Sunday, March 27, 2016

It Takes One: A feature by The Cultural Landscape Foundation

I've had the honor to be featured on The Cultural Landscape Foundation's website. I recently went to Houston to attend a TCLF conference called "Leading with Landscape: The Transformation of Houston." In getting to know a few of the TCLF members there I shared a little about my work and what's going on in Milwaukee. They were interested enough to interview me for their feature, "It Takes One." I'm reprinting it below. If you want to read the original on their website, click here.

It Takes One: Eddee Daniel

I am a photographer and writer specializing in urban ecologies and cultural landscapes. My practice is multidimensional. I tell stories about particular places. I also examine how we perceive and construct understandings of nature in the contexts of culture and the built environment. I have long characterized my work with the paradoxical term ‘Urban Wilderness,’ which symbolizes the complexity of my subject matter as well as its inherent tensions.

I have degrees in art education with an emphasis on photography. After more than 30 years of teaching art, photography, and architecture in secondary- and higher-educational settings, for the past six years I have pursued my current practice full time. I also have a long record of environmental advocacy, having served on the boards of several local non-profit organizations. I love all of the arts. Currently, I am collaborating with two choreographers, who are incorporating my imagery into environmental-themed dance programs. My interest in cultural landscapes is less a conscious choice than a thoroughly ingrained personal temperament.

Menomonee River reconstruction, Milwaukee, WI
How do you define a cultural landscape?
A cultural landscape is a place, whether natural, built, or otherwise designed, that has felt the impact of the human imprint. These places may be interpreted broadly or very particularly. Today, at the beginning of what some are calling the Anthropocene Epoch—when human influence has begun to affect ecology on a planetary scale—an argument can be made that all landscapes have a cultural aspect. For the purposes of my artistic practice, I generally choose to examine landscapes where the human and natural elements are inextricably interconnected: Either there has been a deliberate effort to modify a place or the features of a place have motivated humans to adapt to it. To me, cultural landscapes are places that live in the imagination as well as exist as earthy terrain: They have stories worth telling.

What is the Urban Wilderness Project?
The Urban Wilderness Project began as a voyage of discovery as well as a means to advocate for conservation and restoration of natural habitats within my local urban and suburban setting. It was also about how to perceive a watershed while living in a city. I set out to explore and document the existing conditions within the Menomonee River watershed, which begins in an exurban area of farms and encroaching suburbs and runs through the heart of industrial Milwaukee. I spent six years exploring the physical features of the region and, in particular, its rivers and riparian parks. The project dealt with issues of land use, flood management, economic development, recreational opportunities, pollution, wildlife diversity, and habitat restoration. The outcome was a book entitled Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, published by the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago.

Beyond that specific project, I have used the term ‘Urban Wilderness’ more generally to symbolize the complexity of my experiences as well as my creative responses to the tensions and themes symbolized by this idea. The term, which for me is rich with hope as well as contradiction, has provided the conceptual underpinning for various bodies of work I have undertaken in the past 20 years. Although these bodies of work are loosely unified by the overarching ‘Urban Wilderness’ concept, they vary in focus and style from documentary realism to abstract formalism. Throughout, I try to emphasize an experience of the world that is relational and conditional rather than singular and fixed.

St. Louis Art Museum, Forest Park, St. Louis
How do you choose your projects?
In a world that seems to have become an endless series of ecological catastrophes, I have made a determined effort to choose projects that tell a more hopeful story. I admire the efforts of others to raise awareness about a wide variety of important and pressing environmental concerns; that is essential. However, I seek places where I see positive transformation either underway or being planned. In 2014, I served as the inaugural artist-in-residence in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, a blighted post-industrial landscape that is in the midst of economic and environmental revitalization. In 2015, I worked with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to document its Kinnickinnic River Project, which will eventually remove several miles of concrete channel and recreate a more naturalized river.

