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KIM STRINGFELLOW & THE MOJAVE PROJECT

Kim Stringfellow is becoming a pioneer in her specific brand of art and analysis. Her multi-layered media project, Jackrabbit Homestead—consisting of a book, downloadable audio tour and website—forever altered the scope of possibilities for the examination of a certain place in a certain time.

Stringfellow is a revered Joshua Tree resident, San Diego State University professor of photography and a visionary in research based art endeavors. 2009’s Jackrabbit Homestead chronicled the cryptic tale of the mostly decrepit cabins and shacks built in Joshua Tree’s Morongo Basin during America’s Small Tract Act in the late ‘30s and on.

Now, she is in the beginning stages of venturing out on a new endeavor entitled The Mojave Project, described as a “transmedia documentary exploring the physical, geological and cultural landscape of the Mojave Desert.” Here, Stringfellow uses her curiosity and resources to create a dialogue exploring the desert landscape, its inhabitants and its story.

Kimberly Johnson: The varying themes examined in The Mojave Project are as follows: “Desert as Wasteland; Geological Time vs. Human Time; Sacrifice and Exploitation; Danger and Consequence; Space and Perception; Mobility and Movement; Desert as Staging Ground; Transformation and Reinvention.” Which theme supplied the most artistic or personal gratification for you to examine?

Kim Stringfellow: All of these! Many contemporary artists are documenting the cultural landscape and notions of place within their work. My artistic practice is research based. I use field research methods of cultural geographers to closely examine the sites I am interested in as a subject. All of these topics and themes can be documented visually through photography and film as well as through other media such as writing and audio. I work as a transmedia artist with my projects, disseminating them in a variety of ways including printed publications and installation exhibits each with their own unique presentation of the subject. Part of this project is about sharing my documentation as I’m conducting research in an effort to involve my audience while the project is being created. Keep in mind that this project has just begun and will be conducted over a 2 to 3 year period so there is a lot to cover!

KJ: Can you explain what “Desert Dispatchers” are?

KS: Desert Dispatches are what I’m calling my bi-monthly in-depth blog installments for the project. These will focus on a variety of subjects related to the Mojave Desert and will be conducted over a 2 to 3 year research period. I hope to keep people interested in the project month to month by mixing the topics up. For instance, I may do a piece on amateur rocketry clubs in the desert for one installment and then contrast this with one concerning Devil’s Hole pupfish at Ash Meadows for the next. Many of these dispatches will include an audio feature. The Desert Dispatches are co-published through the project website at mojaveproject.org and through KCET Artbound.

KJ: What were some vital things you’ve learned so far while creating this project? Either about the location, yourself or a combination?

KS: Well, I’ve just launched the project this month so it’s a bit early to comment. Still, through my initial research I’ve learned a lot so far. In fact, so much that I can’t wait to share it with the public.

So please sign-up to receive notification for the Desert Dispatches at mojaveproject.org. Keep your ears open and eyes peeled as Stringfellow’s The Mojave Project continues to unfold.

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IS SAN BERNARDINO’S CAROUSEL MALL A NEW CREATIVE BACKDROP?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year, the local youth buzzed with gossip of celebrity photographer, Terry Richardson’s, trip to San Bernardino’s Carousel Mall. Photos surfaced on the photog’s personal blog shining light on the SB County’s kitschy attraction, having been captured through the lens of a highly popularized and controversial figure. Richardson is well known in the pop culture realm, typically photographing covers of Rolling Stone and Vogue, plus pointing his lens into the faces of major pop culture figures such as Beyonce, Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and President Barack Obama.

Following this bit of attention to our ol’ Carousel Mall—the one that garnered many merry-go-round rides for Generation X-ers and whose food court filled tummies with fresh dipped hot dogs and Cinnabons—there is just one more hint of its transformation into something quite new. Recently, San Luis Obispo based band, Night Riots, released a music video for their song “Back to Your Love,” utilizing the mall as their focal backdrop. The upbeat, electro infused pop-rock track is sort of insatiably catchy, while the visuals offer a bit of romance. In short, there’s a dance solo, the lead vocalist frolics rhythmically through the mall corridors, there are shots of the benches where first kisses were received, store fronts where family shopping trips were spent, and that one corner you spilled your ice cream and cried it out till another cone was salvaged as a replacement. Truly, the video is actually really good. It’s a gentle reminder of the transformative nature of one of our city’s presumably decrepit sites.

While many businesses have uprooted from the mall, beginning in bulk around 2003 when JCPenney—the last of the mall’s major retailers— closed its doors, the location’s strange perseverance is beginning to see it through as a new vessel for a completely different purpose. Could this be the next indoor venue worth utilizing for oddball creative uses (zine festivals, photo shoots, television filming)? Why not? Let’s see more of this. What other venues can follow a similarly intriguing fate?

