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A Second Year of SANDBOX Promises an Exciting Mix of Artists, Nature and Science
Darrow Montgomery/Washington City Paper
CHESTERTOWN, MD—When it launched in spring of 2013, the SANDBOX initiative at Washington College promised to bring artists and scientists together to create works and experiences focused on the environment. In its second full year, the initiative continues to deliver on that promise with an exciting array of guest artists and special events. In addition to working with four noted artists named as the 2014/15 SANDBOX Distinguished Visitors, the initiative will host a workshop and art installation by last year’s visiting artist, John Ruppert, an evening of museum-quality art videos from an acclaimed private collection, and at least one experimental “Sandstorm” event led by faculty members.
“We learned a great deal in our first year about just how exciting this program can be,” says Alex Castro, the artist and architect who is director of SANDBOX. “It was very much an experimental year, just the sort of experiment that SANDBOX is all about. The initiative is all about energy and intellectual vitality, it is about the unexpected connections that happen when you bring different points of view, different disciplines, together. We are ready for more electricity.”
This year’s Distinguished Visitors are led by architect and visual artist Ronit Eisenbach, and also include choreographer Cassie Meador, composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, and scientist/artist Jeni Wightman. Ronit Eisenbach teaches architecture and is Kibel Gallery Curator at the University of Maryland. She has curated exhibitions and created installations for diverse venues around the world, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, Princeton University, and the streets of Tel Aviv. Choreographer, performer and educator Cassie Meador is the artistic director of Dance Exchange, an intergenerational modern-dance company based in Takoma Park. Both the Exchange and Meador are dedicated to taking contemporary dance into communities and using movement to explore issues of place and identity.
Composer Aleksandra Vrebalov teaches at the City University of New York, City College and is a guest professor in the doctoral program at Novi Sad University in her native Serbia. She has created commissioned works for clients that include Carnegie Hall, Kronos Quartet, and the Dusan Tynek Dance Theater. The fourth SANDBOX Distinguished Visitor, conceptual artist Jeni Wightman, is also an environmental scientist and a consultant on carbon and greenhouse gas issues. She holds degrees in cell biology from Carnegie Mellon and a master’s in environmental toxicology and cancer cell biology from Cornell, where she spent three years investigating agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gases. An example of the way she merges art and science are her “mud paintings,” frames filled with mud and water samples whose microbes continually metabolize their environment and photosynthesize into ever-changing pigments.
For SANDBOX, the foursome of creative women expects to explore the area, work with students, discuss their art, and create an interdisciplinary public art installation along the Chester River waterfront that integrates dance, temporary architectural elements, and sound.
The SANDBOX initiative also welcomes back two artists who were integral to its first year: Sculptor John Ruppert and visionary environmental artist and scientist Natalie Jeremijenko. Ruppert, the inaugural SANDBOX Visiting Artist, will complete a work of lasting public art that he began conceiving last spring. And on November 8, he will conduct his second “phragmites workshop,” showing practical and artistic uses for the invasive plant.
Natalie Jeremijenko, founder and director of the xDesign Environmental Health Clinic at New York University, lectured and hosted workshops while in Chestertown last spring. She has since been named a SANDBOX Associate and plans to return to Washington College to collaborate on projects at Chino Farms, home to the College-run Chester River Field Research Station and Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory. A primary goal will be to establish a system for turning organic waste into bio-char, a form of charcoal that can dramatically enrich soil for gardening and farming.
Castro sees the return of Ruppert and Jeremijenko as establishing continuity within the SANDBOX program and an opportunity to further develop its relationship with the College’s Center for Environment and Society. “Working with John and Natalie has been very exciting for us, always surprising in different ways,” he says. “We are terribly fortunate to have them continuing to work intermittently.”
Among the special public events on the SANDBOX calendar is an October 14 screening of museum-quality art videos from the collection of SANDBOX Advisory board member Tom Stoner and his wife, Kitty Stoner. The video shorts will be shared beginning at 5 p.m. in Decker Theatre, with the Stoners on hand to introduce and discuss them.
In the new year, Washington College faculty members will partner to create at least one “Sandstorm,” a smaller experimental event that brings together talents from seemingly disparate disciplines. Laura J. Eckleman, who teaches lighting design in the drama department, and Heather M. Russell, who teaches mathematics, will create a “conversation piece” they call Math + Light Sandstorm. The project is scheduled for installation in the Gibson Center for the Arts in late January 2015. “Viewers will have the opportunity to visualize and interact with mathematics in a new way, discovering pattern, rhythm, and perhaps even beauty,” the two wrote in their proposal. “And they will experience light in a new way—as a controllable phenomenon with distinct and discrete mathematical properties.”
“As SANDBOX matures and surprises us with its many possibilities, we feel fortunate to have not only the backing of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, but also the attention of such a widespread and enthusiastic following of students, faculty, and townsfolk,” says Castro. “We owe them all a program full of educational possibilities and challenging horizons. We think this year will even more exciting and unpredictable than last.”