Monday, July 16, 2012

Catskill, New York

I'm here in Catskill, New York on my first artist residency! Okay, so the Fulbright Fellowship was a lot like a really long artist residency. This one is only three weeks though, and I get to stay in the same country.

Catskill is a small town on the Hudson River, close to Hudson, NY, and between Albany and Poughkeepsie. There are a lot of fancy homes and estates out here, but the town of Catskill itself seems quite working-class.  There's some pizza places, a hot dog stand, a church converted into a 24-hour fitness club, and an ice cream parlor on a creek that is super creamy and delicious. There are even boats and kayaks you can rent, though it's not as fancy as other 'weekender' towns where wealthy Manhattanites come up for a few days a week to their summer houses, escaping the buzz of the city. It's surprisingly racially mixed for a tiny town. It's also blazin' hot and humid here, about 100 degrees and 90% humidity--after living in Denver for a year, I've sort of forgotten about humidity and sinus pressure, and don't miss it a bit.

The CATWALK residency, where I am, houses two artists at a time to make work. It's quite a fancy place, built originally as a 'cottage' by the Hudson River School painter Charles Herbert Moore (contemporary of renowned painter Thomas Cole, whose estate literally abuts this property) and expanded over the century to include private residencies, barns, and an impressive art collection by its owners.

I'm working on several projects, and who knows what they'll turn out to be, but the nice thing about an art residence here is that there aren't a lot of expectations to pump out work; time to oneself and time to explore are first and foremost. There are 60 acres of property for me to be inspired on, with a small section of 'beach' at the Hudson River as well as forest trails, ponds, a tower studio, and several workspaces.

I hope to make some nature-based works, but lately all I can think about here is man's involvement with nature. Nature here isn't untouched in the same way that Iceland was/is. Here, one likes to put a stamp on a good view, take down some trees, plow fields, and build roads through the landscape--anything but the pristine 19th-century ideal of romanticized sublime Nature. Catskill has a home where the figure of 'Uncle Sam' really lived, which is the same building where President Martin Van Buren Lived! But right next to this home is a trash-looking (though hilariously placed) Tiki Bar subtitled 'grub and pub'.

Still, there's something interesting in that juxtopósitión. I've been taking a lot of recordings of machines working, or combination sounds of nature and man's involvement in it. Chainsaws for example. I took a sneaky recording inside a country Wal-Mart today (I haven't been in a Wal-Mart in years!) and there had been a lot of birds that fly in and out of the garden section. It sounded like an aviary in there, only with pumped-in soundtracks of pop hits and electric fans whirring. I think I might make some electronic pieces that change daytime sounds to nighttime ones and vice versa. Perhaps also do a live performance during them; I need to find some good texts for speaking and singing.

There's an old, dusty, almost-broken harmonium here as well; I'd like to take it out into the woods and play it. Only one bellows works, so you can't pump both feet anymore- just the left one! Still, it makes sounds. Perhaps I'll do a performance where the organ returns back to nature, back to its wooden beginnings, before man came and carved it up and assembled it for me to play.

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