Beau Carey, Rabbit Island
Opening, Friday, September 16th, 5 - 8pm
Goodwin Fine Art
In the summer of 2015 I spent 3 weeks as a resident artist on Rabbit Island, a 91 acre island in the Lake Superior. During the bulk of that time I was the island’s only human inhabitant. I had planned to continue research on coastal profiling and it’s effects on the construction of landscape paintings. However, extended periods of solitude can erode even the best laid plans. As is often the case the primacy of experience overwhelms the mutability of preconceived notions. From the shore, from the trees and from a tiny raft I was able to make a dozen or so oil paintings. These works and the starts of ideas in them became the subject of the following years studio canvases.
Lake Superior feels immensely deep. It also, depending on the weather and the craft you have to navigate it, feels like an insurmountable barrier. In the cliff paintings I raised the horizon line and eliminated surface detail to create a kind of wall/void. Rabbit Island doesn’t have the huge rocky cliffs seen in many of the studio paintings. The island is rocky, but I took certain liberties with scale and surface that better fit with the psychological and philosophical ideas experienced. Standing on those cliffs one is staring into an impenetrable abyss. Other works look at that tiny space between shore and open water by subtly examining views from each position. In them I was reminded of a favorite quote from the 1975 movie Jaws, “It’s only a island if you look at it from the water”. They are reminders that our labels for things are dependent on our vantage points. Together all these works synthesize my experience on Rabbit Island.
Beau Carey, 2016
July 14th, 2015
9th Full day on the Island
North winds 15 to 25 knots diminishing to 10 to 20 knots by mid-afternoon. Areas of fog this morning. Waves 3 to 5 feet subsiding to 1 to 3 feet.
…Rabbit Island doesn’t need to be mapped, it’s been mapped enough. Any attempt to do so is to see it in parts.
The map is key to sub-division. To see this from that. I own this; you own that.
So what then? How to leave it whole yet comprehensible? In the words of Hakim Bey how do we make the island ‘invisible to the cartography of control’? To remove Rabbit Island from the process of mindless sub-division is in a very real way an attempt to remove it from the map, not as Terra Incognita (Unknown Territory) but as Terra Invisibilis (Invisible Territory)? How do we un-see something? Or how do we leave enough of the right parts to stitch together the right whole?
The above might be impossible or nonsense, the loose, unorganized sketchbook thoughts of an isolated artist on a remote 91-acre island in Lake Superior. As a landscape painter my very task is to divide and omit. I paint this and not that. I condense or expand details according the whims of the genre. I cram the world into neat little squares and rectangles of foreground, middle ground and background. I divide and sub-divide the visual into comprehensible organized space. It is folly to believe that any landscape painter paints the world as it actually is. The history of modern western landscape painting itself is rooted in imperial ambitions and environmental dominance (1), a language of division and sub-division. Rabbit Island is a chance to paint a space that envisions itself as different. The resulting work strives to say something new with old words, knowing the limits of knowledge are the limits of the language. The hope is that the encounter creates a new visual vocabulary.
What emerged was the abandonment of the rectangle as an acceptable format to start a composition. The ‘tondo’ or circular painting, largely a Renaissance tool, was used to leave those right-angled edges behind. Perception is anything but square and with the ubiquity of cameras our vision and experiences are increasingly being squared off, life as an instagram feed, an endless scroll of square memories. So two days into my stay I was tracing the main camps largest frying pan making most of my rectangular paper into circles. The X’s are both a form of division, a measurement, a survey, a reference to what I’m trying to avoid in the square, and they are a negation, a literal crossing out of the painted view. Some of the X’s are exposed under-painting, flat spaces beneath the painted surface that subvert the illusion of deep space that defines the landscape genre. And finally to paint coastal profiles from a boat even in calm glassy water is an exercise in futility. Traditionally profiles were used in navigation requiring a type of preciseness that a moving boat in my experience makes nearly impossible. It was with this revelation in mind that the July 14th sketchbook entry was written. The idea that Rabbit Island doesn’t need to be mapped and profiled at least not in the way it has been done in the past. Those tools lead us to a sub-divided world of haphazard development. What is required is the long project of developing new ways of seeing, of talking about spaces. What is required is more Terra Invisbilis.
Beau Carey, 2015
(1) Landscape and Power, ed. W.J.T. Mitchell
State of the Union: A Listener’s Guide
What is New Music? And why should you care?
Attending a new music rehearsal of a work not our own, composer Eugene Birman and I quietly passed notes on an appropriate title for the piece:
“Sounds kids are not allowed to make at the table”
“Object dropped from great height”
“Indian war whoops”
“Use this time to pay your bills”
Having reached the conclusion that the work left us with nothing, we exited the hall and entered the elevator, where we were serenaded by “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Seasons.
