Welcome to the May 2019 calendar pages. This image was taken in Asheville, North Carolina a few years back when I began exploring a unique intentional community in that area. One of the properties that the community continues to consider how to rejuvenate includes a farm tract, trailer residences, and a large area where, in years past, folks have dumped old cars, thresher wheels, furniture, motorcycles, concrete mixers and more. A couple of tradesman had set up shop there too. In the midst of this polyglot of sights and possibilities was this very old, partially overgrown outhouse, and these whimsically placed chairs in a row on one side. I immediately imagined the chairs being there for those waiting in line to use the facility, and “Queuing for the Loo” became this image’s title. I was especially pleased to find a font for the calendar page that somehow echoes the feel of the old outhouse and aging chairs with peeling paint.
This image for the April page of my calendar was taken on the Campus of Goddard College in Plainfield Vermont on July 23, 2016. I had driven up through Michigan into Canada, stopping by to see fellow Goddard alum Annis Karpenko in Mississauga Canada. I continued driving a little further east before turning south to head toward Goddard for the commencement ceremony that included my friend Brenda Bowyer Farmwald. To make the event even sweeter, several of the Goddard alum from recent years were gathering at a beautiful farm house outside of town for several days. We intended to consider the ways that we might continue the meaningful activities of our joint studies while working toward our Interdisciplinary Arts MFA’s. We agreed that our group “hangs” on Google and the sharing of work and ideas while working in our diverse locations throughout the US, Canada and Europe was a rich and meaningful activity that we wanted to continue.
I saw this wire sculpture every residency. I presume (or heard?) that it was created by another alum of some years back. It had always interested me, but never more so than on this trip back to campus where I was keenly aware that I was no longer a student-insider, but someone slightly removed, off-center. I loved being back even as I mourned the loss of the focus and the rich interactions by and with faculty and fellow artists creating and implementing their study plans.
Having been raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, this tree form is richly symbolic for me. I was drawn to it, the smooth coiling wires of the trunk becoming gnarled branch and twig. In its bare form I perceived a living being manifesting a cycle of apparent deaths each winter and long-awaited resurrections each spring. No surprise that the power of this life-death symbology is leveraged in just about every spiritual and religious tradition throughout time.
Looking at the wire tree-figure that felt so alive to me, I experienced an ache, a yearning to be back again in the midst of the recurring cycle of our MFA residency. I wanted again to be immersed in each 15 week semester broken down into five three-week periods with “the packet” due at the end of each 3-week period. That had been my ruling cycle for 5 semesters. I still felt rootless without that cycle.
Rootless, like I felt leaving Columbia College after 12 years where our administrative lives were so closely tied to the academic calendar, with the grand climax each May with Manifest and three, then six graduation ceremonies over the course of two days – I helped plan them all. I attended them all.
Rootless, like I felt after 6 years at the Diocese of Gary in which the liturgical calendar rich with symbol and sacrament was the heartbeat of our work and prayer.
Rootless, like I felt when my marriage ended and I left the house in which the rhythms and schedules of kids’ lives, our work lives, our meal times, shower times, chore time and bed times were so inextricably woven for 22 years.
So many deaths and resurrections. Understanding the immanence here does not make easier the loss of each little world in which I have travelled for a while. Ironic, because I easily recall how I would chafe at the forms of each world with its cyclical demands, schedules and attendant frustrations. But once the form dissolved in the mist behind me as I walked away, how I missed those very things.
So. . . . the tree.
It still calls me to attention.
It’s been two months since I returned from my week in Cuba, traveling as part of the Hedwig Dances Touch Tour 2019 – the company’s fifth such curated immersion in the country’s art, dance, food, districts, monuments, history and more. There seems no simple way, no word or pithy phrase presents itself to me, to characterize my experience while there.
So, I begin with a few photographs from the first day and a few things my fellow travelers and I learned from our tour guide, Yunelbis. She would become a central figure during our week together, gently sharing information that enlarged our understanding even as she would offer us a different lens with which to view her country’s historical and political events, alongside Cuba’s vibrant arts culture, as well as the many dimensions of its current racial, agricultural, architectural and economic realities.
We noted that this location was well visited by many tour guides with their groups. We came to understand that the embargo has made tourism the most important means for Cuba to build its coffers, as long as the embargo prevents the export of any Cuban good to the USA.
On one side of Revolution Square was a large parking lot that was filled with the legendary Cuban taxis. These beautifully kept antique autos from the 50’s and 60’s were fascinating to behold. Yunelbis said that the many brilliant colors on the vehicles could be traced back to another reality of the strapped economy: Discontinued auto paints would be purchased in lots for reduced prices and then, once in the country, the word went out and the paints were snapped up by those wanting to spruce up their old automobiles. The embargo is the underlying cause that no new automobiles can come into the country – no one can afford them. The embargo makes everything that comes into the country very expensive because the ships that come in laden with goods must go out empty – hence the return trip is major lost revenue. To make up for the loss, the ships charge more to the importers, who make up that additional cost by charging more for the goods being shipped in.
The group had been traveling by shuttles, busses, and planes for the better part of two days to get to this point on Day One in Cuba. My roommate Marcia and I had caught the 7:30 am shuttle from our Miami hotel to get to the airport with enough time to go through customs and then catch our flight to Cuba with the rest of our group. After our extended walk-around of Revolution Square we re-boarded our bus, travelled across town, and then gratefully arrived at Melia Cohiba to check in, have a snack, accompanied by our first of many welcome Mojitos, refresh and then off to our first dinner in our first paladar.
