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March Director's Journal

                                                           Artist at Sea Caine Casket

“A lot of my music aims to center myself and other people in finding a route toward healing,” New Jersey-based composer and musician Caine Casket shares during Sitka’s recent Resident Talk, freshly back from his Artist at Sea voyage. Taking the Sitka community inside his practice and residency, Casket reflects on his journey as an artist interested in the formation of identity based on his West African culture and family life and how this and other environmental factors shaped his early relationships with flora, fauna and ecology. He will use dolphin, whale and other underwater samples, as well as recordings of seabirds and working life on the research vessel to create “a collage of sounds” documenting different and coexisting environments above and below the water’s surface.

Later, Casket reflects on how the pandemic is informing his world view and new work. “During the pandemic... I felt displaced,” he confides as he describes his Earth 2 project which follows a nomadic figure searching for resources and abundance. “During the pandemic, we have been living in a dystopia… through Earth 2 [I am] acknowledging the adverse effects of the dystopia, but also considering what possibility could be garnished from an alternative route or reality.”

Casket’s silver-lined inquiry reminds me of PSU faculty member David Osborne’s recent interactive talk with Sitka community members exploring the meaning of climate change. “If climate change could talk,” Osborne asks, “what would it tell you?” and “if climate change was a gift, what is its gift to you?”

As the conversation unfolds, some express surprise at how much emotion these questions surface and how broad-ranging the feelings are, from grief and helplessness to anger and the desire to take action. Others observe that by giving climate change a voice or viewing it as a gift, it allows them to stay with their discomfort and be present instead of shutting down emotionally.

"Still Life" by Sung Eun Park

Interdisciplinary artist in residence Sung Eun Park’s work explores related and challenging territory including cradle-to-coffin life cycles, what it means to live a full life and the “intensity of this unavoidable shadow that forces us to accept the prospect of death.” With ominous yet playful titles including “The Time is Near,” “Happy Funeral” and “Still Life,” and by creating increasingly theatrical installations to probe uncomfortable questions, Park creates “surrealistic environments that drive the audience to stay immersed in the present.”

Other spring Residents reflect on their own life’s work in the context of troubled times and hard to process headlines. Portland-based young adult fiction author and writer in residence Michelle Ruiz Keil reflects on the challenges of coming of age “into a world that is perceived as dangerous or scary.” Iranian interdisciplinary artist Tara Homasi shares work that introduces alternative realities into the mainstream media, from altered newspapers subversively slipped back onto newsstand racks to artistically reimagined street view images posted on google maps.

"Summer in the City of Roses" by Michelle Ruiz Keil

“I’m so deeply inspired by all of the presentations,” acknowledges interdisciplinary artist and cultural worker Nia Witherspoon, who rebelliously shares “I am the kid that never chose a discipline or a genre… A critical part of my practice is the expanse and the reaching.” Witherspoon elaborates on the label-defying nature of her work, “and a life of honoring creativity in all of its oceanic and constantly shifting forms… That feels like a de-colonial act for me, for my own body and my own practice.”

Work by Nia Witherspoon

When we openly and artistically question notions of “the real world” and our assumed labels, fates and outcomes within it, what new and creative possibilities emerge?

When we welcome the hardest questions and challenges life offers as gifts, what “new routes toward healing” emerge?

As the spring equinox dawns, I am in awe of this new tide of Sitka voices taking art and ecology to new depths.  

Alison Dennis

Executive Director

Work by spring 2022 Resident Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán