June 27, 2012
Djerassi Resident Artists Program for quite a while.
Carl Djerassi, the scientist-turned-playwright who founded the residencies on his spectacular ranch in the Los Altos Hills about an hour south of San Francisco, showed me around the place briefly 11 years ago when I was writing a profile about him for American Theatre Magazine.
This past weekend, though, I got my first in-depth tour of the ranch and its artworks, of which there are many scattered around the grounds in both expected and unexpected places.
The tour was led by Margot Knight, the Executive Director Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Margot proved to be a jolly and knowledgeable guide.
Over the course of nearly four hours, we hiked all around the property, stopping to take in the views and the many pieces of art left by former residency participants.
The program encourages artists of all kinds, not just installation artists and sculptors, to use the surroundings as a setting for work.
During the typical month-long stay, a choreographer might choose to create a dance in a nineteenth century barn lit by dappled light, a ceramicist might fill an old stump or copse of trees with clay-baked forms, and a writer might sit on a bench overlooking the colossal panorama that tumbles down to the Pacific Ocean and work on a volume of poetry or a novel.
As such, on our hike, we often stumbled upon the flotsam and jetsam remains of works created recently or decades ago. (The program has been around for 33 years and has provided residencies to over 2000 artists, so there are a great many artifacts to be seen around the property at this point.)
I love this aspect of the residency program. The works that nestle amid the trees, stake out rocky outcrops or make their home in sheltered clearings, are slowly deteriorating. Nature is taking over. Some are collapsing, others are covered in moss and lichen, others yet have developed cracks in their formerly smooth surfaces.
Nest, the piece photographed above, was created in 1997 by Cynthia Harper. Back then, I gather it was an imposing wooden structure, with pieces of wood carefully balanced on top of each other to form a giant symmetrical form. Now, little remains of the artist's original plan. The birds have come and stolen the pieces of wood to make their own nests. There's a kind of poetry to this steady disintegration.
Artists can come back to fix their work if they want to. But according to Knight, few do. It would be wonderful to come back to visit the works periodically and see how they are slowly becoming one with their surroundings.