Saturday, July 07, 2007

Art Goes Wild

I recently visited Garden in the Woods, the home of the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham, MA to see ART GOES WILD: Innovation with Native Plants, an environmental art installation by W. Gary Smith. I went with my friend Meghan on a hot, humid summer afternoon and everything shimmered in the the slight haze of the heavy air. We were a short distance from the commercial bustle of Route 9 but the tranquility made it feel worlds apart.

I went to see the installation as a viewer going to enjoy and as an artist looking for direction and clues. I am in a transitional point in my work and feeling the pull of outdoor work getting stronger. It is something I have been circling around for almost twenty years ever since a week-long retreat/calligraphy workshop at Green Gulch Zen Center with Jenny Hunter Groat. After the first few days with ink and paper, I found myself drawn outside where I made small environments with gathered materials. On my return, I struggled to find a way to continue. For some reason, I did not continue outside but worked in my studio creating objects which finally became the Spirit Book Series.

I have long been an admirer of Andy Goldsworthy. The challenge as always is to take that inspiration and use it to lead me to work in my own voice. I now can count W. Gary Smith as an inspiration as well. I liked that he was much freer in his use of materials. While Goldsworthy adds nothing extra to attach or bind things, Smith's installation uses common materials like cord, steel rods, and metal mesh in addition to the natural materials.

I was impressed by the openness with which W. Gary Smith presented his work. I have been thinking a lot lately about whether it is important to me to be the sole creator of my work or whether I can bring others into the process and share the joy I feel as an artist in making things. I began the experiment when I worked with high school students on the second Translations installation. W. Gary Smith takes it one step further. Not only did he have a space for people to create their own small environments at the Garden in the Woods, he also placed signs near each installation with information about it and suggestions for how to create something similar at home. The generosity of spirit and lack of ego in his approach made me evaluate my feelings. I am interested in making art more accessible and am pursuing ways to make and exhibit my work outside the traditional art world. However, it has been a long journey to get to the point where I can comfortably call myself an artist. Finding the right balance between sharing the creative spirit and keeping some sense of my "artistness" seems to be the task ahead.

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