TELLURIDE – At the helm of the exhibition of the work of nine artists going on display Saturday, July 30, at the Ah Haa School, is Deep Creek Art School founder Dan Collins.
Collins, who is also a professor at Arizona State University and president of the Telluride Institute, is also contributing the most high-tech piece in the watershed-inspired art show.
Of his interactive multimedia piece, “It looks like a video game,” Collins said this week. The console includes a 3D relief map of the watershed synched to an overhead video projector and an LCD display. Users interact with various map layers of the San Miguel river basin via a track ball and embedded hyperlinks.
On the other end of the show's technology spectrum are pen-and-ink sketches of “venerable trees” from Ridgway plein air artist Christina Jarus, and a classically composed photograph of the Valley Floor by Drew Ludwig.
Other artists include Collins' wife and fellow “earth artist” Laurie Lundquist, who is “doing a wonderful rainfall” on the deck outside the building, he said, with water “coming down off the gutter on a series of black strings,” and Collins’ longtime collaborator, Gene Cooper, and fellow art professors Jim Elniski and Henry Dean, as well as Ridgway metal-sculptor Lisa Issenberg and Telluride Institute cofounder Pamela Lifton-Zoline, whose installation features stones gathered from the river that are like the “chorus of the San Miguel,” head-like stones “singing lyrics,” he said, that are “the names of the tributaries, mines and tales of the watershed.”
Each of the artworks, he added, “is a very specific reference to a geographic location,” and will be accompanied by “a small title block, a map of the watershed and a map locating the work in the region.”
Collins went on to credit Lifton-Zoline and her Telluride Institute cofounder and husband, John, for having set the watershed thought-process into motion nearly two decades ago, by conceptualizing “the boundaries of this place in more organic and natural terms” than before, which led to “the idea of mapping this place really based on its watershed.”
He praised Issenberg's piece – “a little table, with the watershed cut out of the table” and then mounted on the wall, so its “negative” remains on the table and its “positive goes on the wall,” as “echoing the sculptural work Maya Lin has done.”
Collins, whose parents were born in Telluride and whose ancestors are buried in cemeteries from Telluride to Egnar, is a walking fount of information about everything from the pioneering water ditch finished by utopian settlers of early 20th-century Nucla to the fact that San Miguel County offers “a perfect example” of both Jeffersonian-grid mapping (using perpendicular lines) and John Wesley Powell-inspired natural boundaries (necessitated by the encircling ridgelines) to the Great Salt Lake's Spiral Jetty, built by pioneering earth artist Robert Smithson. But he's most animated when discussing the elixir of life, water, which is, he observed, “really a foundation of social construction.”
To further that discussion, Collins brought Elniski to Deep Creek last summer to start work on the 80-by-70-inch indigenous-spruce display that is part of the watershed exhibition.
It features holes “reflecting the pattern” of 25 springs in the watershed, said Elniski, who has collected water from each one of those springs that, boiled and filtered for preservation, will ripple through the piece “in a constellation of different arrangements,” reminiscent of a piece he constructed in a Vietnam rice paddy out of balloons filled with nearby residents' breath.
Like air, “Water is a medium of connectivity,” observed Elniski, also a clinical social worker, who strives in his art “to engage socially with individuals who are somehow connected to what I'm collecting.”
Elniski, Collins and Dean are all members of Foundations in Art Theory and Education, a national association “dedicated to the promotion of excellence in the development and teaching of college-level foundation courses in both studio and art history,” according to its website.
Put simply, that organization's goal is to make art accessible to members of the communities that foster it, a mission these three art teachers take very seriously.
Dean, who taught courses at Deep Creek in its early days, works in a way that invites community engagement from the start, thanks to his method of going “out into the landscape” carrying 2 x 2s that become on-site easels for his canvases, which are painted and then left, to “allow natural forces to color” them, Collins said; the effects of those natural forces are then “worked back into the canvas, in a kind of collaboration with nature.”
Dean's piece in the watershed exhibition was created at the base of Bridal Veil Falls.
Of Cooper, Collins said, “He and I have been collaborating for a number of years now on interactive visual displays involving mapping techniques,” including one interactive model of the San Miguel River.
“To sum it up” – no mean feat, Collins acknowledged, regarding this complex and multifaceted physical report on the state of the San Miguel Watershed, each one of the nine artists “is bringing a very different perspective” to the watershed “and using experimental media to reveal hidden dimensions of the place.
Elniski's piece might be the show's most comprehensive, starting with spring water gathered from locations including the Uncompahgre Plateau, Trout Lake, Wilson Mesa, Ophir, Placerville, and Ames.
“In the act of finding these springs,” said Collins, who traveled with Elniski to most of the sites, “a story of place is told. The wonderful thing about Jim's project,” which incorporates comments as well as sounds and images from the springs, “is that the act of finding these springs becomes a way of revealing the narrative that gives a different picture of place.”
“It's a lot deeper than going into a hotel room and turning on the tap.”
The show opens Saturday, July 30, with a party from 6:30-10:30 p.m., featuring food, drink, dancing (to Swing Shift) and an art auction at the Ah Haa School to benefit the Telluride Institute. Pre-show tickets ($30) are available online at tellurideinstitute.org or at Wizard Entertainment; $35 tickets are available at the door.