General Interest

The Meaning of a Whole Ecosystem

This well-written and devastating feature in The New York Times Magazine, “The Insect Apocalypse is Here,” is worth reading. You might cry, though.

In conversation, sometimes, a student will wish mosquitoes away. I tell them that mosquitoes are an important part of the food chain for a number of species, and that while I, too, would like to be mosquito-free, we must understand that we are one small part of a whole. We may soon manage to become the whole, though, through chipping and choking everything else out. This article is about the decline of all insects and the overall functional extinction of many species - and our often unnoticed acclimation to it all.

Artist Residency Advice

Are you considering going on an artist residency but aren’t sure if it’s a good idea? Maybe I can help you sort through your thoughts. I have been on eight different residencies thus far, and have a range of experiences to draw from in my reflections. Since some of what’s going to come up might make it sound like I dislike residencies, let me just state right at the beginning that I love being an artist-in-residence! I do, however, think it is very important to fully think through your residency plans to make sure that you, too, have great experiences.

1. Have you been on any other artist residencies before?

If not, you may not be sure if residencies are for you or you may be sure… but nevertheless hate it when you get there. All but one of my residencies (I’ve been on eight) have had artists apply, arrive, and flee early. This is even more surprising when you consider that typically residents have already purchased round-trip tickets, have made rental car arrangements, and other financial decisions that mean the cost of leaving early can be very expensive indeed compared to just sticking it out once already there. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard as to why people have left early:

  • They thought the residency would inspire them during a period of creative funk, but once they arrived, unpacked, and sat down in the studio in front of an empty easel or table, they feel blocked even more intensely.

  • They applied to a very isolated residency with few people around, and while this fact was disclosed and they thought they were comfortable with the isolation, in reality it was very scary and they couldn’t handle it.

  • They applied to a rural residency - out in nature - thinking romantically of strolls through a forest. They left when they discovered that insects including mosquitoes, flies, spiders, beetles, and ants regularly got into their living spaces and they could hear large animal noises outside at night.

  • They either through lack of research or misleading advertising copy were physically unprepared for the residency. Several that I have attended required twenty-minute steep climbs up a mountain. One had only a sawdust toilet. Several had no hot water. A couple required boiling the water to make it potable.

  • There was no reliable internet or cell phone connection on the residency site and while they knew in advance about that, they didn’t fully appreciate how much that changed their comfort levels and/or process.

If you’ve never been on a residency before and want to try it out, I recommend doing a short domestic one to minimize costs and dip your toes into the experience before taking on a longer-term or international one. Even if your residency is fully funded (more on this in question 5 below), it is still costly to do a residency as many fully-funded ones nevertheless don’t pay for travel costs as well and there are often associated charges that rack up (taxis to airports or airport parking, higher food costs due to unfamiliar and sometimes restricted setups at the residency, costs of renting a car or of public transit, paying someone to look after your pets/plants, etc). Dipping your toes in can let you begin to get a taste for whether or not you like them and what your preferences would be moving forward.

If you have been on a residency before, you have probably started to form some opinions about them - the importance (or insignificance) to you of location, number of other residents, studio setup, exhibition space, duration, provided amenities, cost/payment, and application fees are all factors to consider.

2. What are your primary motivations for going on residencies? Will the one you’re considering satisfy those?

I like to escape from the familiar patterns at home that take away time making art - hanging out with friends, going to the gym, hitting up the local farmers market, etc - and really focus on artwork production. I enjoy exposure to new and different ways to live, and love immersing myself in new ecosystems.

Residencies not only build my professional standing through artwork generation and exhibition but also improve my teaching.  Attending residencies has allowed me to expand my network of artists, galleries, and opportunities, which I can then share with my students through guest artist lectures and exhibitions in my institution and exhibition opportunities for our students.  Residencies also facilitate conversations with other art professors and instructors, expose me to new classroom exercises, and allow me the opportunity to visit world-class museums with art collections that I can reference in the classroom.

I know why I go on residencies and get a lot out of attending them. You may not have the same desires for going on one, though, and your motivations may or may not be realistically achievable in the residency you’ve chosen. For example, if you want to see other artists’ studio practices, applying to a solitary residency (I’ve been on four where I was the only artist in residence during my stay) is a bad idea.

Here’s another example of thinking through your motivations: I speak Spanish proficiently and therefore attend residencies in Spanish-speaking places often. More often than not my fellow artist residents have little to no Spanish proficiency (they were allowed to fill out the application to the residency in English), and they are regularly surprised by how limiting not speaking the local language can be both in their day-to-day existence and in their arts scene engagement, and several felt somewhat dissatisfied in the end by that limitation.

