For this year's incarnation of the annual Art in the Garden series, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum and the San Antonio Botanical Garden have enlisted celebrated multi-disciplinary artist, urban re-imaginer and Carnegie Mellon art professor Kim Beck. In her work Beck brings the stamp of the natural organism to synthetic creation and the order of the built world to nature's particular prolificacy. Or, maybe, she reminds us that human beings are inextricable from nature, so our creations necessarily demand reflection through a natural lens. Her thoughtful and intellectually provocative art plays with our notions of urban and natural background noise, bringing fresh perspectives to our consciousness of the everyday.
Beck's contribution to the Art in the Garden series, a multifaceted and multi-modal installation entitled "One Way Trail," expands on the nuances of these concerns and involves a sacrifice of the artist's own narrative voice to the personal whimsy of the characters that helped shape the project. The concept is simple: no one goes to a park and only experiences the park. We bring our lives and worldviews and emotional palettes to bear on our experience of any setting. Likewise, no one trail is the right trail, no one experience is exhaustive and no one understanding is complete.
Through a mechanism of 16 'tour guides,' several trail heads and a multitude of color-coded, text-embellished signs, Beck's installation offers a plethora of alternatives to the 'predictable' or 'official' trail. Complete with phone-accessible snippets of audio from interviews the artist did with each guide — a motley crew that includes SAY Sí art students, two dogs, a Buddhist priest, a Texas rancher and a 95-year-old SA native, among others — "One Way Trail" envisions our stories, our preferences and our desires as integral parts of our experience of the park. By tracing the steps and thoughts of others, here and there as they meander through the park, we come to appreciate the many ways there are to appreciate a single thing. Over the phone from her home in Pittsburgh, Beck spoke to the San Antonio Current last week about her vision for this installation.
Tell me a bit about the concept of "One Way Trail" and how it works.
People will arrive at the park and get maps that will point them to different walking tours or 'sits' that will give them different perspectives of the park. Or they might walk, for instance, to the South Texas trail and see a trailhead that I designed. And on that one, Richard Bennett, who's a rancher, came and walked the trails with us and told us stories about everything from rattlesnakes to murder stories and other Texas tales. The tour then will feature audio recorded during our walk. And that's how all of them work. So, there's a physical and an audio component to the tours and the audio can be accessed by cell phone. For the opening, we will have several live tours, but otherwise it'll be recorded audio. The title "One Way Trail" is meant to suggest that there are many different ways ... that each trail and story is just one way of experiencing the park. There are also some sculptural elements and signage with editorializing text. It has been an interesting process determining the voice of the signs, because it's partially me as the artist and partially the language of the tour guides.
What would you say is the overall narrative of the piece? Is there one?
This is a different sort of artwork for me. It's not a piece with one, single-artist vision. I'm asking the visitors to see the vision of the individuals and to take a broad, egalitarian view ... that no one voice or path is any more valid or important than another. We each bring a kind of artistic vision to our experience. So I've de-centered myself as the artist to allow multiple voices to lead the narrative.
How did you recruit the locals to act as guides?
I came up with a dream list of sorts, with all kinds of folks, that included everything from a thespian troupe to a 95-year-old to a goat, and Blue Star found me the wonderful participants. (Note: a willing goat was located but was sadly nixed by the Botanical Garden.)
What does this piece tell us about the interplay between humans and nature?
We interact with nature, but we are nature. We are inextricable from nature. Plants have histories that exist alongside with and entangled with our own. Plants and trees are cultural as well as natural. We live in these built environments, but when you break everything down, it's all organic.
'One Way Trail'
Opening reception: free, 5:30-7:30pm Thu, Mar 12, Run of show: $7-$10, 9am-5pm daily through Jan 31, SanAntonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston Pl., 207-3250, sabot.org