Art outside: Hiking boots optional but recommended

Ashland's Schneider Museum of Art presents "Art Beyond," an exhibition of outdoor installations that encourages viewers to lace up their hiking boots.

An “art adventure,” Art Beyond moves art out of the white cube and into a variety of scenic locations in and around Ashland, Oregon. Viewers of the show can choose adventure levels ranging from the literal bunny slope of a ski resort to the “black diamond” of winding mountain roads. Director of the Schneider Museum of Art and Art Beyond curator Scott Malbaurn’s long held vision of an off-site exhibition of outdoor installations meshes well with Covid restrictions and appeals to both residents and tourists of this outdoorsy-artsy town – where kayaks and mountain bikes adorn many of the AWD drive vehicles parked at the Shakespeare-themed Bed-and-Breakfasts. 

While three of the installation sites require significant (and picturesque) drives into the surrounding mountains, the two in-town sites, at ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum and Lithia Park, offer easy accessibility. In total, 24 artists installed works at five locations around Ashland; time, weather, and stamina will dictate each viewer’s experience – this article offers a small sample of the wider field(s).

Visit the large field outside ScienceWorks in the cooler summer evening, when the setting sun makes the luminescent fabric of Jessi Eaton-Shields’ with(in) fabric and metal scaffolding works glow silvery pink and purple. The color changes make the pyramids, especially those covered in flip sequins, irresistible to touch. Eaton-Shields’ works are visible from the main road, but air-conditioned comfort belies the interactivity that completes them. 

Jessi Eaton-Shields, With(in) (2021). Metal and fabric. Installed at Scienceworks Children’s Museum as part of Art Beyond.

Braving the crispy grass and start-thistles of the field (wear your hiking shoes, this is an adventure!) also rewards viewers with the quiet beauty of Miri Admoni’s Field of Dreams – delicate tendrils of blue glass that appear as a wave of wildflowers flowing from ScienceWorks. Whereas Eaton-Shield’s geometric constructions continue the STEM mission of this host-site, Admoni’s delicate installation softens the collision between architecture and nature.

Miri Admoni, Field of Dreams (2021). Installed at ScienceWorks Children’s Museum as part of Art Beyond.

Nancy Baker Cahill’s work in Lithia Park similarly operates at the intersection of technology and nature, requiring viewers to download the 4th Wall app in order to collaborate with the artist. Viewers walking through the park can install one of Cahill’s virtual works via the Augmented Reality (AR) of the app, then capture an image of the installation. On the screen, Cahill’s drawings can be scaled and rotated, and once placed, moved through and around in AR. 

For some, relaxing into natural surroundings includes putting technology aside in favor of immediate, perhaps shared, experience – as Ashland’s central park, Lithia is a hub for friendly walking, children’s play, community events, and connection with the natural world. Walking through the park mediated by a screen feels strange and disconnected. Cahill encourages users to send her photographs of their installations of her work (her favorites will receive Schneider Museum swag). This creates an interesting connection between viewers/collaborators and the geographically distant artist which does not include other visitors to Art Beyond at Lithia Park – it’s an insight into potentials of AR art.

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The other three sites of Art Beyond require more than a cell phone and closed-toe hiking shoes, as viewers must adventure up into the picturesque mountains that surround Ashland. Vesper Meadow Preserve, located east of Ashland in the Siskiyou Mountains, asks that visitors make reservations to visit the barn mural created by Gabriel Barrera. His activism and engagement with environmental justice led to a Signal Fire Tinderbox artist residency at Vesper Meadow, which culminated in the painting of a mural representing the biological beauty and diversity of the area. Viewing the mural in July 2021, it seems to mirror a frozen moment in time at Vesper Meadows. Birds hang in the air, wildflowers bloom across the fields, an excited viewer exclaims in joy. Noticing the parched soil and crispy plants underfoot, a viewer might wonder what this mural will reflect in 2026 – perhaps a vision of a past time when regular rainfall held temperatures and wildfires at bay.

