Performative Ecologies

Curated by Patricia Watts, ecoartspace

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CURRENTS 826 Gallery hosts the exhibition Performative Ecologies including eleven women artists who explore the role of ritual while engaging the natural world. The exhibition includes artifacts and documentations from performative works dating from 1971-2019, engagements of ecological consciousness in both urban and rural spaces.

Artists: Fern Shaffer, Cherie Sampson, Shana Robbins, Mary Mattingly, Jenny Kendler, Minoosh Zomorodinia, Basia Irland, Alicia Escott, Claudia Bucher, Dominique Mazeaud and Bonnie Ora Sherk.

In 1987, Suzi Gablik published her radical book, The Reenchantment of Art. This was the authors’ manifesto in which she proposed a more engaged, empathetic, participatory, and socially responsible approach to art. She also called for a revival of the mystical, which Gablik felt was often dismissed because of our rational modes of perceiving the world. Two artists whom she wrote about in her book, Fern Shaffer and Dominique Mazeaud, are included in Performative Ecologies.

Performative art, unlike performance art, does not require an audience. The artists in Performative Ecologies take on the role of shaman or magical messenger to perform acts of cleansing or engaging the spirit world. These other worlds that the artists have envisioned offer a depth and meaning that has either been long forgotten or is being acknowledged in a new way. The remains of these performative works include photographs, video documentation, artifacts and “magic clothing” the artists wore.

Patricia Lea Watts, curator 

Patricia Watts is the founder and West Coast curator of ecoartspace, a platform for artists addressing environmental issues since 1999. She has curated over thirty art and ecology exhibitions and has participated on numerous panels at symposia internationally. In 2013 she was curator-in-residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute where she curated the exhibition Shifting Baselines; and in 2012, she organized an artist residency for an independent project Getting Off the Planet at the Institute of American Indian Art digital dome in conjuction with the International Symposium on Electronic Art. Watts recently moved to Santa Fe summer 2019.



Nine Year Ritual (Shaman) 1985-2012, 

The Swamp, 9th Ritual, September 9, 2003, Cashe River Basin, Illinois

In 1980, inspired by her research on clairvoyant Edgar Cayce, anthropologist and Core Shamanism pioneer Michael Harner, and Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade—and while prompted by ecological concerns—Fern Shaffer and her collaborator photographer Othello Anderson began a series of performative shamanistic rituals sited  in and around Chicago. Shaffer would practice her spiritual interventions, special ceremonies performed during equinoxes and soltices while wearing ceremonial garments made of raffia and canvas. Anderson would document her with sequental shot using 35 millimeter film.

Fern Shaffer is an American painter, performance artist, lecturer and environmental advocate. Her work arose in conjunction with an emerging Ecofeminism movement that brought together environmentalism, feminist values and spirituality to address shared concern for the Earth and all forms of life. She has been a long-time activist for women in art through her involvement and leadership at the Chicago alternative art space Artemisia Gallery and through her work with the National Women’s Caucus for Art. Shaffer’s ritual work was featured on the cover and written about in The Reenchantment of Art by Suzi Gablik in 1991.


At the Pole of Heaven, 2008-2012 (9mins, 40secs)

This performative work was intended for the camera and took place on Lake Mekri (Mekrijärvi) near Ilomantsi, in eastern Finland. It is a segment from a 40-minute performance titled “Her Blue Sea Fire,” which was inspired by the illustrative ‘myth of origins’ described in canto 1 of the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala. 

Cherie Sampson has worked for over twenty-five years as an interdisciplinary artist in environmental performance, sculpture and video art. She has exhibited internationally in art-in-nature symposia, video/film screenings and exhibitions. Sampson is the recipient of many grants including two Fulbright Fellowships to Finland, a Finnish Cultural Foundation Grant and multiple research grants. She is a Professor in the School of Visual Studies at the University of Missouri, and also spends half-time at her husband’s organic farm in Northeast Missouri. Sampson is the current President of Artists in Nature International Network (AiNIN). She received her Master of Fine Art Degree in Intermedia & Video Art from the University of Iowa in 1997 with a minor in Sculpture.


The Other, 2016  Yellowstone, Montana (3 minutes, 51 seconds)

“The Other is bodying forth the desire to connect and co-create with more-than-human beings. Ritualized dances and intuitive gestures arise from an open present awareness of the rhythms and cycles of the Earth. Within a spiritual ecology in which creatures are constantly disappearing, deer, snakes, jellyfish, turtles, jaguars, and owls begin to populate The Other’s dreams. The power of the Earth is a sustaining force. Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” SR

Shana Robbins is an Atlanta-based artist who works with multidisciplinary processes that cross a spectrum of performance, film, drawing/painting, video, and installation. Her work aims to create new cartographies that advance the self as a set of relations; eco ritual as a way of relating with the world; landscape as a cultural mirror; the identity of the in-between; the bodying forth of natural forces. Her performance-based work comes from decades of co creation in natural habitats around the world. Robbins has exhibited and performed in galleries and museums internationally and has received fellowships and grants from the Vermont Studio Center, Andy Warhol Foundation, and Idea Capital.


