Beyond Burning Man
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Beyond Burning Man

Sheltering in Place? Try Growing in Place

How artist Kate Raudenbush is pushing creativity — and herself — in the time of COVID-19

Art is “Star Seed” by Kate Raudenbush. Photo by Scott London

What do you do when almost all of your work has dried up due to a global pandemic? For artist Kate Raudenbush, it’s a rare opportunity to press that pause button and do the deeper work necessary to reframe her approach to art and life. After ensuring her basic needs felt stable-ish, Raudenbush has been devoting herself to meditation, online courses, books, and, of course, explorations into the nature of art itself. Many of us might similarly feel the potential in us brewing during this unique period in history, but Kate is doing the work. In this interview, she spells out how she’s climbing out from uncertainty and reframing this new chapter of existence.

Mia Quagliarello: How has your art practice changed in the time of coronavirus?
Kate Raudenbush :
What a massive change. A lot of the work that I had secured for festivals has been cancelled, postponed, or seriously delayed. I was in the middle of talks to possibly do an installation at the United Nations. Gone. The “Dream Portal” sculpture for the Art With Me festival in Tulum, Mexico has moved from April to November 11. My installation “Peak Oil,” for Electric Daisy Carnival, in Las Vegas was moved to October 2, and Burning Man was moved to the Multiverse of the virtual world! Any art that is part of large gatherings of people was understandably delayed. Fortunately, I am working on a big privately commissioned artwork called “Ignis Aqua” that is still a go, but the fabrication process is delayed because things are closed.

Preliminary sketches for Raudenbush’s “Dream Portal” sculpture for the postponed Art With Me festival in Tulum, Mexico.

I’ve lived in New York City for over 20 years, and we are at the epicenter of this virus in the U.S. New Yorkers are strong, wildly adaptable, incredibly social, and packed solid with over eight million people. We are also a massive travel hub for the virus to spread easily through a dense population. 9/11 was devastating for New York City, but this virus’s destruction is more surreal, in that it’s insidious, widespread, and everything is shut down. It looks like a ghost town here. So many people are out of work, and you can’t even visit your loved ones in the hospital. In 2001, at least we could comfort each other when we were brought to our knees…Now you can’t even stand next to each other to hold each other up. The NYC death toll is currently 27,477. That’s over 9x more than in 2001. So the anxiety living here now is hyper REAL. Right now, it’s an understatement to say that being creative is tough when you are in logistics and survival mode. You are making sure you can breathe safely, eat safely, and support yourself in a time when a global pandemic is on your doorstep. And I am living by myself, so that Burning Man Radical Self-reliance knowledge is coming into play, for sure.

So after I finally grounded myself logistically and worked to stay afloat, informed myself with the facts, and checked in to support friends and family, I had to shift my thinking to this: if someone told me, “You have to spend two months all by yourself, inside, in a monk-like retreat. What will you do with that time?”

I decided I’m going to use this time to go inward, go deep, improve myself, learn new things, meditate a lot, reframe my approach to art and life, learn to be a better cook, and hopefully be a better version of myself when all of this is over!

Photo by Mia Quagliarello

How are you expanding yourself? What classes are you taking? What are you tuning into?
Well, I got into Taoist Meditation — which is so beautiful and involves visualization and moving energy around your body with the breath. Oddly, I have been doing shades of that instinctively for years by myself, but now I see there is a name for it!

A few weeks ago, I finished the “Spiritual Survival Guide,” produced online by Commune. It was so inspiring and grounding. I highly recommend this website: onecommune.com. They are a growing global wellness community of teachers. They also have a great podcast of interviews by founder Jeff Krasnow, who is also the founder of the Wanderlust Festival. Commune is a collection of thinkers, healers, yoga teachers, and leadership mentors. Folks like Marianne Williamson to Russell Brand to Deepak Chopra to Hala Khouri. Hala reframed how to deal with personal trauma in one talk of the Redefining Leadership course; her talk really shifted how I see the reactions of my heart and mind. So for a week, it was a lecture a day from one of these luminaries, and also paired with a breath work, yoga or meditation class.

