SARAH WALKO (The RAVEN): How do you usually start your day? Do you like routine?
CHRISTINE HOWARD SANDOVAL: My routine has changed dramatically in the last 3 month after becoming a new mother! It used to involve a large travel mug of Outpost coffee, emails, and then going to the studio. Now it is completely determined by this little creature that I made. It has always been important to have a quiet morning ritual, which included time to read something while drinking coffee to wake up my brain before going out into the world. I haven’t been out much these winter days, but I still drink a travel mug of Outpost coffee, read the Guardian, and go through email during the early morning nap. I am working on trying to carve out 25 minutes where I work out a drawing or a collage or a piece of writing to completion as a daily practice- As of today, week 13 of motherhood, it hasn’t happened yet.
SW: Do you listen to music or anything while you work? If so – what music?
CHS: I use music in the studio after phases of problem solving, when I am executing technical gestures. Music helps me transition out of an internal state into energetic activity, into the rhythm of making.
I tend to get obsessed with certain albums, not bound by any particular genre. Sometimes it’s the Kronos Quartet over and over, or the David Byrne/ St. Vincent collaboration… Radio Head, traditional Afghan tribal recordings, Nina Simone, Klezmer, Arif Sag… my husband is a musician and avid collector of music and I have been extremely lucky to be exposed to his eclectic collection. He plays records for me when we are home in the evenings not without comment about the production or the historical significance.
SW: Is there any geographical place that you had an experience that served as a threshold or break through moment in the evolution of your practice?
CHS:Yes, The high desert of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, one hour north of New Mexico, above the Huerfano (Orphan) Valley. We have made the road trip from Brooklyn to Southern Colorado every year for over 14 years. That expanse of sage brush, chamisa, and abandoned coal mines changed my practice, it changed my life. I made my first outdoor installation there at one of the many abandoned coal mines off HWY 69. The piece involved a series of “A” frame filters installed in the landscape in a “V” formation, adjacent the large mounds of deep red coke beds and black coal remnant that dot the landscape on our way home. I collected bag after bag of this material by hand, transported it to the site of my self-appointed installation (the piece was executed guerilla style) and began filtering the spent material through increasingly fine mesh materials. I was thinking of Smithson’s writing, his romantic theory of entropy and disbelief in the rehabilitation of land. Does rehabilitation necessarily mean going in reverse? The gesture I was making, which was really a performance, although I didn’t see it that way at the time, was my way of grappling with the contemporary realities of an over processed landscape that was on the brink of yet another big oil scheme to get more fuel. Fracking was just becoming an issue for the valley as landowners were discovering a new competitor for their water rights, Shell Oil. The execution of the piece also happened to coincide with the 94th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre, the historic murder of coal mine workers and their families by Colorado’s National Guard. I attended the ceremony, which featured George McGovern as guest speaker, and some how ended up on the front page of the local newspaper sitting on the memorial statue listening to a bleak rendition of Woody Guthrie’s folk song about the event. George McGovern wrote his college thesis paper on the event, so he was invited by the miner’s union to speak on the history.
I felt like the published picture of me at this historical event some how inserted me into the history of the place, and the idea of site based art practice opened up as a possibility… not without a lot of struggle to figure out what site based art actually meant to me. I’m still trying to figure it out.
SW: Are any of your pieces self portraits?
CHS: The piece at the coal mine was the closest thing I’ve made to a self portrait, although I have included my body in much of my work since. The piece is titled “Separation By Extraction: The Gordon Coal Mines”, 2008.
SW: What is one current project you are working on we can look for coming up?
CHS: All of my work is about water at the moment. I have a show coming up at the Cafritz Art Center at Montgomery College with artist Leah Raintree. The space is over 1,000 sqft, which will allow us each to actually show full projects. I will be showing new work that is still in process. The project is centered around the technique of water dowsing, an antiquated form of locating underground resources. Water dowsers are still active today, and in Colorado are employed regularly to locate private and industrial wells. The project will include a series of cast yellow stone sculpture, forensic plaster used in the field to cast topographic details. I am using the material to cast fragments of water pipes and other pieces of water infrastructure buried in the ground. The cast pieces capture the surface of landscape bisected by pipeline, the way much of the North American landscape looks just below the surface. I am still working out the installation and planning a trip out west to cast more pieces this summer before the show. The project also includes a two -channel video narrated by a monologue I perform that addresses urban anxieties concerning water. I interviewed a hydrologist who lives here in Brooklyn and constructed a monologue from the transcribed conversation. The installation in Maryland will also in include photographs and a series of water dowsing tongs I have been making out of different metals.
SW: Do you consider yourself an environmental artist or activist?
CHS: Yes, I consider myself an environmental activist.I am currently working with City as Living Laboratory (CaLL), a non-profit established by artist Mary Miss in 2008. We are a tiny organization with widespread partnerships within the scientific, design, and academic fields. The organization focuses on creating public dialogues between artists and scientists to address issues of urban sustainability. This work is more directly one of activism than my own art practice. I don’t think my work has any direct effect on the politics of ecological sustainability or climate change, so I wouldn’t deem it “activist”. Rather, my work addresses these issues through a personal lens to try to make palpable the very large fact of climate change. I am interested in how individuals are adapting to quick changes in their environment and what that means for our collective vision of the future.
SW: What is your relationship with finding solutions in your work?
CHS: Making artwork is all about problem solving for me. The projects I make are always mixed-media and much of the problem solving involves just figuring out what the right materials are. Most of my process involves experimentation in the studio and out in the landscape before I can begin to edit the variables and decide what makes sense. I’m never sure if I figured out the right solution until I can see the work installed in a public space, outside my studio. The “right” solution is determined by the audience. Are they attracted to the work, and then are they able to access and engage? Each exhibition reveals the possibility of new solutions for future work.
SW: Are you sea or land? day or night?
CHS: I am definitely land and day.
SW: Name one living artist you’d love to have a drink with? One dead one?
CHS: One living artist I would love to have a drink with is Mel Bochner. I proposed a project to Sculpture Center that was in conversation with his work, hoping that if I was able to make the work I could invite Mel. His work is at once a huge mystery to me and at the same time completely surface oriented. He is also a great writer and art reviewer.
One dead artist is Hilma af Klint, a spiritualist painter from the turn of the 19th century who made most of her paintings and drawings in a kind of trance. She was formally educated in painting and then worked in obscurity for the remainder of her life because she knew that the work would not be understood in her own historical moment. I would actually like to share a glass of wine with her after making drawings under the spell of a group séance. Early on, her and a group of female artists formed a group called The Friday Group. They got together on Fridays and held séances and made drawings together.
SW: What kind of bird are you?
CHS: I have a very limited knowledge of ornithology, but I love the Red Robbins that live in my backyard. I would like to fly with them if I had the chance.