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Stage With Five Figures In A Vale

Looking across the gully, a stage with curtains drawn back framed the view of five figures below. Made of dead fall branches from surrounding trees, this was an ephemeral installation Robin Croft and I made on our two week art residency in October of 2021. The place was Azule Art Residency in North Carolina, near Hot Springs.


View of Azule lodge and buildings with Stage in forefront and three Figures below in the vale


A beautiful lodge perched on the edge of a vale served as our home while we hauled wood from the forest and built our installation. Since our collaborative work is environmentally friendly, we worked with organic materials bound only with bio degradable cord. As the installation deteriorates, no foreign materials are left behind.

Robin anchored his Stage to a group of small trees across the vale from the lodge. Weaving long poles and thinner branches together, the wattle made a dramatic frame for viewing the lodge on the other side and the Figures I made in the vale below.


Robin weaving his Stage into a group of small trees


The first figure I made stood behind a tree looking down the vale and supported by the trunk. It seemed to be hiding or reluctant to show himself. The scale of this piece grew to match the vista at about eighteen feet tall. Ladders became necessary and were a challenge to use safely on the incline. Much of the wood had to be tied together with twine before I could weave smaller pieces in.


Marcos building first figure


Down the vale from him, a female figure leaned her back against a tree facing the other way. She was being coy or oblivious. At fourteen feet tall, she was at scale with the other figures and as challenging to construct on an incline. I had to make stone supports for one side of the ladder to keep it level each time I moved the ladder into a new position.


Marcos adding an arm to the second figure


The woods behind the stage stretched up a hill for several acres. Much of our labor was spent climbing this hill, collecting dead fall and dragging it back to our respective work. Working collaboratively made this a more effective endeavor.

After completing two figures I decided to make more figures in less demanding attitudes to enlarge the group. Seated figures were structurally less demanding and did not require the use of ladders. A narrative evolved between these figures as if in a play seen from the Stage. Two seated figures evolved, one at the base of a tree near the bottom of the gully, looking away from the others, and another sitting on a boulder hunched over introspectively.



In the last days of our residency, the "play" required another female figure. She took on a prone posture which turned out more difficult to make as I had to exaggerate certain features to make her visually relatable from different vantage points. What I had thought would be less time consuming became a challenge as my time ran out.


Meanwhile, Robin's Stage became a densely woven framework with flowing lines suggesting pulled back curtains. Solidly anchored in the small trees, it was clear this structure would outlive the figures below. This was fitting, as a vantage point, for viewing the ephemeral "lifecycle"of the "play" below.



As with most of our large installations, we had a camera taking timed photos, for stop action sequences of the building process, and video footage to document our project. This material is currently being edited into a video documentary, the only permanent record of our installation at Azule.
















At the end of our residency, Robin and I felt satisfied with the scope and scale of our work and happy with the relationships we built with Azule's staff and its founder, Camille. We got to spend time with Camille and learn her wonderful story and the creative power behind this mystical artistic retreat. Our installation was in good loving hands and its ephemera respected.



Some may wonder why we spent two weeks of labor and creativity in the mountains of North Carolina with only photos and videos to show for all our hard work. The answer lies in the freedom of two unencumbered weeks to be creative and not worry about what to do with that large work when finished. We have the documentation we can share and the experience that continues to nourish us creatively in our everyday lives.


Marcos Smyth

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