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REDLANDS’ HISTORICAL GLASS MUSEUM: A MUST SEE IN SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY


Two years shy of a 40 year run, The Historical Glass Museum, located in Redlands—a city of great historic value and equally charming architecture—is gaining some light.

The Victorian era construction and the layer of forest green paint, the deep mahogany tones of the museum walls—all things to swoon over when entering the space. For 29 years, Redlands has offered a physical location to house some of the rarest relics in glassmaking history. Founded in 1976 by Dixie Huckabee, it took nine years of fundraising and ingenuity to bring the museum and it’s collection to a permanent location for the public to enjoy.

Lovers of elegant crystals and the rich history that accompany them should have no shortage of appreciation for the collection. Valued donors and glass savvy board members have helped build a varied and thorough assemblage, a potpourri of glass if you will. The colors and cut change with each passing decade, but the quality and attentive touch is as consistent as they come.

The museum is run by a small dedicated board, spearheaded by President Joann Tortarolo and Vice President William Summers. The donation based operation is an ideal location for an inexpensive look through a unique area of culture—one that encompasses art, shows the evolution of homemaking, and is full of unforeseen surprises. Sitting on the window sill of the museum’s Downtown Victorian homestead is a depression era iron, constructed predominantly of glass. It’s an aesthetically stunning representation illustrating a story, one that aligns a contradictorily beautiful item against the dark demands for metal during the war.

Board Member Jacqueline Rocha puts forth her own personal story of glass and its unexpected uses. “In my father’s youth, he made money shining shoes. When he received his first paycheck for his labor, the first thing he did is buy his mother—my grandmother—a set of royal ruby glasses,” she says pointing to the museum’s collection of royal rubies with the kind of smiling admiration summoned only when seeing selfless acts towards a cherished mother from a young son.

Rocha’s narrative shines light on the aestheticism of glass, while its use during The Great Depression represents its value as an unexpected alternative. In my own naivety, I found myself repeatedly caught in wonder over the underrated beauty and pragmatism available from the art of glass-blowing. A trip to Redland’s Historical Glass Museum may show you the potential of a simple paperweight as art. You may find yourself returning home, fixated on the thought of eating meals off of plates suitable for a gallery’s permanent collection. Luckily for us, erected in our very own backyard, stands a place with the sole purpose of highlighting the intricacy of glass-making and truly showing areas of history in relation to the craft. The icing on the cake (or more so the glass cake pan or elegant glass serving tray) is the museum’s ability to offer stories that not only shape the historical value of glass, but offer education in a new, fresh and mind bogglingly colorful way.

The Historical Glass Museum is open on Weekends from noon to 4pm. To learn more about the museum or to schedule a tour, head to: www.historicalglassmuseum.com

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COMMUNITY FEST – A TRUE COMMUNITY EXPERIENCE FOR SAN BERNARDINO

A pint-sized brother and sister duo stopped right in front of me, ice cream melting and sliding down their tiny faces and hands. I laughed as I watched baby sister being attacked by a combination of wind and the blue balloon flailing from her older brother’s wrist. Unphased by it, she kept eating and smiling, enjoying the moment for what it was; unbothered by external interruptions, simply enjoying the luxury of melting ice cream flowing through her petite grasp.

Times like these remind me to never stop looking for the picturesque moments in life; never stop enjoying bliss and joy even in small increments. A moment of solitude with ice cream dribbling down your hands can equate to one day of positivity shared with your community. Yes, there are external burdens in our home, but no, they should never distract us from enjoying the treats and amenities we do carry.

The ice cream dribbling down our cheeks and elbows comes in the form of a few things: community leaders actually engaged with effecting change in innovative ways, selfless volunteers who set aside their time to do the same, artists who will go down in history as our very own Picassos and Monets, and the luxury of understanding one another due to shared experiences good and bad— these things create community.

So for the several hundred locals who came out to May 31’s CommUnity Fest, thank you for sharing in that small moment of indulgence. Thanks for basking in the musical stylings of Maria SweetNat the Lioness or the CHORDS Enrichment Youth Program, thanks for engaging with artists like Arose and Joe Ded as they erect murals for our children to grow up to recognize and admire, thank you for being a supporter against accepting only reputation, and instead, an ally in looking forward to change.

