Opening Reception

September 25th 6-8pm

DeVos Art Museum (Map)

The Rabbit Island Residency, located on a remote island in Lake Superior, unofficially launched in 2010. For the last four years the DeVos Art Museum has partnered with the Residency to present public programs and exhibitions featuring the artists in residence from the current summer.

This exhibition marks the second year offering artists supported residencies from an open call for applications. Artists and designers from 31 countries working in visual art, literature, music and performance submitted over 200 applications and project ideas. The 2015 exhibition highlights the work of five artists, composers and writers selected for supported residencies this year. Each resident spent 2—4 weeks on the island between June and September. All artists will be in attendance for the show opening. 

The work displayed is a mix of previous work informing the artist’s practice leading up to the residency and new work created while in residence or immediately after. Hand drawn sketches and musical compositions made on the island, in-progress drawings and paintings that were continued after the residency and lightboxes made in the few weeks before the exhibition demonstrates the powerful impact this unique residency experience has on creative practice.

Eugene Birman and Scott Diel were the first residents of 2015, arriving in June and staying for over two weeks. Birman is a Latvian-born composer based in Oakland, California. He received his M.M. in Music Composition from the Juilliard School, a B.A. in Economics from Columbia, and recently received a D.Phil in Musical Composition from Oxford University. Diel is an American-born writer based in Tallinn, Estonia, who has freelanced widely. The two have previously collaborated on several operas to critical acclaim. Their recent work, Nostra Culpa, eclectically weaves together the global debate surrounding post-financial crash austerity and a Twitter feud between a Nobel laureate columnist from the New York Times and the president of Estonia. Their unlikely inspiration results from a desire to step away from the formal opera genre and engage a wider audience with classical music that investigates contemporary issues. The exhibition will feature a continuous screening of Nostra Culpa as well as sketches from a new opera about economic disparity titled State of the Union. State of the Union will debut in Marquette in September 2016, performed by the Helsinki Chamber Choir (Helsinki, Finland).

Beau Carey, a landscape painter from Albuquerque, New Mexico, spent nearly three weeks on the island in July. Carey embeds himself in challenging environments to experience and record a sense of place, often uncovering historical and contemporary issues through his interaction with landscape. Carey has travelled extensively to remote places to pursue such practice, including the Arctic Circle in Norway and Denali National Park. He has created bodies of work set in ecologically contentious open spaces such as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Carey received an MFA from the University of New Mexico, where he currently teaches.

Israeli composer and performer Noam Enbar spent over two weeks in residence in late July. Based in Tel Aviv, Enbar formed anti-establishment band Habiluim in 2003, which became one of the main radical voices in the Israeli music scene. Enbar’s many musical projects, choral-theatrical pieces and inventive, starkly political works in collaboration with filmmaker Avi Mograbi have been performed at festivals, theaters and museums in Israel and across Europe. While in residence Enbar composed a five-piece songbook that spotlights the intersection of the political and spiritual within society. Based on writings from past Rabbit Island residents, books of poems found in the Rabbit Island library and writings by close friends, Enbar composed each song to be sung by a group of Marquette residents. The compositions are written in the style of shape notes, created in New England in the early 19th century for community singing.

Josefina Muñoz, is a multi-disciplinary artist from Santiago, Chile, was the final resident, spending nearly a month on the island in near isolation. Muñoz often works nomadically, creating pieces in and about the environments she encounters. Josefina’s seemingly disparate projects focusing on material, architecture, location, and culture come together in an overarching impulse to answer questions of global concern. Josefina’s ambitious research project Is_Land will take her to Rabbit Island, Scotland, Chiloé, and Tristan da Cunha–the most remote settled island in the world. Her goal is to create a critical body of work informed by numerous manifestation of the island concept: as space, culture, and metaphor. Muñoz received an MFA in glass from the Rhode Island School of Design.

A full color catalogue, designed by Edwin Carter, will be available in the museum. This exhibition is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

DeVos Art Museum Website

Noam Enbar is a composer and performer from Tel Aviv, Israel. He lived and worked on Rabbit Island between July 21st and August 8th, 2015. While in residence he composed five works that will be premiered at the 2015 Rabbit Island Exhibition opening at the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette, MI, on September 25th at 7pm. These are some of his initial thoughts, which he recently sent to us. 

