In anticipation and celebration of the Barrier2Bridge Conference and Festival, the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the San Luis Corporation for the Arts and Humanities partnered with San Luis High School to develop and deliver artist in residence projects that explored the themes of the conference. Photographer Josh Schachter worked with Visual Arts teachers, Lorenia Guiterrez-Casaus, Manuel Buchanan and Jean Davidson to engage students in an exploration of photography and painting. Dancer and literary artist Kimi Eisele partnered with dance teacher Megan Hoggarth to develop a movement-based project.
Over the course of these short, five-day residencies, teachers and artists worked with students to explore the festival themes of identity and culture in the San Luis Arizona/Rio Colorado area, culminating in a student artwork exhibition and performance held in conjunction with the Barrier2Bridge Festival. The following posts from the artists involved in the project illuminate the process and share samples of the student work.
by Josh Schachter
In November and December, Mrs. Casaus and I planned and brainstormed curriculum ideas together. We decided that it would be exciting for the students to make photographs of their lives and communities and then create paintings based on the imagery in their photographs.
Over the winter break the students were given disposable cameras and an assignment to document what they liked and wanted to change about their communities. On January 16, I traveled to San Luis High School and shared examples of my work and discussed different aspects of photography – composition, perspective, placement, proximity, design, light, irony, etc. The following day 44 students from the three classes as well as 6 students from Mr. Escalante’s ceramics class took a bus to downtown Yuma and the Colorado River. The students were given a list of themes (such as barriers, hope, Yuma’s past, my culture, hidden treasures, etc.) to select from and on the field trip they photographed those themes however they wanted to. On the third and fourth day of the residency the students downloaded and selected their favorite images. Out of their favorite images, the students selected one photograph that they would use as inspiration for a painting. Over a two-week period the students created their paintings and the ceramics students incorporated the imagery in their photographs into ceramic pieces.
The artwork presented in Double Exposure offers us a window into their unique perspectives and communities as well as a mirror to reflect upon our own lives. In many cases they have turned “ordinary” features in our landscape – a row of lettuce or a rusty bench – into the extraordinary. The students opened our eyes, minds and hearts, and we hope their work will inspire you to explore and share your own visual stories.
by Kimi Eisele
“Where can you dance?” I asked a room full of 25 high school dancers, all but one of them girls.
“In the studio,” one said.
“On a stage,” said another.
“In the school hallway?”
“Yes, in the school hallway,” I said.
“You can also dance on the sidewalk, on the streets. You could even dance in the fields!”
The “fields” were on my mind because I’d just driven past them: row upon row of lettuce and chard flanking either side of highway 70 from Yuma south to San Luis, Arizona where I would spend the week with the San Luis High School dance program.
Eighty percent of our country’s winter lettuce is grown in Yuma county. The fields, their workers, the repainted school busses (to transport the workers) with their trailing porta-potties, and the 35-kilometer border fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico along its anomalous north-south border here, are a mainstay of the local landscape.
As soon as I said “fields,” the dance teacher, Megan Hoggarth, a dedicated and energetic young educator, looked at me and smiled. “Actually, we might be able to do that.” The seed had been planted.
Prior to my arrival, Ms. Hoggarth and I decided to focus the residency on the theme of food. Several years ago I conducted a larger dance project about food and the food system and found the material to be rich and provocative for movement and storytelling with the body.
We spent the week exploring basic modern dance and choreographic concepts—shapes, negative space, weight sharing, partnering, eye contact, phrase building. We also investigated where movement ideas come from—emotions, other dancers, objects, places.
As the week progressed, we created movement that came out of conversations about our experiences and relationships with food—How does food comfort you? What do you most like to eat? What are some of your favorite food memories? What kind of food production happens in this region? What would it be like to work in the lettuce fields?
Through this exploration, we created movement and built a dance addressing life in the fields for 18 dancers to perform in the San Luis Cultural Center as part of the Barrier2Bridge symposium.
Meanwhile, Ms. Hoggarth made phone calls, pulled strings, and made the unusual request.
By week’s end, we had a field.
Only four students could make it for the after-school outing: 15 miles north from San Luis near the town of Somerton, Arizona.
The field was uneven and slightly muddy. We had no electricity to power a boom box. But the chard was thick and green, and the sky was clearing. Most importantly, we had an audience. A crew of a dozen or so workers cut and boxed the chard, their movements a repetitive and rhythmic dance. We asked if they could take a small break.
The girls danced a segment of the larger dance at the edge of the field. The workers kept time by clapping.
The movement—rhythmic and repetitive— was interesting and honoring. The girls laughed when it was over. The workers clapped and listened to the girls’ explanations.
It was a magical moment: the intersection of learning and life and art in a lettuce field. And I’m pretty sure none of us—worker, student, teacher, or artist—will ever forget it.