I tussled back and forth with how to condense the CommUnity Fest experience, likely because an event of the sorts shouldn’t be condensed or confined. There was music, food, dancing, face-painting, art, yoga, the sun, the sky, grass between my toes, friends who act as extended family—it covers all the criteria, yet goes much deeper than the commonalities of a family-friendly fest. This was a day of celebration; the starting point of historic renewal. As I’ve written before, “Call me exaggerative, call me a wishful thinker, paint me in the image of a wide-eyed youth with hopes of grandeur things—but whatever you do, don’t deny the social change taking place in the artistic community of San Bernardino.”

The floodgates have opened and attention is being paid in full. From here we simply keep our eyes peeled for the next installment of community building festivities brought to you by those who are here to build upon and highlight the luxuries we sometimes overlook. Till next time.

For more photos, videos and commentary from CommUnity Fest participants and attendees, head to Community Fest’s Offical Facebook page.

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BEARING WITNESS TO LOSS AND LIFE: AN INTERVIEW WITH JUAN DELGADO AND THOMAS MCGOVERN, AUTHORS OF “VITAL SIGNS”

A band of cowboys shooting at some unknown enemy. The Virgen de Guadalupe, hands clasped, head bowed, always watchful over her children. Soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. A pig smiling over a fence; unaware of its imminent end, and probable conversion into some delicacy to be enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon with family. The colorful, sometimes bright, sometimes muted, murals on San Bernardino commercial properties tell us the story of not only the business, but of the community in which they existed. More than an image on a facade advertising pupusas and Mexican food, they are stories of migration, hope, dreams, grief, and even loss. It is the story of America. And who better to tell these stories, than a poet and a photographer.

In an eclectic office, filled to the brim with books, paintings, and other tell-tale signs that an artist resides here (and that, really, could only belong to an English professor) I sat down to speak with photographer Thomas McGovern, and poet Juan Delgado about their new collaboration, Vital Signs; a book that forces us to pause and reflect on what we have been ignoring, and question what we have let go, and what we have to gain from bearing witness.

Isabel Quintero: I’ll start with the big questions. So, the title of the book is Vital Signs, which suggests life or looking for life. But a lot of the book, is about loss. How did you come up with the title?

Thomas McGovern: Technically, and this is sort of mundane, I already had the title for the body of work…But I think the bigger picture…would be that sort of vitality that all things [have]. Whether it be loss…experiencing loss is a very clear human experience and there’s a lot of vitality in it. So I think that sense of vitality would be in that sense of loss, or that sense of hope, would be one of those basic human emotions, with clearly a positive spin on it. We have a sort of optimistic point of view about it.

Juan Delgado: We did have a working title for the poetry, which the publisher, Malcolm, didn’t like, Lavish Weeds…About the lament or loss, we didn’t want to romanticize about [San Bernardino]–there was renewal, and there was hope, but there was also hardship. I don’t think there’s a paralyzing loss. There’s a sense of going through it. That’s one of the metaphors we see, in the paintings and murals being constantly redone, and reworked–but a lot of them are gone.

TM: And I think it’s a little corny to say it out loud but, without loss you really don’t know what you have. Just like anything in life…you don’t really appreciate anything until you have loss. You don’t appreciate how beautiful and precious life is, and it’s fleeting. Loss is a really important part of that experience.

IQ: Vital Signs is a document; you are documenting a lot things in here, and in your first poem, “A Point West of Mount San Bernardino,” you write “By the cameras/mounted on the street lights, you wonder/if they recorded the street sinking in the eyes/of the woman who died on a bus bench.” I thought that was interesting because you are reporting on something that is being documented by the city camera but nobody sees that; the camera is the only witness. But yet you’re writing a poem about it, and suddenly everyone gets to see it. Do you feel that your poetry gives voice to people, to citizens, who maybe don’t have a voice in the community of San Bernardino? That nobody sees? Except perhaps through the murals, or even through graffiti? Do you think your poetry does that?

JD: You know I guess, that’s a very interesting observation, and I’m very flattered. I think there’s a sense of the poetry that is witnessing…and I think part of the witness is seeing the kind of fragility and invisibility of some people, and that’s part of the story that Tom and I are interested in. Obviously we care for the city, and the city has people in it and the murals are represented by people’s efforts and lives…but when you see a fire and you see a whole neighborhood burn, you see just the squares of where the houses were. [Y]ou just see this perfect grid of devastation…which shows geographical order and structure, but in that is all decay and destruction. [I]t was a really difficult image to understand. You say, “Who are the mappers? Who’s charting this out? Who are the people behind all the symmetry and where are they at?” And so that’s another kind of witnessing; you have someone dying in the street, you have poverty. If you saw San Bernardino from a plane, you look down and you see these perfect squares and everything looks symmetrically beautiful. And the image shows control, it shows governance…and then you get into it and it shows something completely different. So witnessing that, and [asking] what does that mean, and how do we situate ourselves in that [is important].