Now I’m in the middle of “The Desire Map Course” with Danielle LaPorte, who is an incredibly empowering, heart-centered yet practical guide. Her course is reframing how I want to experience my life. I also absorbed some revelatory masterclasses on Mindvalley, which is also all about personal growth. I’m also reading “The Creative Habit” by the choreographer Twyla Tharp, and going running and biking on my own, and, of course, dancing in my living room! I’m basically using this time to be a disciple of my own becoming. Almost all my work has been postponed, yet I’m grateful for the space to make the most of this difficult time.

Art is “Helios” by Kate Raudenbush. Photo by Scott Williams

What do you think art means in this time?
My first thought that comes to mind would be to paraphrase a Winston Churchill story during World War II, when a member of his cabinet said to him, “Don’t worry, we’re canceling all of the arts, culture, and creative events in this time of austerity and war.” And he turned to them and said, “Why would we do that? Then what are we fighting for?” Creativity is part of the best of who we are as a species. Art reveals the identity and the consciousness of our civilizations. It elevates us. To quote Terrence McKenna, “Art redeems the idea that Man is good.”

Observe what is happening: Who’s throwing parties and raising awareness to fundraise for the pandemic response? Artists and musicians, actors, filmmakers, and DJs, healers, meditation teachers, writers, philosophers, and comedians. The day-to-day creative goodness of this country. It sure isn’t our government leadership in Washington, who first denied anything was a problem, then bungled the testing, then told states to fend for themselves to source PPE, then, in a typical Orwellian twist, congratulated themselves that everything was going well.

So we’re actually turning to the arts to help raise awareness and support the wider community, which is what we do best, right? Artists are conduits. We are conduits to help humanity understand itself, we are mirrors to reflect reality. So the arts are very relevant. We are bringing people together on the vast Noosphere of the internet, through the conduit of creativity, and together we are making sense of this mess we have made.

We call forth the light from the darkness through the simple act of singing from a balcony, which connects us to our shared humanity and hope. The arts is the alchemy that turns pain and fear into healing and community; we are turning lead into gold. So I take great comfort and pride in us. Even though some people would like to say, on the surface of things, that the arts are irrelevant and non-essential, it’s actually the part of humanity that feels the most essential to ease my soul’s pain.

This creative revelation is all part of the huge paradigm shift in consciousness that is happening in this Noosphere, that Teilhard de Chardin spoke of: When people were forced to go inwards, we became more connected, more informed, we yearned for each other, for the culture we created, for the Nature we took for granted. Through this crisis , we paid attention, and we began to wake up. We valued things differently, we saw what is broken (nature, healthcare, propaganda, unchecked capitalism, leadership) and we understood what is truly important.

Photo via Kate Raudenbush

In observing all this shift in awareness, I’m going to muse aloud and share one of my strange creative observations about the synchronistic and symbolic narrative that sprang from the etymology and definition of the word corona. The word “corona” is 16th century Latin which means “crown.” This is microscopically what the coronavirus looks like: a sphere of spiky crowns. The corona is also the name for the outer part of our sun. It looks like a halo of light energy that is only visible in the darkness, in a total solar eclipse. The Crown is also the name for the 7th Chakra in the human energetic body. It is the Chakra that is on the top of your head, and opens your conscious awareness to Spirit, and it connects you to the larger universal consciousness. This corona narrative is just too synchronistically bizarre and poetic not to share: a trinity of the meanings of corona intersect, as this crown covered virus impels our humanity indoors, away from the sun, plunged in darkness and fear…yet it connects all of us in a conscious awakening of our shared humanity.This is a huge evolutionary test for humanity, to see how we can better rebuild sustainable, more just, more empowering systems of being. We are living in a time of evolve or die. We cannot go back to sleep.

Wow, that’s really powerful.
I’m heartbroken that Burning Man was cancelled. I almost cried. How about you? It’s a sense of disbelief that there will be a break in the ritual….

