In 2010, I spent four weeks at PLAND, New Mexico, in August 2010, exploring beauty through everyday acts. Having never visited the US, I imagined New Mexico to be a harsh, hot desert full of snakes and scorpions. I was pleasantly surprised by the lush green mesa of sage brush, wide (wide) open blue skies and the odd hailstorm amid the heat. Not a scorpion in sight, and snakes sufficiently banished by the osha root given to me by PLAND (Erin Elder, Nina Elder and Nancy Zastudil) as a welcoming gift.
Living off-grid slows time down, giving everyday acts such as washing, cooking and keeping warm, a meditative quality. Living and working outdoors; figuring out how to keep the mice from your food; the best way to wash your whole body in a small basin of water; and dealing with your ‘human waste’ concentrates the mind and connects you totally with your surroundings.
This stripped back existence inspired me to focus on one of life’s most basic everyday acts – peeing. A series of experiments followed.
Making a pee battery; distilling pee bleach and dyeing clothes; extracting water from pee via a solar still; attempting to sell pee fertilizer. PLAND gave me the time and space to see where these experiments would go and ended up intersecting with other aspects of my residency.
One night, during dinner, we all peed in this hole in the ground, about seven of us. I placed an empty plastic container into the hole and covered it, and the hole, with a sheet of plastic, making sure the sheet dipped in the middle, right over the container. It baked in the New Mexico sun all the next day. The water from the pee condensed and collected on the plastic sheeting and then dripped into the plastic container. Clean enough to drink, if you wanted too. From this I made the Celebration Bottle – the water distilled from urine using the solar still is contained in this bottle. The bottle is decorated with red willow string and dollar bills. It commemorates a unique moment in time, never to be repeated – the coming together of seven individuals to share a meal on the Taos mesa plains.
I was also fortunate to make friends with the basket weaver Bob Allalunis, who took me around the locality and taught me to make baskets from the red willow growing in the irrigation ditches. Our friendship led to a lot of interesting conversations around value and cost, as well as insight into local history. These conversations, the basket making (and oddly, the pee experiments), led to two videos that were filmed during the residency – one looking at exchange (Exchange) and the other at the dualistic nature of history (Kit). A road trip with PLAND’s Nina, also furnished me with footage for a third video centered around the convergence of industry and nature.