Last night the NYC Audubon hosted a bat and bug walk led by the Bat Man of Brooklyn, Paul Kein. Now, yesterday I was exhausted. I have been burning the candle at both ends, trying to wring as much out of this amazing opportunity as I can, while also having a new project requiring an extensive build in the works in Harlem, where I also live. I mention this because that means that the daily commute, usually carrying forty pounds of gear in backpack and bags, is a BEAR. And now, splitting my time (and tiny overtaxed brain!) between projects... Oh, and have I mentioned that I have trouble sleeping?
Needless to say, by the time I got to 103rd and CPW I was DONE. Sweaty, stumbling, mumbling, dragging gear, rethinking my life choices. And then I met Paul. His enthusiasm for the natural world is infectious; like a super cool, positive version of the cordyceps fungus, it gets inside your brain and takes over and the fatigue vanishes, replaced by bats and crickets and katydids hopping and swooping through your mind.
Paul is an artist as well, and I immediately wanted him to be my naturalist sensei. I've always longed for a mentor, and this unassuming dude with his hand held bat detector, giant insect net, backpack of field guides, and boundless enthusiasm for his subject matter, well, it just made me wanna get out there and bat walk the hell out of the night!
It doesn't hurt that the bat detector makes THE BEST clicking, burping and farting sounds...did I mention mentally I am a twelve year old boy?
We listened to and differentiated species of of crickets, katydids, cicadas, discussed the difference between a cricket's stridulation and a grasshopper's crepitation, and the fireflies, both photinus and photuris (the femme fetales of the beetle world). And the the bats!!
Seriously, just step a hundred feet into Central park on a muggy late summer evening, and you'll be surrounded. Our bat detector, with its popping belching, helped direct us of course, but once you know where to look...little brown bats swooping and gobbling the smorgasbord of all those crickets and fireflies and katydids. Just so cool. And worth fighting the fatigue.
If you get a chance, take the time to meet Paul Kiem. You won't regret it.
"Some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue."
Today is a statue kind of day. Things are just piling on. And here I sit, in my studio, stutter starting on a found object weaving that doesn't want to cooperate.
But now! Just when I begin to write...an idea...just when I was planning my escape...it comes to me what I need to do. I give myself an hour trial and error...
One hour later:
Okay, so something did come of this. Photos below. More on this later.
If you’ve been to my GI studio you know: I don’t throw anything away! In fact, I actively seek out garbage and bring it home in the service of ART!, much to the chagrin of my partner and dog (don’t worry, those are two different beings). Being on Governors Island, we are blessedly free of litter, so I’ve often had to cart my Harlem pickings down on the subway, the subway again, the ferry, and then on that seemingly interminable (short) walk to Nolan Park #17. No, no, don’t cry for me, I will try to stay strong…
Having said all that, a performative and installation project I currently have underway, red hen[impossible standard, will be showing in Harlem for six month beginning in September 2017, and I need your discards! If you are planning to visit or live in Harlem or Governors Island (opposite ends of the earth, I know) and you happen to have any of those awful dry cleaners’ wire hangers, don’t throw them away! Bring them to me and I will give them a good home. The drop off point in Harlem is the JCC, 318 West 118th Street. And if you’d like to know more about red hen, read below*, or better yet, come visit…you can even visit the space in which I will be constructing the piece when you drop the hangers off. I’ll be building in situ.
Okay, that’s out of the way.
I am on the Island today. Quiet after a weekend of dueling spoken word artists, poets, writers and, mystics. The Poetry Festival was wonderful, but it is nice to have the place to myself again. Every day brings a new challenge to my over-full monkey mind…
Today I have so many plans, so many!, I was writing lists on my palm and wrist while sitting in my usual ferry spot, the coil of rope beneath the stairs (troll-like, yes, but allowing for quick de-ferrying). Of course, as so oft happens, I walk in and through some alchemy of mental wackiness, I wander aimlessly back and forth staring at unfinished work and berating myself. Do I return to the tern inspired headpiece I’ve been working on? Found object weaving for my residency installation and interventions? Bird feet? My exhaustive double exposure bird tarot? Or do I take on a new video piece that has been circling my consciousness? Clearly organization is NOT my strong point. I keep thinking of grabbing the bike and just speeding around the island until I’m sweaty and tangled and too tired to think.
