A heartbeat, heard from a distance

Maggie Carson Romano’s Essay in response to Chantal Anderson’s exhibit ‘Rivers’

Images by Chantal Anderson

From the entryway of Vignettes, I was met with sounds of rushing water and far off, a distant drumming, which as I entered the room, revealed itself as a heartbeat, collapsing the space I had begun to imagine. We know, inherently, that a heartbeat is never heard from a distance. The sound then shifted back to the rushing of water as my eyes focused on the light source in the room, a video projection of an almost kaleidoscopic, shifting gaze of rushing water. The frame rested my view up river and framed it with channels of water flowing backward at its edges, the perspective occasionally shifting me closer to the water. The heartbeat returned.

This was where Chantal Anderson had unfolded her record of the conflict at Standing Rock on the walls and windows of Vignettes. I had arrived with only a surface, faceless understanding of the protest, that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was protecting the cleanliness & sacredness of the river from being threatened by a new route of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In the room adjacent to the video, I was given faces. Black and white film photographs lined the walls depicting the perilous landscape of Standing Rock. I found myself meeting eyes with a woman as she braided her hair. I paused with a family on their way to fill a water jug. I observed broken reeds rising above moving water. I found myself transported without having trespassed into this sacred space. Here, Chantal informed me through the gaze of her subjects with careful intention. Her photographs spoke of their trust and permission for me know their stories. I was not a voyeur, instead, the figures in the images arrested me while they conveyed their purpose through the details of their surroundings.

The scenes before me described a truthful nativity that clears notions of the historically reduced, distanced, simplified Native American by situating them within a destabilized norm, one that looks far different than my reality and yet, provides compelling moments of cultural overlap, that once noticed cannot be ignored. The hood of a mustang appears in the edge of one frame, the silhouette of a port-a-potty looms on the horizon in another, placing the figures in the foreground here, not in some far off land but here in our shared world.

I felt a current of potent sacredness running through her photographs – presenting the rare value of physical purity in an emerging post-truth era that disregards historical promises. This work reminded me that when the core values held by one people is disregarded by another, profanity threatens the roots of our shared humanity, the strength of a foundation and a promise of a shared future. The protest at Standing Rock has been a request for the preservation of human, environmental, religious and historical rights — all stemming from the sacredness of water. Chantal’s aim was to illuminate this by reminding us of its universal value, allowing the river to play it’s many roles throughout the show.

This protest can be seen as the dawn of an awakening. As our nation rediscovers the value of protest, we must sharpen our tongues not only to be heard, but to fill the space created by ignorance with empathy and education. Empathy cannot be reached without first finding understanding. It is not enough to gather, truth must be used to collapse space. Chantal’s work brought each of these elements together, drawing connections that allow their purpose and struggle to become ours, connecting us with the strength of a natural emotional force.

As I left the show, I paused to observe the looping projection of the river, as it shone out into the night from a window above. I saw it as a marquee announcing the presence of a movement maintaining force – slow, constant, and powerful. The sound of the river was still in my ears as I walked up the hill, and then, also, a heartbeat.

Rumi Koshino | Red and Blue

Essay by Colter Jacobsen | Photographs by Maggie Carson Romano

Drawing and painting can be a very intimate thing. I found myself thinking this at a recent music show where the artist Rumi Koshino was projecting a collaborative video accompanying live music. A video camera had been set up to record in real-time Rumi’s  watercolor composition while she painted slowly and deliberately. The live-feed was projected behind the musicians onto an accordion-like backdrop reminiscent of a Japanese screen.

There was something absolutely hypnotic about watching one color run into another. A red brush stroke slides across the paper, meeting a blue brush stroke. The two rivers  collide in cataclysmic purple. It’s a gesture made by an artist but nature takes over in the wake. The surface of paper becomes a floodplain where the edges of least resistance burst into expanding rivulets.

I noticed that Rumi seemed unconcerned with the final outcome of the image: she used liberal amounts of water. Her marks felt close to music, a present-tense gesture/mark of the moment. I read into the two colliding colors as human relationships. I fell in love with a brush mark that was suddenly obliterated by a grey pool…jolted by the fleeting moment of it.

How quickly we, as viewers, read into the marks and movement. Every mark is a decision, every nuance is connected to a brain synapse. And it’s this exchange, from the artist’s synapse onto a picture-plain to our receiving synapse, which is so mysterious. What is it about our human nature that projects narrative and emotions from simple colors, shapes and lines? I am reminded of the poet Philip Whalen describing his own poetry as “a picture or a graph of a mind moving, which is a world body being here and now which is history…and you.” The dual projections of sending forth and receiving go back even earlier than shadows bouncing on Plato’s cave.

The word project comes from the Latin, projectum from the Latin verb proicere “before an action” while projection (mid 16th century) has the same Latin root as project, yet it’s meaning is to “throw forth.”

I think of the tapa cloth drawings by women of the Maisin tribe of Papua New Guinea. They don’t have a word for art, per se. The closest word they have is Saraman, meaning “think & do.”

