MAY

Rachael M. Gonzalez
Field Notes, further thoughts
May 22, 2018


Field Notes is an ongoing series of drawings on paper, prints, and handmade objects that began in late 2016. It is a slow and meditative project, consisting of only around 10 finished pieces as of today. The project is a study of found ecosystems in the woods and fields mostly around the Midwest, although now that I live in Mexico this will likely change. I am especially fascinated by mycelium colonies and tree allies/foes, which either improve and regenerate their surrounding ecosystem, or transform it into something completely different, such as a burl. The drawings are from life but they read as abstract.

I was inspired to start this series for a few reasons.

I was thinking and reading a lot about the ongoing political fight(s) against the natural landscape in the USA, which completely pains me as a gardener, backpacker, & folk herbalist who has a deep love for wild places. I decided to draw from what I found in the wood and field because it is such a joy to study abnormalities and organic patterns, to trace their forms and realize an entire world exists there that we walk past unnoticed every day. I felt like if more people stopped to look, more people might care. It’s as simple as that. 

Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in Braiding Sweetgrass, “Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”

This was the unexpected lesson. This is the part of the drawings that are not seen; I am no longer just observing, I can see now that I am not separate. The act of going to the woods to draw not only brought my attention to the otherwise unseen, it made me participate in the regeneration. I pick up old beer bottles and trash. I ask permission to pick berries and leave a gift in return. I reduced my plastic use. 
The work is medicinal in that it has changed me for the better, too. 

AUGUST

sent AUG 29 2017 posted 9.11.17


WHAT IVE BEEN MAKING/

science / ˈsīəns/  the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. 

Shortly after my 30th birthday in March of this year, I went for a walk in the woods.
We had just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico with friends and I was feeling particularly glum about  Chicago winter.
I've been trying my hardest to love the seasons. I am naturally a summer girl. But there is a lesson in present-ness when appreciating what each season has to offer. I've been thinking about this a lot this year. Maybe it was turning 30, which everyone always describes as being somewhat of a big deal. Personally, I was prepared and ready to leave behind my 20's. But still, that season of my life was ending, a new season was beginning, and while the snow was melting that day in March the sun and the birds were still in hiding- and I was wondering what on earth the next decade was going to bring. But a walk in the woods has always been comforting for me, so I played a private game of I Spy and looked for recognizable vegetation. A mink ran across my path, a remarkably rare sight in Chicago. A gift.

When I was a little kid, my best friend and I would do something we called "river walking". Basically, we walked down the dirt road that went past her house until we reached a bridge that went over a shallow river running parallel to the road. Using the bridge, we would climb down until we were shin deep in the river water. Then we would walk back up to her house. We would stop from time to time, trying to catch crawdads or frogs, or filling our pockets with neat rocks. But for the most part, we just sloshed through the water and talked. When I came to be an older, less dependent age, I would walk the river and woods alone sometimes. I remember digging in the dirt and brush and stumbling on old animal bones, a skull, a femur of some kind. I took them home to my "laboratory", which was basically a table I set up in my room with national geographic magazines and pieces of wood, moss and fungi I had found. I put the bones and other natural materials under my toy microscope and pretend I made some great discovery, when in reality I had no idea what I was actually looking for.

On a trip to Milwaukee last year, we went to an antique store one of our friends loves to frequent. There, hanging above the registers, was a huge hoop display of drying hornets nests. The shop owner told me that after thanksgiving, when the days get colder and darker, he takes a walk in the woods and collects the abandoned nests to dry in his shop. Beautiful perfect nests. They reminded me of paper mache crafts in kindergarten, and summer camp, and they reminded me of the feeling I got when I found something I desperately needed to see under my toy microscope.
I got home; I tried to recreate it, but it kept falling short. I made all kinds of adhesive and used all types of paper, but every time I put it together, it wasn't quite right. They never looked so perfect, organic or natural. My studio diary from that failed project reads something like, "I tried to emulate nature and failed miserably." There's probably a joke somewhere in there.

It's funny how Field Notes as a project came to me over this last year, it's funny how it feels so much like my kid-laboratory. It was not intentional, but it could have been. I've been visiting my childhood without even knowing it.

A week ago I had the pleasure of enjoying the total solar eclipse on a literal precipice in Shawnee National Forest, surrounded by friends, as a celebration of my approaching marriage (in the form of a bachelorette-party-gone-backpacking). When the corona rose in the sky and we were able to take our eclipse glasses away and see the totality with the naked eye, I was overwhelmed by the startling beauty and fell to my knees in awe. I don't know if I could recreate that in a drawing, or a sculpture, or whatever; but I think I might continue to try. I still have no idea what I am looking for in making images and things, but the process of studying and making is medicine.

