ISCxJSP Resident Sherwin Rio | TESTING THE WATERS

On the Kentucky River.

I: Buoyancy

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I found myself face-up, staring at the bright, filtered sun. It pushed through a blanket of blue-grey that softly threatened to sprinkle down on me as muffled voices of wayward frequencies waded softly around my submerged ears. I was floating on my back in the middle of the olive-green Kentucky River, surrounded by splashing kids and big kids (adults) and soaring buzzards above.  Floating— I was glad to be floating.

The past few weeks during my International Sculpture Center (ISC) Residency at the Josephine Sculpture Park (JSP) have been busy and fruitful. Two and a haIf weeks ago I came here without a plan, not knowing what or how I was going to build. I spent the days reading, visiting, walking, contemplating, responding.

I filled a sketchbook with ideas and notes, plunged into a second one, and tested the water on a few materials. I bounced ideas to the artist-interns, the artist-staff, and folks I met at various events in the community. I stayed up at night, drafting working statements for hypothetical artworks. I woke up before the sun and anchored myself at a big bulky metal orange table, immersed in ideas on yellow paper. As the weeks passed I felt the sinking, doubtful question: I’m circling— will I ever finish this thing?

But for now I’ve found buoyancy.

JSP Director Mel Van Houten and JSP Interns Jackie, Josh, Taylor, and Alex sharing with each other about their works and practices.

II: Unknown

In the Kentucky River, I slowly waded through the body-sized pockets of cold and warm water. These surprising oscillations between hugs and wake-up calls kept my mind below the surface. Nat curtly yelped that something was nipping at his skin. Mel and Beverly stayed in deep blue floaties because they “didn’t know what’s down there.” What else was down there? The unknown was exciting.

The past few weeks, I’ve been enjoying the unexpected nature of each day. I have no set schedule so I usually go wherever the days lead me. One day I’ll be at a metal shop in Lawrenceburg, another at a remote brewery nestled between nature trails and cow pastures to see new friends sing on a stage, and another on the highway to scope out free material. One day I’ll be at a Lexington Legends baseball game tabling for JSP’s big Fall Arts Festival, another I’ll be behind the news camera talking to an anchor about my Residency, and another day I’ll be floating down the river. One day the JSP interns, the director, and I will gather around a computer screen and two boxes of pizza to share our work with each other for 4 hours. One day, I’ll be shaking hands with a mural artist coming to touch up a piece at the Park.

This pace of surprising unknown is comforting.

Sherwin Rio and Josh Trombley scoping out free limestone.

III: Gathering

In the River, we talked and let the water cool our bodies. Meanwhile, my hands gathered items— river boats pulled for me from the bank, floating flowers, tumbling leaves that rode the surface. I held my breath and propelled to the river floor, retrieving a rock and a piece of wood that felt like a smooth bone. I had the idea that feeling the ecology with my hands would help me understand more about the river, this place, and somehow about the work to come.

I’m no outdoor sculptor—all of my previous work has been designed for indoor purposes— so material feeling-out has taken many forms over the past few weeks. I’ve spent a lot of time collecting materials on-site. I’ve rearranged clanky piles of rusty metal, felt the crumbling fibers of half-a-century-old tobacco stalks, ran my hands across huge golf-cart-sized rocks unearthed from the soil, and kicked up a cloud of sawdust as I sifted through the wood rack. I’ve frequented the nearby Walmart and Lowes scanning the aisles for additional materials and ideas. I’ve shaped tarpaulin with rope. I’ve mocked up assemblages with old farm tools. I’ve bear-hugged limestone blocks just to be able to pick them up against the downward pull of gravity.

But I’ve now come up with a concept and form that I like and I’ve begun to gather materials for that building stage. This work culls together Frankfort’s material industry, its current community dialogue surrounding racial equity, and imagining a more dignified, reciprocative future through acknowledging collective action using a Filipino-American metaphor of community spirit.

JSP in the Kentucky River

To learn more about the work I’m beginning to make, its conceptual underpinnings, and the events to come, read my last blog post at the end of my Residency on September 16th. Also learn more about the Josephine Sculpture Park here, JSP’s Fall Arts Festival on September 8th as written about by the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education here, and my previous work here. Follow me in Instagram to see the day-by-day action here.

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