“Of course this was new once,” remarked Eugene. But it was hard to imagine that “Spring” ever caused people to flee a concert hall or could possibly be conceived of as outside the canon.
But attempt to listen to it (first movement, allegro) with an open mind and you might come up with titles like “Prematurely elated newlywed bride” or “Floor five; going down.” Try to listen, being open to the possibility that the piece has qualities that could conceivably make a person want to run through the orchestra smashing violins with a baseball bat.
So why exactly do we like Seasons? Is it because we’ve been told it’s great so many times that who are we to argue? And who (other than Martin Bernheimer) really goes to a performance actively looking for things to dislike?
As members of a modern society, whether we recognize it or not, we are programmed to feel certain ways when we hear certain music. Music with a purpose. Or perhaps music that has found a purpose.
Take the “Ride of the Valkyries.” Listening to this, who among us couldn’t enjoy a conversation with those of another ideology while hovering overhead with a M60 machine gun? (“Outstanding, Red Team, outstanding. Getcha a case of beer for that.”)
Or consider the Tristan Chord heard in the opening phrase of Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde. Even non opera fans know it from movie scenes where someone’s drink gets poisoned.
Or, departing from Wagner, there’s Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (“O Fortuna”), perhaps the most used mood setter for cataclysmic events.
Grace Slick recently remarked on “White Rabbit” in the Wall Street Journal: “Minor chords have a certain darkness and sadness… I shifted to major chords for a release and to celebrate Alice’s courage…” No secret there, generally speaking. It’s just that we non-music people don’t really think about it that much. But there are composers who do. New music composers like Eugene.
“Why should I be attempting to do what so many dead white guys have already successfully done?” I’ve heard him ask.
New music composers find greater challenge in abandoning the the conventions and attempting to create new musical triggers.
“With SOTU,” says Eugene, “it’s the idea that, from the first moment, the music must put you in this new, undiscovered world and then you lose your free will and are at the mercy of the composer and librettist. At least, ideally.”
So new music is an attempt to create something that we, as listeners, can react genuinely to, a virgin experience, or close to it. Part of the fun of new music is that you don’t know how it’s going to make you feel until after you’ve had the experience.
Some say new music is about being challenged. “Because you have to think and feel,” as Heta points out in her video. It’s music that goes beyond your programming.
You may not like it all, of course. I have heard composers say that most new music is created to be performed once. Most of it will vanish before it is even recorded (not SOTU, as fate would have it). Some of it may be rediscovered in a couple hundred years.
And of course Eugene and I certainly aren’t the first to have passed notes about music we weren’t fond of. This note was passed from John Ruskin to John Brown in 1881:
“…upsetting of a bag of nails, with here and there also a dropped hammer.”
Ruskin was commenting on Beethoven. Roughly a couple hundred years ago.
Scott Diel is the librettist for “State of the Union”
The Rabbit Island Foundation is excited to present the first ever Island Talks series. This summer we will be hosting five public conversations on the island with artists from around the world. Weather permitting, we hope you will join us. The Island Talks will occur on selected Saturdays in July, August, and September. Rent a boat and come on out! All are welcome.
Our resident artists will be in the midst of spending two to four weeks on Rabbit Island pursuing work and research related to their residency proposals. Artists will field questions and speak about their backgrounds and practices relative to island’s creative and conservation-minded themes, as well as their daily experience living on Rabbit Island. The island will also be available for picnicking and self-guided tours of the forested interior.
Island Talks begin at 12pm.
Visitors must arrange their own transportation. Rabbit Island can be reached via sailboat, power boat or kayak. Volunteer transport may be available on the day of the talks. If you would like to volunteer space on a boat please post specifics to our Facebook or Instagram pages. Though not required an RSVP would be greatly appreciated. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with details of your arrival plans.
There are public boat ramps in Jacobsville and Big Traverse Bay. Travel distance to the island from both is approximately 8 miles. When approaching the island you will need to pull your boat up on a sandstone ledge or anchor it offshore in shallow water. A small inflatable dingy will be available to bring you ashore from your anchorage. Be sure to bring your own anchor, however. (BYOA!) Please visit our comprehensive Rabbit Island Navigation website and check out the latest updates on the day of to confirm any last minute details.
Getting to the island will be half of the adventure. However, in the event of severe weather or wave conditions Island Talks may be postponed or cancelled. “Always Respect the Lake!”
2016 Island Talks
F. Daniel Rzicznek
Walter Van Broekhuizen
Founders’ Talk with Rob Gorski and Andrew Ranville
Introducing State of the Union
There’s really nothing wrong with the planet; it’s more about what’s wrong with us.