Gabriel Barrera, detail view of mural on the barn at the Vesper Meadow Preserve (2021). Installed as part of Art Beyond.

In the forest edged meadows of Grizzly Peak, Willow-Witt Ranch is host to one of Avantika Bawa’s “Scaffold Series” works. Bright yellow and rectilinear, A Yellow Scaffold on the Ranch stands out from the surrounding organic shapes and natural colors, a contrast which constantly shifts attention between the work and the landscape and back again. Bawa’s choice of modular scaffolding, usually used in construction and painting, inherently relates to the scale of the human body; the color makes the work visually unavoidable. The scaffold’s side bars are meant as ladders and as supports for functional platforms. The outline of the scaffolding almost echoes, but never quite fits, the silhouette of the hills and trees surrounding the meadow. The human presence in this idyllic natural setting is undeniable. 

Avantika Bawa, A Yellow Scaffold on the Ranch (2021). Installed as part of Art Beyond.

The early June performance by Left Edge Percussion, in which the scaffolding was played by the five members of the avant-garde ensemble must have created an interesting echo with the calling birds and rustling breezes in the surrounding meadow bowl. Suzanne Willow (half of the Willow-Witt name) confirmed that Bawa’s installation will remain on the land for the foreseeable future, leaving open the possibility for future performances.

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The ultimate site of Art Beyond, Mt. Ashland rises on the west side of valley. At the top, open meadows of ski slopes radiate down from the peak, bearing spring wildflowers and rocky hiking trails. To the right of the lodge Art Beyond installations begin on the bunny hill and wind around through the woods via a short nature trail. 

Alyse Emdur and Michael Parker’s It’s a Small World on the Bunny Slope is a red construction placed in the middle of the hill. The painted log seesaw holds a series of rudimentary clay sculptures intended to interrogate the effect of pandemic isolation on the young; the work invokes ideas of balance and resilience, displacement and trajectory. 

Conversation with the installations on Mt. Ashland is an integral part of the experience, as with Ben Buswell’s Echo, in which a column of neatly cut logs lies in the shade of nearby trees. Reading the title of the work, one might feel the urge to create an audible echo in the area. Using the QR code on the sign (provided that the viewer has cell service in this area) delivers Buswell’s meditation on the physical echoes within an ecosystem. 

Isabella Thorndike Church, Elemental (2021). Installed as part of Art Beyond.

At the top of the hill, Isabella Thorndike Church created two photogenic ellipses of found wood and lichen which frame the valley below. In contrast to Robby Herbst’s After EF! located slightly downhill on the opposite side of the ski slope, Church’s frames compliment and soften the scene of the valley below. Herbst’s wooden frame similarly delineates a spectacular view – on a sunny day one can see Mt. Shasta in all her glory – but the carved text instructs the viewer to “visualize industrial collapse,” an ominously prophetic suggestion as the sky around Shasta glowed red during recent wildfires in the area.

Discovery is a key component of the Art Beyond adventure, maps and instructions are scant, but wandering inquisitively around the sites quickly yields rewards. The comprehensive Art Beyond website gives each artist space to discuss their work and practice, and the robust series of Zoom discussions and talks offers interesting insights. “Family Days” continue the Schneider’s commitment to all ages, with the Whistlegraph Collective hosting weekend multi-sensory drawing workshops in Lithia Park. 

The show as a whole ends July 18, but some works will remain installed and/or available for viewing after that time. Curator and Schneider Museum Director Scott Malbaurn hopes that the “above and beyond” response to the show, the exposure given to rising artists, and collaborations with local institutions will generate enough financial backing to facilitate a biennial cycle for Art Beyond. We will cross our fingers and keep our hiking shoes handy.

About the author

Georgina Ruff is an art historian of modern and contemporary art and technology. Her interests in the conservation of obsolescing media and immersive installations have led her on explorations of 60's era light shows, Bauhaus illuminations, histories of fluorescent light bulbs, and contemporary spatial politics of object-less art works.

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