In June 2023, I had the opportunity to create an immersive art installation for the "Creating Wonder" gallery show that I co-hosted through OPAM in Old Town Chinatown! Creating this piece was a fun reflection on my years of work doing technical theatre & stagecraft. The original concept was "I want you to be able to walk into one of my pictures" and through a process of sketching it out with a talented artist, the idea of a "walk-in diorama" was born.
The journey in creating it was just as important as the meaning behind it all. After years of searching for a sense of community, I look at this piece and see the people who helped me build, paint, light/project, the people who fed me & provided space to create in, provided childcare.
A jumbled mix of humans.
My friends & family.
Art that was built from the darkness of grief.
First step, gather materials.
Built from mostly recycled, upcycled, used or found materials including,
various recycled materials from SCRAP PDX,
wood from the reuse store in Sherwood,
chicken wire from a friend,
& foraged items from forest floor.
Next step, build the diorama.
After hauling all the materials to a friend's backyard, we started construction & focused on the messy parts, like the paper mache & spray paint. My spouse helped me build the foundation of the mushrooms & trees. My kids helped crinkle paper to create texture. And then I spent HOURS doing paper mache on roughly 30 rocks & boulders, three giant mushrooms and two large trees. This phase of the build took me way longer than anticipated. But with no real written out plan, a lot of it was experimenting and troubleshooting.
The first day of the build, we noticed a dead crow in the backyard so a few days later, we gave it a proper burial and funeral. A few days after that a crow commanded my attention from the trees and dropped this bone onto the space where I was working & then flew off. Collectively it was decided that this was a sign that the crows were thankful we took care of their friend. And that they approved of the art that was happening. Gifts from crows indicate good luck & it felt really special to get one while working on this project.
Final touches & installation!
I rented a u-haul to get all of the stuff back to my loft so I could focus on final touches & figure out where everything would go in the space. I taped out a 6x6 ft space on the floor and our living room briefly became a tiny forest scene. I live in an artist community surrounded by artists who helped me paint and do detail work on each of the boulders and trees. One of my neighbors is also a mycologist and gave their expertise on the mushroom design & details. The kaleidoscope log was a last minute decision that my spouse helped me execute. We also waited until the last minute to troubleshoot sound, lights & projection, something I wouldn't have been able to do without my friends who live downstairs. I was still finishing details until the hour we opened the doors opening night! I guess I like the adrenaline!
The time frame from day one of the build to opening night was only 2.5 weeks.
The Gallery Show!
Tamanawas Falls Journey
In August 2021, I hiked to Tamanawas falls by myself just before my family of five moved from the suburbs to Downtown Portland. I was dealing with 2020 ptsd & grieving the loss of my "old" life & identity, our family home, many important friendships, relationships and loss due to death. I started to spend time in the PNW forests as a way to escape the heaviness of that reality.
On this day, I chose a waterfall to honor my late sister so I could feel her with me. This was my first real hike in the mountains. I practiced being intentional and stopped to notice all the things. I made a conscious decision to embrace childlike wonder. I felt like I understood the connectivity of here and wherever "there" is. I felt something new inside of me activate.
In my grief, I imagine a place where I can still be with my sister and what a weaving of those two worlds would look like. This diorama is an outward expression of that.
This month long portal opened up endless conversation about creating, grief & sharing of personal family stories w/random passerby’s.
Upon entering, you are instructed to stand on the "mossy" portal, the best vantage point to take in the whole scene. Your sense of smell is ignited through the diffusing of petrichor in the room. Before you is a moving image of a waterfall, accompanied by sounds of water rushing and birds. Every once in a while you hear a strange sound, the eletrical signals of the giant mushrooms in the scene. In the diorama itself, viewers are invited to look and touch and interact with the objects around them.
On a small table in the room, you could find a journal that held the story of the diorama along with some of my writings and poems. If you flipped it over, it became a guestbook & place for visitors to share their thoughts. I received so many beautiful compliments & congratulations. Above that table hung images I've taken on my many hikes that inspired the project.
Throughout the month of June, the diorama had over a hundred visitors.