With a little help from my (new) friends

About half way through my ARTWORKS residency at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History I was asked  to write a blog post about my experiences there. Of course I said "of course!" and now it's the night before I move out of the MAH and I'm yet to blog a post. It's time.

First week ARTWORKS July 2016

First week ARTWORKS July 2016

For a few years now I've been playing with the idea of building a human size nest and now I had the space, time and facilities to do it. But it's always hard to start. Sometimes you just have to start moving through the motions. Performing the process until your gestures feel form. I had donated some of my own clothes to the project to get things going ahead of time, old shirts, a scarf, some skirts to fabricate the ribs (warp) of the nest basket. The weavers (weft) would be supplied by the generous citizen of Santa Cruz. Little did I know that my plan to make the nest functional was problematic from the start. The pieces I'd sewn back home were too thin and the material too stretchy. But I didn't know this. I didn't know a lot! That's what residencies are for, time to explore and exchange ideas. It was all part of the plan... right!

Week 2 in Santa Cruz Summer 2016

Week 2 in Santa Cruz Summer 2016

During my residency I was also scheduled to perform with my collective The New Urban Naturalists at the Montalvo Art Center. This entailed my producing 6 cardboard animal heads for my collaborators to wear during a 4 hour dance performance about diversity. I felt a little overwhelmed. I'd managed to put myself into a fairly stressful state. In the month of July I moved, I gave notice at a job I'd held for the last six years, bought a new car, sold my old car and moved to Corralitos. Did I mention I had a birthday too, yeah. Not getting any younger either. 

Bear head in process at the Montalvo Art Center, July 2016

Bear head in process at the Montalvo Art Center, July 2016

Elizabeth Costello as Crow and myself as Puma at Montalvo, July 22, 2016

Elizabeth Costello as Crow and myself as Puma at Montalvo, July 22, 2016

We did it! The Montalvo performance was a great success. Fun was had by all. Time to head back to Santa Cruz and get back into my test-nest! But I was beat. After a series of semi-all-nighters my energy was fading. How would I get enough fabric to make a human size nest!

Sorting fabric at the MAH, Summer 2016

Sorting fabric at the MAH, Summer 2016

When I returned from Saratoga I discovered that the MAH staff had added to my gradually growing pile of soft goods and made a social media shout out for more.  I got bags and boxes of donations of fabric! No time to waste, I began working with new found energy. Yes thank you Santa Cruz! And I led a drop in workshop covering coiling and twining that was well attended. What talented students!

A sweet gourd shaped creation by a local artist. She said she'd never coiled a basket before! Hard to believe.

A sweet gourd shaped creation by a local artist. She said she'd never coiled a basket before! Hard to believe.

The next day I began to realize my time was growing short and my nest was not right. It needed to be much bigger. Earlier in the week my sewing machine decided to call it quits. But I devised a simpler more efficient means for processing the fabric thanks to some insight from my workshop students. The nest began to grow. Things were starting to happen... until I caught the dreaded summer cold! You too? Can't stop now. Hopped up on ibuprofen, pseudoephedrine (the kind you need to show your ID for) and mega doses of C and Zinc I pressed on... 

As I was working one day, wiping at my running nose, bemoaning my sudden sickness, a young woman came again to the gallery. I'd seen her here before. I greeted her with a sincere smile, though I was feeling pretty low energy due to the allergy medication. She smiled and said nothing. She spent a good part of an hour in the room where I toiled, feeling increasingly achey, and stiff as I worked to suspend my nest, then released it from the rafters to let it rest over night. At one point I noticed she was standing close by then she walked out. Feeling druggy and introspective from the allergy meds, I continued to work.

My test-nest, on the ground of my studio, July 2016, Santa Cruz MAH

My test-nest, on the ground of my studio, July 2016, Santa Cruz MAH

It wasn't until later that I found the note, a poem on a post it. It really hits me as I read it again. Did she write it? I don't know. It's pretty fine if you ask me. And it encapsulates so much about how I was feeling. I didn't share any words with her but this... if my work and process has anything to do with this kind of contemplation, I guess the day was well spent despite all the snot, nasal spray and nose blowing. It was a good day.

Did you write this? Please contact me. I'd like to give you credit! And thank you.

Did you write this? Please contact me. I'd like to give you credit! And thank you.

My cold turned out to be pretty stubborn, it's with me still, but thanks to this wonderful poem, and my chemical friends I set my sights on completing my nest for the First Friday / Screaming Hand festivities scheduled for Friday August 5th. I had honed my technique and began building the nest up as well as raising it higher into the "roof" of my studio. It was Friday and it was almost finished.

All day long people streamed in and looked, asked questions, shared stories. I had a number of my workshop attendees return to behold the completed nest. One of my youngest student weavers and her mother proudly showed me their most recent creation thanks to or despite my ad hoc instruction. It's like we all have it in us, this weaving streak. Just a little nudge and it comes out.

Close up of my Test-Nest #1. Even though it failed as a functional nest, and it's sort of a hairy mess, it seems to be the kind of hairy mess that makes people happy.

Close up of my Test-Nest #1. Even though it failed as a functional nest, and it's sort of a hairy mess, it seems to be the kind of hairy mess that makes people happy.

The night brought a mass of people, especially to see the Screaming Hand exhibit, but our galleries and studios were packed as well. Some friends arrived and with my new found confidence I invited the smallest of the crew, couldn't have been more than 50 pounds ( 7 years of age), to climb into the nest. Oh my, it instantly sank about 6" and I could hear threads popping and fabric straining. I smiled for some photos and tried to play it off as best I could. So relieved when Z climbed out and the whole thing didn't completely collapse.

I was sad suddenly. My mission had been to build a human nest. Hmmm. But maybe there's a reason we humans don't build nests. They are awfully awkward to climb into. So much easier if we could fly! And bowl shaped nests typically rest on a branch or some other support. Ha! Well I guess I have some more chin rubbing and brow knitting to do to get this one figured out but for now, I'm satisfied. Test-Nest #1 introduced me to so many new people, ideas and none of it could have happened without the generosity of essentially strangers, willing to share a little, let go of things, dream about what it might be like if humans made nests, if we foraged for our building materials, and could rely on our community for resources to help us find shelter when we are new in town or just passing through. And that's what happened. It's still happening. Right here.

That's really what the project is about. It's an opportunity to discover other options, make new connections. A manifestation of a community working together. The nest, whether it worked or not was/is a by-product. The process of the work, more specifically the social aspect of it is really interesting to me and what I'm interested in retesting again and again. I'd like to expand on that aspect as much as engineer the nest so it could hold more than a 3 year old. Though that's far less important to me personally than building something beautiful. If it doesn't bring people together but can house a human, I wouldn't say it worked at all.

There it is! My blog post done. Don't miss me too much Santa Cruz. I'll be back. Check my website for upcoming Basketry Workshops in Watsonville this Fall. XOX! Sasha