Rabbit Island was kind to me. The Keweenaw gods made sure we had perfectly calm weather and occasionally blessed us with a pleasant breeze to drive off the big, black, malignant flies. After two days on the Island I had already composed my first piece: Come Fill the Cup, based on “Rubaiyat”, a series of rhymed quatrains by the 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam.


This was a great start–writing something so simple and yet artistically satisfying. It was an easy-to-sing four part anthem in the spirit of the American Sacred Harp tradition, however, based on this ancient and provocative-for-its-time sacrilegious text. I composed it in one go on the elevated tree platform located in the island’s interior which was built by artist Andrew Ranville. In the following days I composed the humorous piece “And the Astronomer Shall Dwell with the Agronomist” in my new studio, a desk and bench outside the Island’s sauna, near both water and woods.


By now, after several days in residence, I was thinking more of the possible links between my work and the actual physical circumstances surrounding me. These first two songs where great, yes, however, as I became more familiar with the environment I aspired to work with some kind of found material. I therefore started looking for texts in the Island’s library, in the journal which documented the experience of previous residents, and in the past exhibition catalogues. 

It was in the 2014 exhibition catalogue that I discovered a text by Dr. Dylan A.T. Miner (Métis), exploring the colonial politics of renaming territory. The text cites the example of Rabbit Island itself being once named by Native Americans as “Ni aazhawa’am-minis” meaning “place of crossing over”. I could easily relate to this text! In my past years as punk-rocker in Israel, I wrote a song in Hebrew addressing an analogous issue: the act of re-naming Palestinian villages and streets by Zionism! This, however, was no text for an anthem or hymn. I wanted the music to express the idea using multiple layers in a less structured way, and a more provisional quality was needed with more autonomy (or better yet, the appearance of autonomy, or the questioning of the possibility of autonomy) for each of the musical layers. I therefore edited a condensed version of Dr. Miner’s text and based my composition on a past masterpiece, Paragraph 7 of the seminal piece for improvisers, “The Great Learning”, by English composer Cornelious Cardew. I kept Cardew’s ingenious format, enabling singers to select with each new word their own pitch based on what they where hearing at that very moment. I used Dr. Miner’s text instead of the original and added some visual representations of suggested ornaments the singers could use.


In my very last day on the island I come back to this idea of “place of passage”. I wanted to draw to a close my time on the island in a ritualistic way, and to celebrate both my own symbolic and literal crossing over. Returning to the tree platform, I staged a private rite, accompanied by music played with a harmonica that I found in the camp kitchen. So, here’s a recording made that day, in the forest. It’s quite long, and perhaps rather personal, but hopefully it conveys something of graceful feelings deriving from rare moments of solitude. 

SoundCloud: Noam Enbar - Rite of Crossing Over

Portrait Photo Credit: Ports Bishop

The following notice was sent to all applicants for 2016 residency on Rabbit Island. Recently we have fielded a few emails from artists asking for confirmation of receipt of application. If you applied and did not receive this email, please contact us. 

Thank you for applying to be a resident on Rabbit Island in 2016.

The selection committee has begun the application review process. On Friday, October 16th, we will notify approximately 10 proposals (individual artists and/or collaborative group applications) of “shortlisted” status. Applications not shortlisted will also receive notice on that day informing them of such.

In late October these shortlisted proposals will be scheduled for 30 minute online interviews to further discuss programatic and logistical considerations. Finally, in early November, approximately 4 proposals will be awarded residencies for 2016. Any variation in final number will be based on the number of artists per accepted proposal, our program budget limitations, and the intrinsic sensitivity of the island environment. We will award as many residencies as realistically possible, and will do so in good faith.

This year we received 177 applications from 31 countries. The scope of the applications reflects an amazing variety of ideas related to contemporary social practice, environmental science, global culture, land use, and vivid artistic vision. Now more than ever we are convinced of the fundamental need for the re-evaluation of the place of the artist relative to the wider environmental concept.

