The Spirit of Powderhorn
This project grew out of attempts to get ordinary passers-by to draw something small at an art fair. Turns out that being put on the spot to draw is really intimidating for the average person, but that arranging magnetic shapes on a board is much more accessible. The idea is to ground yourself in body and place - ideally a natural setting. While immersed in sensory information provided by this place and its inhabitants, create a pattern from life using combinations of point, line and arc (the building blocks of all pattern language). My first experiment with magnets used a black background, but because the idea is to engage with the spirit of place, it became obvious that a better ground would be reflective of the natural setting at hand, hence the map of Powderhorn Park, what I like to call the ‘jewel of our neighborhood’.
Above are images of the 3’ x 5’ surface coming into focus, starting with magnetic paint and a line drawing of the park’s contours. This seemed too sparse and in dissonance with the energy the place exudes, so I added color to give it life. Last, shapes are cut from magnetic sheet and arranged arbitrarily to give an idea of what one could do with them. It took many renditions to distill the instructions down to; “Grounding in place, make a pattern from life, using point, line & arc.” Even this sentence seemed too much for most adults to focus on while scoping out the digs, but children were ready and willing to participate. Maybe in a quieter space, like the Pillsbury House Theater lobby, where the board will be stationed in October and November, there will be more grown-ups willing to engage.
Little people are always in abundance at the Powderhorn Art Fair, and though they brought the most energy to this participatory art project, were only able to reach the bottom half of the piece, which is where the most interesting pattern-making occurred. I had hoped to make the ground big enough that the patterns created would correlate to the actual location in the park of lived experiences, but it feels like I’ll have to go bigger for that to occur. In passing, folks associated the dots around the lake with artists and spectators travelling along the path. Green and gold arcs became the hot sun shining down on us and the trees providing us with shade. Other images included bikes and playgrounds, soccer teams, the MayDay flotilla and anatomical features emerging from the background to give Powderhorn the appearance of an animal-person - a living entity unto herself.
It never occurred to me that that this side project would earn me the Spirit of Powderhorn award at this year’s event, but maybe it should have, because the name of the award pretty much sums up the aim of the experiment. There are still better ways of eliciting audience engagement, to be sure, but the weekend offered some much needed validation and encouragement to continue on in this direction. What I would really love to see come out of this exercise is a pattern language that reflects the lived experience of those participating. When we look at visual folk art forms, the stories encapsulated therein extend back unbroken into the mists of time. We need that body of imagery and knowledge to give meaning to cosmology and root us in place, but we also need to find ways of innovating within those traditions, making them relevant to challenges in the present.
Drawing is a way of being in the body. If I can give someone pause to relate to natural forces through a modified form of drawing, then I’ve brought them a step closer to eliminating conscious barriers between self and landscape. ‘Change your mind and you will change your world’ is said, but people aren’t motivated by thoughts but through emotions. Change occurs first in the heart and then the head follows. In order to grow beyond the rapacious way humanity exists in the modern world, the heart must become the driver of change. To survive we’ll need to heal artificial divides invented to disconnect us from body, land, other and heart. You can’t heal what you can’t feel, so relationship between self and place is first and foremost an emotional undertaking.