Almanac to enjoy reading the poem while we enjoyed our meal. Sandwich—not bad—but the line was "heron's" not "herring." 

Oh well, food from the ever shriveling sea was pretty tasty after all, and lasting love is still lasting in it's oddness.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


The opportunity to show and share ones work with an appreciative audience is the ultimate for an artist. From conception to completion is often a long journey. Today at Toby's Feed Barn in Point Reyes Judith's piece Omphalos was presented by Steve Costa, Kate Levinson (conference sponsors) and Tracy Grubbs (curator) marking its travels from Kehoe Beach to a place of honor at the art exhibition, Mapping a New Geography of Hope: Women and the Land.

This is Judith's artist statement for the show:

An omphalos (ὀμφαλός) is a religious stone artifact that represents the center of the universe. In Greek the word omphalos means "navel". In Delphi it was a sacred place where pilgrims sought spiritual guidance and answers for their most perplexing problems. What did those people ask?  Did they consult about the vagaries of love and how to open the heart? Did they wonder about the ultimate fate of the planet? the universe?  Did they "Google" for insights and inspirations or did they want hints from Heloise?

In December, when I found a 18" x 8" round of styrofoam washed up on Kehoe Beach, I was thrilled. I sensed that I had found the "answer" for my submission to the Mapping a New Geography of Hope: Women and the Land art exhibition. 

Later, at home, a Google image search brought up an image of a stone artifact that is now on exhibit at the Delphi Archeological Museum. It is a beehive shape with relief carvings of rope netting to represent the cloth that once covered the sacred omphalos. Could it be that this net pattern was a representation of an ancient Internet?

On another day at the beach found the perfect plinth — a large styrofoam cylinder buoy that must have once been cinched tight with fishing netting. The criss-crossed markings embossed on the surface makes a connection across time and space with the Delphi ur-omphalos original. 

These days we often ask the knowledge navigators Siri or Google for directions or guidance. It is my hope that my Omphalos will evoke a sense of awe and wonder and become a sacred place where we can refresh our commitment to planetary healing; an oracle where we can ask the navel of the universe, How are we connected to our Earth Ocean Mother?