Last summer I made a commitment to the Botanical Garden to teach indigenous plant sculpture in late October in Santa Fe. Thinking it would be exciting to bring these materials and processes to other creative individuals and see what they come up with, I went about inviting the public to take part.
I designed the shrubconscious website and the flier announcing “Journey to the Shrubconscious,” and posted it at universities, art schools and garden centers, as well as coffee shops and random bulletin boards up and down the Rocky Mountains from Ft. Collins to Albuquerque. Because I was already going there, I canvased Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and Marin County, California as well.
Human beings are more than just heads with eyes for looking at screens. I myself had been writing five or more hours a day in front of one for decades. When I first entered the shrubconscious, I found ample fertile ground in nature for inspiration and imagined other creative types also desiring to step away from machines for some fresh air.
But, surprisingly, no one stepped up for the workshop. Not one single soul expressed curiosity. So, the Botanical Garden and I agreed to reschedule and those late October calendar days were unexpectedly sprung wide open.
Almost instantly an opportune event appeared on my news feed. An intriguingly titled , “High Desert Hempfest” would take place in Taos the very same day.
I had been thinking of sculpting hemp and had been making contacts with folks in the industry for months. High Desert Hempfest would be a perfect time and place to make my first attempt.
Hemp must be the most versatile crop humankind has ever known. No other plant can provide as many cures for the 21st Century’s ills, including medicines, clothing, foods, construction and fabrication materials, fuel and don’t forget art. Plus, it restores the very soil in which it is grown.
The Colorado Hemp Industries Association returned my call and put me in touch with a farmer that had what I needed. So I left a message with the High Desert Hempfest and pitched my idea on their machine. Then I packed my cooler, truck and tools.
Everything fell together. I drove north a few hours, met the grower in his field, which had recently been harvested for the flowers, leaving windrows of crimped hurd, (hemp fiber) lying on the ground. We had a brief chat. Like most farmers, he was busy. He cultivated over 3,000 acres last year. This was his sixth season and they were all in for next one as well. I told him my plan. He gave me his blessing and left.
With a garden rake, a short amount of time and a bit of sweat, my pick-up bed was loaded. I turned back south headed for Taos.
As if it were all meant to be, the festival organizer had retrieved my proposition from their machine, by the time I arrived and provided a prominent location where, next day, I would commence with my scheme.
A design for the first hemp sculpture had already come to me. There were sketches in my journal with assorted notes and dimensions.
For this one, I chose a honeybee because hemp helps bees. It grows fine without pesticides and its healthy pollen feeds the bees.
Hemp and bees, bees and hemp, heaven and earth come together symbiotically in these two elegant agents of sane and sustainable ecology.
There is probably no better teacher in all of nature than bees. Observing them in a hive is surely more instructive than watching things on screens. Beekeeping should be taught to all first world teens.
Like teens, bees dance in groups. Their in hive boogie resemble figure eights. Each one reveals precisely how far, and in what direction to venture forth for food.
Coincidentally, I have always been attracted to figure eights and employ them often in design. So a figure eight became the foundational form for this latest creation of mine.
It turned out to be a gorgeous day in Taos. The sky was turquoise. The sun was warm and the wind, mild.
In the eight hours I labored, a rudimentary form emerged and stood up on its own just before dusk. The festival attendants that I engaged with seemed suitably impressed.
I knew there was a lot more I could do to invest that queen bee with majesty, but it would take time.
High Desert Hempfest was a laid back event, but I think anyone would judge it a success. That said, I was preoccupied with my task and had no leisure to take in much else. There were craft and food booths, other demonstrations. I labored right next to the music tent with a program of players and keynote speakers that were exceptionally fine to hear, while I worked on my design. After a bite to eat, a bit of rest, and watching a talented duet perform a set, I said goodbye to the festival folk and brought my creation home to where I could make it look its best.
This past winter there were many mild days. In between cold spells, I got myself out to the yard and worked hard. Some days were work, others were play.
I found sculpting with hemp so agreeable in fact, it wasn’t a much of a stretch to make two more bees.
The original had been a queen, as I have said, but how would anyone know unless there were a drone and a worker all in line?
And how much more impressive would it be when you came upon, not one, but three gigantic bees for the first time? Here they are in our garden keeping out the deer.
For those of you that have encountered either of these two notices around Santa Fe, thanks for your interest. I am happy to be collaborating with my good friend and Taiji instructor Jeff English on an ongoing exploration of the combination of traditional Chinese martial arts, motion pictures, theater and the theme of “return to nature.” Some of our fellow Tiaji practitioners will be joining us at 3 p.m. on the plaza in downtown Santa Fe this Saturday, 12-21-19 in observance of winter solstice. The costumed characters of Pith and Valorio from the “Scorched Ladders” movie trailer will be in attendance (view clip “Costumes Demo” for more info). We invite you to come watch, join in, or lend your good vibes as we conclude a season of significant growth and intend for a profound, beneficial expansion on all levels for the New Year.
Web of Life
The uncanny character traits are imparted to these sculptures by none other than Mother Nature. By the time I get to work, it’s half done.
I use the words, “larger than life fantasy figures,” when introducing these sculptures, but I hope they evoke a memory of something tangible and invaluable having to do with our body’s native resonance.. The plant world is tuned to geologic time. When we interact with them, plants sooth us, root us, reintroduce us to that earth pace. Plants communicate with the deepest roots of the evolutionary onion that is our brain.