3. Have you researched the residency, the town or city the residency is in or outside of, the country, the weather that time of year, the crime level, and so forth?

It is really important to be educated beforehand about what you might experience, particularly if your destination is international. For instance, I knew that there was limited electricity in the Peruvian Amazon residency I attended and I brought a very useful solar light along with me. I also got a few vaccines - yellow fever, for instance - in advance of heading off to that residency and brought some anti-malarial medication along just in case. You should brush up on at least a few phrases in whatever the primary language is - I learned some French and Portuguese prior to my residencies in France and Portugal and they both proved quite handy. You’ll possibly need travel adapters, or even voltage converters, for your electronics. Are you going to rent a car? Will you be driving on the side of the road that you’re used to? The list goes on, and varies tremendously.

4. Have you reached out to former residents to get a better idea of what the residency will be like?

I really recommend this; do research on who has previously attended the residency and read any of their blog posts about it, and perhaps even shoot a few of them emails asking for their advice for you. Even if they loved it, they may have great packing advice, and if there were points they didn’t like so much that’s helpful knowledge to have when you’re making your own determinations about attending.

5. How much is the residency you’re thinking of attending charging and/or providing you in terms of a stipend? Are there any donation, workshop sessions, work hours, or other requirements associated with the residency?

There are a lot of amazing residency opportunities out there… and then there are more than a few that are clearly money-making operations that are perhaps better understood as a vacation-in-disguise rather than a work arrangement. There’s absolutely a place in the world for that latter type, too, but you really want to go into your residency understanding which it is and whether that serves your purposes.

I only attend places that are “split-cost” or “fully-funded” residencies. Split-cost residencies share the cost with the artist; they are not free but rather partially subsidized. There is a fee you will pay to the program that covers your share of the housing, studio space, marketing, exhibition space, and other needs in a “split-cost” residency, but the host organization is also covering part of the cost. Fully-funded residencies have no costs to attend (though most don’t pay for your travel to get to and from the site) and some even have stipends. Most that have stipends do have some compensating task you complete for the host organization, however - it could be donating some of the work you make during the residency, or leading a workshop for a local audience, or contributing to the overall property (gardening, cleaning, cooking for the group, etc) in a certain number of work hours per week. Be realistic about what you are willing and able to do!

I have several reasons why I only attend split-cost or fully-funded residencies. Most importantly, I think that having the host organization bear some or all of the cost makes them more selective of their residents and more professional in their residency requirements and structure. It also looks better on your resume or CV! I also find that split-cost or fully-funded residencies are what fit into my budget. You might reasonably then wonder why I don’t only attend fully-funded residencies - the answer is that there are only a few international residency opportunities that are fully-funded, and of those, even fewer that fit into my summer availability. Since my artwork has an ecological focus, having an international studio practice is important to me and worth a reasonable shared cost to me.

You may be considering a “full-cost” residency, however, where you would be paying for everything at tourist/consumer prices. If so, just make sure you get your money’s worth and consider any amenities offered that may make the price point more reasonable, like covered meals, transport, guest availability, and so on. Also note that many full-cost residencies have a more service provider-customer relationship rather than an arts program-artist relationship, and that does impact the tenor of the residency. A number of full-cost options also don’t actually require/expect that you make artwork while there, which some people enjoy as it takes some pressure off but can also somewhat defeat the purpose of going on a residency as opposed to just a vacation in a local hotel or Airbnb.

6. Is the specific residency you’re considering actually a good fit?

This question sort of loops back around to the points brought up in several of the other questions. Be honest with yourself and introspective, and really think through if the residency will be a good fit. Will there be any other residents on site while you are there? Will you have to share a room? Will you need to be comfortable staying in a co-ed space? Will you be lonely? Will you have internet access? Is there a kiln? Will you get to exhibit? Is the location one you want to be in for the length of time of the residency? Will you feel safe? Will you have easy transportation options? Can you cook for yourself?

Again, I know that I may sound like I think residencies are terrifying, unproductive experiences - and while on a rare occasion they unfortunately can be, I’ve been fortunate to have in general benefited personally and professionally from the ones I’ve attended. But the takeaway is that not all residencies are right for all artists, so doing your homework and reflecting on your own motivations and needs will go a long way towards ensuring that if you do attend a residency, you have a great time and perhaps even make some new lifelong friends!

