14 artists descend on the remote Sierra Nevada landscape to live, work, create, and collaborate among nature
There’s something about being in nature that encourages us to be our most pure selves. It’s the reason we yip and hoot while skiing powder, smile beyond recognition at simple sights in the backcountry, and find the sound of nothing among a barren landscape so peaceful. It’s this primal self, the uninhibited and free-thinking self, that roaming creative residency Cabin-Time hopes to tap into with each new program.
Since its inception in 2012, Cabin-Time has hosted over 100 international creatives in eight different off-grid locations around the U.S. The most recent being Lone Pine, CA, for which the 501c3 nonprofit partnered with Chaco, to both support the effort, and to provide the crew of artists with custom sandals—a win-win, if you ask us.
Similar to how Cabin-Time came to be (check out our Q&A with Cabin-Time Co-Founder Geoff Holstad for the full history) the story of CT8 is a long and winding (and windy) one. It’s a story of artists, and the experiences unique to each. To help spread the word of Cabin-Time we partnered with Chaco to tell the tale or their partnership, and highlight the highlights.
At the base of Mount Whitney, 14 artists converged—half being “full time” artist-caretaker-volunteers who run the program and the remainder made up of seven creatives chosen from nearly 230 applicants. Representing Atlanta, Denver, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and East Jordan, Michigan, the CT8 artists included Michi Meko, Jackie Barry, Cara Despain, Anika Sabin, Kaitlin Pomerantz, Zya Levy, and Micah Middaugh, respectively.
As is to be expected from Cabin-Time, the participating artists used many mediums and created works as varied as the ideas and experiences that inspired them—think rocks, tape, film, paint, pine cones, plants, photographs, tape recorders, board games, candles, clocks, wood carving, poop casting, food making, and fly tying. It’s chaotic and quasi-sensical because that’s the Cabin-Time vibe. “Everybody comes in with an idea of what they’re gonna make,” Cabin-Time Founder Geoff Holstad says, “and [in the end] it’s always different. We give everybody the invitation and nudge to do something that they’re not otherwise going to do.”
Each artist approached designing their own Chaco sandal differently too. Some went literal, while others stuck to the abstract. Bright and bold for some, sleek and subdued for others. But no matter the route, the clever bit of it is every sandal both contrasted heavily with the high desert location, while simultaneously looking at home—after all, these rugged sandals are assembled by hand in Michigan with adventure in mind.
As such, to condense each artist’s creations, thoughts, and takeaways into a single article of reasonable length would make little sense, and do both the individuals and the whole C-T concept injustice. (Check out Carson Davis Brown’s brilliant short film for an approachable overview.)
That said, upon reviewing the resulting imagery, film, and physical works (now on display at Sierra Nevada College as part of a collective CT8 exhibition running through 15 Nov 2017) we found ourselves particularly drawn to the work of Jackie Barry, Michi Meko, and Cara Despain.
As an interdisciplinary artist trained in printmaking and interested in works of fabric and drawing, and the juxtaposition of the analog and digital realms, Jackie Barry is the quintessential Cabin-Time resident. In the desert, she found inspiration in the direct landscape, and escalating elevation.
The concept of “drawing with another material” stood out to us. “I just wanted to do something very simple to illuminate objects unique to each biotic zone,” explains Barry, “so I drew on them, only with colorful tape.” The idea came to her as she hiked up to an abandoned building high above the campsite, the Ashram. The practice of “drawing” became a way channel her energy, and breathing. It was “the closest thing I could be doing to absolutely nothing, while still making something. Like a practice solely to focus my thoughts, while still creating something beautiful.” And in the end, the tape was removed, and each artifact returned to nature, effectively closing the loop.
Likewise, Barry’s sandals feature tints of primary colors she works with often, and are embroidered with “"EVRYTHNG" and "NOTHING”. As she puts it, “It’s kind of a mantra I think about a lot.”
Miami, Florida’s Cara Despain too drew direct inspiration from discarded objects in the surrounding environment, though of a different organic sort altogether. She made casts of cow poop—or dung, if you prefer—in an exploration of the complicated issues of western expansion, land use and ownership, and the force of human power to put an animal not suited for the high desert (cows) in exactly that landscape. “I also made some cool video and photo stuff out there,” Despain informs, “but everyone probably just thinks I'm a fecophile.”
For her sandals, Despain went a literal route. “I was really excited about the mountain pattern, and the one that looks like snowflakes,” she explains of her design approach, anticipating the terrain she’d experience in the Sierras. “I pretty much cranked the knob all the way up.”
While many artists made physical objects in the brief time the group was all together, Michi Meko took the opportunity to explore new concepts, some of which may not materialize for some time yet. Specifically, his work and considerations revolved around his experience with being African American in the outdoors, and a want to create “a conceptual field guide for the Black traveler” through journaling.
“For me, the idea was to map and plot my existence, while also dealing with the poetic and romanticized ideas of isolation that the wilderness can provide and still considering the very real idea that I may be the only Black man in this space for miles and miles,” Meko explains. “I am aware that there are many Black outdoors enthusiasts and there always have been, but the lack of visibility is what makes the feeling of isolation so strong and drives me to continue to explore these spaces.” The lack of represented diversity in the outdoor space is a serious and important subject, and Meko’s voice is one we’re excited to hear more of.
While Cabin-Time promotes a playful, casual atmosphere, the art created at and inspired by each residency is genuine to the highest degree. It’s this unique way of addressing many dualities that make the organization so special. Digital and analog, human and nature, made and found, strangers and family, set history and shaping of a more positive future—if this gets your mind moving, then you’re in the right place.