Reverse Direction [blog]
By John “Seven” Mitchell
Profile: Christy Georg
19th Feb 2010
As part of the Amazing Acoustaphotophonogrammitron at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Gallery 51, artist Christy Georg has contributed “Monitoring The Dunes.” Like much of her other work, sound is but a component within a work that gathers various styles of sculpture — both kinetic and otherwise — to create items that evoke a history that they perhaps never had.
“Monitoring The Dunes” stems from a residency in New Mexico, during which Georg created “Instruments of Calibration and Ascertainment,” which showed at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. It was created from video shot at the White Sands National Monument, the world’s largest gypsum dune field — a 275-square-mile desert — and a missile testing site for the military.
“There’s hardly any life out there at all when you drive out in the heart of it,” said Georg during a recent interview. “The only thing that you experience is the sound of wind, and it’s constantly shifting the sand dunes around — that and the super bright sun. I swear that the bottom of my chin and the inside of my nose got sunburned out there.”
Georg’s apparatus in the piece works like a stethoscope and is meant to listen to the sounds of the shifting sand dunes — some of the dunes move as far as 30 feet annually — while they are utilized also like a pair of forearm crutches. Georg is literally walking on sound in the
“The stethoscopes connect to my ears, and I have to lift my body up over them, so I’m using the endurance of my body and the ability to hold myself up on them and wobble around a little bit to engage them,” she said. Sound was originally incidental in her work, which early on involved the creation of kinetic sculptures. “It wasn’t necessarily the driving force behind it,” she said. “It would be a sculptural activity, and one of the byproducts would be sound.”
As her work branched out into more diverse multi-media platforms to include drawings, photographs and videos, the intention of the sound in her pieces became more direct and intentional. At this point in her creative career, sound is considered upfront alongside the sculptural plans — and some of her work is a direct commentary to the very idea of noise. One piece, “Tool,” is an apparatus that fits on a person’s head, but no one would want to do that— one clap of the hands would cause spikes to move in and puncture your ear drums. Georg fashioned a mahogany box for the painful instrument with the idea that you can switch off sound anytime you want — this was in direct reaction to how piercingly noisy she first found New England when she moved here some years back from Oregon.
“I made one that’s called ‘Accompaniment’ — it’s like a cane that has a teeny-weeny wheel, and you just push it along with you,” said Georg. “It has a little stylus like a record player that plays the floor through a little circuit that I made, and you can listen to it through this tin-can thing. It’s just a really sort of silly way to make it as if there were a soundtrack to your walking around.”
“Monitoring The Dunes” was created in direct reaction to her sensory astonishment at White Sands. She had discovered the site near the beginning of her residency in New Mexico, though it required several visits for her to take everything in and figure out what she wanted to do with it as a location. Anytime she had a visitor come to town, she seized it as another excuse to visit White Sands. Georg felt a strong creative pull toward it.
“I was like, OK, I can’t ignore this anymore — I’ve got to do something about this,” she said. “I had never been there before, and I was like, ‘Wow, this place is really asking me to do something.’”
Even as Georg inhabited New Mexico, her work began absorbing nautical themes — her work for “Instruments of Calibration and Ascertainment” took its inspiration from the designs of compasses and sextants, as well as surgical items and church equipment. Georg had never lived more than 40 miles away from the sea before, and despite her interest in White Sands, she wasn’t happy about her distance from the ocean. “I became obsessed with it and thought that as soon as I get back to Boston, I’m going to learn how to sail and I’m going to sail on some big ships,” she said. “I read all those Master and Commander books, all 21 one of them.”
She immersed herself in learning how to sail small boats and started volunteering on ships in downtown Boston — then she had a revelation that required action. “I had a regular job, and I taught, and I thought, ‘All I care about is this sailing thing so I’m quitting my job and moving out of my apartment, and I’m going to go work on a ship.’ And that’s what I did,” she said.
From the fall of 2007 to the spring of 2008, Georg had a residency in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, where she began her nautical-themed artwork. When her residency came to an end, her devotion to the sea and ships became part of the solution for staying in the area and continuing the artwork. “I was faced with the terrifying prospect of moving back to the city of Boston, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be a great idea if I just bought a sailboat and lived on it instead?’ So I did that and worked at my local marina,” she said.
She stayed through the following winter — living simply and making art — before pursuing more residencies around the country. What became apparent was that place is vital to her creation — inspiration and location play off each other in her mind and offer possibilities for exploration within and without that result in artwork mixing the two spaces. “That’s why I like these residencies so much. I’m on my 11th one now, and I have several more planned,” said Georg. “I’m just hooked because I like a lot of history, and if you’re in a different location, you find something cool about it.”
For the near future, Georg has travel in mind — a residency in New Brunswick, Canada, near the Bay of Fundy, and Newfoundland, as well as a show in Nova Scotia that will continue the sea-themed work that has been central to creativity. She will just move the focus up the coast to the north from its previous center in Cape Cod. A residency in Colorado is providing Georg with the time to prepare for the work to come, but once again, location is dictating her artistic intentions.
“Now I’m in Colorado, and I’m trying to focus on this new arctic research project and I’m going to go up there this summer, but all I can think about is cowboy stuff,” she said. “I want to do a cowboy project. I’m definitely influenced by my surroundings.”
Still, there’s work left to be done that isn’t magically transforming itself into Wild West art — one project is a huge drawing of the U.S.S. Constitution.
“I’d go there all the time and drool all over it,” said Georg. “I know a lot about the history of it, so I’m making this homage to it. It looks very serious and like it has all this history, but it’s also kind of hilarious. ”
Currently, Georg is focused on the North Pole, reading about the Peary expedition and
contemplating a personal connection — the first schooner she worked onboard was originally
owned by the captain of that very expedition. That fact, combined with her upcoming journeys north — the town in Newfoundland is also the home of that same captain — and the centennial of the discovery of the North Pole, sees all roads leading to one central theme for her next work. She looks at it as the final leg of this artistic voyage before she moves onto the next one — and the next place.
“I knew I was going to start this body of work and I needed to do that,” she said. “It might be over now, and I might be moving onto something else. I don’t know. I’m not just ‘that boat girl,’ that’s for sure.”