Rumi recently completed a project that consisted of making one drawing per day for 100 consecutive days. In a Facebook post, she stated, “I started my first 100-day (sculpture) project on this day, February 18th, 2015, prompted by Debra Baxter. Somehow, it feels perfect to finish my second 100-day (drawing) project on the same day, a year later, completing a circle.”

From such an approach, certain qualities tend to come to the forefront: looseness, lightness, quickness (see the first essay in Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for a Next Millennium). A daily practice also keeps your chops up.

Rumi has lived in San Francisco for about two years. She moved from having a large live-work space all to herself in Seattle to a flat in San Francisco with three roommates. She has a small room and one closet. All this to say that she has substantially downsized. There is a new economy to her drawings. The word economy comes from the Greek, meaning “household management.” Can this system of daily drawing be a way to keep order in her household, and for her general mental stability? Even with such a small amount of space, her room still feels sparse. Only a few of her 100 drawings are displayed at one time. All of her “sculptures,” most of which were collapsible and made of paper, are tucked away somewhere.

Through the 20-something years that I’ve know Rumi, I’ve seen her work morph into all kinds of different sizes, shapes and themes. But even small, the scale can feel gigantic.

I remember the earliest works I saw of Rumi’s depicted very basic things: toes of a foot, a light switch, a house or I should say a home. Dwelling on the theme of home certainly made a lot of sense seeing that she had just left Japan to study in the U.S.

One particular painting I recall was a line of various colors in the shape of a rectangle that ran along the border of a rectangular white canvas. She said the line represented a road trip she had taken and each color represented a part of the trip. This road trip still lingers in my mind as a wonderful alternative to mapping time and space. I see it again in several of her 100 drawings.

Later came ladders and then bridges, many bridges, broken bridges, bridges that led from nowhere to nowhere, emerging out of an ocean, taking the viewer from one area of water to another area of water. The bridges of two cultures seemed the obvious metaphor though the more she built them, the more I think they actually were about the bridges of relationships, the bridges between any two people, no matter their culture, trying to communicate with each other.

The bridges eventually disappeared as if completely consumed by the ocean. And only the marks of water remained, vast oceans of marks. For her final show in Seattle she invited friends over to cut out envelopes from a very large-scale drawing of an ocean surface. The envelope, as an abstract bridge of distance, from a here to a there, is also a gesture of giving that, in turn, implies a return.

She can effortlessly alternate between abstraction and representation, the two often in dialogue with each other. This can also be said of her 2-dimensional work and her sculptural work. Both point back at each other. A drawing seems to play with being 3-D while a sculpture flirts with 2-Dimensions.

Since moving to the Bay, Rumi has been a little more light and playful. She tends to absorb her surroundings. Her skin membrane is porous. Patterns from her environs find their way into her drawings while strange interior, cellular-like shapes float in to disrupt the patterns. The ocean is still hanging out too, sometimes in the shape of drapes while clouds float through doors. And triangles continue to hint at envelopes, circles designate absence or eyes while pairs and symmetry are never too far off…

When I first met Rumi in a Color/Light/and Theory class, I remember looking at an art work with her. In the composition were two squares, one blue, the other red. We were casually talking about the piece when she pointed to the blue square and said “red.” It
was her first year in the States and I assumed that she was still acquiring her English skills. So I corrected her and said “blue.” She shook her head and again said “red.” About to repeat my blue, I took a look at her straight face. It finally eased into a smile and again, she said “red.” She was playing with me. Not only were her English skills advanced, but she was turning the world on its head.


Maggie Carson Romano // WELL
at Glass Box Gallery

January 9, 2016

The benefits of erasure / passing time’s starring role in the process of healing / forgetting / remembering / the ebb and flow of losses and gains when wellness is no longer effortless / the tenderness needed for extreme care.

Maggie Carson Romano | Of Light and Weight

Interview and Essay by Adam Boehmer
Photographs by Joel Kvernmo and Sierra Stinson



The earthquake was cream-colored and we felt buoyant in its heave. Maggie’s eyes met mine and the 5.0 held us breathless for a few seconds as her house felt made of driftwood, absorbing the force before settling back into its sparse charm. Full of peace and a sense of adventure, we immediately wanted it to return. Later on she would say, “Wasn’t that earthquake beautiful?”


Welcome to the world of the artist Maggie Carson Romano.


Last spring I visited her Culver City home and studio in Los Angeles for a week, hoping to observe first-hand her process of charging simple materials with concepts so well-honed the objects and installations become needed, missed, connected to the modern person’s sense of aesthetic and survival.
Simply put, her work is transformative: to the materials and to the viewer. An antique misery whip is rendered useless but gorgeous by being dipped upside down in the rubberized white material intended only for the tool’s handles. The missing leg of a seaside motel’s bedside table is healed with sand cast solid from just outside the motel room’s door.  Long-standing cracks of a neighborhood’s worn street are filled with 24k gold leaf.  Maggie’s work is both heavy and uplifting, and her intimate process often leads to a public shift of consciousness.


