Open Studio Invitation
I am very grateful to soon begin a residency supported by the Mondriaan Fonds at the renowned European Ceramic Work Centre where I will continue to develop my body of work called "An Immigration," which is about making tangible my own experience of moving to The Netherlands and attending a required language and assimilation course. This new body of work is also about migrating from one material to another: from sail cloth to ceramic. This residency follows my intensive research period, which was based in part at the Tilburg Textile Lab and the Zuiderzee Museum, where I was able to study the 17th century art of sailmaking. For more information, see previous blog.
Julia Mandle in residency at EKWC from mid December 2015 - March 2016
On 14 December, I will be speaking at 'Cultuur in Beeld' conference by the Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur, en Wetenschap under the theme 'Verbinding in Stad' (connecting the city).
I will speak about my experience creating chalk shoe performances in various cities in America (NYC, New Orleans, and Pittsburg) that I designed to engage youth by inviting them to make their own mark on the city in collaboration with cultural institutions. See the link, blue section #5 from top.
Thanks to an AFK Ontwikkelbudget from Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst awarded in 2014, I have been able to devote the past two years to research and developing a new body of artwork about making tangible my own experience of moving to The Netherlands. The working title for my artwork is 'An Immigration'.
Conceptually my project was sparked by my own experience in 2011 of attending an ‘inburgeringscursus’, the intensive, required Dutch language course together with other immigrants from around the globe, including a Coptic Christian priest from Egypt, a mother from Israel, and a physicist from Iraq. Over the course of a year and a half in these weekly lessons, we shared our diverse stories of relocating, of leaving home and about tensions, sacrifices, and dreams. The experience sparked my desire to create a body of work that explores the emotional and psychological impact of immigration.
My research lead me to Enkhuizen where I discovered my own family’s traces in Holland and became immediately fascinated by 17th century boats. The sails intuitively became my focus because I sensed they symbolized possibilities and challenges inherent in migrating to a foreign land. I was able to study the 17th century art of sail-making with an expert at the Zuiderzee Museum. The experience was deeply effecting. Beyond learning the traditional techniques, I absorbed and observed the materials in their context and realized that the boats became like human bodies in my imagination. I saw them as ‘embodied’ materials. The wooden frames and structures became bones. The tanned sails seemed like shed skins. The sails became more than remnants of cross-sea voyages but also appeared as traces of movement and emotions that reflected their owner. In this context, I was able to realize how much the ideas of fragility, time, and displacement were combined within the conceptual trajectory of my project about immigration.
Intuitively, I decided to dip and roll parts of my sails in to liquid clay and turn them into ceramic relics/fossils. These ceramics are the core of the artwork that I will further explore and develop during an upcoming residency at European Keramiek Werk Centrum (EKWC Dec 2015 – Mar 2016). My developing body of work also includes exploring using old clothing pattern-paper as sails (animated through wind generating fans) and installing large groups of them as a migrating pattern of forms over walls. I have also been exploring making embroidered pattern illustration like maps, and using raw skins of clay to cover banal objects like suitcases. With this evolving body of work, I hope to reflect my experience of moving, which has been a mixture of both struggle and opportunity, of holding on to familiar aspects of my homeland while shedding old ways of being and embracing a new sense of freedom to reinvent myself in a new land.
An unsettling coincidence for me is how the current news is full of stories about the urgent and desperate flood of immigrants into Europe. Especially noticeable for me at this time is the volume of public debate about immigration and how the complexity of the situation and personal stories get lost. During this time of recovery from an economic recession, we are witnessing an increase in tensions between citizens and immigrants –also in America- and a rise of anti-immigrant feelings. As in my previous projects, I would like to create work that raises awareness and stimulates empathy between people.
My project 'Dirty Cookies' is currently on view at Pratt Manhattan Gallery:
The dirt cookie on display comes all the way from Port au Prince and represents a story that inspired me more than six years ago. It was a moving story that sparked me to create my project that is also in the gallery.