Is your work primarily documentary, or does it strive to do something else?
My work can be difficult to categorize. Much of what I do is documentary. My writing can be described as creative non-fiction. My photography veers between straightforward documentary and the fine art formalism that was the basis of my artistic education. I am unquestionably an advocate for many things: the creation and enjoyment of urban parklands, sustainable development, river revitalization, instilling a love of nature in children, just and equitable access to nature, etc. My artistic work often reflects this. Sometimes it is more abstract or symbolic, like the long-running personal project I call Synecdoche: the fragment that represents the whole. Uncharacteristically, but importantly, that project is not devoted to a specific place. Instead, it suggests a more universal experience of nature as fragmentary and that what remains must stand in for what has been lost.

I would like to think that I observe the world with a childlike sense of wonder. Occasionally I believe I achieve that valuable goal. But in truth, there is nearly always a defining conceptual basis to the work I do, whether symbolic, as in Synecdoche, or pragmatic, as in the restoration of a damaged river.

Curtain Wall, from Synecdoche: the fragment that represents the whole
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the medium of photography in capturing the essence of a place?
Photography has nearly universal appeal due to its accessibility and democratic character. People generally believe what they see and photography can lend credence to the subject it represents. That can be an asset for a documentary project. It enables viewers to visualize a place and helps drive a narrative. However, to turn the old saw on its head, a photograph often requires a thousand words to put it into context. Without contextual support, a single image can easily be misunderstood. To remedy this potential pitfall, I rarely depend upon a single image and I include written narratives to support my theses.

Alienation from nature is a frequent theme in your work. Are parks and maintained natural areas a true remedy to such alienation?
While I am sensitive to the issue of alienation from nature, I don’t consider that a starting point. It is my fundamental belief that the human/nature divide is a false one. If I have a starting point for my practice it is the idea of the interdependency of all life and the interconnection between nature and the built environment symbolized by the theme of 'Urban Wilderness.' Having said that, in an increasingly urbanized world we do have to deal with alienation from traditional experiences of nature. I believe that urban parks and natural areas are indeed a vital component in combatting what author Richard Louv refers to as “nature deficit disorder.” In my experience, the well-documented health and spiritual benefits of exposure to the natural world accrue to time spent in urban natural areas as readily as elsewhere.

Urban Wilderness, from the Urban Wilderness Project
What message would you like to give our readers that may inspire them to make a difference?
Like most people who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, a huge percentage of my youth was spent outdoors and unsupervised. That kind of upbringing is so rare today that children fortunate enough (from my perspective) to have that experience are dubbed “free-range kids.” If children are not provided with daily opportunities to run free in nature, the consequences will not only affect their own development, potentially leading to an increase in physical disabilities, decreased mental acuity and spiritual poverty, it will also create a society that no longer values nature enough to protect what remains.

As more and more of the global population lives in urban settings, sensitively designed public parks and natural areas become increasingly vital to everyone’s future. We cannot reset the clock to 1955, but we can create a future that enables people of all ages to see and touch nature within their own communities.

Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Creating an Artist's Book: A workshop with Max Yela and Eddee Daniel, Session 2

Developing the Artist's Book: Concept and Practice
Part II: The Return

A book design and self-publishing workshop at the Lynden Sculpture Garden

You do not need to have attended Session 1 to participate in Session 2. 

April 2, 2016 - 1:00 - 4:00 pm. 

Book design has been an increasingly important aspect of my artistic practice. In the past eight years I have created 15 self-published books using online services Blurb and MagCloud. In this workshop I will share my experience and help you create your own book.

I am delighted to be joined by Max Yela, head of the UWM Special Collections Library. Max has an impressive knowledge of all kinds of books, bookmaking processes and book design ideas. His contributions will complement my own and provide a deeper understanding about how to create your own artist's book.

Session one of this workshop was held on Feb. 20 with a lively and engaged group of 9 participants. While many of them are planning to return for the second session, others are welcome to join in as there is room for more.