Finally, here are some of the biggest residency aggregation sites to browse through to find your first, or next, residency!

Res Artis

TransArtists

CaFE

PSLF Rejecting Over 99% of Applicants

This is really awful - the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is just starting to come of age, and it is rejecting over 99% of applicants. From this Slate article: “Of the 28,913 applications reviewed, just 289 were approved. And only 96 people actually finished the process of having their loans scrubbed.”

I know a number of people who have made employment and then domino-effect life decisions based on getting PSLF; I myself strongly considered it as an option. In the end, due to paying off my undergraduate student loan debt by working in business and then how much I incurred in graduate school, ten years of payment were enough to fully pay off my debt anyway so it was a moot option - but I really feel for those who trusted the government on this. Given what’s currently happening, I would recommend you make your decisions without taking PSLF into consideration, but still file for it if you do happen to qualify, and then if it happens to proc you get a lottery-style bonus.

Halloween Makeup: Sliced Face!

If I have the time, I try to do a face paint for Halloween every year. I am in the very top search results for “pixelated face paint” and other related phrases on Google Images because of my Halloween makeup! This year, I did the sliced face makeup. I was running out of time in the morning by the time I got to the mouth area so I feel I could have done a little better on that with less haste, but hey, I think it still got the idea across!

A Fascinating Look at the Invasive Bradford Pear

Invasive species are a massive ecological problem, and they are primarily caused by humanity - either intentionally or unintentionally. In the case of the Bradford Pear, it was 100% intentional. This article by Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post Magazine details each stage of human decision-making that led to the Bradford Pear menace.

The Degree of Global Warming

I’ve shared before how climate scientists have a very hard time getting the public to accept and understand the reality of our present and future situation.

Now here’s another recent look at the current and projected scale of global warming and how it compares to the agreements and actual international practices regarding emissions.

Guest Artist Kelli Scott Kelley's Alternate Realities

I am honored to share that my former graduate school professor Kelli Scott Kelley is exhibiting in USM’s Goppert Gallery, with an opening reception this afternoon! Here’s the press release for more details. Come join us if you’re in or around Leavenworth today, or stop in over the next couple weeks!

Beautiful Moths

Spanish as a language doesn't have a real equivalent to the word "moth."  In fact, the most commonly used option is "mariposa nocturna," which means nocturnal butterfly.  I kind of think that's a little unfair to both moths and butterflies, though, as I believe there are many that are so visually distinct - not to mention behaviorally - as to merit a different category, not just a subcategory.  So yay, English, for giving us both!

I've been seeing a much wider variety of insects (and, really, of animal life in general) on my porch this summer, and the moths have been one of my favorite parts!  Here are a few I'd like to share with you.  In order from first to last in the slideshow, they are: the honey locust moth (or the bisected honey locust moth) Syssphinx bicolor or Sphingicampa bicolor, a looper moth (inconclusive regarding the exact species given the closed wing position), a looper or a common oak moth Phoberia atomaris, a white-dotted prominent moth Nadata gibbosa, a common gray moth Anavitrinella pampinaria, and a fall webworm Hyphantria cunea.

My First Trip to Ireland Journal

I am doing a summer residency in the Canary Islands, and Dublin was a possible layover en route.  My sister and I talked it over, and we decided to spend a little less than a week in Ireland (with our base in Dublin) before I headed over to Gran Canaria.

I had never been to Ireland before; in terms of nearby places, I have been to London, and I've been to Iceland, and a number of places in southern Europe.  Some general notes: Ireland is known for wet, relatively cold weather (locals repeatedly called rain "liquid sunshine"); the biggest cities aren't as dense as I would have expected; there isn't really an Irish cuisine apart from Guinness and whisky; and there is a super dominant tourist shop called Carroll's which you can find everywhere you turn around.  

Ireland had just finished up a referendum on abortion when we arrived, so there were still signs up from both points of view on almost every utility pole and light post.  We were told they have around 20-30 days to take them down before fines are levied.  The results of the referendum were approximately two to one in favor of repealing the Irish Eighth Amendment and allowing abortion up to six months of pregnancy in Ireland.  A number of the signs referenced the fact that though abortion wasn't legal (prior to the referendum), Irish women were getting abortions - they just had to travel outside of the country to do so.