World Premiere: September 29th, 2016, Marquette, Michigan
Rabbit Island is proud to present a bold new opera addressing the pressing political and environmental issues of our time. The opera was conceived in 2015 while Juilliard-trained composer Eugene Birman and librettist Scott Diel spent sixteen days on Rabbit Island.
This fall, Birman and Diel will present their work, State of the Union (SOTU), a 40-minute operatic work for twelve voices, in Marquette, Michigan, on the campus of Northern Michigan University. The piece will be performed by the Helsinki Chamber Choir, the leading vocal group from Finland and one of the most notable contemporary choirs in all of Europe. Part opera seria, part satire, SOTU considers environmental crisis, economic inequality, and the general obliviousness of society’s confused march forward. The opera condemns no one and everyone, yet its finale doles out redemption to those open to it.
SOTU is four characters – the environment, the rich, the middle class, and the poor – meeting and interacting over seven movements. It reflects a belief that many of our problems stem from how we view and treat one another. As a society we too often equate wealth with wisdom, and poverty with personal shortcomings.
This work pushes forward the genre of classical music and also advances the medium to underscore a new subject: humanity’s relationship to its natural environment in the context of modern society.
According to Birman, “SOTU’s relationship to the very beginning of opera is quite strong, in that opera was invented as a genre for communicating revolutionary ideas. But political and conventional limitations on the form were nevertheless too limiting, so it was quickly subsumed into ‘music as entertainment’. SOTU is commentary on that role, for while the piece will be entertaining, I see its purpose as bringing opera back to what it was meant to be… as a Gesamtkunstwerk with a specific purpose, not just one that brings together art forms for the delight of audiences. I think that the genre needs this shake-up because it has, with each new addition, become more and more anachronistic and baroque—ultimately, irrelevant and silly.”
Rabbit Island is a laboratory for artists to consider the modern relationship between art and the environment, and this is what Birman and Diel have done. Historically this type of leap was not accessible to composers for simple reasons: precise environmental consciousness did not exist in centuries past. Therefore, in its stead, interpersonal dramas became the primary focus of the operatic medium.
For centuries Handel, Verdi, Puccini, Beethoven and Berlioz explored subjects of power, politics, tragedy, mythology, love, and death. Classical wisdom of the sixteenth to late twentieth centuries, after all, was based on texts written in a pre-scientific era, and had significant omissions. Today, however, as we transition away from a time when drama between people and states represented the sole pinnacle of moral concern, to an era where the relationship between society and nature has become the most pressing agenda, an artistic and cultural evolution is needed. SOTU represents an attempt to illustrate these ideas in the medium of new opera.
In this context does Puccini’s famous 1904 Madame Butterfly and its popular lesson of cultural and sexual imperialism still represent a “classic” idea that we should be concerned with? Of course it does—this theme, any many others, will not expire. However, in addition, should we not desire art that serves to clarify and celebrate new measures of our moral and environmental understanding? Climate change is new. The Anthropocene is new. COP 21 is new. Asian Carp are new. Superfund sites are new. Emissions laws are new. These are the kinds of discussions we strive to keep in mind and this is why we are excited about State of the Union; it attempts fresh thought that is grounded in moral tradition, expressed via art. We must, after all, always remember to take the old masters as meaningful guides, yet be wary of letting them intoxicate us to the point of failing to move ahead when necessary. We can’t wait for its September premiere and hope that you will join us!
SOTU has been brought to life thanks to generous support from the Rabbit Island Foundation, Northern Michigan University’s Northern Nights concert series, DeVos Art Museum, the Finlandia Foundation, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, and the U.P. Beaumier Heritage Center.
We are particularly excited to welcome the Helsinki Chamber Choir to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where a large percentage of residents can trace their roots back to Finnish immigrants. In the U.P. we proudly celebrate Finnish language, culture, sauna, surnames and, of course, sisu.
Presenting Rabbit Island, a film by Ben Moon
In the summer of 2013, filmmakers Ben Moon and Page Stephenson spent a week exploring Rabbit Island. We weren’t yet a non-profit, and we had little money to support visiting artists – but those 90 acres, surrounded by the greatest great lake in the world, had already been legally preserved in perpetuity. Two years later, their film premiered at the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado. Since then, it’s played at more than a dozen acclaimed film festivals, and, with support from Patagonia, been featured on National Geographic Adventure’s website. In 2014 and 2015 Rabbit Island hosted 12 artists from five countries and over that same period received more than four hundred inspired applications from around the world. It all began that summer, and we hope above all else that this film supports the ideology that restraint can be virtue, that doing nothing can equate to doing the most good. Thank you, Ben, for training your eye on this little speck of wilderness defined by three quadrillion gallons of fresh water. May it remain thus forever.