I hope that the end of your summer has been as beautiful and profound as mine, and I hope we can all look forward to the coming fall and it's unique comforts.

See the works together here and check back for new ones.

 

WHAT IVE BEEN DOING/

Hiking, journalling, processing, and preparing (for my wedding, in only 39 days). Taking time for myself where I can.

WHAT IVE BEEN DIGGING/

Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society

Art.Science.Gallery Austin, TX

The Mothman Sightings over Chicago this year

Thanks for taking the time to read this newsletter. If you are newly subscribed and missed my first one, let me know and I would be happy to forward.
See you all in September.

With the best of my love,

Rachael

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JULY

sent JULY 28 2017 posted 9.11.17

WHAT IVE BEEN MAKING

Night Scene.
Night is the time for adventure, laughter, stories.
Our ancestors strengthened their relationships around fires and by candle light. They engaged with the spirit world and expressed their dreams. Firelight is for intimate conversation, insight, and meditation.  We keep these rituals today.

My friend Tim said just the other day that in his view, all art is both conceptual and political. I never thought of myself as a political artist before, but it made me think.
Artists have always made work that spoke out against society’s ills, acting as a time capsule on the way we live now. Last year I had the opportunity to see the MCA show Mastery, by Kerry James Marshall, which blew me away. The work was so relevant to our times, so smart, so evocative.

Could I really make art that is quiet and soft and dark, and also political?

Many of us Americans are living under leaders right now who are steering us opposite of our moral compass. Black Lives Matter, Women’s marches and LGBTQ rights aside (for the moment), our planet is under duress and south of nothing is being done about it by our president and his team.
Some disturbing elements of this year’s political agenda has been cutting funds to the National Parks (who have literally gone rogue…), pulling out of the Paris Agreement, and loudly denying the very existence of global warming when the EPA removed climate change information from the White House website. 

Our wild places are under threat.
What will become of them?

And on more personal levels, our rising anxieties and feelings of loneliness are amplified by decreasing access to face to face time, skin to skin contact, nourishing foods, close community, and traditions of non-material varieties.

But I digress.

The questions I have been mulling while working on these paintings-

What shape would our conversations take if our hearths were lit by the artificial fluorescent light of a post-wild planet? 

How will we rewild our relationships if we can't even keep the field and forest, the ocean or bees, alive?

Here in these paintings I honor the types of conversations we have after dark, I appreciate and meditate on the wild spaces we share, I cherish keeping these rituals alive, in hopes that we can care better for each other and the places we live and visit, before they are also extinct. See most of the works here.

 

WHAT IVE BEEN DOING/
 

It’s been a busy year so far. I’ve had the privilege to travel far and wide, starting with Puerto Rico in March (which happened to fall on my 30th birthday), then to Memphis TN for the first time in May. Memphis was lovely, despite a city-wide blackout due to a near hurricane.
June brought me to northern Wisconsin & the annual Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, where I camped in the woods for three days and learned from wise women about plants, rewilding, intersectional feminism and mind-body medicine. I look forward to it each year.
July has been a real marathon, beginning with my first venture to Colorado, where I experienced butterscotch trees, elk, and yak for the first time. Hummingbirds hummed with me when I had my morning coffee. It was wild.
July fourth weekend we visited Pittsburgh, where I loved the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I was blown away by the Poisons Exhibit, the preserved flora and fauna. I particularly enjoyed spending time with a Vija Celmins painting of the galaxy, in a little corner of a gallery.
Finally, we just spent a quick weekend in rural CT visiting my family, and a glorious Saturday walking Storm King Art Center in Mountainville NY. I had been there once before, on a class trip as a early highschooler- but it was like nothing I had ever seen before, visiting again with older eyes. My highlight was spending time (again) with Andy Goldsworthy and Maya Lin works.

WHAT IVE BEEN DIGGING/

-Follow my fiancé Tom on his new photo blog @architectureisnotmagic or check out his projects via architectureisnotmagic.com

-The new podcast from WNYC Studios & the MoMA called
A piece of work: with Abbi Jacobson” is a fun & bite -sized take on artists through history.
I highly recommend it.

-“How to Recycle all the Things”a guide on recycling almost everything

-VGA gallery is set to open it’s first Brick-and-Mortar Gallery on Friday August 11th at 5pm with the show SAVIOR, by cuban artists Josuhe Pagliery & Johann Armenteros. Check them out here. VGA Gallery is Chicago's first permanent public art gallery dedicated to videogames and related new media art.


Thanks for taking the time to read. See you again in August.

-RMM

@rachaelmchan
rachaelmchan.com