A Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

Aldo & Leonardo, a partnership between Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The project is inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aldo Leopold and the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Our endeavor is an interdisciplinary collaboration of artists and scientists designed to celebrate the lands, resources and opportunities protected by the Wilderness Act. In 2013, we are hosting one-month residencies in six diverse wilderness areas. Artists will work alongside wildland research scientists and gain firsthand knowledge of the wonders, complexities and challenges of our nation's wildest places. The result will be a body of work that creatively illustrates the value of wild areas and honors the scientific efforts to preserve wilderness for the next fifty years.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument 2013 Artist in Residence: Ben McCarthy//Benjamin Ceramix

Hello all!
I have been enjoying all of your updates and glimpses into the different biomes/residencies that Aldo & Leonardo have organized and what has come of it—looking forward to how it evolves. What a phenomenal opportunity!! I am truly thankful and honored to be a part of this project. My artist residency ended the final day of September, and I am still happily living and working in the area to where I was transferred. I plan to continue my creative study of this beautiful, hidden area that is home to the largest and most abundant archaeological site in the country. The experience of shadowing and camping with the other artists, biologists and archaeologists of the Anasazi Heritage Center and the Bureau of Land Management was unique, informative, inspiring, and motivating. It is as if to have been let in on an ancient secret that I will ponder for the rest of my life—given the gift of an eternal creative fuel, which I have continuously found within nature, the lives and artwork of ancient people, and modern-day habitation of the planet. The project's emphasis on working with the organizations that maintain the land today sparked ideas of the history of humans in wilderness, our mark, the current state of how nature is governed, and an urgency for conserving its ecosystem, culture, art, and resources.
Days of hiking through vibrant olfactory foliage (especially green due to monsoon season) of sage and juniper, standing next to sandstone and mud-masoned giant towers constructed by ancient human beings known as The Ancient Ones (or Anasazi), approaching a clearing to find a massive faceted triangle of carved stone with archaic doodles melted through the purple desert rock varnish to reveal glowing orange petroglyph stick figure gatherings amidst floating spiral symbols (that may actually resemble ancient semiotics for water). Migrating black and orange tarantulas crossing the road, each traversing its own journey to somewhere, silent geological patterns stacked to create a castle disguised as a cliff, from where points of erosion within the wind-sculpted stone walls emerge natural statues of heads and faces that speak with the skies and think for centuries. Then there are places where one can see where, long ago, Mother Earth opened her arms to the Ancestral Puebloans and gave them cathedral-like caves in the mountain canyons on either side of the valleys of Mesa Verde. The ancient people cooperated with the earth, survived off of its growth, and built small cities inside the cliffs. To see such natural, complex, ancient structures is simply phenomenal, and the view provides an Escher-style visual puzzle majestically camouflaged into Nature. I sat across from it for hours, deep in thought and admiration, while carving a chunk of red and orange sandstone into a 3-dimensional hieroglyph with a piece of obsidian I found near Yellowstone.
The artistic process of analyzing, distilling, and creatively articulating the substance absorbed from the Canyons of the Ancients takes time and an open mind, and I am only beginning to translate the miles of geological formations, ghostly cliff dwellings, and ancient geometric pottery patterns into pieces of my own artwork—sculptures, pictures, and poems that resemble my intuitive, cognitive response. I found myself particularly inspired by the surreal scenes and creatures within rock art, and the "T shaped" doorways/windows found often in Ancestral Puebloan architecture.
In addition to creating a number of sculptures from clay that I dug from the mountains (which are currently drying and will be fired soon! {updates to come}), I began to decode the things I was seeing each day through the countless digital photographs I took during our exploration of Wilderness. One thousand, high definition photos of a landscape still cannot begin to explain the sense one gets when entering the labyrinth of Nature. In an effort to encapsulate the time, spirit, and language of the Canyons of the Ancients, I developed many new techniques: one called geokaleidoscopics, with which I transform my photography into fractal mosaics that unfold into intricate meta-textured beings of nature and ancient architecture. Colorful visual patterns form from simple pieces of sky, plants, or rocks. The sculptural images provide a snapshot of an interactive story (enhanced by the "zoom" feature) with an intergalactic quality, while still giving the viewer a perspective of the terrain, colors, sites, and artifacts of the place. I have also included a photo of the completed Anubynx sculpture that I made before the residency, which I posted a photo of pre-fire a while ago. The Anubynx and several other of my handmade, large-scale clay sculptures experienced a material metamorphosis and teleported into a tour of the digital landscapes depicted within my pictures you'll see below. They had a blast and will definitely visit again!
A big, glowing "THANK YOU" to Grant and Peggy at the Colorado Art Ranch for all of your kindness and support, to everyone at the Anasazi Heritage Center and BLM for your welcoming hospitality, interest and great conversation, and to everyone involved with the Aldo & Leonardo Art + Science Collaboration who is contributing to make this something great!!


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