Rabbit Island Film: Text Archive
In July, 2013, Filmmakers Ben Moon and Page Stephenson travelled from Oregon to Rabbit Island to make a short film. They spent a week exploring the island while living alongside eight other artists who were pursing various creative projects. Together Ben and Page shot hours of footage and collected interviews of each artist in a recording studio set up in a small mossy clearing behind the main shelter surrounded by maple trees. Over the next two years this footage and sound percolated through their minds and ultimately became the short film Rabbit Island. Along the way artists Dana Shaw, Israel Nebeker, Lucy Engelman, Emilie Lee, Jessica Kilroy and Skip Armstrong played integral parts in its creation.
The film originally debuted at the 2015 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado, and has since travelled across the country, playing at more than a dozen film festivals. It was released publicly in December, 2015, on the National Geographic Adventure website with generous support from Patagonia.
Here we present a collection of ideas associated with the film intended for our archive. Projects such as this one, after all, leap from the island’s wilderness each year, yet the wilderness remains forever–an example, perhaps, of leave-no-trace-ethics intersecting with artistic practice. It is wonderful to think about, actually. If you are watching this footage hundred of years from now, please note the environmental surroundings and do your best to ensure the Rabbit Island remains as filmed, and that the legal contracts governing its protection remain in force.
2013 was a breakthrough year for our organization. That spring we summoned talented artist friends from across the country via word of mouth and various social media introductions, and hosted 18 individuals over three weeks. Some artists stayed for only a few days while others, such as Lucy Engelman and Eva Dwyer, spent several weeks on the island.
Looking back it is clear that because of these artists and their projects it was possible for Rabbit Island to evolve into a program that now draws diverse conceptual interest from around the globe. Ben was there to document this with grace and style, and this film is so meaningful to us. It captures the launch of a juxtaposition we hold as special. First, there is the idea we hold as timeless–wilderness–and, second, stands the modern conception of creative judgement as it relates to ecology.
2013 also saw the christening of a new surf break along the north point of the island that was formed by a strong blow from Canada. This is pictured briefly in the film. The break, never before seen or surfed, is aptly named the Moon Break, after Ben initiated a paddle out in spite of 40 degree July weather and 55 degree water. The break will be there forever, four miles from the mainland in Lake Superior, whenever there’s a northeast blow.
Ben’s film beautifully communicates the story of a remote environment and encourages others to consider what it means to create something in the context of the environment and the laws of society that govern land use. Hopefully many more people will be compelled to pursue the ideology that restraint can be virtue, that doing nothing to land can symbolize doing the most good. The effect art has on one’s perspective, after all, is the most compelling thing about it. Once created, art is interjected into the cultural conversation and influences its trajectory.
Thank you, Ben, for training your eye on this little speck of wilderness. The persistent application of your creativity to the wider conservation effort is inspiring.
The following was written by Ben regarding the release of his film.
Ben Moon: When I first talked with Rob Gorski, he had told me about how he had chosen to preserve the nearly untouched island habitat, while allowing artists and scientists a place to create and study amidst the unique nature of the place. Having grown up in the Great Lakes, I was eager to see the island and traveled there with Page Stephenson to document what we found there, filming with the other the artists in residence there at the time.
Thank you to Patagonia for supporting the film, Dana Shaw for the edit, Israel Nebeker of Blind Pilot for composing an original score, Skip Armstrong for the colorist magic, Lucy Engelman for the illustrations, Emilie Lee for introducing me to the place, Jessica Kilroy for the field recordings, and to all the artists involved.
2015 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival // World Tour
2016 Wild and Scenic Film Festival
2016 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
2016 DC Environmental Film Festival
2016 Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival
2015 Crested Butte Film Festival
2015 DC Adventure Film Festival
2016 Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival
2015 Made In Michigan Film Festival
2016 Madeline Island Film Series
The following text by Mary Anne Potts was originally published on the National Geographic Adventure blog, December 22, 2015.
On undivided, uninhabited, undeveloped Rabbit Island, described as “a 90-acre speck amidst 3,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of fresh water,” a revolving ensemble of artists is contemplating our modern connection to nature in the Great Lakes country of Michigan. Photographer and climber Ben Moon recently brought his own artist’s eye to the island to create this short film. “My intent was simply to start a conversation with the film—about preserving our backyards to create change and keep pristine spaces to share and inspire others,” notes Moon, whose own story was told in the beloved recent film Denali. “There are no mountains to climb or feats to achieve, there is only time to think about the society you can barely glimpse on the horizon, regardless of what Lake Superior has in store that day,” says Rob Gorski, Rabbit Island’s creative genius and owner. Below Moon and Gorski share how and why Rabbit Island came to be—and it has nothing to do with rabbits.
Ben, we see you in a few frames of the film, surfing and taking a Polaroid. What brought you to tell this story of landscape and art and living wild?
