I've spent the past 24 years living mostly in Telluride, a town of almost 2,000 people and many dogs, 8,750 feet above sea-level, in the Southern Rocky Mountains. Here John Lifton and I raised our kids, Abby, Jos and Gabe, and pursued various kinds of jobs and tasks. This town, now a resort, once a mining town, before that hunting grounds for the native Ute people, and the mountains, rivers, cultures and landscapes flowing around it, have been the focus of much of my work during this period.
We came here straight from radical art and agit prop in London, and I was committed to test out whether or not this new society, so few people (and so idiosyncratic), so much nature, open to so much risk from change and development, was open to the Beuysian approach mandating social sculpture. Joseph Beuys, breakthrough artist and charismatic teacher, carver of granite and lumps of fat, understood art, properly deployed, as the pivot point for major progressive change. Art as action, huge, subtle, the irresistible seed.
After years of effort I can report that yes, in fact the work of sustainabilitybuilding community and supporting the natural environmentis clearly open to a radicalizing modality. Again and again, when stuck in some morass of ignorance, habit and bureaucracy, I've gotten unstuck, and sometimes kicked the whole process forward through: Make it beautiful. Make it new. Make it art. !!!
We've built watershed coalitions and created lots of curriculum in the living classrooms of the mountains and deserts around us. We've convened many festivals and gatherings which proved generative and often moved the situation from theory to practice. We've had the privilege of working with native people on arts and education. We've worked with green energy, green building, sustainable agriculture, and a variety of arts projects including the Telluride Science Fiction (TSF) project. TSF is in part a movement which has produced a number of original SF radio plays on KOTO, our local station.
TSF(international) involves bringing distinguished SF writers here for a short residency, after which they come up with a "localized" story laying out a possible future. We hope to accumulate a terrific set of utopias or distopias, full of lenses and fires, and to lay down an unusual layer of local culture. John Clute and I have already contributed, and Liz Hand is said to have one in the oven. Others will follow soon.
I have managed over time to do some more distinctly fine art projects, written a couple of opera libretti which have been performed ("Harry Houdini and the False and True Occult" and "The Forbidden Experiment"), written a children's book, Annika and the Wolves, which was published by Coffeehouse Press, and helped with the scripts for the extraordinary MuddButt children's theater every summer. I've gone on with some drawing and painting and work in the landscape, and I've spent quite a lot of time working with what the Chinese call "scholar's stones," stones which are seen, found, brought back to the studio, and designated as sculpture. The world of the Rocky mountains and the Colorado Plateau have become the body through which much of my thinking is expressed.
Dozens of major projects later, some of them now self-continuing memes, praise be, I'm somewhat returning to a purer, although still plenty striped, kind of art, paintings and the Four Corners novel. All the community based work has made the canvas very crowded. Probably a good thing for an abstract thinker. More later.
Photo by John Lifton.