Friday, November 14, 2014

The Residency Begins

I have not posted a full blog entry since I arrived at the Grand Canyon on Sunday afternoon, so a bit of catching up is in order.
I arrived at the Canyon and the Verkamp's Visitor Center, where I am being housed in an apartment on the top floor. The ranger who is in charge of the program, in an interim assignment after the founder of the program, the estimable Rene Westerbrook, moved on to another assignment in Portland, Oregon, was out of town so not here to greet me. I was handed a key, told where I could park and that was that. Welcome! I was nervous about the whole undertaking and nothing had happened so far to calm my anxieties. And when I get anxious, my automatic reaction is to get angry at every little thing. Fortunately, I know how this is and was largely able to set my feelings of petty grievance aside and get on with unloading the car and distributing my stuff around the apartment.
I spent the rest of day walking around the rim (but not too close to the edge) and trying to take in my situation. Alternating thoughts of "What the Hell am I doing here?" and "Thank you for bringing me here." I made myself some supper, read some of the materials/details left in a binder for AiRs, and went to bed. I was- and still am a bit ahead of my time as my body is just now catching up to the time zone change; so I hit the hay at 8:30pm (10:30pm my body was insisting.)
I did have some moments- of course I had some moments, I was still in petty grievance mode. I can hear everything that goes on below me in the visitor's center and that includes the flute music on a loop that plays all day… It got dark outside and the flute music did not quit, I heard no more visitors downstairs and the music did not quit. I had a horrible feeling that the music was not going to be turned off at night. Then, blessedly, at 7:45 the music stopped. There were the noises of the shop being closed down for the night and then silence. The moon had risen by then and the whole canyon- did I say I am living right on the rim and have a spectacular view of the canyon out of my windows, well I do- was limned in silver and shadow.
The next morning, I woke up early- body still on eastern time- and puttered around, fixed breakfast, totally missed reading my NYTimes while eating my oatmeal. (And no, reading it online is not the same at all and eats up a ton of data- which is very dear here, so I am foregoing that pleasure until I get home.) Also, no NPR! (Streaming not an option.)  No TV other than DVDs- thanks to my brother, Chris's extensive DVD collection and the local library for the loan of a lot of DVDs. I am more of a media junkie than I had thought and am going somewhat cold-turkey.
Walked to the local market and got some supplies- I must say cooking for myself is a treat after so many meals eaten in restaurants while on the road. Finding meals that fit my dietary restrictions was a challenge on the road. For the return trip I will be better prepared.
Took another walk around the rim, unpacked art supplies, trying to stave off feelings of purposelessness and being lost with gratefulness and trust that all would be revealed sooner or later. Started on a piece, blindly but I just had to work. Woke in the middle of the night with the moon still riding high and bright and got dressed and went for a walk in the moonlight. I stayed on the rim, and was not alone, several others were out marveling at the night landscape.
Another day, started to work in the workroom- the lighting is abysmal so tried to jury-rig some decent lights. Walked the upper portion of the Bright Angel Trail- no railings- about a mile drop to certain death- but I managed it and even enjoyed it a bit. I find the scale of the Canyon so daunting, my work and preferred view tend to be more intimate, the Canyon is almost incomprehensible to me. Later that evening, I attended an evening of performance as part of the Native American Heritage Month program. Flute playing (!!!!!) and Apache dancing were on the program. The dancing and the regalia were fascinating and inspiring.
On Wednesday, I finally got to meet the ranger in charge of the AiR program, SuZan Pearce. A great relief- someone to help me figure out what I was doing there, set up the 3 public programs I am obligated to provide, introduce me to Park staff relevant to my residency. I had finished the piece I had started- inspired by the night sky over the canyon- so I took it along to the meeting as a way to explain my techniques. She had set up a meeting with Jan Balsom who has the unenviable task of keeping us AiRs from tromping on cultural toes and I had already used some language in an email to her that sent up some red flags. She gently reminded me that the history of the native tribes was not mine to tell or interpret- and that some of the motifs I might see and want to incorporate might be proprietary- and that I should run my ideas for future works by her office to make sure I was not going to transgress. For instance, in the piece I had just completed, I depicted a Hopi maiden floating above a moonlit canyon strewing stars in her wake. If I had put the figure of the maiden in the canyon, that would have been offensive to the Hopi- women of childbearing years never go below the rim of the canyon. Dodged that one- purely out of ignorance but gratefully.
In a way, however, I found the talk and the learning curve frees me up a bit. I was afraid I was going to be restricted by the cultural needs of the native tribes. Now, as long as I stay in my own head- inspired by the culture, but not attempting to be part of it- I should be okay. I still need to run things past Jan, though, just to make sure. I can live- and work- with that.
Yesterday, I met the rest of the Interperative staff rangers- the AiR program runs under their auspices. I met the Park Librarian and got a tour of the Park library. I will be spending some time there going through rare books of the history of the Canyon, ethnography reports, etc. Walked, was interviewed by the editor of the Canyon newspaper, and met up with a good friend from back home for a bit. I started a new piece based on my own reflections on some of the native flora yet inspired by local art forms. It was a lovely day- I feel like I am getting the hang of this process.
That brings us to today. I sent an image of the what I am working on to Jan for vetting. I don't do sketches per se. I use a set of figure templates and just riff on them. I have an image in my head and  a set of ideas I want to convey, but beyond that, it is largely all process. I cut out the blank figure pieces, I arrange and rearrange them, finding the correct gesture, the correct center of gravity, the colors and patterns that fit and then go from there, adjusting as I go. Then I do the background, mount the figures and there we are. So, if what I have done so far does not pass muster, I will adjust if I can, redo what I must, or put the offending piece aside. We shall see.
Later this evening I am attending the opening event of a workshop on archeology in this cultural landscape. Tomorrow I will go with the group to a dig and to the Desert View Tower. One of the perks of the residency is that I get invited to and can audit any program or event here in the Park.
"Canyon Dreams: Starbringer," Bricolage, 24"x20", 2014

1 comment:

P.M.Law said...

Just heard that my new piece is okay, no toes trod upon, so I can forward with it. Phew!