Setting aside philosophy for a moment, we wish to acknowledge all public art is political. We wish to make clear these sculptures are an invitation to fellow makers to clean up their act. Much of what we’re seen in 3D printed things, perpetuates the plastic waste stream. That’s just one of a zillion examples. I’m not setting myself up to judge, but my personal return to nature has led me to working with environmentally benign ingredients. We’ve surrendered a lot of what was required of our ancestors for them to survive. We need to reclaim as much as we can, while we can and cultivate awareness of that part of us which is inextricably pledged to this earth from beginning to end.
Though the sculptures are fantastical, they’re conceived to appeal to an innate capacity, embedded in to our nervous systems, to align with nature and move in accord. Most of our evolutionary development took place on that foundation. For the past several generations we have been adapting at a rapid rate in an increasingly technological direction. For the first time ever, our attention has been taken off our essential connection.
In repurposing indigenous shrubs as fine art, the show intends to evoke an impression of the nature spirit embodying something resembling ourselves and reaching out to us. Step through the magic mirror and Invent a bit of story and character to match your impression of each sculpture. They have come to make contact. Meet them halfway. .
Shrubconscious made a appearance at Meow Wolf’s 12thAnnual Monster Battle on the plaza last Friday night in Santa Fe and were awarded the grand prize!
I have a filmmaking background and these two shrub wizard costumes were originally commissioned by Open Channel Content for use in “Scorched Ladders,” our 2015 entry into the Shoot Santa Fe Competition sponsored by the Film Office. That time we didn’t win. The costumes slept quietly in storage ever since. It’s turned out more rewarding to bring them out a second time than it was the first.
Our amazing collaborator on those costumes was Tatyana de Pavloff of Taos, NM. Before moving here Tatyana was brought up in the arts working for the Moscow Opera. We brought her on as art director and costume mistress on my film “Agnes Day.” I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with Tatyana on other movies as well. The shrub costumes were brilliantly designed and constructed with theatrical esthetics, comfort, and durability in mind. We owe a great deal to Tatyana for this recent win.
The dancers inside the shrub wizard costumes are my Tai chi teacher Jeff English. In the film, his character was Valorio so we still call him that (left) and his son Raptor English took on the persona of Pith. (right). Both of them were actors in the movie trailer for “Scorched Ladders”. Last Friday night they made the characters come alive. We were delighted to find a very receptive audience,
We are grateful to Meow Wolf for taking notice, but also for the many ways they help Santa Fe renew itself as a mecca for talented artists especially the younger generation. I’m not suddenly shouting their praises because they wrote me a check. Folks around here will tell you, I’ve spoken highly of them as often as their name has come up.
We’re delighted with their well earned success and with what that has done to draw a new generation of artist and art appreciators to our legendary town. We applaud Meow Wolf and Santa Fe for their enchanting way of bringing the public out to the plaza last weekend.
Indigenous Plant Sculpture Primer – Workshop
This fall in Santa Fe, join us for one day or for all four and journey to the shrubconscious.
Plants grant us furnishings and food. They always have. That contract is written in some very core layer of our brains. Its existence lends significance to shivering stalks of Apache Plume parted by the wind, or the snapping, heaving sway of Chamisa in a storm. These are but two attributes of indigenous plants which contribute true depth of character to these larger than life fantasy figures.
To pass the shrubconscious process on to others, I’ll be calling on two pastimes that I practice daily; Tai chi, and the art of tea.
My Tai chi instructor teaches spiral power. I’ve borrowed it and experimented with it in 3D design. Once you become familiar with spiral power, it becomes evident throughout nature. Spiral architecture, most obvious in our own DNA, Is a mirror of matter and energy transformed under the influences of elemental forces. These embedded spirals, will animate the shrub figures we’ll be fabricating in much the same way they support the live shrubs in their native soil.
Simple principles borrowed from Tai chi will provide starting points for identifying and working with, universal energy.
word about tea. For the billions of folks on the planet who drink it, tea often has the pleasant side effect of stopping the world for a while. I met tea guru David Hoffman in San Francisco back in the 90’s and have been drinking his artisanal collection of imported teas ever since. Humans drink tea more than any other beverage except water. What could provide a more effective sensory bridge to cross into shrubbery’s intimate essence, than hydrating with a universally adopted beverage made from carefully selected, hand-picked, artfully crafted leaves of a venerable, ancient shrub?
This indigenous plant sculpture primer will assist participants in escaping clock time, as well, and help us re-center the present moment at a novel octave. We will achieve this through creatively and instinctively interacting with indigenous plants; something our species has done for a long, long time.
After some basic introduction and a cup or two of high grade tea, participants will be set free for a session to define your design, using techniques and tools in 2D. If you don’t already have some design or, at least an idea for one, we encourage you to review favorite works of art, probe your dreams, sift through favorite stories or review past personal encounters with nature for inspiration.
For me, drawing is a helpful method to anticipate challenges, in both structure and esthetics, before going out in the field. Handfuls of branches become the equivalent to the pencil strokes in my sketches. Sculpting with these plants is like drawing in 3D.
A major shift in consciousness will occur when we switch from 2D to 3D, which coincides with the moment you’ll find yourself harvesting native shrubbery. You won’t be left alone too much. We will be bouncing back and forth between shrubs and and everyone’s sculptures, pitching-in where appropriate and learning from one another mistakes. You’ll be urged to take creative chances and helped to identify and capitalize on happy accidents.
As your 3D design become increasingly defined, you will be allowed to take full control and assisted in all possible ways to make your personal interpretation of the shrubconscious come to life in your sculpture. Please email us with any questions. We look forward to creating with you.
Shrubconscious is currently accepting applications for studio assistant. An administrative internship is available as well.
We invite everyone to register for the October Indigenous Sculpture Primer at Santa Fe Botanical Garden.
(Financial assistance available)