Here is what we covered in session 1:

Photographer and book artist Eddee Daniel and book-arts theorist Max Yela offered an introduction to the practical and theoretical approaches to working with the book form as art medium. Participants were introduced to concepts and approaches for developing an artist's book project. Skills and techniques were discussed, including the basics of self-publishing a digital, print-on-demand book.  

Using hands-on exercises and examples of artist's books from Special Collections at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries and Eddee Daniel’s personal book samples, we discussed basic book-arts concepts, including movement, pacing, and rhythm in book design; image editing for narrative sequence; form as meaning ("function follows form"); 2D and 3D composition in book design; "time" as a design element; the function of text as a visual component of design; color transformations; and the role of materials in conveying meaning and expression.

Session 2: The Return
There will be a brief review of concepts and themes introduced in Session 1. 

The main thrust of this session is for attendees to bring ideas, images, mock-ups, etc. to discuss and critique as possible book projects. Images may be brought either in print or digital formats. Each participant in this session will present their concepts and materials for review and critique by the group within the context of the ideas and approaches explored in Session 1.

Fee: $50/$45 members. 

To register, go to the Lynden Sculpture Garden website.

To see a complete listing of my photo books, go to my website.

Link to book description

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Part 3, permanent collection

As art museums go, Crystal Bridges is a neophyte, founded a mere 5 years ago. However, the founder was and is Alice Walton, of Wal-Mart fame, and who is ranked the 16th wealthiest person on the planet. With a $200 million endowment and Walton's support, the museum is making up for lost time. The permanent collection is very comprehensive. One of the things that made it interesting for me was the fact that, with a couple of notable exceptions, the works on display by the many familiar artists are not the familiar ones.

I'll make this brief. Just a small sampling of the huge collection. A few things that caught my eye.

I'll start with a couple of the exceptions. This isn't just any old painting of GW. If I'm not mistaken this one by Gilbert Stuart is the single most famous one.

This is Kindred Spirits, by Asher B. Durand, possibly the single most iconic painting of the Hudson River School. (See my recent review of the Hudson River School exhibit at Milwaukee Art Museum.) The acquisition of this painting was controversial but the controversy adheres primarily to the New York Public Library for selling it rather than to Crystal Bridges for buying it.

Valley of the Catawissa in Autumn, Thomas Moran, 1862
 The Hudson River School is well represented.

The Song, William Merritt Chase, 1907
How do you capture music in a painting?

Excavation at Night, George Bellows, 1908
Not a typical Bellows. I've never seen one quite like it and I love it.

Blackwell's Island, Edward Hopper, 1928
Although this is fairly typical Hopper, it was new to me.

This one's just plain fun, don't you think? Did you guess who painted it? Look at the round balls of trees and curve of the hill. Grant Wood. But, although it's a portrait of a real, specific person (a banker named Campbell in the wall label), he's titled it "The American Golfer."

The Tree, Helen Lundeberg, 1938
 Someone I've never heard of. A bit of allegory.

Big Red Lens, Frederick Eversley, 1985
Cleverly located, too.

Gallery view featuring a David Smith sculpture and paintings by Norman Rockwell and Gottlieb, among others. Eclectic mix.

Quarantania, Louise Bourgeois, 1953
I had to include this as I'd seen two very similar versions of it at MoMA and the Whitney in January.

Another artist I'm not familiar with, Evan Penny. Huge, superrealistic sculpture with a catchy title: "Old Self: Portrait of the Artist as He Will (Not) Be. Variation #2." Begs at least two questions for me at least: Does he expect to die first? And, how many other variations of what he doesn't expect to become are there?

Venice Installation, Jenny Holzer, 1990

Holzer gets a whole courtyard built right into the museum to herself. Nice.

Landscape, Mark Tansey, 1994
This was a blast from the past. Having forgotten about him completely, upon seeing this (quite gigantic) painting I was immediately reminded of an exhibit of his paintings at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Probably in the 1990s.

