CULTURE FRONT: New life in the lab

By on January 20, 2015
‘Anima No. 4,’ by Carmelo Midili.

‘Anima No. 4,’ by Carmelo Midili.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Teton Artlab welcomed two inaugural residents to its newly revamped and expanded visiting artist residency program. Massachusetts-based David Buckley Borden and Sicilian-born Carmelo Midili have been busy making art and hobnobbing with artists at the Artlab studios since January 1.

Apparently, it bears pointing out that visiting artists are a good idea. I’ve caught wind of vague rumblings of discontent from some quarters. While largely embraced, the new residency program has raised a few eyebrows. Will it benefit Jackson artists? Will it have a reach beyond the walls of the Artlab? Um, yes.

I’ll be bold here and suggest that there are few things more important to the careers of artists, or the health of an arts community, than the influence of outside artists. Artists have apprenticed with, been taught by, and gleaned ideas from other artists since the first cave painters glanced over at one another’s work and said, “Hey, I like what you’re doing with that mastodon tusk there.”

Infusing Jackson with the influence of outside artists working among us widens our view, introduces us up- close to new styles, and prevents the negative aspects of a micro-regionalism in which we cheerlead ourselves for making the same art over and over again. If Jackson artists are alive with new ideas and new influences, their work expands and deepens, and the community as a whole benefits.

“The cross cultural exchange that occurs in our studios between visiting artists and locals is critical because our valley is so isolated from the influx of new ideas,” said Travis Walker, Artlab’s executive director.

Beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Artlab invites you to stop in for Open Studios and meet Borden and Midili.

‘American Bison Extermination Map,’ by David Buckley Borden.

‘American Bison Extermination Map,’ by David Buckley Borden.

Borden’s project focuses on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Originally trained as a landscape architect, Borden now makes site-specific landscape installations as well as 2-D work such as screen prints, drawings and maps. His current project is a series of prints that map the pressures on Yellowstone’s ecological landscape and its natural resources, based on research and input from community members. He has talked to the Jackson Hole Land Trust, TreeFight, and other organizations, and he wants to talk to you about what you would protect in our nearby national parks. His open studio will feature postcards specifically designed to elicit community feedback.

“The richness of the map is dependent on the diversity of respondents,” Borden said. “I twist cartographic convention to raise cultural awareness of ecological issues.”

A map Borden created for a recent installation in Massachusetts re-imagines and re-presents the 1889 “American Bison Extermination Map” made by conservationist William Hornaday. In addition to Borden’s evocative visual interpretation of the map data (see above), Borden’s map includes years of local extermination and distribution of bison as of 2003.

Midili’s artistic concerns, by comparison, are more formal. His peripatetic journeys across countries and continents fill his mind with impressions of shapes and colors.

“When I travel, I get inspiration from the shapes I see in landscapes,” he said.

Several years ago, Midili started collecting paintings from art school trash bins in New York City. Ever since, he has used the abandoned paintings on canvas to create sculptures. He cuts the paintings into smaller shapes and then affixes pieces together randomly to create braided strands. These strands or twists of cobbled canvases then become multi-foot, freestanding objects, and may be installed so that they appear to be emerging from a wall.

For his Artlab residency, Midili is working small. He will create a series of wall pieces, perhaps a foot in width. “I’ve never worked this small before,” he said. “It is more difficult.”

By repurposing the rejected work of other artists, Midili says his work explores the theme of failure. Born in a culture that values family and sensuality more than material success, he lacks the knee-jerk shame Americans associate with failure.

“I’ve made a lot of failures in life, in my work,” Midili said. “All my failures brought me to something good, always. Something positive for the future.”

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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