Ben Moon: I first heard about Rabbit Island through my talented artist friend Emilie Lee, and she is who connected me with Rob Gorski. During my first conversation with Rob, I was immediately intrigued by both his description of the place and his philosophies on preserving its wild nature for future generations, while also inspiring the artists who spend time on the island. I traveled to Rabbit Island that summer with a simple intent to document the place, either through photographs or a short film… and this five-minute short was the result of my six-day residency on the island.
Having grown up in the Great Lakes, spending time in the midst of Lake Superior was an incredibly nostalgic and fulfilling experience. I also had the unique opportunity to pioneer an unsurfed point break on the island with Rob, and slipping into those saltless freshwater waves was a surreal experience that I won’t soon forget. After our surf, he named the point Moon Break.
Are there in fact a lot of rabbits on Rabbit Island? Where does the name come from?
Rob Gorski: Nope, no rabbits. At least since the bald eagle family moved back to the island in the 90s, after the Silent Spring era passed. Rabbit Island’s name is a reference to the closest mainland community, Rabbit Bay. The handful of year-round residents historically looked out over the horizon to the east and saw… Rabbit Island.
How do the artists living on the island get food and supplies? Is it a “supported” experience or “unsupported”?
RG: Artists are given a stipend of approximately $1,500 to cover the expenses of their stay, but are responsible for outfitting themselves on the mainland prior to departure. Basic open shelter, a small sauna, cooking supplies, and a library compose the infrastructure of the island. This means different things for different artists. Some arrive with experience in the wilderness and are comfortable fishing and foraging, and wing it a bit with general camp staples. Other artists meticulously plan each individual meal prior to leaving. Some utilize various modern technologies to make work. Occasionally artists will pick a calm day and take a small dingy back to the mainland to resupply. All clothing and materials are up to the artists to provide for themselves. Artists are asked to leave the island as they found it upon completion of their residencies.
Is Rabbit Island going to stay undivided and uninhabited in perpetuity?
RG: Yes, wilderness is the premise of the project and the idea of undivided land and watersheds is our highest priority. Our hope is that beyond the preservation of Rabbit Island, itself but a 90-acre speck amidst 3,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of fresh water, the ideas that are transmitted from the island will define a culture that will carry to the mainland.
One of our favorite sayings is, “The English language does not have an antonym for the word subdivision.” It is strange when you think about it but there isn’t. At least not in the way that we use the word every day. Rabbit Island is trying to change this. Beyond the beauty of the island wilderness, relationships created, adventures had, and art made, there is the intention to draw light to a more lasting idea: Without the foresight to create wilderness it would not be there to be enjoyed. This idea can never stop being reborn.
How does the wilderness aspect impact the art created by the artists?
RG: We’re living in a maker moment. Everybody is making something and DIY is everywhere. Yet this is often where the conversation ends. The typical narrative tells that when you make something and sell it, you are successful. We baulk at this. What is missing from the discussion is the value of the product in more absolute terms relative to the wider environment. Is what is being made adding to or detracting from our larger problems? Is entrepreneurial success being confused with environmental science? When making is considered from this perspective the creation of anything a human mind can think up becomes and ethical decision. Artists, then, the fundamental makers, become symbolic, and the idea of thinking through what you are making from a very wide perspective becomes central. The wilderness is a very good ruler to measure the success of this effort by. This kind of thought is necessary in the context of what we now know about the connectedness of our ecology. We’re excited about an opera that was written on the island this summer by Juilliard-trained composer Eugene Birman about man’s relationship to nature in the modern world. Eugene took his craft and found a subject relevant to the larger cultural narrative. In the end our culture’s ethics are changing relative to what passes as successful creation—and they must! Artists on Rabbit Island forge ahead with this idea in direct terms.
One of the motto’s of the project:
“Wilderness is Civilization.” For so long the wilderness was seen as something to tame for the sake of civilization. Now we see the shortsightedness of this and Rabbit Island argues that the restraint exhibited in keeping a piece of land undeveloped, in spite of all possible development alternatives, is evidence of a civilized perspective in the most contemporary context. Even more than a symphony orchestra or a ballet in New York City! Our wish would be that everyone experienced the feeling of contributing some amount of their personal means to preserving wilderness. This feels so good!
Have you ever had anyone out there who didn’t buy into the concept of wilderness as precious?
RG: Not really. We have had many Europeans visit the island over the years and have found that the culture of wilderness differs between those raised in North America and those raised in the “old world.” An artist that will be living on the island in 2016 highlights this well. He recently wrote, “I come from a country that nearly a thousand years ago was neatly divided into parcels, and now has no naturally wild places left. The Dutch relationship with nature is to tame it—until a few years ago, even deadfall in forests was cleared because it was considered ‘unnatural.’ And nowhere in the entire country does the possibility exist to be somewhere and see no other human being.” This reality is difficult to imagine from the perspective of North American wilderness culture, yet the fact highlights a very important idea: Many people may never be able to learn the fundamental instruction of nature due to the misguided development that surrounds them. Considering this is the first step toward changing it.
