Before I knew I was pregnant, I went on an adventure with a group of sound artists into an abandoned slaughterhouse in Commerce City just north of Denver. My colleagues were inspired to create work in the space after hearing about out creative sessions in the blast tunnels of the Titan missile silo. They wanted to make music while channeling the charged energy that filled the space. While they produced music through practicing a style of Tuvan throat singing alongside drums and a didgeridoo, I wandered the haunted spaces convening with the ghosts of the animals who met their demise to meet the insatiable demands of a national diet centered on industrial meat. I photographed a series of interiors that I later used as source material for this set of mixed media paintings created in the first years of Thatcher Gray’s life, when I was exploring the industrial food machine. Integrating paper that I had shot with a shotgun and run over with my truck to print tire patterns with fresh tar, I painted the equipment with with watercolor and colored pencils to pay homage to the life lost here.
The landscape conveyed in Crop covers a widespread smattering of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Silos, the largest of which are the now defunct Titan missile silos. One Titan was built east of Denver. The federal government acquisition of farmland to build this massive structure that was put in operation for only a few years. Then they took away the bombs and gave the land back to the farmer. Dismayed, he dug out an access hole through which we would enter and explore this monument to destruction. It breaks my heart to think of the immense amount of resources that went into the construction of this under ground complex which now lay in ruin. In 2007 a group of artists convened in the blast tunnels to create and record music in the unique acoustics of the spaces. Their works were imbued with the energy of the space which made for haunting explorations of sound. Some of these were turned into a sound installation that I included in the curation of a duo of exhibitions on genocide for the Mizel Museum and as a site specific installation for the International Society of Genocide Scholars in Sarajevo, Bosnia. I brought with me a set of high powered spotlights and photographed the spaces. When I started creating work about the industrial food complex, these seemed a good fit because the chemicals that are used in industrial agriculture were actually born out of war. The fixed nitrogen developed in making bombs in the world wars was re-appropriated to make fertilizer after the wars’ end. It was fitting to add these to the overall series exploring the complexities in the way we grow and consume food today. Painted with acrylic on canvas when Thatcher Gray was very young. I had shifted to using acrylic to reduce fumes from oil paint while he was a baby. I’m not wild about the medium so it was not a lasting conversion.
Flying over eastern Colorado in the late winter, fields that had been dusted with snow offered a poignant landscape which I photographed out of my airplane window. For me the palette evoked a sparse, infertile landscape. It made me think of reports of industrial agriculture impacting the land by causing topsoil runoff and nutrient depletion. The huge layer of loam found through the Midwest has allowed for rich cultivation for generations of farmers. It cushions the blow of chemical intense industrial practices, even as the soil is steadily eroded. When we look to areas that have been farmed for millennia, we find that this approach cannot be replicated because the delicate balance of soil building through traditional means is taken away. As demonstrated by the thousands of farmer suicides through India because of their ‘green’ revolution, the impacts of switching to an industrial approach can be devastating. As farmers there return to crop rotation and soil building, we can think about the direction we are heading and how to alleviate the potential demise of what had been one of the richest cultivation grounds. The photographs were not great quality, but they offered enough visual information to create a set of three landscapes painted with acrylic. It fits into the bigger series on industrial food production I explored in tandem with growing our own garden with a very young Thatcher Gray.
Motherhood changes us. For me, the arrival of Thatcher Gray caused a shift from explorations of the long term impacts of war to an internalization of how we nourish ourselves. Internally, I was growing a child, nourishing him within then using my body to feed him, so I became acutely aware of what I was putting in my body. As he started eating solid food, I became obsessed with where that food came from, how it was grown and the load of chemicals that could potentially add to our body burdens. We started growing our own food. Before creating artworks that emphasized solution oriented practices, I explored how to represent the impacts of petrochemicals. This series of mixed media works on paper integrated a base texture made from a silkscreen print of collaged plastic that I had singed with a blowtorch. I transferred photographs of the oil refinery in Commerce City, just north of Denver. These photographs were taken during a rainstorm while Thatcher was safely cuddled at home with grandma. They are abstracted by the movement of my car as I was driving by. Generally I like to compose landscapes with slow consideration, but this particular afternoon I was confronted by hefty plain clothed security guards within 3 minutes of stepping out of my car, even though I was on a public avenue. The angles of the drive by photographs coupled with the often blurred motion recorded by the camera added a dynamic quality to the compositions that are similar to the textures wrought by a shotgun blast, both processes being slightly out of control. Into this foundation, I painted out aspects of the industrial landscape with oils to highlight the skewed angles and add atmospheric depth.
I was only able to compose two images of the Commerce City Oil Refinery in the rain before being asked to leave by plain clothed security guards. I felt compelled to create these landscapes of the industry which drives our mobilities-centered culture as the start to an exploration of how petro chemicals dominate our era. They are painted with thin veils of oil paint interspersed with drawings made with conte crayon on unstretched canvas.
A Contemplative Measure of the Gains and Losses of our Global Times
“Weave” is a collection of paintings reflecting the social, political and emotional manifestations of the ancient art of weaving.
These figurative paintings are the result of travels through China, Myanmar and South Carolina. Capturing weavers in their daily rituals, the paintings blend woman with machine in a celebration of the ancient art and a contemplative measure of the gains and losses of our global times.
The loud clang of industrial mass production is frequent in China these days. Well-known for its sweat shop style of labor, it’s an ominous forecast for the future.
Two years ago I was there and photographed a silk mill outside of Shanghai. Under fluorescent lights, the colors of steel and cement are cold, edges sharp. The women working the mill have their backs turned or their faces obscured. The fast and chaotic movement of the mass production is echoed through high energy brushstrokes.
In contrast, ancient forms of hand weaving are still practiced in places like Burma (Myanmar), where I recently spent time with a family of weavers. The experience left me with contradictions that I explored through paintings.
Their shop was the first floor of their home, stilted over Inle lake. The organic qualities of their massive hand hewn looms fill the room with the soft atmosphere of wood and cotton. They live under one of the most oppressive regimes today, which has resulted in a boycott of Myanmar by most countries. I wanted to reflect this existence of being completely cut off from the modern world by embedding the figures deep within the architecture of their looms. They are as visually separate from us, as they are culturally.
Closer to home, I explored the cotton mill in Anderson, South Carolina where my great grandmother was a spinner for most of her life. She took me there before she died, and I recorded the burnt out and collapsed structures as a perfect reflection of how manufacturing has continued to leave our borders over the years. The elegant brick structures have been abandoned for cheap labor and lower environmental standards found elsewhere in the world.
Offering an intimate portrayal of life in a “mill village”, I appropriated excerpts from my grandmother’s letters into burnt drawings of the mill. They reflect the difficulties of life during the industrial era and remind us that we are not so different from people elsewhere.
Weave: Silk Spinning in China
The loud clang of industrial mass production is frequent in China these days. Well-known for its sweat shop style of labor, it’s an ominous forecast for the future. In 2005 I photographed a silk mill outside of Shanghai. Under fluorescent lights, the colors of steel and cement are cold, edges sharp. The women working the mill have their backs turned or their faces obscured. The fast and chaotic movement of the mass production is echoed through high energy brushstrokes.