Between Culture and Nature

Documentary excursions and hybrid media experiments play an important role in my pursuit of sensory phenomena.  As members of the young human species, we affect and are affected by ancient natural systems in ongoing exchange.  Local wildfires, ocean plastics, climate futures, bee colonies, and digital growth patterns have been topics of particular emphasis as I explore human relationships with nature, on individual and cultural scales.  Often my process involves cameras and projectors as tools for gathering and sharing space/time content. Collaborating with scientists allows me to take part in imaginative yet empirically grounded conversations to reveal stories and patterns in data.  Through these many modes of practice I generate works that challenge perceptual limits, offering viewers interactive and immersive experiences.

 

I’ve long been attracted to using artistic tools to grapple with large themes discussed in the sciences, and present slices of what may be hard to discern.  Artists are afforded expressive freedoms that scientists are not, but we benefit from their methods of establishing empirical content. The "wildland-urban interface" (WUI) is an influential concept I was introduced to as I began the Burn Cycle Project, largely in collaboration with fire researchers at University of California at Santa Barbara.  WUIs are zones of transition between unoccupied land and human development, often useful in the study of wildlife and ecology. As more people are attracted to move into such areas for their beauty and affordability, we bring more ignitions with us and suffer greater losses. Having grown up on a chaparral-covered hilltop and the son of a fireman, I extrapolate these interwoven tensions, not only to the scale of civilization, but to one's inner life.  Having press-credentialed access to burning places allows me to contemplate and capture an alternate state of the familiar undergoing rapid change. The smoke-defused twilight and abstracted forms produce a dream-like experience, which I and others attempt to navigate physically and emotionally in order to bring back something important to share. The “Walk Into Wildfire” series, a three-sided projection space displaying fireproof camera footage, has a visual and auditory intensity that fills one’s visceral experience and primes one’s survival awareness.  As the recorded flame-front passes in the image, we as viewers begin to have more room in our minds for aesthetics and concepts. Our mental space is itself cleared by elemental ferocity, much like the opened, smokey landscape before us. This physiological arc tends to imprint an individual connection in conversations about a changing landscape and engenders interest in how we engage with wildland fire. The many works in the Burn Cycle Project have given me a way to plum archetypal themes while addressing real human safety at the same time.

 

Immersive water realms, touched by luminous consumer plastics has driven some of my installations - the collaborative public art production, “Entangled Waters” being most recent.  Dancers in streetwear, draped in colorful plastics, were choreographed by Robin Bisio largely in response to “The Flood” panels of the Sistine Chapel, as I recorded them from underwater.  Their images were mapped into the architecture of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse with 12 projectors. In this way Renaissance themes of Paradise Lost were echoed and challenged by the contemporary contexts of run-away pollution and climate change.  The seductive forms and colors, in turn, remind us of the attraction of modernity, short-term solutions and long-term consequences. Going well beyond symbolic or cautionary imagery, the swimmers actually struggled and helped each other through their entanglements.

 

I produce experiences which I intend to be so sensory-rich that thought may subside in a kind of media-induced meditation.  From there we can introduce and explore vital narratives in a unique space. In the Anthropocene, our current epoch of Earth’s history, the grandest stories may be about the relationships of our species with all systems of the globe.  To be able work from the intimacy of one’s own perceptions out to the fullest range that our tools allow brings powerful creative freedom at a dynamic and precarious time for humanity. I try to balance my sense of vulnerability and abundance within processes of gathering and sharing.