Enassamishhinjijweian, Tom Uttech, 2009
OK, this was the biggest surprise at the museum, in more ways than one. First, although very similar to many I've seen, it's literally the biggest Uttech painting I've ever encountered--almost as big as the Tansey on the adjacent wall. It also takes pride of place at the culmination of the entire collection, on a wall of its own in the final gallery. I never expected to see the work of a professor of mine at UWM hanging in such a prestigious setting.

For the sake of brevity I've left out quite a few gems. If you're going anywhere near the northwest corner of Arkansas, I recommend a swing in the direction of Bentonville to see this museum. I bet it's even more stunning after the trees have leafed out.

I leave you with a "Hanging Heart" by Jeff Koons, which literally hangs in the cafeteria's grand hall at the heart of the museum complex, one of the "crystal bridges" that span the impounded waters of the creek running through the ravine.

This is part 3 in a trio of posts about Crystal Bridges. If you missed the first two and want to start at the beginning, click here. Part 1 is about the outdoor art and part two is about the photography exhibit called "The Open Road."

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Part 2

After exploring the grounds and outdoor sculptures surrounding Crystal Bridges I headed inside to see the galleries. (If you missed part 1, click here. Being a photographer myself and also being in the middle of a road trip myself, I started with their current temporary exhibit, called "The Open Road."

The museum likes to use supergraphics to promotes its exhibits. The (closed) door of The Open Road gallery was emblazoned with one of Stephen Shore's images.

Upon entering the gallery you are confronted with the following quote, stenciled in large white print on the charcoal gray gallery walls.

"Joy rides, voyages of discovery, wanderings, migrations, and travel diaries. Is America even imaginable without the road trip, and is the trip itself imaginable without the camera that records, expresses, and promotes such journeys?"

Well, yes. That bit of hyperbole comes out of privileged perspective, of course. But, hey, it's definitely one I can relate to.

Predictably, the exhibit began with the granddaddy of all American road trip photographers, Robert Frank. His famous book is even called "The Americans." (He himself was Swiss.) A reissued edition of The Americans is on my bookshelf, but I always enjoy seeing vintage prints. In Frank's case the surprise is always how small they are. Later in the exhibition the prints get very large.

Untitled, William Eggleston
Altogether the exhibit included 19 photographers. Each was represented by around six or seven prints. For the most part they were "the usual suspects." I won't try to cover all 19, just a few that stood out for me.

There were prints on the wall too, but I liked the fact that Ed Ruscha's groundbreaking conceptual book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations had pride of place in the vitrine on a large pedestal. The ipad next to it allowed visitors to page through and see all twenty six images in the book. If they wanted to.

Doughboy, Stamford Connecticut, Lee Friedlander
Los Angeles River, California
Joel Meyerowitz is usually known for his use of color and there were several of those in the show. But this one appealed to me in particular because of the setting on the concrete river.

As I mentioned in part 1 of this Crystal Bridges series, the museum is attended by a vast number of schoolchildren. This may account for the high level of interactivity interspersed with the actual photographs on display. I thought this was a clever activity. Magnetic strips were provided to allow kids (or adults) to crop the large photo however they liked.

U. S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973
Here is the Stephen Shore image without the door frame. I've always been a big fan of this one.

This is one of Shore's road trip journals, illustrating how meticulous he was about note-taking (in case the title didn't clue you in already.) Today it's tempting to let the digital camera's embedded metadata or even the iPhone do the note-taking.

Cemetery, Fountain City, Wisconsin
This is from Alec Soth's "Sleeping by the Mississippi" series. Love it. Been there. But never saw it like that, gotta admit.
Map, Taiyo Onorato
Onorato was one of only two photographers who were new to me. Including his work, which involves interventions in the landscape, in the road trip themed show seemed a bit of a stretch to me. But I liked it. In case it isn't clear enough what it is you're seeing on the tripod in the photo, here is a detail of it:

Onorato's actual prints were enormous. A striking contrast with those of Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander. Art has to be big these days, I guess.

Speaking of big, Crystal Bridges is. Part 3, the permanent collection, will have to be very selective indeed. Hope you'll stay with me. (To go back to part 1, the outdoor art, click here.)