Our first couple days we explored Dublin.  We visited the National Botanic Gardens, the Dublin Flea Market, the Dublin Zoo, Dublin Castle, the Natural History Museum, and also walked around most of downtown including repeatedly dipping into the Temple Bar district, admiring the churches and other architectural stand-outs, and browsing the many Carroll's just in case one had slightly different merchandise in stock.  Then we took a day trip bus tour to the west of Ireland and very briefly saw the city of Galway and the Burren karst landscape (I could spend hours just in the Burren - it's often called a "lunar landscape" and it has a lot of rare plants living amongst its limestone crevices), and spent a decent bit of time at the Cliffs of Moher.  We stopped by Howth one day, and the last day we did another day trip bus tour up to northern Ireland - which is still in the UK - and very briefly saw Belfast and the Dark Hedges and explored a little around the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant's Causeway, which is an area of basalt columns and hexagonal stones formed by rapidly cooling lava during an ancient volcanic eruption.

It was a really great trip and I learned a lot more about Irish history and Ireland in general than I knew before going.  We were super fortunate and despite the normal weather patterns, it was sunny and pleasant much of the time we were there, cloudy for a day, and only rained for two of the mornings!  My favorite part was the tiny amount of time I got to explore the Burren, and my second favorite part was the still small amount of time I got to explore the Giant's Causeway.  Both were fascinating geological phenomenons with their own micro-ecologies.  Although my calves ached after all the hiking I did!

One interesting fact I learned is that Ireland doesn't have any native snakes.  That itself was neat to learn (legend has it that Saint Patrick cast them out), but the tour guide contended flat out that there are no snakes in Ireland to this day.  I thought that was extremely unlikely - England has snakes, which is similar enough to Ireland that it's improbable that the island itself is inhospitable, and invasive species are a worldwide problem.  But so far my googling hasn't led me to a different conclusion despite reports of people intentionally releasing snakes - so far it appears none have managed to establish populations.  Hopefully that's true as I don't wish invasive snakes upon Ireland!  I just think it's very surprising that humanity hasn't managed to muck that up yet.

Photos will follow in a subsequent post!

Lacewing Eggs!

I noticed these odd little eggs laid in a row on my Neoregelia 'Fireball' bromeliad, and wondered what they might be.  Fortunately, they were simple to google and it turns out they are lacewing eggs!  Lacewings are beneficial insects in their larval form and are pretty much neutral in their adult stage, so I'm very happy they want to reproduce in my space and protect my plants from aphids, mealybugs, and hopefully even scale.  I've been fighting with mealybugs in several of my stapeliads and a couple other plants and scale on one of my haworthias - I think due in part to stress and lowered immunity from spending so long indoors thanks to the unusually cold April we had (the coldest in 20 years!), so this might be just the ticket to getting rid of the rest of the pests.  The Neoregelia 'Fireball' spends the summer on my front porch, but when I went to my back porch I also saw a lone lacewing egg on an Adromischus (A. rupicola is my guess, but there are a number of similar species within Adromischus and my plant supplier didn't have this one labeled and is wrong on labels around 15% of the time anyway!).  So that bodes well for lacewings frequenting both sides of my plant collection!

Some people even purchase bulk lacewing eggs (or adult lacewings with the goal of having them stick around to reproduce) as pest control, much like they do with ladybugs and other beneficial insects.  This practice of purchasing insects for natural pest control is more complicated than it might seem, though, since it can negatively disrupt the local ecosystem, and often disregards seasonal timing needs for the purchased insects and the insects' preferred habitats.  It's better if you can just encourage the beneficial insects already living in your area to feel welcome in your spaces.

Leucage Venusta, the Orchard Spider

This little friend turned up on my front porch a couple weeks ago, and it really put my camera to the test because when I call it little I mean tiny!  But look at the coloration on it - what a beautiful creature!  Leucage venusta is an orb weaver, and given my Google Images research, mine is a youngin so it should grow larger with time.  The fourth photo was taken one week after the first three photos and I think perceptible growth can be seen even in that time.

The Problem with Guns and Toilets

As a professor, I have been a part of many discussions regarding campus security and active shooters. I just read this article about a problem related to gun ownership that I hadn't realized was happening, though: An Alarming Number of Guns Are Waiting to Be Found in Campus Restrooms

I have returned a couple cell phones that have been forgotten atop toilet tanks to their owners.  I myself accidentally left a plane ticket in an airport restroom stall and had to run back to get it around six minutes later when I discovered it was missing.  It makes complete sense to me that people forget their loaded guns as well, particularly because they aren't a frequently-used accessory.  I have no doubt that if the number of guns on campus increase, the number of accidentally abandoned, loaded guns will also increase.

Now that Spring Break is Over...