TM: The thing about witnessing is that when you say that someone is a witness, they’re preserving what happened…that’s, I think, a beautiful thing that both the poetry and the photography are doing, too. We’re both pointing at something. Just as [Juan] slyly slips the camera image, being this cool detached observation, I sort of mimic in my photographs, but both poetry and the photography are telling you what was there, with that veneer of almost documentation or objectivity, which is nonsense because none of us are objective, but it does have that sort of sense that it’s preserving something, and of course both the poetry and photography is preserving what this place is about.

IQ: So in the past, Juan, you’ve done readings in furniture stores, and unorthodox places, not institutions. So it seems like there is a connection with the people, the community, not just poetry for us in schools–it’s poetry for everybody. And Tom, you’ve done photographs of wrestlers in their backyards, just everyday folk doing what they love. So how do you combine those ideas, or why do you do that? Why do you focus on that?

JD: There’s a lot of reasons I do that. When I think of galleries, or when I think of bookstores, or libraries, in a general way, they’re like cathedrals of culture…and [I] think this can be practiced outside the church…That’s what’s interesting to me, how you can define a space that you didn’t see as culturally interesting, like a furniture shop; that was one of my funnest readings. Just by going in there and doing a reading and changing the space, it could be used in so many ways…and I think Tom and I are interested in those [spaces]. Why do we have to segregate ourselves in these places that don’t include most of our community for the most part? And then you see some galleries that really try to bring aspects of our culture and diversity. We were at the Palm Springs Museum and Tom had the photography there, and for the first time we had a couple of Latino families there. There was a woman there who had her children, and she said, “You know, I’ve lived here…I saw Tom’s photographs and my culture was represented and I came to hear this talk.” Sometimes those places can be very inclusive, but it can be very isolating and cold and indifferent. So how do you break those barriers, instead of trying to recruit someone into that space, go to their spaces and do your thing.

IQ: Yeah. I think it often becomes an “us and them” issue, instead. You’re maybe taking photographs of the community but not as a part of the community.

TM: You know I think it’s one of those things, and any kind of art form always has this burden, there’s this popular notion that somehow art, anyone should be able to look at it and read it and understand it inherently, and it’s just not so. We have graduate degrees in these things. You know, people devote their lives to the study of poetry and art, and so necessarily it has a sort of elitism involved in it. It’s like, you show me a scientific equation, and I don’t know what the hell it means because I’m not trained in it. Of course it’s elitist. But, I think a part of what we both love to do with our work though is to take it out of the cathedral, and take it out in the street and see what it’s about…if you could make art about the everyday as opposed to a sort of more privileged experience, that someway makes it more profound. Certainly more powerful. When that lady came to that reading, and said, “I’ve never seen myself represented,” this is really what you want as an artist to have that experience, not just the experience of people who are already trained to have an experience.

JD: And we’ve had, at the art show opening [at the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art], janitors come!

TM: It was so cool! Guys who’ve worked on campus for years and had never been in that museum before came that night.

JD: And they bought books and they bought books for their family members. We’ve had that experience in San Bernardino, where we had homeless people at our readings, and people who said, “Hey I know that place! I need to go get some keys made. Is that place still open?” I think that Tom has really put his artistic gaze in aspects of our city and has made it the stuff of art. And I hope to do that too, and it’s in keeping with, who are those people who did those murals, who did that signage, their artists too. In a way, we want to acknowledge that by where we do our thing. Sometimes those galleries and bookstores can be really closed communities where only poets are reading for poets. And so you think, that’s all cool, I have no problem with that, but at the exclusion for what? It’s really trying to find a balance in that. So it’s not like I really don’t do one or the other, but really find a balance. But going back to the question about witnessing is that I see myself as a public intellectual and I want to give back. Like Tom just said, we have gone to school, we’ve studied a lot, and many people have invested in us, so we have a lot of critical capital, like the ability to see photographs, create photographs, and write poetry. We want to take that capital back to the communities that helped us, that we came from, or that we want to be associated with. Do you follow me? It’s like we’ve been given something and we want to situate ourselves back in that community.

TM: And that’s where we come from too. We’re both products of public education, state universities, and both working class kids. The other thing that’s beautiful about what we’ve been doing, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, is this idea of pride. And I’m not sure what the word pride even means, you know, I’m proud of this or that kind of thing. But we just worked with local kids here in San Bernardino…and just today I picked up some pictures from the students at [San Bernardino] Valley College who took pictures of their communities, and by naturally walking out the door and looking around and acknowledging where you live, for what it really is, without glossing it over, it engenders a sense of respect and out of that naturally comes a sense of pride about what this place is. And I hope that’s what [the] poetry and photographs do. Yeah, we get a lot of bad wrap, and we like to make fun of ourselves, but there’s so many beautiful experiences, and murals, clearly here and we want to just point at it and say, “This is a cool place too,” you don’t necessarily have to go someplace else.

