We had a saying, taken from a review of the LoFi environmental art festival in a local weekly paper: "Nature always wins."
In 2006, I was invited to show artwork as part of an arts festival at a place called Smoke Farm, a retired dairy farm north of Seattle with 360 acres of riverbank, pasture, blackberry bramble and forest. Owned by the Rubicon Foundation, the farm has a deceptively comprehensive mission to restore the habitat of the floodplain and build community through art and collaborative projects.
Succeeding years fostered an intimacy with that landscape and community, including my 2-year site-specific installation Shelf Fungus, which was eventually destroyed by a black bear cub; as well as becoming co-curator of the annual LoFi arts festival.
As a curator intimately acquainted with this landscape; it became my job to translate my understanding of the place to artists seeing it for the first time, to help them envision spring floods, fall salmon runs, and that 6” invasive pasture grass in May as being 6’ tall in August.
To conceptualize works in the vast space and vibrating "thereness" of a natural setting and ask artists to work with, not against, nature.
At Smoke Farm, we told stories around the fire at night and led walks to the mysterious squatter’s cabin, the active beaver dam, the old pear and cherry trees at the original homestead sites, debated the scat filled with cherry pits on the paths (coyote? Black bear?), and spent lazy hours in the river during the day and watching the mist gather on it after dusk.
We put an entire musical cabaret, including the piano, in a big maple tree; hosted a hand-cranked, 60' bellows sculpture that blew air over salvaged pipe organ pipes and sounded like a freight train in the fog, staged plays that happened on pallet rafts floating down the river, hosted a poet who performed her poetry with semaphore flags in a sea of grass, and hosted molecular gastronomy feasts in a treehouse where finding the maitre'd on a remote sandbar was the only way to secure a seat.
Through this experience at Smoke Farm, co-founding an artist social club called Canoe Social Club, working with my environment in creating site-specific installations from salvaged materials, and leading the urban arts activation program Storefronts Seattle; I had fallen in love with Place.
Specifically the observation, patience, and ingenuity required to install immersive, intensely site-specific artworks in unpredictable and changing Places; whether rural, urban, or cultural.
To give voice to the "there," there.