Meeting the Clouds Halfway at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson presents this new series of objects, which use materials and rituals born from the Sonoran Desert, a region rich in both ancestral wisdom and visionary thinking.
Coiling is the core of the collaboration between Tohono O’odham fiber artist Terrol Dew Johnson and New York and Tucson-based architects ArandaLasch. What began as a conversation about the similarities between traditional Native American craft and cutting-edge design became a decade-long exchange that reimagines an ancient material practice within the needs of a contemporary world. The result of their dialogue is a range of constructions, from baskets to architecture, which suggests cross-cultural sharing as a means of reckoning, manifesting a shared truth that inspires reflection and action.
For many generations, the Tohono O’odham have coiled baskets out of desert fibers not only for domestic use but also as a ceremonial meditation that unites art with life. The act of coiling creates form through an intuitive geometric system and iterative movements, building on a set of principles that can be manipulated to create new compositions.
A gifted weaver from a young age, Johnson has achieved national acclaim for pioneering abstract constructions that transcend familiar forms and materials in a way that invites reflection on a long-established practice. Johnson’s intention to champion novel approaches to cultural traditions informs every aspect of his life, and ultimately led him to found Tohono O’odham Community action, an organization that advocates for a healthy and vital tribal community. His work has won numerous awards and resides in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Heard Museum.
With ArandaLasch, Johnson’s inventive baskets have adopted a computational approach, where pattern and repetition create variations in structure and scale. ArandaLasch established their reputation with the 2006 publication of Pamphlet Architecture: Tooling illustrating how phenomena in nature, like weaving, flocking, and cracking, can generate architectural procedures. 2006 Tooling defined a way to use computer code to not only facilitate the design process but also as a conceptual engine in its own rite. Their work has since been informed by collaborative making, translating abstract geometries into tactile forms through handcraft, performative construction, and partnerships with artists such as Matthew Ritchie, Casey Reas and fashion designer Silvia Fendi. The first series of baskets with Johnson was shown in 2007 at Artists Space in New York, which led to the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquiring several works from the exhibition for their permanent collection.
Meeting the Clouds Halfway evolves Johnson and ArandaLasch’s new series of collaborative coil baskets into furniture, and prototypical architectural structures like a desert shelter, seed bank, Olas Kki Dome and band shell. Together they produce a landscape of desert expressions shaped by bear grass, wood, copper, minerals and Ferrock, a new green building material created by transforming industrial waste into a high-performance ceramic. Through these juxtapositions of materials, strategies and histories, it becomes apparent that Johnson and ArandaLasch use the process of making as a means of understanding each other. Every fiber, each weft of their baskets embodies a discussion about living in the desert and the pursuit of finding a common ground.
Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, Curator
Meeting the Clouds Halfway
by ArandaLasch & Terrol Dew Johnson
The Museum of Contemporary Arts Tucson
October 29th, 2016 – January 29th, 2017
Curated by Alexandra Cunnigham Cameron
Design and Production credit:
Benjamin Aranda, Joaquin Bonifaz, Andrew Cook, Trevor Cordivari, Terrol Dew Johnson, Chris Lasch, Nathan Meyers, Roger Barrett Miesfeld, Harrison Preston, Sheehan Wachter, John Welcher, Alice Wilsey
Meeting the Clouds Halfway is generously supported by
The Museum of Contemporary Arts Tucson
Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts
The University of Arizona, CAPLA
Tohono O’odham Community College