The birds even seem subdued today.
I found trails of fuzzy feathers dropped like breadcrumbs leading me, the abandoned child, back to yellow house #17. I followed and wondered, what happened? Was there need of a quick getaway? Predator? Prey? Swift wind?
I imagine they collected together last night, a conference of the birds, if you will, for a debriefing after two solid days of amplified poetry. Things got heated. Laughing Gulls (and Herring Gulls too) tend, through a cruel twist of genetics, to seem derisive and sarcastic, even when they are sincere. The Herons, aloof, the murmurations of European Starlings overwhelming (and that accent!!). The Hawks can be far too aggressive, the Ducks and Robins noisy (the Geese didn't even show, thank god, because they never have any respect for the proceedings and end up pooping all over things, literally and figuratively), and the Crow as moderator, well she's too clever by half.
Things broke down. They had issues with style and the Heron found most of the work too derivative. The Starlings shouted that there is nothing new under the sun, which the Heron also found derivative. The Gulls cackled unwittingly, setting off the Hawks, who flexed their talons menacingly in clear violation of conference rules.
Aaaaand that's halftime folks. I must get to work on more physical pursuits. But there will be more, oh there will...
Gulls and gulls and
Other delegations too,
Of their constant
A threadbare bedsheet
Projections flick flip
Splits the weave of their
And for a moment
We hold our breath.
© Autumn Kioti 2017
all content sole property of the artist; no content may be reproduced without artist's express permission
This evening I joined the NYC Audubon's sunset eco-cruise, and it was super cool. My friend and uber-ornithologically- inclined DJ naturalist Gabriel Willow lead us all in an East River birding adventure, sharing not only his extensive bird-y expertise, but also the fascinating history and ecology of the area. If you've never gone on a tour with him, I suggest you do so ASAP! We were also joined by Director of Conservation and Science, biologist Susan Elbin who, last time we met, spent thirty minutes with me as I covered her head in several pairs of (unused!) underwear and sent her off on a second-hand bike trailing wings and wearing a homemade tern mask. See kids, science is awesome!
Thanks to Kathryn, Danielle. and Kelley for being great hosts and letting me tag along and commune with some amazing birders, the youngest a 14-year-old birding wunderkind with the eyes and ears of a fox! He'll be leading his own tours soon enough.
Last night I also spent time with a tiny sketchbook, taking quick impressions of the river in the evening. I am not much of a sketchbook artist anymore...my anxiety and other issues have interfered with my ability to consistently work on the small things, but on the boat I found I was able to take a moment to play with no expectations, and I'm glad I did. Against the advice of all my inner demons, here are some of my five-minutes-in-the-dark scratchings.
Oh, also, I stole someone's captain's hat. Aw yeah, I'M the captain now...
I am totally intrigued by bird feet; the gnarls and scales and claws...beautiful.
When I moved into the residency, I felt a little overwhelmed because, well, they've been generous enough to give me carte blanche on my work, so it was like...FREEDOM! Horrible, horrible freedom! So many ideas trying to get through that they're all getting stuck in the doorway...
This one idea that has been floating around my brain, a fairy tale I used to act out in full every day, playing all of the parts, losing myself in the story...the tales of Baba Yaga, a witch who lived in a house on chicken legs.
That image just gets me in my brain space. Always has. For numerous reasons. Ornithologically (Audubon-i-cally?), yes of course, but also the woman as witch, the old crone, somewhere in there both the sacred feminine and the damned whore; for me, there is an unavoidable thread of feminism running through my work, and in this, the iconic Baba Yaga has always struck a chord with me.
But, still, where to start?
At the bottom. So I started sketching feet on homemade and scrap paper with other found items. (points if you identify the chicken feet. I know, too easy.) From here, who knows? There may be a build in my future, a performance, a video projection. Stay tuned.
Come and visit some time.