Creative Community: Headlands Center for the Arts

Two current exhibitions address the culture of the kibbutzIsraeli communal agrarian societies in which life, labor, and pretty much everything else is often shared. This series of interviews explores local collectives of contemporary artists and asks the question, is it better to make art together?

Aerial shot of Headlands Center for the Arts by Telstar Logistics
In addition to nature, I’ve always said that the other thing I hold sacred in my life is art. When I discovered Headlands Center for the Arts a few years after moving here, I was struck by the transformation of WWII Army barracks into a community that connects to an international art world and places value on providing artists the space, the opportunities to exchange ideas with their colleagues, and a connection to landscape. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to drive out one evening after work and spend a few hours with two artists whose work is driven by the natural world and who have experienced their exchange with other artists here in different ways.

Christina Seely is an established artist and adjunct professor of photography at California College of the Arts (CCA). She was a Headlands Center for the Arts Artist in Residence in spring 2011 and is currently part of the Affiliate Artists Program that provides her subsidized studio space, opportunities to present her work, and access to other artists at Headlands.

Teresa Baker graduated with her MFA from California College of the Arts in May 2013 and was awarded the Center’s prestigious Tournesol Award which recognizes one emerging artist each year. Providing financial support and a private studio, the award culminates in a solo exhibition. In July 2014, Baker will have her show at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco.

Interviewer Daryl Carr (DC): Christina, can you describe the project that brought you to Headlands?

Christina Seely

Christina Seely (CS): My project is entitled Markers of Time which focuses on humans' relationship to time and the way climate change is altering natural cycles and rhythms and ecosystems in a much more obvious way than we can see here in a temperate zone. Over the last three years, I’ve traveled with scientists to the Alaskan Arctic, the Arctic Svalbad Territory, and then down to the Equator. During my travels, I’ve gathered source materials, collaborated with scientists and other artists, and captured the rapidly changing environment. In response, I’m working on an exhibition-ready project that in addition to featuring a range of photographs, also includes video and web-based and interactive components, and my own personal field notes.

Christina Seely, MUTO, Defluo Glacies, Matanuska Glacier, Alaska 2011.
Camera image: 20 x 24 in. Glacier image: 48 x 60 in.

DC: Where did you come up with the idea for this project?

CS: My last project was titled Lux. Based on the NASA map of the world at night, I photographed forty-five cities in the three brightest regions of the world: the US, Western Europe, and Japanall of which consume the most energy. The purpose was to survey this cumulative light and to consider what light represents about us (to pre-order this monograph, visit Radius Books). Markers of Time is a conversation with Lux. I’m pulling away from cityscapes and traditional photography to look at how the man-made time of climate change is affecting the natural time cycles in the arctic and the equator.

Christina Seely, Tokyo from her series Lux.
Christina Seely, Madrid from her series Lux.
DC: It’s interesting how you’ve used scientific research to create your work. Can you talk more about that?

CS: I’ve given myself a lot of freedom in this project by working in many medianot just photography. Lux was such a fixed project that toward the end that drove me a little bit crazy. In this work, I’ve been making component pieces much more like an artist working in the medium of photography rather than a photographer which is a shift in identity for me. Some are more experiential. I’m creating an installation where viewers can think about how light and time activate other senses; and others are photo-based deconstruction of photography.

There’s also an app that’s intended for viewer interaction with the art. In all of these multi-media works, I’m removed. They’re about a confrontation with the viewer embedded in the piece.

I’m also working on a set of field notes, my own thoughts and how to connect with the viewer on a more personal level on the topic.

DC: Teresa, tell me about your work and how landscape and nature informs the project you’re working on.

Teresa Baker

Teresa Baker (TB): Landscape is important to me because I grew up in National Parks where my father was a ranger. They were in the middle of nowhere—mainly in the Midwest—North Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. These were very flat landscapes, lots of space. It was that component and also the culture of the Native American tribe I’m from, the Hidatsa, that influences my work.

I definitely use a lot of shape and flatness to explore space. That’s really fascinating to me because flatness can seem dull so I’m interested in how I can bring energy to it. When you go to the Midwest, you don’t see much. But it feels like there’s so much there. It’s alive, a little melancholy sometimes.

Teresa Baker, Under In. 2013. Acrylic, Polyurethane foam, felt. 2 1/2 ft. x 3 1/2 ft.

DC: How has the landscape here in the Headlands influenced your work?

TB: I feel a kind of an isolation here in what seems to me a sort of barren landscape and I think that comes into the way in which I’m trying to express space in my work. I just started here in July [2013] and I love watching the changes that happen in the studio.

My work is heavily intuitive. I’m really interested in the paintings having more of a visceral response rather than having to bring in language with the viewer. I want it to be a sort of an interaction. I think that comes into play with landscape. Depending on where you’re at, you’re really affected by it.

Teresa Baker, A pole and a hoop, no circle. 2013. Gesso, felt, hula hoop. 2 ft. x 4 ft.
DC: Christina, what about you?

CS: My work is embedded in landscape. I work with scientists and others but a lot of the time I’m by myself in the field or when I’m making pieces. That tends to be pretty solitary work. Having a space at Headlands provide two important things for me: First, I get to live in the city but I have access to the landscape and I desperately need that. After living on the edge of things, I moved up to the arctic a couple of years ago for six months from summer to winter solstice to witness this arc from perpetual day to perpetual night. Coming back from that was really difficult. Having the residency at Headlands saved me in a way. I was allowed to have this quiet space and this transition and got to embed myself in this landscape regularly so I feel lucky as an affiliate now that I’ve been able to draw that out and have a regular practice where I get to be in the landscape that feeds my work.

DC: Can both of you talk about how working here in a community of artists has affected your work?

TB: I love the isolation here. As an artist, I need to go into my studio and be alone because my work is coming from another place. I can’t have interruptions but I love the fact that I go to dinner and talk to other artists. And there definitely comes a point when I’m working on something that I need to talk to someone about what I’m thinking.

So I knock on someone’s studio and ask, “Do you have a minute?” That’s where community has been really important to me. It’s easy for me to isolate myself but it’s when I get to share experiences with other people that I’m learning and something new comes out of that. Some of my favorite times are when I get stuck and and I talk to other artists. I’m definitely present in the conversation but then all of a sudden I’ll visualize, this sort of vision will come to me. The shapes will come to me and I’ll think, that’s what I’ll need to do. So it’s interesting of what people bring to me here.

CS: Over the years, I’ve met a lot of amazing artists and I regularly collaborate with them. A friend I met here years ago who did the residency is also doing work in the Arctic. We recently went to a residency in Finland and now we’re doing work and an exhibition together. Liam Young, another artist and architect, who I met here is writing one of the essays for my monograph of the Lux project and I have traveled and taught with as part of Unknown Fields Division out of the AA School of Architecture in London.

I also teach at California College of the Arts. My collaborations have really shifted my trajectory as a teacher. I did a workshop at the Headlands two summers ago and taught/co-led a photography and landscape program. The folks that work here are so generous and really care about the artist’s practice over production. That’s a huge gift as a maker. Sometimes you’re not making a lot. You just need the time and space to connect or eat.

About the Author
Nature and art hold particular meaning for Daryl Carr. His MA thesis, Toward an Ecological Criticism, analyzed a history of American literary depictions of nature, and his PhD dissertation focused on a generation of Native American intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century who sought to document indigenous culture during a period of intense assimilation. He has been The CJM’s director of marketing and communications since January 2011.


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