MAPEA 2022: Mapping Vicksburg and Kalamazoo

How does the color blue move?

What shapes and colors can I find around me?

What does our neighborhood look like?  

What do I find when I walk down the road?

What kind of buildings are there? What kind of life?

How do different spaces make me feel?

These were some of the questions we started with in our workshop series this summer.

In 13 workshops across Greater Kalamazoo, we explored different parts of town with kids and youth in summer camps and in classes.

As we explored our surroundings, we made an inventory of things around us to paint in our map and noticed the sensations produced by different places. A tree can cool as much as 5 air conditioners, so we stood under trees and felt the difference in temperature.

We looked at rivers and roads, parks and marshes, plazas and empty lots, listening to the sounds and the people around, looking at gardens and different accommodation for pedestrians and children, cars and trucks, animals and wildlife; a simple seeming exercise in taking note.  Here are our maps.

Carlos Fabian Medina directed stretching and movement exercises to begin the workshop with a wake up for our bodies. We set up a language of signature movements that we all repeated together as we trained our memories and observation skills before taking a walkabout.

As a multidisciplinary workshop, applying different ways of perceiving things and mixing things up was part of our purpose. With simple questions that might sound a little odd, we tried to look at things with a fresh eye.

Accompanied by local artists Brent Harris, Aerick Burton, Marissa Klee-Peregon and Brendan Barnes, we walked and talked, stopping to smell the flowers and to hear about local history or to look at building sites–history in action!

Where the participants lived locally, we tried to find out about their experiences of the lived environment and to hear about their views.

Above all, we tried to see our surroundings not just as a given, but as a place that we can become involved in changing too, especially with news of the climate crisis in the background.

Working with other artists interested in social art projects was also a great experience as we shared tools and tips and tried to flex our emotional intelligence in conversation with the kids throughout the adventures that inevitably occurred on our walkabouts.

After our explorations we came back to the park, camp, school building or studio to paint our map. We used a three-dimensional background to paint our slices of space. Each person started with a box that became part of a collective representation of our town when put together.

In this exhibition we have combined our two-dimensional maps from 2020 that were painted on canvas drop cloths, together with our 2022 three-dimensional maps on boxes. We used boxes to emphasize recycling, which required a lot of leg work to collect, but ultimately was an important exercise in seeing how reusing materials works out and was very effective in getting everyone involved.

We had many collaborators and donations who made this possible.

We are pleased to present the results of thirteen workshops with more than 230 participants made possible by generous help from:

Kalamazoo Community Foundation

The Koa Fund

The Mill at Vicksburg

Douglas and Son, Inc.

The Peoples Food Co-op

Kalamazoo Friends of Parks and Recreation

Kalamazoo Arts Council

Home Depot and Meijer’s

In collaboration with Kalamazoo Valley Community College,

Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation,

The Vicksburg Community Schools, and

Boys and Girls Club Kalamazoo,

Sponsored by the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center

Bridges not walls

The second showing of my exhibition Mangled Hopes for Bridges continues a process begun through the Destination Venezuela event with the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center last year (see previous posts) and was now on show for Hispanic Heritage month at the KVCC Arcus Gallery and Center for New Media. I could not have asked for a more suitable showcase in Kalamazoo for my paintings and a chance to discuss the issues in the accompanying webinar (links below).

In the quiet of the pandemic there had been a change in focus, a shift in gaze from landscape and built environment to the people who were now absent from it at least around me. But the steady pedestrian stream over the border from Venezuela to Columbia as documented in Tulio Hernandez journalistic work did not diminish, on the contrary becoming ever more urgent as the pandemic worsened in Venezuela, never leaving my minds eye. As the English art historian Griselda Pollock articulated so perfectly in a podcast I heard while at work, most artists don’t usually know exactly what they want to say, it’s more of a compulsion that moves you to explore a theme visually.

This body of work continued to grow during the stops and starts in pandemic isolation over the last year and the expanding spaces in Vicksburg that have become available to me. In June I left behind the sweet downtown sanctuary of the Candystore (see the Short Walk series of three videos below) moving to the top floor of the Papermill itself, more physically challenging but so much more rewarding in terms of space and light. The results of working in this new space were immediately put on show with the large astro-turf instalation, a map-portal to complement the shifting continents from the floor of the Candystore before.

As one of the many threads that weave briefly together in this Michigan braid, I feel so enchanted to have this opportunity, thinking I probably wouldn’t have more than a spare bedroom for a studio, not really even daring to imagine that such a generous home for my imagination could open up. It required some effort as my daily commute turned into a 3 hour bicycle ride, but all the more invigorating for it.

The Mill @ Vicksburg is an amazing project and at a point in time where the spaces are now more apt for artists to carry out their residencies in it as it is slowly cleaned and stabilized, adapted and renovated. I love the feeling of endless possibilities as the project evolves, along with the discreet companionship of the workforce who occaisionally come to observe my onsite drawings. The long halls literally opening up as bricked in windows are uncovered and rooves removed and the sun pours in to spaces that have not seen light of day in decades, maybe almost a century.

It is energising to be involved in rebuilding when you leave behind such a path of destruction.

Thankyou to the KVCC, Arcus Gallery + Center for New Media and Sam Zomer for the photographs

Venezuela or the largest migration of the first quarter of the 21st century“, Tulio Hernández

Venezuela o la más grande migración del primer trienio del siglo XXI latinoamericano”, Tulio Hernández

MAPEA 2020: Navigating the pandemic

Relocated to Kalamazoo, Michigan since 2016, last year I finally found the collaborators and organisations to work with on a new MAPEA mapping project. Getting to know a community always takes time. 

I had just begun to organise a series of workshops for the summer camps held by the Parks and Recreation Department of the City Council when the pandemic hit. 

Simultaneously we had been organising another event which had to be postponed straight away (with an exhibition hung and ready to inaugurate) but throughout the year we insisted on looking for ways to continue with our projects. 

The MAPEA workshops in particular suddenly seemed all the more urgent exactly because they entail outdoor activities for children who were now forced to stay indoors.

But it did necessitate some adaptation and a lot of uncertainty up until the last minute, so the first expeditions were to take a very long hard look at spaces available and how we could use them, as well as being a great excuse to go out for a bike ride, which became a pandemic favourite for many. The first and nearest site to where I lived was the Upjohn Park, neighbouring Food innovation Center and Parks and Rec Youth Development Center.

Continue reading “MAPEA 2020: Navigating the pandemic”

Destination Venezuela:Culture amidst Crises

Vicksburg Cultural Arts Centre, September/October 2020

How the arts thrive and flourish in spite of the pandemic and many uphill circumstances

Mangled hopes for bridges is the name of my exhibition and the painting above. They came in response to the reporting we were translating for our Destination Venezuela event that we’d been working on since the end of last year.  Specifically from the work of Tulio Hernández in the Centre for the Memory of the Venezuelan Migration, an initiative he established in Bogota when he had to flee the country a few years ago.  We left not long after, glad to have visas and jobs, but the recent migration over the last couple of years has been on foot giving rise to the most surreal and painful images especially across the long border shared with Colombia. 

With the onset of the pandemic and ensuing quarantine the event had to be postponed at the last minute even though the exhibition was already up but we were glad to finally open a reformulated version in September,  a brief respite in the uncertainty of the pandemic but all the more appreciated for that.

Poetry event to inaugurate Destination Venezuela with Lee Anne Seaver, Jake Munson, Claudio Mendoza and Syd Bastos
Continue reading “Destination Venezuela:Culture amidst Crises”