Pull, 2013

While living in her Greenpoint studio space, Mary Mattingly undertook the process of recording every object she owned and tracking the history of each of her belongings—how it came into her life, it’s distrubition via complex global supply chains, as well as where the raw materials for it’s manufacture was sourced. She then uploaded a digital version of each object to her website OWN-IT.US for others to access. Mattingly then assembled her belongings into a boulder-like sculpture, which was held together with twine so she could roll and drag it as a performative gesture. The artist first pulled the heap across the Bayonne Bridge from Staten Island to Bayonne, New Jersey; and then along King Street from Kitchener City Hall to Waterloo Public Square.

Mary Mattingly is the founder of Swale, an edible landscape on a barge in New York City to circumvent public land laws. She is currently artist-in-residence at the Brooklyn Public Library and is getting ready to launch “Public Water” – a performance and sculpture about NYC’s drinking watershed with More Art. Her work has also been exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Habana, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Storm King, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Palais de Tokyo; and featured in Aperture Magazine, Art in America, Artforum, Sculpture Magazine, The New York Times, New Yorker, NPR, and Art21.


Offering, 2017 (2 hour performance, 2min 55sec loop) + hummingbird feeders 

In this performative action, the artist remained motionless next to a hummingbird feeder for two hours—moving only to refill her red-painted ear by slowly dripping a home-made nectar from an eyedropper. This image of cross-species intimacy and gift-giving is a concept that Kendler has considered for many years. At ACRE residency in Wisconsin’s Driftless region, she had the chance to make this ‘offering’ to the many local Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). As the artist stood next to the feeder, remaining still long enough for the hummingbirds to approach and fly past her ears—a somatic sonic experience occured that defied words. This performative gesture contained both an implied threat, considering the long sharp beak and a fragile eardrum; and an embedded eroticism, a vulnerability and a desire.

Jenny Kendler is an interdisciplinary artist and environmental activist whose work asks us to de-center the human, making space for the radical, transformative otherness of our biodiverse Earth. She received her BFA from MICA in 2002 and her MFA from SAIC in 2006. Her work has been exhibited at Storm King Art Center, the MCA Chicago, the Eden Project, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, the Albright-Knox, the California Academy of Sciences, the Chicago Biennial. Kendler is also Art Coordinator for Extinction Rebellion Chicago, Board Chair of artist residency ACRE, part of artist collective Deep Time Chicago—and since 2014 has been the first Artist-in-Residence with environmental non-profit NRDC.


Sensation 2018, Talaghan, Iran, HD Video 1:53 min loop

“Physical sensations produce different psychological states within human beings. This work is the result of my performative engagements during high winds at different natural sites. I search for myself in nature, while resisting the wind, letting the mylar embrace the shape of my body. I’m interested in the connection between my body and the landscape as an expression of my feelings. My body merges with my surroundings, as reflected on the emergency blanket, so that I can become one with the land and sky. The evidence of my sensory experience of nature is documented through the camera lens.” MZ

Minoosh Zomorodinia is an Iranian-born interdisciplinary artist who makes visible the emotional and psychological reflections of her mind’s eye inspired by nature and her environments. Zomorodinia earned her MFA in new genres from the San Francisco Art Institute. She has received several awards, residences, and grants including the Headlands Center for the Arts, Djerassi Residency. She has exhibited internationally at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission, Pori Art Museum, and ProARTS. Her work has been featured in SF Chronicle, Hyperallergic, and KQED. She is currently at The Artist in Residence (AIR) Program at Recology San Francisco and lives and works in the Bay Area.


Riverberations, 2015 (5:32 min loop)

Riverberations was performed in 2015 by ten percussionists on the banks of the Río Grande, beside a constructed wetland pond. Sound Sculptures, created from books about rivers, were played percussively to a score, for Basia (2015), written by the eminent composer, Dr. Christopher Shultis. The books acted as sounding boards for the attached local, natural materials, including stones, equisetum, tamarisk, and turquoise (a healing stone referencing sky and water). The resonance created in this performance is intended to reverberate out across rivers everywhere helping restore these necessary arteries of our land.

Basia Irland is a Fulbright Scholar, author, poet, sculptor, installation artist, and activist who creates international water projects featured in her books, “Water Library” (University of New Mexico Press, 2007) and “Reading the River: The Ecological Activist Art of Basia Irland” (Museum De Domijnen, 2017). These books focus on projects the artist has created over four decades in Africa, Canada, Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and the United States. Irland is Professor Emerita, Department of Art and Art History, University of New Mexico, where she established the Arts and Ecology Program. Her art is featured in over 70 international publications.