I read an article about a young Haitian mother forced to eat dirt, or rather a dirt cookie, and it stopped me in my tracks. She ate what most of us would refuse to eat in NYC because she had little choice- the cost of food was too high and her infant needed to be fed from her breast. Almost poetically, this mother turned directly to mother earth for the solution. Through further research, I discovered that many of Haiti’s vulnerable do this regularly as a form of survival. It’s a gamble for them because often the dirt is full of harmful pathogens that can cause diarrhea or other illnesses.
Having young children, my heart was sick. Knowing the urgent priority of feeding my infants, I tried to imagine the extremes that this mother was facing. So I began to research not only about eating soil –- like how farmers taste their soil to understand the flavors of their fruit, or how new born babies in the Caribbean region are given a small taste of the earth to seal their connection to their homeland –- but also about my own relationship to dirt where I was living and working. At the time, I was working in the Gowanus area, one of the most contaminated areas of Brooklyn. Today I live in a quaint part of Amsterdam near a lush park, under which surprisingly is buried extremely toxic chemical waste, including agent-orange. I had to ask myself: would it be safe to eat the dirt in these areas? And would it even be safe to grow food in it?
My project title carries the same name - Dirty Cookies – and through my project I decided to try to reconnect city dwellers like myself to the dirt by exposing them to the various aspects that make up the complex system of soil beneath our feet. The live art event is framed as a party around a dinner table. Participants are invited to bring a bag of dirt that they collect from their NYC homes. It begins slowly, inhaling the scent of your own dirt. During the event, I inquire about our attitudes toward dirt –the word as well as the substance. I offer fortune cookies with quotations from various activists, scientists and conservationists to help us consider various perspectives on dirt. One of my favourite writers, William Bryant Logan, has a book on display here and has written, “We depend on dirt to purify and heal the systems that sustain us.”
My event also includes two special guests: Murray McBride, a soil scientist, who tests participants’ dirt for fertility and contaminates, and Tricia Martin, a landscape architect who maps and reads their dirt’s narrative. Following the event, I embroidered napkins to visualize the different lead levels discovered throughout NYC collected by students’ from the Bronx School of Science nearby their homes and analyzed by the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.
And while imagining eating city dirt may seem like a ridiculous exercise, consider the pressure cities are facing with future food demands? Consider that the majority of our world’s population are shifting to living in cities and by 2050 the world’s population is projected to increase by 35%. To meet that demand, food production will have to double. That means a lot of pressure on cities to begin producing their own food. In other words, we need city dirt.
- Julia Mandle, 2014
I would like to invite you to the opening of Dust, Dialogue and Uncertainty, which will feature my project Dirty Cookies.
The exhibition Dust, Dialogue and Uncertainty opens on Thursday night December 4 from 6:00-8:00pm.
Pratt Manhattan Gallery
144 West 14th Street, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10011
The exhibition is curated by slowLab and presents a range of philosophical and creative positions that suggest more holistic and critical perspectives for addressing the complexity of our ever-accelerating world.
Hope you can come to the Opening. Exhibition runs through February 7, 2015.
The production of Dirty Cookies 2014 is made possible in part by the generosity of Olivia Douglas & David DiDomenico, Marie Nugent-Head, and Goldman Sachs. The project has been created through the invaluable input and support from Jonathan Matthew Russell-Anelli, Murray McBride from The Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Cornell University and their program Healthy Soils/Healthy Communities. Support for citywide soil collecting and testing came through the involvement of the AP Environmental Science Students and teachers Julie Mankiewicz and Edward Wren at The Bronx High School of Science. The project would not have been realized without the support from Nathan Elbogen and The Old American Can Factory, Sarah Louise Lilley, and Tricia Martin. The additional ‘dirt’ meditation program was made possible through the involvement of Puntsokla and the access provided by Bill Dillworth and The Earth Room, Dia Center for the Arts.