But also of opportunity! I think people are excited to see what comes of it, what kinds of creativity comes forth, and all the things that we haven’t even anticipated yet! It’s also time to put our money where our mouth is when we talk about this vast global network, you know? So that’s exciting, too.
Yes. It’s kind of like the crisis is pushing us all to evolve in place, to grow in place, where our seeds are scattered.

I love that: “Grow in place.” How can people help artists like yourself at this time?
Commission an artwork. Add our art to your personal art collection. I mean, we spent a lot of time looking at the four walls of our rooms these days…Wouldn’t it be great to have beauty on those walls? The Australian Aboriginal painting behind me in this call gives me a lot of joy to look at. It’s kind of funny, I have this voyeuristic fascination to see people’s surroundings — it’s like MTV Cribs, Zoom Edition. I mean, sure, people make groovy fake backgrounds to hide their spaces…But when it’s really their own space, sometimes I think, ‘Damn, people! You need some creative help! Commission me to make you a wall sculpture or something!’

“Protector” a recent laser-cut steel and labradorite wall sculpture series Raudenbush calls “Glyphs”

Ha! Excellent point. Well, what advice would you give to people who want to start making their own art? What are the ways that those of us who’ve not thought of ourselves as that creative can start to flex our creative muscles?
That’s a great question. I think the way that I started, I started with materials that I loved. Let’s work with this thing, play with different materials, and cut it up and see what it does, and what it does with light. Just play like a kid, get back to your roots, and don’t be worried about any sort of perfection or end results. Also, maybe it’s worth mentioning: Work with your hands; do not allow a computer to mitigate your creative experience. I had this fun habit of mine when I was a kid, where I used to play with imaginary scales. (This exercise actually served me well when I eventually made really large things at Burning Man.) I started looking at the micro worlds around me, and imagining them as a macro world.

Here’s a good example: This is a votive candle holder made of iridescent stained glass. I look at it and think, ‘What if this were 20 feet tall? What would it be like to live inside this thing?’ I literally did this all the time with everything around me, seeing everyday objects and plants as a maquette for something much, much larger. What if this was your whole world? That is a really great place to start at any age, playing with scale and playing with the possibility of making a large-scale sculpture or building, like an architect.

Here’s an alternative approach to making art: Meditate on a concept, issue or feeling, first. Make sure you actually care about it, that you can resonate with it. Ask yourself why it’s important to you. Think about the philosophical understanding of it; its symbols, history, ethics, the way it feels. Create from that place. Approach it as a dialogue with an idea, as a call and response prayer. Art can be a conduit for that prayer.

🤘From inside her Brooklyn, NY, studio. Photo by Mia Quagliarello

What kinds of things, common things, that people may have around the house are good to play with in terms of making art?
Cardboard, fabric, wire hangers, mirrors, all the empty cans of food that you have lying around. Cut them with metal shears and make structures out of that. Paper towel rolls…I mean: imagine those things 10 feet tall, like a full forest of them. What if they’re all cut and filled with light?

Right now people are packing the hardware stores, making projects at home, gardening, fixing things. We want to create the world around us. We want to improve our world around us. That’s in our human nature.

And so when people say, ‘Oh, the creative world is not necessary,’ I’m like, what the hell are you guys all doing right now? You’re going to Home Depot and making stuff! That’s what everyone’s doing right now. So, yes, creativity is absolutely essential and is actually one of the natural inclinations of our species.

Have you started to see your own apartment in a different light? Could you see why creating a personal space that resonates with who you are is important? Can you see why beauty is important to surround yourself with? It elevates your energy, it gives joy, it feels welcoming and grounding. It tells the story of who you are and what you value. At best, people are having time now to observe their world, and see it with an artist’s eye. I think that is wonderful.

Photo courtesy Kate Raudenbush

Burning Man is a global cultural movement rooted in the 10 Principles, with a vibrant network of events and communities in 37 countries around the world. Burning Man is actively influencing art, design, civic engagement, placemaking, and business, and Burning Man Project is the nonprofit organization that supports that ecosystem. Get the latest news from Burning Man Project in the Burning Man Journal, follow us on your social network of choice, and sign up for our email newsletter, The Jackrabbit Speaks.

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