We also remind you that your application fee will be used specifically by the Rabbit Island Foundation to support next year’s artists and is fully tax deductible in the United States.

Thank you again. We look forward to reviewing your proposal.

Rabbit Island Residency Selection Committee

We are wrapping up this summer on Rabbit Island in a few weeks. The last artist-in-residence of 2015, Josefina Munoz, returns to the mainland in two days with the arrival of Rabbit Island School, a week-long art and ecology expedition for high school students, co-organized by Summer Journeys. The students will help close down camp over the Labor Day weekend.

At the end of September we will have a series of events featuring our 2015 artists in residence at the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette, Michigan. The exhibition opens on Friday, September 25th. We will be sharing more details very soon.

Photo courtesy of 2015 Resident, Scott Diel.

Applications for summer 2016 residencies are due August 28th. Approximately five artists will be awarded funding to travel to, live on, and make work amongst the forest, rocks and wildlife of Rabbit Island and the vast waters of Lake Superior that surround it. Artists will also be given an exhibition of their work at the DeVos Art Museum in 2017, funding for travel to the opening, and have their work and writing included in the annual exhibition catalog. Artists across all disciplines are encouraged to apply. Find out more Information and submit your proposal at www.rabbitisland.org/art.

Some scenes from the first half of summer on Rabbit Island.

Want to be an artist-in-residence next summer? Our deadline for 2016 applications is August 28th, 2015. Find out more information and submit your proposal at rabbitisland.org/art.

“I’m turning a little bit green, aren’t I?”

An unsettled Beau Carey turns from his easel at the bow and addresses the pilot of the 17 foot Rabbit Island transport boat. Only an hour earlier the waves appeared calm enough for the first attempt to bring the large easel aboard. Now a strong east wind has begun to rise, and even while following the waves around the southwestern point of the island, the boat rolls and heels, making the task at hand uncomfortable if not impossible. We pack away the paints, point north and trace an arc back to the mooring in front of main camp.

A landscape painter from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Beau has traveled widely, making work in a variety of remote and challenging locations including Denali National Park in Alaska and the arctic archipelago of Svalbard, the northernmost settlement in the word. As our third artist-in-residence this summer, he has been on Rabbit Island since July 5th, creating a new body of work related to his research into the history of coastal profiling and the more immediate experience of looking versus seeing.

Beau remarked that while he could have continued this research on any
island, being on Rabbit Island was integral to pushing his practice in
new directions. In today’s world it might be impossible to find
unexplored places on the map, but according to the artist, the larger concepts that underpin Rabbit Island are “uncharted territory”. Historically, coastal profiling was used to
assist in and highlight a nation’s imperialist motivations; to gather more territory, exploit it, and
grow in commercial capacity. Beau sees the idea of Rabbit Island as the complete opposite and has been creating scenes of the landscape that are about our experience
not dominion over it.

The following day we spoke about the difficulty of painting while seasick–its
potential to shake up the way of looking and seeing, but also its potential to create a situation where it is easier to fall back on the conventions of the genre, and on the skills already mastered.

“Sometimes the difficulty in looking makes it impossible to see.”

During our conversation Beau relates this notion of looking as the act of searching and his immediate perception. In this case, an act made increasingly difficult with seasickness. On the other side, seeing is the act of understanding, resulting from extended periods of looking. These two interrelated concepts are represented by the pieces made in the field, and the larger works on canvas he creates when in the studio. With waterlogged edges and bugs stuck to the surface, pieces from the field bear the evidence of the raw environment in which they are created. The studio pieces, often much larger and created over a longer period of reflection, distill the immediacy of the experience and thoughtful interrogations of his research. Examples of both will be on display at our annual exhibition at the DeVos Art Museum, opening on the 24th of September.

Beau has several days remaining before he departs the island. Until now he has been painting from the rocky sandstone shore, a tree platform, and boats; while also reading texts from the library, contributing his own observations to the island’s journal, and attending to the day-to-day tasks of camp life. He is constantly
searching for a narrow target, albeit one that requires a very wide view. Beau has been both looking and seeing on Rabbit Island, and finding that the X that marks the
spot changes as frequently as the direction of the waves, wind, and weather. We look forward to witnessing what he finds.