Do you think our generation has our own Thoreaus and Muirs? Who are they and what are their challenges?
RG: Our generation is still waiting for its Thoreaus and Muirs, though we’re confident the culture is strong enough to nurture them. Today, becoming a relevant artist is harder than in past times given the need to account for so much new an conflicting information, yet this is what is demanded of us. An artist, it is said, is meaningful to their time when they successfully express the undercurrents that shape their time. The last 20 years have seen the dawn of the Internet, daily satellite perspectives of the world, concise understanding of watershed ecology, genetic understanding, global migration patterns, and so forth. Our spectrum is much wider than it was in previous centuries. The Thoreaus and Muirs of our generation will exemplify wilderness ideas that have similarly evolved. It is no longer enough to simply celebrate wilderness that was created by previous generations. Today’s Muirs and Thoreaus must look further. They must influence our generation to perceive the piecemeal environment we have inherited in new ways and help align our collective consciousness with modern ecology, politics, finance and so on. The tradition of individual liberty has yielded chaotic development over the past 400 years in our country, yet we now understand the world more comprehensively. Mitigating this divide artistically will yield works of great cultural value.
We do find inspiration in several projects that exemplify an informed modern wilderness ethic practically. In Montana the American Prairie Reserve organization is manifesting an amazing idea. This group is in the process of reaggregating a grassland reserve of three million acres which was previously ranched, fenced, and subdivided. When complete the project will have restored both an ecosystem level of environment function as well as a native bison population, and represent the largest contiguous tract of open space in the continental United States. Another example is Roxanne Quimby’s conservation efforts in Maine. She has individually purchased tens of thousands of acres of forestland adjacent to Baxter State Park and is attempting to donate it to the National Park Service to create the “Maine Woods National Park.” And of course Doug and Kris Tompkin’s work in South America is perhaps the iconic measure of such ideas. Lastly, there are the thousands of bright twinkling stars that are the smaller community conservation projects and land trusts around the country. One day these efforts will be looked upon in aggregate as pure genius, 80 acres at a time.
What all of the individuals involved in these projects have in common is that they are manifesting a value system that looks beyond financial profit. They are all exhibiting an outward facing set of priorities focussed on the environment, science and the community, rather than the self. This is the most important part. Art will come of it.
Is it possible to take a day trip or camping trip to Rabbit Island? How would someone do that?
RG: During the summer of 2016 we will be having artists talks hosted on the island. Whoever is adventuresome enough to make it to the island is welcome to attend, though visitors must remember that traversing four miles of open Lake Superior can be a formidable experience. Always respect the lake! As for general public visitation, as much as we value our mainland and internet communities the sensitive nature of the island wilderness precludes an open invitation. That said, we’re confident that people who have a desire to visit will always find a way. Our organization is very open to collaboration and we’ve found that like minds lead to exceptional projects. Please drop us a line and lets discuss.
When there’s a storm on Rabbit Island, does it feel like you are in Moonrise Kingdom?
RG: It can indeed feel otherwordly out there. We’ve seen 60-mile-an-hour winds, minus-11-degree days in February, 15-foot waves blowing across the lake from Canada, snow flurries in July, a sheet of ice 13 inches thick stretching between the mainland and island in February. We’ve capsized boats. We’ve been scared. Yet tucked in the back of the shelter amidst inclement weather, however bad it may be, or while warming yourself in the wood-burning sauna, you can find enough basic comfort to maintain the mental clarity to take in what is going on around you. This diversity of elements, observed in real time during weeks of immersion, is often the punctuating experience artists have on Rabbit Island while going about their business. There are no mountains to climb or feats to achieve, there is only time to think about the society you can barely glimpse on the horizon, regardless of what Lake Superior has in store that day.
The 2015 Rabbit Island Exhibition catalogue is now available at our online shop. Included are works and essays by artists Noam Enbar, Eugene Birman, Scott Diel, Beau Carey and Josefina Muñoz, created while in residence on Lake Superior this summer. The ideas inside are an integral part of the island’s ongoing narrative coupling art and conservation. Each catalogue is printed in a limited run, so head over to secure your copy. Also available are the few remaining annual catalogs printed since 2012. Proceeds help support future artists in residence via the Rabbit Island Foundation 501c3 and all purchases are tax deductible.
Looking for a last minute holiday gift for friends or family? Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Rabbit Island Foundation in their name. Your support enables the Rabbit Island Residency program, which provides artists time and resources to create thoughtful, pioneering work in a unique wilderness environment.
