July 3, 2020
THE R.A.W. POSTLIBRARY OPENING (PHASE 2) CONTINUES . . .
The PostLibrary hangs on the border of a little R.A.W. pasture, a mostly-open expanse of sloped and bumpy land between the gravel road and another fence that encloses the bare dirt paddock around the little red barn. The pasture’s soil is home to different grasses and seasonal wildflowers and other plants, with a few groves of scattered oaks, firs, spiky hawthorns and other trees. We call this fenced area a “pasture” because the ass herd and an old red horse get to graze and gallop around in it in springtime, summer, and fall (in the winter it’s too wet). Some of its outstanding visible features, including the wooden-post-and-hogwire fence surrounding and dividing it from the other grazing areas and barnyard—and a tall limbless dead tree that we decided to leave for wildlife when it died a few years ago—can be seen on drone-shot satellite footage, as we have discovered. But the Secretome of this (or any) place, lively sub-visible flows and meshes and time-borne processes . . . not so much.
On May 5, 2020, fellow ECA Common Ground artist Jill R Baker and her child companion Fox performed a “Welcome to the Secretome” exploration and culturing in this particular R.A.W. pasture. This same plot of land was also the locus of a first Secretome opening back in fall 2016, and then a Secretome workshop (the first of several in various places) the next spring in 2017. Given the various evolutions of the project, the basic choreography of “Welcome to the Secretome” presents a fertile mode for digging into Common Ground themes and questions collaboratively to explore hidden layers of places. So the R.A.W. invited Jill and Fox to come explore, and to make their own culturings and treasure-huntings amidst both visible landmarks and dynamic sub-visible flows they might find here.
This collaborative foray with Jill and Fox brings an exploration of time into the place-based “Welcome to the Secretome” project in a new way, by involving an exchange of materials and experiences across artistic practices and also, in this case, across generations. This is not the first time a Secretome project has involved the imaginative insights and energies of younger humans; in 2019 the R.A.W. had the pleasure of engaging with a class of third- and fourth-graders, who cultured their own Secretome storying portals on the grounds of their rural Muddy Creek Charter School outside of Corvallis, Oregon. But this is most certainly the first time the workshop has incorporated the particular challenges and strange attenuations of pandemic-time social distancing. Given the different questions and themes of ECA’s Common Ground, and the constraints we were working within in early May, here is how we decided to choreograph this initial stage of an emerging collaboration:
Jill and I arranged the date and time for their visit on the morning of May 5. Earlier that morning, we (being me/K-Haw and Possible, as Rolly/R-Haw, age 7, is known in certain performative modes) prepared and placed the Aliass-muzzle “treasure maps” and culturing materials (agar petri dishes and improvised homemade swab-sticks, made of cotton tied onto sticks with blades of grass) in the PostLibrary.
Jill and Fox arrived at the arranged time, got the special materials we’d placed for them in the PostLibrary, and then entered the Secretome pasture through the metal gate on the north side of the driveway. We invited them to wander around inside the fenced territory, without specific instructions other than to seek what drew their attention and interest. The amount of time was not designated or delimited, in keeping with the experimental indeterminacy of certain artistic processes—and maybe more so with the uncertain fits and starts of strange timeflows we are becoming more and more accustomed to these days.
Indeed, the hard-to-grasp dynamics of how our worlds flow differently in stay-at-home pandemic-time are important to investigate, both for their manifest tensions and pressure points, and for what we might learn from creative experimentation within them. So, despite a certain awkwardness around conventions of welcoming and hosting guests to one’s “home,” Jill and I decided in advance that during the time that she and Fox were exploring the Secretome pasture, Possible and I would stay inside the house and/or on the porch. We would watch from a distance, for the duration of their stay.
Meanwhile, the choice to enforce social distancing in this collaboration was prickly and even painful. As of May 5, it had been six stay-at-home weeks since schools closed. Possible, an only child, had not seen or played with another kid in all that time. And here was Fox, another kid close in age, playing out there on home ground, while we remained (trapped) inside the house, watching from inside/outside as the play unfolded. It was nearly too much to bear. While in some ways this social distancing was necessary back in May, no one could quantify the degree to which it had to be so for public and personal health and safety. For this project, though, enforcing the distance felt like a means to amplify or torque certain dynamics and tensions of these fraught times we’re inhabiting. I suppose the hope is that by activating creative ways to attend to what is missing, what has changed—and also to what is vibrantly here, if hidden beyond the rim of sight—we might begin to circumnavigate old habits of home-making and claiming-to-know places and find creative and speculative paths into reckoning with unforeseeable changes and challenging attenuations we must endure.
As we waited inside the house during the time that Jill and Fox explored outside, I appreciated the resonances and overlap of investigative interests in Jill’s “I Moved Rocks from the Desert Floor as I Walked” (2017-2020), exhibited online for Common Ground. This work’s quiet intimacy and deep attention to seemingly small changes in the landscape—to absences and traces of movements and encounters that one might otherwise miss or ignore—invites us to think about time and bodily inhabitation of places in new ways and at different scales. To find something fascinating and full in these small shadowy openings into what we might otherwise take to be insignificant absence.
After roughly an hour of watching Jill and Fox from inside the house/outside the pasture, Possible could stand it no longer and begged to at least go outside to the tree-swing on the other side of the barnyard. Fox called to her brightly from across two fence-lines and they exchanged some words about what Fox was finding around the edges of the pond. Then he went back to exploring and Possible swung furiously while the swallows swooped and dove in crazy loops over the land.
Not long thereafter, Jill and Fox concluded their Secretome exploration. They exited the pasture through the same gate, and placed the petri dishes containing their R.A.W. cultures, made with the special swab sticks, back in the PostLibrary. From these cultures, I would then make visual images of microbial treasure maps for them. What these speculative maps and culturing acts might reveal in time remains to be seen.
In an effort to assuage the real pain of having to stay distant, I promised Possible that after Jill and Fox departed, we could go into the pasture and perform our own Secretome culturing adventure. This proved urgently exciting that day, despite the fact that it is theoretically something we could do anytime.
This day was different, to say the least. This land may be “home” ground—land we see every day through a lens of habit and familiarity. Yet somehow, that time shared in creative and open exploration in the rippling wake of Jill and Fox’s visit to the R.A.W. pasture took us deeper than I anticipated into the hidden layers of culture- and home-making, where again we rediscover that “home” is delightfully and spookily “where the unknown is.”
I don’t know how long we were out there that afternoon. We entered the gate with the Aliass-tongue treasure maps, an agar dish for culturing, and the special homemade swab stick, which for me during that exploratory time came to feel like an odd little divining rod. Like everything it came near revealed something slower, more hidden and beautiful than I might have seen otherwise, in other flows of time and attention.
So we wandered for long while, wide open, discovering marks and traces in the mud and grass left by Jill and Fox and others, and tracing and digging into other sorts of paths, intersections, and lines of interest. We went deep, and we went slow: like everything here was utterly new and strange. We found unexpected openings into mystery at the edges of the familiar, which is never as familiar as we think it is.
For the next post of the PostLibrary’s ongoing opening (Phase 2 continues . . .?), we continue this collaboration with Jill and Fox, contemplating more creative practices for place-making and stay-at-home pandemic-time play with a special site-specific score for Secretome Play shared by Fox and Jill. Stay tuned….