Residency co-founder Andrew Ranville captures Beau painting from Eagle Rock, a sandstone shoal approximately ½ mile southwest of Rabbit Island. A small islet usually rises 2-3 feet from the lake’s surface at this exact location. This year, as a result of strong ice movement and record high water levels, only one stone breaks the surface to help balance Beau’s easel. July 9th, 2015.

The first two artists-in-residence of 2015 arrived on the island on June 21st. On their first night they were greeted by gale-force winds from the west, hitting main camp head on—a proper Lake Superior hello. Such is life on a remote island.

Composer Eugene Birman (left), received his M.M. in Music Composition from the Juilliard School, a B.A. in Economics from Columbia University, and this spring received his D.Phil in Musical Composition from Oxford University. Scott Diel (right) is an American-born writer and librettist based in Tallinn, Estonia, who has freelanced widely. The two have previously collaborated on several operas to critical acclaim. Their most recent work, Nostra Culpa, eclectically weaves together the global debate surrounding post-financial crash austerity and a Twitter feud between a Nobel laureate columnist from the New York Times and the president of Estonia. Such unlikely inspiration results from “a desire to step away from the formal opera genre and engage a wider audience with classical music that investigates contemporary issues.” The duo’s past projects have received attention from world media outlets including CNN, BBC World TV, NPR, and many others.

Over the past two weeks on Rabbit Island they have been working on their project, STATE OF THE UNION, a new multi-movement, multi-voice opera that engages with issues of environmental sustainability, economic inequality, satire, and the elusive solutions which are often lost in a sea of voices. Inspired by their time on the island they have shared that a singular voice will emerge in one of the opera’s movements, a voice with the potential to guide us from the wilderness. STATE OF THE UNION promises a groundbreaking approach to classical
music, and sets out to create a timely, vitally relevant message.

Recent discussions between the two residents and Rabbit Island co-founders Rob Gorski and Andrew Ranville have taken place both on and off the island. In an excerpt from email correspondences leading up to their arrival, Rob shared:

“I’m really excited for your
guys’ effort. Your idea–or at least my interpretation of it–has opened
up several new avenues for my thinking already. It pushes forward the genre of classical music in general and takes a classical art form to a new subject: Man’s relationship to his natural environment in the context of modern understanding. Historically, classical opera has dealt with mythology,
human relationships, power, politics, love, death, and other similar concepts. While certainly
classic themes, these seem to be a layer or two below the fundamental
rules of the game we are all now realizing, as well as our absolute
relationship to them.”

Eugene responded:

“I think the clear distinction is also that opera has almost always worked in allegory, that themes have been represented but not presented as they are, that characters themselves serve as parables but not personalities. We are not only removing the idea of characters entirely, but using the entire genre of opera as a character itself–or, as I see in Scott’s writing, a conscience and a voice. The very safe separation of message and representation as it generally is in opera is removed, and we have only the very clear libretto which hides behind nothing.”

“I may have mentioned it to you during our phone chat, but 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 as well, for while the piece will be entertaining in many ways, 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.”

“What Scott will do in the libretto is link social issues to the greater issue at hand which, as you alluded to in your email, was an understanding elusive to past generations of composers because we simply weren’t aware of what we were doing to our planet. But it is all related, of course. Writing opera today allows us to finally make that leap.”

While on the island–between gathering firewood, stoking the sauna to 193 degrees, performing daily ablutions in the lake, and mastering campfire pizza–Eugene and Scott acknowledged that this is the first residency they have
participated in together, writing and composing in real-time. This process of direct collaboration has influenced their project by distilling and sharpening the opera’s message. Eugene, working in a way that is increasingly rare in circles of contemporary composers, has been hand-writing the composition at the shelter’s dinner table in response to Scott’s words and the wilderness environment surrounding them. All the while, they balance
the themes of their project with the necessary rituals of daily life in a place that occasionally heralds a damp awaking after a western storm.

It is a remarkable thing to consider: An opera addressing contemporary world issues is being written on a remote island in Lake Superior. We are thrilled to have Eugene and Scott in residence and are excited to share STATE OF THE UNION when it is complete.

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