Congratulations 2016 Rabbit Island Residents
We are pleased to announce 2016 awarded residencies on Rabbit Island. This year the program received 177 proposals from 31 countries. The deadline for applications passed on August 29th and over the following six weeks the selection committee spent hours researching each proposal in depth and ultimately selected 16 applications to be shortlisted. The three-person committee viewed all submitted web links, references and work samples, and frequently researched artists via other online archival and social resources. Significant weight was placed on the quality of each artist’s previous work, strength of application concept, a proposal’s relationship to both the Rabbit Island program and wider contemporary issues, and the artist’s ability to demonstrate competence in the wilderness environment. Each of the shortlisted proposals was then scheduled for a 30 minute video conference. At this stage in the selection process we also queried previously awarded Rabbit Island Residents and invited them to offer feedback based upon their experiences living and working on the island. While many of the finalists we interviewed were deserving of a residence on the island, limitations related to our organization’s funding, the brief summer season on Lake Superior, and concerns intrinsic to the ecological integrity of the island’s wilderness environment–our primary concern–the committee made the challenging decision to accept four proposals for residency, including six artists in total. These artists will each receive several weeks of solitude on the island, an unrestricted honoraria to use for travel and material expenses, access to our network of mainland resources, and publication or exhibition with the DeVos Art Museum and Rabbit Island Foundation in 2017.
Thank you to every applicant who created thoughtful and inspiring proposals, and congratulations to the following artists. We look forward to working with you.
Luce Choules. An expedition-based artist working primarily in the UK, France, and Spain, Luce uses fieldwork methods to pursue an in-depth geographic study of the landscape, communicating her discoveries through a variety of photographs, maps, books, and performance lectures. She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; founder of The Temporal School of Experimental Geography; has previously worked on mapping projects with Arts Catalyst, The Photographer’s Gallery and Turner Contemporary; and has been commissioned by several cultural organizations, including Burton Art Gallery, Ironbridge Gorge Museums and Centre Regional de la Photographie Nord–Pas-de-Calais, to develop projects affecting local communities and landscape.
An excerpt from Luce’s proposal:
The value of landscapes lies not in what we can take from them but what they have to give to us; in pristine and remote landscapes, we are our pristine and remote selves – we are not separate from nature, we are nature.
Rabbit Island, ‘itself an unsettled and undivided space’, provides an opportunity to investigate new geographic methodologies and artistic taxonomies. From the unique wilderness environment, I will consider how a remote landform could create meaning for a post-contemporary cultural imagination. Can an artist-led expedition discover new routes that establish the emotional significance of wilderness? What narratives can contemporary art practice add to a remapping of landscape?
[While in residence] a series of fieldwork surveys, written observations and photographic data gathered from the island will be used to compile an experimental guidebook. In using the format of a guidebook, I want to test how a poetic sensing of landscape can reimagine navigation, way finding and exploration. Can a book be a pathway? What are the emotional features of mapping? How can we move closer to landscape – can we be landscape?
Jack Forinash, Kelly Gregory, and Mary Rothlisberger. A collaborative team consisting of interdisciplinary artist Rothlisberger (Palouse, Washington), and architects Forinash (Green River, Utah) and Gregory (Oakland, California). Mary was a recent visiting artist at the IA MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and the Arts and Rural Environments Field School at the University of Colorado. Jack is a founding member and principal of the Epicenter: a housing, community development, and arts platform in rural Utah. Kelly works at David Baker Architects in San Francisco and has initiated several socially and ecologically-focused projects under her own Roving Studio. She currently lives on a sailboat.
Excerpts from the group’s artist statement and proposal:
Our background in community-engaged art and conscientious architecture merges thoughtful and deliberate research with radical creative action. The collaborative working process includes careful dialogue with the built, natural and social environments we are situated within. Each project connects with its surroundings and encourages social cohesion and considered action. Previously, our practices overlapped in rural Utah, where we have worked creating social systems and architectural interventions for a small town on the edge of the San Rafael Swell. We welcome the opportunity to shift perspective from the vast American West to Rabbit Island, a microcosm of our rapidly evolving world.
With existing technology, we’re training ourselves to see cities and islands from above, still and removed, abstractions in soft consistent colors. But when an island inhales, so does a shoreline exhale; these internal and sentient landscapes can be brought back to the life with the right set of tools. Re-contextualizing and sharing a story of place is ever-crucial because investment in landscape is the key to better stewardship of our living earth environment.
