A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Art in a Wild Place

trong nguyen

Trong Nguyen, an AIRIE artist in residence, with a group overlooking the river of grass

Plants, exotic birds and insects are the artists’ family for a month when they live in Everglades National Park.

Artists come from around the nation and world to take residency in this unique place, one teeming with life and visual richness. Creativity comes alive here.

Artists such as Dana Sherwood, Naomi Fisher, and Mark Dion have all brought their talents to the Park during the last twelve years of AIRIE (Artists in Residence in Everglades). Whereas the initial waves of residents worked mostly in traditional painting, more contemporary artists working in a range of mediums – dancers, video artists, and writers – have been taken on in recent years.

“In a Park known for its spectacular and diverse wildlife, the art and voices of AIRIE residents reveal other unique, and often missed, dimensions of this special place,” remarks Park Superintendent, Dan Kimball.

While in residence, artists are invited to explore the Everglades and gather inspiration for their work. From hiking, biking, guided tours, or canoe adventures, artists can choose whatever ways suit them best to get an up close and personal experience of the Park.

The Park facilitates artists’ explorations by offering free entry into the Park and discounted prices for boat tours and tram rides, as well as providing lodging within the Park.

Kavanaugh and Trong canoeing

Kavanaugh and Nguyen canoeing

One artist duo from New York, Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen Nguyen, explored the park by canoe and on foot, gathering inspiration for their bigger project at Locust Projects, a non profit exhibition space dedicated to showing work from contemporary visual artists.

“We spent most of our time exploring,” says Kavanaugh. “We saw as much of the Park as possible, and catalogued the form, texture and feel of the place.”

Through their canoeing and various walks through the Park, the pair were able to create “Drawn from the Everglades,” an installation made from three shades of green construction paper shaped to look like marshes and mangroves of the Everglades.

During her residency, AIRIE Fellow Krista Elrick expanded on a five year long project of retracing the steps of the famous bird painter, John James Audubon.

At the Park, she captured images of places that Audubon once painted, including a rookery filled with birds.

AIRIE Fellows Trong Nguyen and Rebecca Reeve worked on their individual projects –Humanitarians not Heroes, and a detailed book describing works in Cuba, respectively. Each incorporates everyday novelties and some Park history in their projects.

Nguyen used the natural wetlands as his backdrop for a set of accordion postcards that depict images of the unnatural. “I want to capture the aspects of the beautiful Park, like road signs and tourists,” says Nguyen.

Reeve was inspired by the history of Everglades City. In the 1980s, commercial fishing was banned in the Everglades. With the livelihood of families taken away, the fishermen became candidates for smuggling marijuana, which was sometimes found floating in square packages. Reeve created an Everglades waterscape series, floating illuminated squares during dusk and night.

Many artists report that the residency has enhanced and broadened their views on the environment. Some say they have incorporated their Everglades experience in their work moving forward.

Mohr says that not only do AIRIE fellows benefit from first hand experiences in the Park, but people who visit the Park also benefit from interactions with the artists and the works they produce. Through art, people who have never visited the Everglades benefit, as well. Mohr believes that the environment benefits too, since the art creates a larger awareness about natural systems and their fragility.

See the recently announced 2014 AIRIE Fellows here[.]

Contributed by Giselle Heraux.

**Special note: Christy Gast, who sits on the AIRIE Host Committee, recently remarked that the residency has been closed, as has Everglades National Park, both due to the government shutdown.


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Art in a Wild Place