Tuesday, April 23, 2013

When It All Comes Together

Christopher Reiger
"Brewer's blackbirds"
2013
I recently promised this blog's monthly email digest subscribers that I would begin sharing updates about BAASICS (Bay Area Art & Science Interdisciplinary Collaborative Sessions), the non-profit organization that I co-founded and co-direct. Indeed, most of April's Hungry Hyaena posts are synopses of conversations had with some of the artists and scientists participating in BAASICS.3: The Deep End, our upcoming program on neurodiversities, mental illness, and creativity. (Readers can expect more of these vignettes in advance of the Monday, May 6 event.)

I've come to regard BAASICS as an important arm of my creative endeavor; it's a long-term project that provides me with a platform to help make contemporary art and science relevant and exciting to a broad audience. In many respects, BAASICS is a descendant of Synoddity, the cross-disciplinary organization I co-founded with my friend Michael McDevitt during our undergraduate years at The College of William & Mary. Synoddity made a case for conversation and interaction across professional boundaries and was, like BAASICS, animated by curiosity and wonder, something both Michael and Selene Foster, my BAASICS collaborator and co-founder, have in spades. Working on a project you're passionate about is invariably a good thing, but it's a particular pleasure when you team up with fantastic people.

Christopher Reiger
"Hood Work"
2013

Pleasant work though it may be, BAASICS is a labor of love that occupies many hours. Lest readers assume the time and energy required to nurture BAASICS has deprived my own art practice, I also promised HH digest subscribers I'd share updates about the body of work I'm beginning. The photographs that punctuate this post were all taken this year. I've been shooting a wide range of subjects in varied settings in order to hone my photography chops, which I'll need for the new work. Before I describe what the project consists of, I should provide a little backstory.

When I started Hungry Hyaena in March 2005, I wrote as many (if not more) posts about conservation, ecology, and natural history as I did art. At the same time, I was struggling in the studio, desperately trying to find a way to incorporate those interests into my artwork without producing didactic or mundane imagery. As a result, despite a number of shows and growing interest from collectors and curators, I condemned the popular series I'd been producing for several years as "self-absorbed fairy-tales," and began work on what I dubbed anthrozoology paintings, watercolors based on photographs (taken by either me or my father) of humans interacting with other animal species. A few of those works were strong -- "Ringed Seal Hunter" is a favorite of mine -- but most of the pictures in the series never met my standards; my watercolor ability was then relatively weak and I soon accepted that the imagery in the photographs was as compelling as the paintings (so why make the paintings at all!?). In 2006, I stopped working on the anthrozoology series and yet again sought to develop a series that would successfully merge my preoccupations. At last, I struck a rich vein. Some of the "Hysterical Transcendentalism" works are among the best pictures I've created to date -- "from the tangled vegetation," "the wildlings come to feed," "a retching," and "the banks of solitude" stand out -- and the quiet "drawings" I began creating as part of that series are probably the work I'm best known for. Even as that body of work developed and changed -- in some respects, I've been working on the series since 2006 -- I was haunted by the thought that it was but one facet of what I wanted to present. I've often described my artwork as pictures produced by "a naturalist working at [the] intersection" of the rational/observable and the irrational/mystical, but the work of the last six years or so has prioritized the latter.

Christopher Reiger
"Desiccated European starling"
2013

Now, I hope to straddle that divide. My new project will utilize diverse media -- photography, mixed-media painting and drawing, and collage -- to explore our relationship to the ecosystems we inhabit and to the other lifeforms we share space with. Initially, I'm going to focus on two regions, my present home, the San Francisco Bay Area, and my childhood stomping grounds, the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay. The project will focus on the field work and activities of Bay Area naturalists, conservationists, wildlife biologists, and researchers, as well as artists also wrestling with similar ideas. I will visit with, accompany, and/or work alongside individuals long and often enough to develop a sense of their motivations, their personalities, and their relationship with the landscapes and species that they interact with and/or study on a regular basis. The project will be presented as a mix of texts and pictures, both in exhibition and print, and I hope to get involved in digital publishing experimentation (e.g., Triple Canopy) so that I can devise accessible and inspiring ways of experiencing the work on a computer or tablet. Additionally, all speaking engagements, essays, and blog posts relevant to the work are, as I see it, part of the project.

Christopher Reiger
"Weeding"
2013

One branch of the project will occur this summer, in conjunction with artist Laurie Halsey Brown's Nomadic Nature In Situ seasonal project. From the project's website:
"Nomadic Nature In Situ is a seasonal project curated by senseofplace LAB, in/for the landscape. For 2013, each of the four works in this project will focus on and take place in the Presidio, San Francisco. Each piece will contribute to the development of a shared ‘language of place’. Each season, an artist or artist group will be invited to respond to a landscape/situation chosen for them by senseofplace LAB. This project is primarily an invitation for artists/architects/designers/urban planners/writers to work in response to the landscape as an experimental aspect of their practice, not just those with backgrounds working in response to the natural environment.

Beginning with the SUMMER project, Christopher Reiger will be writing about Nomadic In Situ as an observer/documenter/commentator. He will also be will be conducting a quadrat study in conjunction with the project. At different times of day (e.g., dawn, mid-day, dusk), he will regularly return to the site, each visit sitting for 2-4 hours and recording all that he observes and experiences (e.g., wind, temperature, light, other organisms, etc.). Unlike a traditional ecological survey, however, Christopher’s quadrat will also incorporate historical details and notes on his own mood and thoughts. His quadrat is principally concerned with the various forces that inform our understanding or perception of a place. The resulting document will be a traditional lab notebook filled with written observations, typed additions, drawings, photographs, and other details of his sits."
I wear many hats -- painter, writer, photographer, naturalist -- and this new body of work allows me to wear them all at once. I wish I could express how good that feels, but an emoticon will have to suffice. :)

Christopher Reiger
"Little Bighorn"
2013

Image credit: all images, Christopher Reiger, 2013

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for share...