Love Song for a Republican in the 6th Extinction, 2010 (3 minutes, 44 seconds)

This performative work was the artists first time taking her handmade drawings outside, and donning them to document on video. The play between the artist’s body and the flat transparent drawing of the last California Grizzly Bear, which became extinct due to bounty hunting in 1927, speaks to our deep longing for the non-human relatives and relationships we have lost; as well as the reduction, essentialization and appropriation of these animals into an image, brand or signifier that we coopt for our own human purposes. This work was made in California where the state flag still presents the bears image, and where it has essentialized the actual spirit of this primal figure into a brand representing a natural “entrepreneurial western spirit.” 

Alicia Escott is an interdisciplinary artist based in San Francisco. She’s interested in how we negotiating our day-to-day realities and responsibilities amid an awareness of the overarching specter of climate change, mass-extinction and the unspoken experience of loss, heartbreak and longing. Escott’s work has been shown in over 80 art institutions, museums, galleries and alternative spaces. She has been Artist-in-Residence at Recology SF, Djerassi, Anderson Ranch and The JB Blunk House residency. Escott is a founding member of 100 Days Action. She is half of the Social-Practice Project The Bureau of Linguistical Reality featured in The Economist, The New Yorker, The SF Chronicle, and KQED.


To the Air Born? DAY OF THE DAEMON (Deliberating Anemochore Embryos Manifesting Ontological Noesis) 2019 

To the Air Born? is a performative work where the artist is strapped to a large kite sited in the landscape. As the wind blows intensely, Bucher is in a state of deliberation on whether she wants to become air-born(e). In this work she contemplates agency in the not-yet-born. Bucher asks, “If pre-born entities have agency, would they automatically choose to be born? Are they aware of their own viability? What if fertilized forms are mostly antinatalist and would prefer to avoid existence?” Bucher was inspired by the Day of the Dead celebration, in particular the Guatemalan Giant Kite Festival, and the class of wind-dispersed organisms, such as dandelions, known as anemochores.

Claudia Bucher is a Southern California artist who creates performative sculptural installations exploring ideas about extended sentience. She’s interested in the crossover between art, science and technology, architecture, mysticism and science fiction. Her recent work is inspired by space exploration, the Mojave Desert, biomimicry, biomorphic design, and DIY culture. She has an MFA from Art Center College of Design and has taught new media at UCLA, Otis College of Art and Brandeis University. In 2019, she was artist-in-residence at the North Dakota Museum of Art’s McCanna House and at Buckwheat Space in Morongo Valley, CA.


The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande (September 17, 1987 to April 17, 1994)

Mazeaud weaves together her roles as a ceremonialist, a cultural peacemaker and a heartist to create sacred artworks and performances. In The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande,the artist walked the tributary Santa Fe River monthly doing a literal cleaning and a symbolic cleansing over a seven year period, which she describes as a performative pilgrimage. 

Dominique Mazeaud came to the United States from France in 1967. She lived in New York City for twenty years where she worked as a director of a fine art gallery. In 1979 she attended Experience Week at Findhorn, the ecovillage in Scotland, where she learned about sustainable living. In 1987 Mazeaud moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her encounters with vast river beds here have since inspired over twenty peformative projects to date, including: The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande 1987-1994; The Most Precious Jewel 1998-2002, a participant based interactive piece where beads are stiched on a fabric globe of the earth on the Santa Fe Plaza; and 60 Water Weaving Women 2008/2009, a ritual performance at the Capitol building in Santa Fe.


Public Lunch, 1971

Bonnie Ora Sherk refers to her early performative artworks as Environmental Performance Sculpture. For these works the artist either used found environments or environments that she created, sites systemically integrated with performative elements. For her Sitting Still Series, which culminated with her performative work Public Lunch in 1971, the artist ate a meal in a cage in the Lion House at the San Francisco Zoo adjacent to the cages of the lions and tigers. The piece began at the public feeding time of 2pm on a Saturday. Sherk was let into the cage in the same way as the other animals, from an outdoor cage through a door that opened automatically and then closed again. She was one of the animals being fed on that Saturday, which was a surprise to most of the spectators who had come to see the Zoo animals eating. 

Bonnie Ora Sherk is a San Francisco and New York-based environmental performance sculptor, landscape architect, planner, educator, and founder of A Living Library, a project that engages communities in creating unique ecological transformations. Her pioneering conceptual performances in the 1970s evolved to become systemically integrated community programs and/or hands-on, transformative, interdisciplinary curriculum – always relating directly to the place. She was the founder of Crossroads Community (the farm) in 1974, a pioneering, urban agriculture, environmental education, multi-arts, community gathering place that incorporated a major freeway interchange in San Francisco.

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