Buoys track weather, humidity, pressure, and wind, every 20 minutes. We can be human buoys. Our collaborative process of looking, listening, and translating will be represented so that someone else can root themselves into that ever-present moment of flux and feeling. From our research, we will produce a series of new living portraits of this place. Ideas include: bathymetric and topographic technical drawings through the island, stopping not at the water’s edge but continuing until a new extent is discovered; water depth measurements using rope segments; anti-data based in experience and feelings; drawings of the lakebed from exploratory diving; an island-sized drawing recording the minute changes in water level over a full day; circumambiations of the island from water; and maybe even a call-in hotline that dials a person-perspective (instead of a buoy). Like a landscape, our practice can shift, erode, accumulate and accommodate the shape of more mindful futures.
Frank Daniel Rzicznek. A poet based in Bowling Green, Ohio, is the author of two poetry collections and four chapbooks of poetry. Daniel’s work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, Boston Review, Orion, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and many other venues.
Excerpts from Daniel’s artist statement and proposal:
My work seeks to conflate and confuse natural, manmade, and mental environments to better delineate and challenge the divisions between each. Drawing from waking and dreaming observations, overheard speech, and textual material, my work hopes to speak/sing about humanity’s place in “nature” (my definition of which is ever-expanding) in the past, present and future, while synthesizing that nature with human history and consciousness. One belief my work frequently operates on is that a thought is just as real as an action. A fantasy and a memory can be on equal footing, and the chemical process behind imaginative thought is just as relevant as the physical atoms of the brain and the body. The result is a naturalist strain of surrealism that seeks to use image and metaphor to underline the minute-to-minute responsibilities of being human in a world at peril.
Seven years ago I began a long poem called “Leafmold.” Planned as a series of 365 interlocking pieces, one primary goal of the project is to conflate and confuse natural, manmade, and mental environments to better delineate and challenge the divisions between each. The poem draws from waking and dreaming observations, overheard speech, and textual material. (Some texts that have been reclaimed into pieces of “Leafmold” include the 1965 Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, a Cabela’s catalog, the complete lyrics of the Grateful Dead, and The Cantos of Ezra Pound to name just a few.) Using forms of narrative, epistle, and collage, I want “Leafmold” to speak/sing about humanity’s place in “nature” (my definition of which is ever-expanding) in the past, present and future, while synthesizing that nature with human history and consciousness. If offered a residency on Rabbit Island, my goal would be to compose pieces of “Leafmold” in as many microenvironments of the island as possible, including the waters of Lake Superior.
The work produced during my residency would function as a micro-manuscript within the larger 365 page work, one I would hope to complete and publish before the full project sees publication. The opportunity to work in the environs provided by the residency strikes me as completely unique. Not insignificant is the residency’s emphasis on the natural world and mankind’s dangerous, beautiful, tenuous place in it, an emphasis that I feel resonates deeply with the work I’m currently producing.
Walter van Broekhuizen. A multi-disciplinary artist from the Netherlands, working primarily in sculpture and installations. Walter attended the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Since the mid-90′s his work has reflected the current human condition, often with regards to nature, using different mediums to remodel our perception of landscape.
Excerpts from Walter’s artist statement and proposal:
I address our abandonment of the wild, and how, despite it, we continue to listen to the vociferations of the wilderness we have abandoned. We find ourselves continually asking: what kind of a relationship do we have with nature? What is wilderness? Is there any wilderness left? It’s my belief that imagination, combined with a surrendering to and a fascination with nature, has the power to preserve our world.
“There are enough champions of civilization,” said Henry David Thoreau in his defense of the wild. The ‘civilized’ might argue that there are enough champions of wilderness. It’s a tug-of-war constantly in play as the world evolves into a place at once more civilized than ever, while abandoning the wild to become even wilder (though less understood). But despite our abandonment of the wild, an instinct remains within us; an undeniable call to raw, uninhabited landscapes, whether real or philosophical.
Rabbit Island is such a landscape. It’s there that I’d like to ask: what are we to do with that call that still exists within ourselves?
On Rabbit Island, I’d like to explore complete solitude and a landscape undisturbed by human accomplishment. I come from a country that nearly 1000 years ago was neatly divided into parcels, and now has no naturally wild places left. The Dutch relationship with nature is to tame it - until a few years ago, even deadfall in forests was cleared because it was considered ‘unnatural’. And nowhere in the entire country does the possibility exist to be somewhere and see no other human being.
I feel it’s our duty to listen to that instinctual call, to pay attention, and to ask how we are changing the world. I’d like to use Rabbit Island as a sketchbook - to create and photograph a series of ethereal sketches of the things that make up the island: rocks, pine needles, shadows, driftwood, whatever is naturally at hand - in a celebration of what exists, resisting the human tendency to tear down, build up, and conquer, by exploring the contours of the island’s natural patterns. I’d use the elements of nature and the play of light to proffer a new view of our relationship with it, ultimately asking: how much of nature do we take for granted, or even completely miss, by not paying attention, by choosing to create and live in less wild spaces?