Above & Below, Within & Without
Kathy Reed and Steven Breaux
Since 1998 we have collaborated on several bodies of work dealing with various aspects of South Louisiana: its history, land, language, the Napoleonic Code, its varied cultures and its flora and fauna. L’Homme du Sud, 1999 , Planting the Harvest, 2001, and Sky, Mud and Bones, 2002, dealt with these aspects in a visual sense. Dye on silk was our primary medium enhanced with digital photos and scanned imagery printed on silk.
Our work has continued to develop from a sense of place. In the summer of 2008 we narrowed the focus to our place of residence: literally, our property where we live. On an impulse we began burying pieces of silk in the earth in the backyard of our home in an attempt to obtain a direct image from the land. We linked the burying to the lunar cycle, beginning with the full moon, digging a hole and “planting” each of the 12” square pieces of white silk wrapped around a portion of our evening meal. For 28 consecutive days we involved ourselves with this ritual. After 28 days from the final buried piece we began a 28-day period of removing, in order of the planting, a single piece a day. We documented the planting taking in excess of 300 photos. The psychological result was a rhythmic integration of our environment and our meals with art making. This process launched us into interesting and surprising relationships.
Soon we were involved in another ritual. During the summer we collected daily from our yard a different plant to draw, ranging from the cultivated to common weeds. The format for the drawings was a 42” by 96” single page “sketchbook.” This process was the source of the plant imagery in our work. The Earth Drawings below the ground led to another idea: locating a piece of silk on the roof of our home under the canopy of an oak and leaving it to collect the random accumulations of nature that fell from the sky during the spring. A corresponding piece of blue-dyed silk was buried in the yard.
These practices became the basis for the exhibit.
Our deliberate reconnection with natural forms prompted us to consider the tension between technology and nature. We associated our daily rituals with the rituals of work and jobs and connected the natural forms with the diverse forms of machines and tools such as those found in the oil patch. Our daily ventures in search of different plant forms and the drawing of them opened our eyes to the variety and wealth of intricate natural forms that we had taken for granted. For the summer this process/ritual became our work- our jobs. Looking for a regional job/profession that reflected an abundance of technological forms we, appropriately, used the internet to research oil field machinery and tools. Finding a treasure trove of interesting forms we were amazed at their beauty and complexity.
The ritualized job ethic of the oil patch corresponded to our ritualized artistic work and the natural forms that captured our imaginations corresponded to the mechanical implements- and both were being taken for granted.
After creating a large drawing of a magnolia seedpod we focused on a water tower rising like a giant mechanical plant out of the ground. We imagined it as a large tree that instead of sucking nutrients from the ground distributed sustenance to a community through its root-like plumbing. The image of intricate underground plumbing enticed us to consider the almost invisible, oral histories and ancestral, family ties that connect the people of this area.
We extended this idea when a cedar waxwing was killed by flying into a window of our studio. This event moved us to reflect on flight and the associated rituals connected with the space program as well as the incredible technological forms dwarfing the human scale.
The constructed daily rituals of burial, collection, documentation and drawing and painting opened us to larger connections and questions barely touched upon in this work. How do ritual and culture, in particular micro-culture, manifest, manipulate, utilize and in the end acknowledge and appreciate forms? How do the members relate to the forms within their daily frame of reference? How is aesthetic value assigned to technological forms within a micro-culture (i.e. oilfield)? When does nature and natural form supersede social, political, economic or religious organization?