In early summer, I had the fortune of spending a four-week residency at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Southern California, which was made possible thanks to receiving a FSU Exceptional Opportunity Award! Dorland provides each resident with a cabin on top of the mountain on their 300-acre preserve, encouraging residents to embrace nature and solitude. As someone deeply affected by natural landscapes and not very accustomed to solitude, this was a very affecting experience for me. Raised in the South, I’ve always been surrounded by green, lush environments and attracted to bodies of water. But Dorland lies on the edge of a high desert region, extremely dry and extremely hot. I was immediately fascinated by this new environment.
During my time at Dorland, I had lofty aspirations and planned to complete a whole new body of work. But sometimes the universe has a different plan. While there, I experienced an unexpected loss and it pushed the residency into a more contemplative experience for me. I discovered this was an unexpected gift, to stop and consider my path and my work. I found myself passionately soaking up this harsh, but surprisingly delicate, desert landscape. I hiked a great deal with my camera on my hip and a field guide in my pack, discovering species of plants and animals that were very alien to me. In learning about the native flora and fauna, I took a great interest in the mechanisms of survival that they have developed to live in such an extreme environment: cacti that intentionally heat themselves to 140 F to retain water, wasps that hunt tarantulas, and shrimp that lie dormant in dried mud until great rains bring them to life in vernal pools. There were also rattlesnakes and coyotes, hummingbirds and ravens, kangaroo rats and kit foxes. The high desert is not as barren and void of life as one might think.
In becoming so invested in learning about these plants and animals and their mechanisms of survival, I began imagining and inventing my own animals and survival tactics. Like my “Botanical Imposters,” the imagined plants I created for my show “Subtropical,” I began to sketch and plan my own false desert field guide of invented flora and fauna. I hope to continue working on this field guide throughout the remainder of the summer and possibly into my final thesis year at FSU.
When I applied for this residency, I knew that I had been in the South for too long. Being so affected by that landscape, I was lost in it. I had the strongest urge to go experience a new environment to reinvigorate my creative drive. It goes to show, we should follow those “gut feelings.” I returned from Dorland feeling refreshed and newly inspired. I’m beyond excited to begin my thesis year.
What’s next: the other artist in residence at Dorland during my stay helps run an artist collective in New Orleans. She kindly offered one of their galleries to me for a show in August! There will be an announcement about the show posted to the art news page shortly. What a networking opportunity!
I want to share a heartfelt thank you to everyone involved in making the Exceptional Opportunity Awards happen. Awards like these help students, particularly in the arts, participate in opportunities that help with experiencing new challenges and new networking possibilities, making for an even richer education at FSU. My time at Dorland was enlightening and invaluable. THANK YOU!