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Studies + Stories

As an artist working at the intersection of the arts and sciences, I am constantly experimenting with different modes of research and visual storytelling. Studies + Stories explores three approaches to story-crafting. The narrative for Return was derived from scientific texts. Studies I - XI are visual reactions to field work, and Limuw | Santa Cruz Island was informed by academic texts and by in-person explorations of a landscape.

I am humbled by the wealth of knowledge available through public libraries. Journal articles and books allow me to explore wildlands through the eyes of scientists from many disciplines, to visualize landscapes as they appeared hundreds or thousands of years ago, to learn about rare species that I would be extremely lucky to witness with my own eyes, and to imagine possible futures for at-risk ecosystems. I love the process of synthesizing visual connections between disparate concepts from scientific texts. Return was the result of this mode of text-based research. I began with inquiries into global biodiversity hotspots, progressed into a deeper examination of North America’s only hotspot - the California Floristic Province (CFP) - and extended my research into readings about endemic and at-risk species of California fauna. Return highlights the fascinating fire regime of chaparral, the CFP’s most widespread form of vegetation, drawing correlations between the phoenix-like rebirth of this plant community post-fire, the return of the Condor to California, and the possible reintroduction of grizzlies to the state.

The eleven small studies included in Studies and Stories were created during a two week artist residency at the Wrangell Mountains Center in McCarthy, Alaska. This tiny town is situated in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the United States’ largest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each still life includes specimens from the Wrangell Mountains Center’s natural history collection, arranged with mushrooms and plant clippings collected around McCarthy. These drawings serve as personal visual records of the plant and fungi life present in one very specific place at one very specific moment in time, and hint at the vibrant mammalian, ornithological, invertebrate and geologic elements of the surrounding ecosystems. By its nature, this work required that I spend time exploring McCarthy. Looking back at my residency, the moments that shine bright in my memory are not those spent in my studio drawing, but those spent tripping over rocks and branches to collect tiny, fragile mushrooms, pinecones and pebbles. In searching for subjects for this series, I became a more diligent observer of the landscape, combing the ground each morning for the arrival of new fungi or progressions in the life cycles of flowering plants. Although I didn’t always know exactly what I was drawing, this mode of working bound me to this landscape in a more emotional way than reading alone would have done.

In preparation for Limuw | Santa Cruz Island, I spent two months reading scientific texts and four days exploring and photographing the island itself. Santa Cruz Island, known as Limuw to the island’s original Chumash inhabitants, is included within the CFP and serves as a microcosm of many narratives found within this broad region. The narrative arcs in this piece were teased from journal articles and books, and many details of the final drawing - the texture of rocks along the shore, for example - were informed by photographs taken on Santa Cruz Island. My time spent on Santa Cruz Island is very precious to me; my pre-trip research provided an intellectual architecture for my experience that heightened my emotional reaction to this incredible place. There were exhilarating moments of recognition, when I stumbled upon a rare plant species that I had read about in a journal article, and moments of incredible beauty that no amount of reading could have prepared me for: the tiny adrenaline rush of a bat, illuminated by headlamp, just inches from my face, or the joy of watching comical, clumsy pelicans diving for fish in the kelp forest. Moving forward with my artistic practice, I hope to continue to weave together the information from scientific texts with my personal experiences in wild places.

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For more information about this project, view the exhibition archive here.