Part 3, the permanent collection is online. Click here to go there.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Part 1

I've been eager to visit Crystal Bridges since it opened in 2011. One reason, of course, was always to see its collection of art. But a primary reason was to see the building and grounds. Designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, aerial photos of the museum showed it curled like a snake in a wooded ravine. I have a particular fondness for architecture and art that relates to the natural environment.

So, when I decided to attend a conference in Houston I turned it into a road trip that included Bentonville, Arkansas, where Crystal Bridges is located within walking distance of the downtown city square. I spent the better part of a whole day there, both inside and out. It was a lot to absorb and far too much to fit into a single blog post. So, here is part 1, artworks that I saw on the outside of the museum.

If you drive to the museum the sculpture above, Yield by Roxy Paine, greets you at the entrance circle.

Then you park next to a mound on top of which rests Maelstrom by Alice Aycock, although "rests" doesn't quite capture how animated this aptly titled aluminum sculpture appears.

I arrived at the museum at 10:00 a.m., an hour before it opened. I used the interval to begin exploring the grounds. Here are some of the things I found.

Stella, by Andre Harvey
Vaquero, by Luis Alfonso Jimenez
Bachman-Wilson House
Yes, they have a whole house by Frank Lloyd Wright, a small gem in his Usonian style. The house was "rescued" from its previous owners in New Jersey, where it had been subjected to flooding and might have been demolished. I can testify that it has been beautifully restored.

Mille-Fleur by Kim Dickey

Robert Indiana's Love was literally loved by every school group (and I saw at least five or six) that poured out of the building, trailed by their chaperons. I surmised that school groups were allowed into the museum before the official opening time. When I finally got inside myself I asked about the number of school groups and was assured that this was a daily occurrence. Not only is the museum free to the public but bus transportation is provided free to schools.

No, I didn't stay after dark (although I could have since the museum stays open until 9) and this isn't the moon. It is the view of the cloudy sky through the aperture at the top of James Turrell's The Way of Color. I love Turrell's work, which I've seen in several different places. I didn't see this one when I was wandering around, so I asked about it inside. As I'd expected, they had one. It was farther away than I'd ventured. So I went back out.

If you've never seen one of these, here is what it looks like from the top on the outside, above and behind the entrance. It sits on the rim of the ravine with the entrance facing downhill. It's like a small shrine and the aperture through which one views the sky is unglazed. I find them magical and peaceful.

 Pop quiz: If it looks like a rock and is situated outdoors in a place where you expect to see rocks and is in fact surrounded by other rocks but this one is labeled "art," is it art?

 As you can see, there are multiples of this confounding phenomenon. In fact, there are 15 of them placed all around the museum grounds.

I would have thought they were rocks, myself, if they hadn't had those labels and numerals conveniently attached to identify them. Clearly, though, the museum considers them art, as does the artist, Robert Tannen.

Tannen has titled them, collectively, Grains of Sand, cleverly avoiding the obvious: "rocks." I didn't see all 15 but I can assure you that all of the ones I did see looked just like rocks to me. I'm just sayin'. And, sarcasm aside, I actually like the idea. So, what was your answer?

Having been deceived once by the rocks, when I came upon this in the woods I had to go back inside to ask if it was art (as this had no identifying label.) No. This isn't art. Just a handy device someone at the museum thought up to direct visitors' attentions to the scenery through it (which likely looks more scenic when the flowers have bloomed and trees have leafed out. Too bad there isn't a rock to look at through the frame!)

Finally ready to tackle the inside galleries, I discovered that entering the building required making my way past this enormous spider in the courtyard. It brought to my mind Tolkien's sinister Shelob, but Louise Bourgeois calls it Maman.

Stayed tuned. I hope to have time to share the pictures I shot on the inside. In addition to the permanent collection, they had a fabulous temporary exhibit of photography on the theme of the road trip. How cool is that?

Part 2 is up and running, so to speak. Click here to go there.