“Paladares are a uniquely Cuban phenomenon,” said my tour packet. After the revolution and the mass exodus of so many people and the resultant economic crash, these private enterprises became an increasingly popular way for people to earn a few extra dollars by turning their homes into restaurants. We were also advised that all payments to the restaurants are in CUCs, (Cuban Units of Currency that are used exclusively by tourists to the country), which are then turned into the government along with earnings reports, from which the government takes a percentage and converts the CUCs into Cuban pesos, the local currency used by the citizenry. That evening, Atelier would offer us our first experience of this uniquely Cuban phenomenon.
At dinner that evening we each stood in turn to introduce ourselves to the others in the group. We were sixteen members in all; many from Chicago, one from Omaha, one from New York City, one from upstate New York, one from Washington DC, and one from California. We began to bond that night and through the rest of the trip we experienced an enriching sense of connection, delight in shared discoveries, and growing mutual appreciation. We arrived at Atelier when the light was still strong. When we left it was dark. After returning to our hotel, which overlooks the Malecon, a small group of us decided to brave the 4-lane highway to get to the ocean side.
Look for more entries in the upcoming days and weeks on my experiences on this trip. I hope to understand better as I share the images and write about the days, the people and the discoveries.
The image for March was taken in the Hartford Reservoir in Connecticut in February or March of 2002. Not too sure on the date at this point. I was visiting my daughter Kara, who lived on the 3rd floor of an old Victorian home in the historic district of Hartford. She was working at the Hartford Stage at the time. While Kara was working I went for a hike in the reservoir – the light was my favorite kind of light that comes in late winter with overcast skies and much moisture in the air. I came across an old stairwell that still stood, covered in moss, though whatever structure it once led to was long gone and no trace of a building foundation remained to tell its story.
WayMaking Artist’s 2019 Calendar by JulieV
2018 was the inaugural year for my limited edition calendar featuring photographs I have taken while in a state of mindful awareness, a state of being and creating that I eventually came to refer to as my contemplative photography practice. More about that practice in paragraph 3 below.
Making the Calendar this year and last year: As a creative act in and of itself, selecting the images, assigning each to a specific month in the year and the design of the accompanying calendar page was so satisfying for me that I felt compelled to repeat the process for a 2019 calendar. In 2018 I accompanied the images with poetic prose and poetry that felt somehow resonant with spiritual elements in the photographs. In 2019 the images are presented wordlessly in my attempt to discover if they indeed are ‘worth a thousand words.’ Your feedback is welcome. AND, I have a few more calendars left in the original run of 100 – they begin with February 2019 and end with January 2020. Email me if you’re interested in purchasing one: firstname.lastname@example.org — $10 per calendar plus $2.50 to ship. Tell me your birthdate and I’ll personalize it for you.
About my practice: Even before I found a way to label this practice (or should I say “characterize” this practice?), I had been explaining to the unfortunate souls who had to suffer my long philosophical ramblings on the subject that the act of taking the pictures afforded me an opportunity to be still and be totally immersed in the contemplation of the object or scene in situ; the quality of the light, the touch of air on my skin, the sounds of the place and the sense of being both observer and subject in the image, even if I was not seen in the viewfinder. My experience of capturing the image was actually an act of paying deep attention, which elicited in me a stillness, a focus, an awareness of the breath that everyday noise and bustle of life could never permit.
During my MFA IA studies at Goddard College in Vermont, my photographic practice was awakened again after lying dormant for some years. When I submitted a series of my photographs as part of my portfolio work for that semester, it became necessary to research this “thing” I was doing so that I could speak of this art practice in relationship to others’ work in the world – how it might be similar, where it differed, etc. I was gratified to find Stephen Batchelor’s essay “Seeing the Light – Photography as Buddhist Practice” in Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, edited by Mary Jane Jacob and Jacquelynn Baas (University of California Press, 2004). I saw how Batchelor and I were aligned in our approach and experience, even though the work we produced was not at all similar. Having read his essay, I was able to lay claim to the term “contemplative photography” as the way to refer to my practice.
About the cover image: I took this picture on my way back home from Goddard College summer session in August 2014. I had stopped at a local motel for the night. The next morning this motorcycle was in the space next to mine. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the message and had to dig out my camera to take the picture before I went across the way to get my free coffee and continental breakfast (i.e. dry sweet roll) prior to continuing my drive home. When I feel most aimless or hopeless or clueless about whatever road I have found myself on – be it spiritual, metaphysical or literal I try to remind myself of the value of exploring. The straightest distance between two points is not A way, or the ONLY way, or the best way, to get where you’re going. Life happens on the journey.
January 4, 2019
Mackenzie Rey Navarro Volkmann was born in Manhattan, New York.
The second born of Kara Volkmann, my daughter, and her spouse, Mike Navarro. The sister of Adrian Michael Navarro Volkmann. My granddaughter.
This image of the WayMaking Cairn (WMC) was taken in late January 2015, just a stone’s throw from the Little Calumet River. As I’ve menioned in earlier posts, the WMC is one of many images in a subset of my contemplative photography work. It serves as an avatar-like manifestation of my spiritual engagement with my surroundings as I walk. In anthropological terms it serves as participant-observer in the environment where the shot was made. The excerpt from Robert Frost”s poem “Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter” created a rich dialogical exchange between the image and the text.