"It smells different here," multimedia artist in residence M Prull shared during his online presentation as part of our New Year's Show & Tell event, describing his fresh impressions of Sitka's Cascade Head surrounds, "that smell that something is very much alive and growing under you."
Prull's work explores themes of transgender identity and "states of in-between-ness" by digitally taking apart photographs and then recombining and layering them to create familiar yet new shapes. In residence, Prull found himself and his camera drawn to the temporal: "The thing that was most interesting to me was the texture of change... pictures of sea foam or the way sea grass was being shaped by the wind... It was important for me to collect textures of change as a way to inform my own understanding of the changes I was going through."
As Prull and others working in residence at Sitka this winter took us inside their research and creative processes, I was moved again and again by the intimacy of their individual work and the invitation to reflect on our personal experiences in this changing and complex time with, in Prull's words, an "empathetic light."
"This year has been really hard for a lot of artists," stop motion animator Alice Langlois shared, reflecting on the power of her residency to inspire new work and creative exchange at a time when connecting with others in ways we take for granted is so compromised. "To be able to give myself permission to work on something, to have a reason to work on something and then be able to show it to people, I'm really, really grateful for that." Her creative spirit was contagious. Langlois led us step by step from nature sketchbook to storyboard to finished animation in a way that made me want to drop everything and make my own snail puppet.
Visual artists in residence Justin Gibbens, Emma Akmakdjian and Alejo Salcedo all shared examples of how social issues from public and environmental health to climate change and racial reckoning surfaced in the work they created at Sitka directly and indirectly. Working on a series of prints with marine mammals as source material, Gibbens' inner dialog with 2020 ultimately expressed itself in an image of a whale raising a white flag of surrender from its blowhole. Akmakdjian shared a series of three-dimensional sound vessels lovingly woven from seaweed into which she will project and amplify the recorded voices of ocean scientists. Salcedo described infusing the act of carving the empty spaces in his seabird linocut with hidden positive meaning, removing the material in unbroken, water-like curls.
From the undercurrents of their sharing, I felt a tug to explore how the mindset I bring to my own work shows up in the clarity and power of what I physically create. "This is the fun part," Salcedo encouraged, reflecting not just on what he creates but also the intention he brings to the process of creating it, "You get to decide what movements you make."
The power of mindful process to open us up and surprise us was also evident in photographer Brittney Cathey-Adams' presentation. Cathey-Adams used her time at Sitka to scan hundreds of images from her archives while listening to a recording of her grandmother and best friend who passed away two years ago and to start opening herself up to a new and deeply personal body of work that's been dormant and waiting for her to be ready.
"For me, photography is a sentimental and desperate way to hold close to the things that I know are changing and that I'd love to stop from changing... Sitka gave me time to go through the grieving process I thought I was done with... I'm making it, and I'm crying over it, and I'm talking to it and it's talking back to me ... which sounds silly maybe," Cathey-Adams shared unapologetically, "but I do think that if we leave enough space for our work, to look at it, to see it, to take it in, then it will talk to us."
It didn't sound silly at all.
Sitka's next Show & Tell event is tonight. I hope to learn alongside you there.
Wishing us all fresh perspective in the New Year,