This year, an invitation to retreat to the tallgrass prairie to make art and explore was a gift from the universe. Although time had slowed since March and I found myself occupied, perhaps preoccupied, with various projects, I also found myself sustained by the difficult work of getting to know myself and my relational self more deeply. It had been fifteen years since I attended an artist residency. At Tallgrass, I decided to limit my script for what to do there in order to allow myself to take in the experience, using my drawing practice to record my perceptions and my love for the sentience of this land in Kansas.
The two hour drive out to Matfield Green was the beginning of a needed catharsis. Seeing the Flint Hills emerge on the drive is like taking in a full and spacious breath. The quality of the waving grasses and prairie plants merging with the atmosphere is a full sensory experience that opens to nowness and vastness, and usually the reality of some discomfort once you step out of your car. It can be very hot, or cold, blindingly sunny, and bitterly windy, sometimes buggy, and it can change in an instant. The drama of the environment becomes an undeniable embodied narrative. At dawn on most mornings I was there, the morning sun broke through a foggy landscape, thus gifting me my favorite natural show.
I feel that the full and spacious breath afforded in the Flint Hills can be continually drawn upon in my memory to access the mindfulness of the place. Thanks to the McBrides and the stewards before them, strolling in the paths among the unmowed prairie around Matfield Station begs undivided attention to the diversity of life surrounding one on all sides. The crows are circling overhead, massive armored grasshoppers leap and camouflage, spiderwebs draw lines in the negative space between the grasses (there is no negative space), and willow leaf sunflowers arc and meander in tall thick patches. My body feels strong and interested in being part of all of this.
My residency experience was informed by some of the tools I brought with me: a laser engraving of a microscope that I have been making rubbings from to begin drawings, my bike, some cranberry kombucha, and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer along with Love and Rage by Lama Rod Owens. The microscope is a surrogate for humans in the drawings, as well as for our tools and stories, and our conquests and dominant narratives. I am the microscope and I entertain its borders and its fluidity, its self-importance, its function as a holistic entity, and its symbol of a specific narrative of science, in the drawings.
My experience was indelibly informed by the things and phenomena I did not bring with me: the sunrise and sunset, the bunkhouse room at Matfield Station and the trains that continually pass through, the faraway bison and the dead mole at Tallgrass Prairie, the tiny residential area of Matfield Green and its people, the cottonwoods and their shimmery sounds, hummingbirds, and the dense and tangled wildflowers and plants that are too many to name here. Having made a home in this region as an adult has only increased my appreciation for this ecosystem and its indigeneity. The residency became a prompt to practice intentional kinship with known, unknown, and resurfacing material realities in the present and historic Turtle Island prairie ecosphere.
Sean Nash (b. 1980, Memphis, TN) is a visual artist and food fermentation experimentalist. Nashâ€™s work integrates fermented foods into sculptures as edible, time-based, and socially engaged components of installations. His work has been shown nationally, with solo shows at the Kniznick Gallery at Brandeis (Krautsourcing, 2019), Plug Projects in Kansas City, MO (Lactobacillus Amongus, 2017), and Black Ball Projects in Brooklyn, NY (They/Them/Their, 2016).
He received a 2017 Rocket Grant Research and Development award for Garden Variety Soda Fountain, a sculptural soda cart built for naturally fermented sodas made with community garden grown ingredients. In 2017, he was a panel presenter at the inaugural Food, Feminism, and Fermentation conference at McGill University in Montreal. Sean co-authored the essay â€śBubbling Bodies and Queer Microbes: Dispatches from the Foundation of Fermentation Fervorâ€ť with Stephanie Maroney, published in Fermenting Feminism, 2017.
He is currently the William T. Kemper Visiting Assistant Professor in Painting at the Kansas City Art Institute. Sean received an MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale University in 2005 and a BFA in painting from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2003.