This piece seemed to build itself. Backpack sized root clumps scattered across an alpine field. Our crew for the UNM Land Arts program was camped outside Creede, Colorado at around 10,000ft. Three of us, Kylie Heikkila, Wayne Nez-Gaussoin, and I discovered root networks that weren’t embedded in the soil, and began to stack them in a manner that evoked something like a cross between Jenga blocks and interlocking fingers. Once arranged, the figure stood around seven feet. Kylie decorated our structure with nearby flowers and I crowned it with a head-sized boulder. As the sky grayed, the rain came down soft. We lit the inner roots aflame and watched as the root figure took to smoke.
The concept behind “Albuquerque Aggregate – Mound #1 (Pickle Dirt)” centers on the idea of being in place. The soils I collected are a physical representation of the base material, the ground of place, Albuquerque, New Mexico. The untouched, natural pile directs the viewer towards the central idea that a place can be understood by its soils, its sands, its stones.
I want to leave the meaning open. The impetus for the piece is the process of retrieval. I acquired the materials from local houses whose residents had posted on craigslist advertising unwanted, free landscaping materials. In leaving my home to meet unfamiliar people in their places, I expand myself by expanding my world.
A drawing series comprised of the fifty United States. Exploring unfamiliar land through a wandering trace. The state lines and cross continental highways rendered in black ink demonstrate the gap between eye and hand. What comes across to me now is that I wanted to be anywhere but New York. I was trying to experience the world through a map and my hand was the proxy for my travel. I felt as though my visual and tactile memory of these lines could bring me closer to those places. When my close, if not mysterious friend and drawing teacher at Cooper saw the subject, she remarked, “uh-oh. Noel’s looking at maps again.” The following year I left mid semester to move to Wyoming.
Maybe I was missing Wyoming and its dramatic granite fortresses in the sky, or maybe I was dreaming of New Mexico and a fuzzy desert I longed to get to know. Whenever my mind would wander, it sent back simple, abstract landscapes composed of lines. Woven, unwoven, lines are ripped seams, unhitched mountains, dropped horizons and wave-like crashing dunes. The lines emit an energy that vibrates and builds spatial sense.
While I was still at The Cooper Union, I studied the wildlife that coexisted with the masses of Manhattan. Unlike temporary and wild species – such as the coyote who wandered into Central Park – hawks and other raptors took permanent and safe residence in Manhattan. From goshawks to red-tails, these birds gained public followings of local park-goers and residents. A camera was even set up to provide live feed of hawks that had built their nest in the alcove of a NYU building. Using this wide archive of hawk photos, I painted a small series on untreated leather in oil. I sought to emphasize the motion blur of the photos through an expressionistic painting style.
In a landscape riddled with non-descript and unfamiliar hills and holes, divided by barbed and electric cow wire, navigation is difficult. In my wanderings across the blue and black grama grasslands of Mimm’s Ranch bordering Marfa, Texas, I found myself turned around more than once. Cutting across the indirect roads on tanned hillsides, I spotted an orange glow nestled into the stretched out grasslands that reflected the sun’s light. As I navigated towards this glow, what once seemed large and distant grew close and less mystic. I found it to be my friend Wayne’s Half Dome tent back at the edge of our camp. I realized my need then, in that open landscape, for something to guide me: an unmoving, visible compass around which my world would turn. So, I roamed the hills finding fallen stalks here and there and managed to drag or haul them back to camp. I spent the following few days binding stalk to stalk with a clear fishing wire to make signal posts that I would drive into the ground. I planted three of these posts in a triangle around camp, one past the cook tent, one by my personal tent, and one on a close hill to the South.
Two weeks after the camping expedition in Colorado, we stayed at a friend’s cabin at El Vado Dam, a small community outside of Amarillo, New Mexico. During our stay, I found that the receding drought water of a nearby dam uncovered a group of timeworn river rocks. For three consecutive days, I hauled these rocks uphill from the dam to the cabin using a wheelbarrow that I found in the area. The process was physically demanding; my back and arms became quickly sore.
What interests me is not the visual end; rather, the process of labor takes precedence.
After more than 15 trips back and forth with the rickety wheelbarrow, I gathered my rocks to clean them with a sponge. I then placed them inside the domestic space of the cabin. At first, the rocks were strewn along the counters of the kitchen, but in an effort to keep them together, I stacked them delicately in the kitchen sink and oven. Finally, in an attempt to reconcile the bond between human mover and moved mass, I guided the rocks to circle on the cabin floor around an empty, haloed center. My relation to these boulders was one of nurtured humility. They felt close to me, for my fingers and hands had clutched their smooth, whorled surfaces. Later, we brought the rocks back outside to act as mini levies to prevent seasonal runoff.