IQ: What is the mission of this project?

JD: That’s a hard question. Tom and I have talked about this. We’re kind of like brothers in terms of how we see the world, and share convictions. My mom’s already adopted him as a neighborhood kid. You know I think [we’re] bringing our two types of artistic gaze to common things that we really enjoy and we’re working on…[and] re-appropriating the image of San Bernardino and identifying it; saying this is the stuff of art, and where we live is as beautiful as anywhere else.

TM: Yeah, I like to say that [Vital Signs] is a love letter to the city of San Bernardino, because we’re celebrating this place, even though there’s a lot of sorrow and loss mixed in both the pictures and the poetry, and personal experiences. But that’s the richness of the place. [P]art of the mission, at least for us, is what happens when we put these poems and these pictures together. We obviously had a firm belief that when you put them together this synergy happens, and the whole is greater…and we believe that it’s been more now through the experience of the book. If I were to tell anyone now that the quintessential experience of the book is to start on the cover and go page by page from the front to the back, reading every poem, reading every picture, and having one unified experience of it all at once, I believe that’s actually where it’s at its most beautiful and most profound, if I dare say. So, that’s kind of the mission. Of course we know the reality is that people flip through and look at pictures and read poetry however they want to. We’re not a dictator, we can’t force them. But that’s part of it.

IQ: How does this compare to previous work that you have done? Tom, with the AIDs book, and the wrestler book.

TM: For my photography, I’ve always had some sort of text involved, usually it’s the introduction. For the AIDs book it’s about people, so I had all these interviews. For the wrestling book it was the same way. You know, you think it’s about this silly subject, but when you read the interviews, you realize oh my God they’re very rich with peoples’ passions and dreams and loss, it’s really sad if you really read those. And so I think that notion that the text informs the pictures in such a deep powerful way, became really important to me. So this is another step…I’d guess I have to say my AIDs book is the richest, only because I know so many people who died but this is right up there with the kind of rich human experience, without having to stare in somebody’s face.

JD: You know, I have worked with another artist on another book…but what I really want to focus on that question is that working with Tom, going to the gallery, working with other artists, it’s really changed my sense that poetry has been somewhat limited. That sometimes poets are somewhat limited on how they think their words should be displayed, and how the staging of the words should be…Have I as a poet, really been limiting myself, by thinking of [poetry] as just a printed page, in a certain way? And it goes back to that idea of cathedrals that maybe shape us too much, to maybe think about how we stage ourselves or how we represent our work. This has been really eye opening in terms of collaboration and open…to all these really super rich experiences. Now I sit down and write and think, what’s the audio version of this? What’s the image version of this? You start thinking about all these other ways of thinking about the art.

IQ: Why is art important?

TM: Why is art important? Art is one of those funny things that you’re compelled to do. How am I not going to do this? Not only am I ambitious, but it’s like a drug that must feed some kind of dopamine in the brain. I mean, I’m tired right now, and I’m kind of burned out with school, and yet I’ve begun this whole other ambitious project with Juan that’s going to take a whole bunch of energy, and I’m dealing with people, and people are very messy, but I can’t help but do it. It’s like this drug that’s drawing you in and it’s of course feeding you. [E]ach time I make a new picture that I think is worthwhile, that huge charge comes back. I think a big part about art is our ego, of course about wanting to express ourselves, but the more you do it, the longer you’ve been doing it, it becomes like a life among itself, that’s dragging me along that’s pushing me along, and that I’m a collaborator with.

JD: A lot of people think that art is an escape from reality, from the real world. An alternative world; I don’t believe that. I think art helps us to more appreciate what we have…it helps us to sharpen our imagination, to look at our world with more interest, gaze, and wonder, and woe. And I think that art is a way to situate yourself in your world, not to escape it. So when you have to write about San Bernardino and say, “What do I love about this city?” It is a love poem; how do I express my love? Why do I love it? It’s not an escape from it but a way of going back into it. So I love how art allows us to go back into our world, and to appreciate it and see it.

You can purchase Vital Signs at Barnes and Noble, Costco, or online. The “Vital Signs” exhibition is currently up at the RAFFMA at Cal State San Bernardino, and will be up until July 31, 2014. For more information please visit http://raffma.csusb.edu/visit/exhibitions.html.

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