“Especially on windy days, it feels like a box kite,” Maggie says about her home and backyard studio, connected by a huge swath of almost-white concrete that has become an exposed part of her studio practice. “I’ve been exploring the strength and fragility of concrete,” she says, as she lays organic clippings from trees and flowers next to long, erratic fractures in the driveway, photographing them for studies. “The tossed-away fragments echo the cracks. I love when two opposite things echo and mimic each other, their differing states of growth and decay, but also their common fragility.”


Walking with Maggie in her neighborhood is an exercise in acute beauty. The tectonic plates of the sidewalk, the subtle shift of off-white tints of paint on nearby buildings, sunbeams over the old industry of Culver City all become impetus for aesthetic discussion, or simply just appreciation.


What is inspiring you to create these days?


MCR: My days are currently filled with surfing and flower arranging, and while disparate in many ways, they are both solitary activities amidst two of natures most fascinating elements, and in opposite scales. The power of the ocean has cast a significant spell over me and occupies an enormous amount of my headspace. After surfing in the morning, whenever I close my eyes later in the day I see the swell of a wave building behind my eyelids, but never breaking.  
The work I am making now stems directly from consistent experiences of that infinite immensity. When I am not in the ocean I am working with flowers under the influence of their delicate and fragile beauty. In my floral studio I am constantly concerned with controlling the climate. The wrong temperature or humidity can be catastrophic to the work at hand. I powerlessly watched some beautiful lilacs perish in a heatwave in April and there was nothing to be done about it.
So the balance between control and a powerlessness is something that I wrestle with on a daily basis. Finding this paradoxical balance has been at the core of my studio practice since the beginning and is intrinsically tied to many themes present in my work. There is often times an element of meticulous control responding to an element of reckless chaos in my work, and at the center I usually find a sensitive subject hanging in delicate balance.
In the past, Maggie has also integrated technology into her work in surprising but calibrated ways, building responsive systems of decay in contained environments. In her piece, “What made the wound, wound the thread” a heavy rubber balloon breathes in and out from a helium tank, responding to the noises inside a gallery space by filling with both gas and saltwater, dripping the water onto a foundation of concrete, which frosts over time with crystalline salt.


Talk with me about your past use and current connection to technology:


MCR:  I grew up in a house full of gadgets and from a very young age have had a sense of wonder around the usefulness of new technology and how it can be applied outside of it’s intended purpose.  I have always been interested in how the tools we make mimic our own human design, sensors mimic our own responsiveness, cameras mimic our vision, etc.  Technology that allows us to explore and understand our world beyond our own human ability fascinates me. I allow technology into my work when it allows me to accomplish something I couldn’t do without it, and it’s inclusion must be both pragmatic and elegant.
Another facet is that I have always been intimidated by technology and it takes an enormous amount of willpower to circumvent what would otherwise be a crippling anxiety that I have surrounding complex systems. There have been years of my practice when I have abandoned technology altogether and resorted to solely working with physical materials, but it always returns.


Maggie is sitting on the stitched-together concrete planes of her driveway, half in sunlight, half in the shadow of her studio, delicately applying gold leaf down the central vein of a straw-colored tumbleweed. “This is such an intricate process, and this bush is so thorny!” We both laugh. She tells me this piece is about untethering, which is inherent in the essential archetype of the tumbleweed. She’s realized she’s been unanchoring her work incrementally since she graduated from University of Washington with her MFA and moved to New York City.


Untangling from past systems, allowing more poetic assessment of her pieces and process, Maggie is moving forward into a spaciousness and simplicity, echoed by her California environment, which involves an intense connection to nature, movement and the ocean.



What was your practice like in New York City? How has location and city affected/changed your work?


MCR: My studio in New York was an incredible sanctuary from the rest of my life in the city.  It was an hour commute from where I lived which included a mile of walking on each end of the route. I really had to earn my time there.  In the winter, the concrete floor was heated and I kept the space almost entirely empty. The ceilings were high with wood beams and the windows were big, and there was a loft. I spent a lot of time on that warm floor, a lot of time thinking and tinkering on a small scale to avoid filling the space with anything.
The luxury of space and privacy was unmatched, but the remoteness also meant it was difficult for me to obtain materials and get them to the studio so most of what I worked with I got from the hardware store on the corner.  I made a cat whisker radio, which I see now spoke to the isolation I felt out there. My work really pared down from complex systems to simple explorations of mundane fascinations.  As with anything though, it wasn’t perfect. It was above a kale chip factory and reeked sweetly of the stuff.  In the summer, little green flies would come in through the windows and eat me alive, but I loved being there.
Now I commute barefoot all of 5 yards from the back door of our house to the barn doors of my studio. But to be honest, my entire life here is my studio. The ocean is as much of a creative space as anything.  I do most of my brainstorming in the shower and in the car. Water, salt, wind, and sunlight are all elements that are returning to my work in new ways. Getting these things back gives them a new life in my work that is really positive and exciting.  At the same time, isolation has gone from a pure luxury to a constant. The bliss of working from home is often tempered with a persistent solitude.
Early in the morning after coffee, eggs and fresh oranges from her yard, we decide to explore Malibu. We drive and drive and Maggie leads me to a hidden beach. We climb up an arduous ravine where we must use our hands on the sides of the wind-sculpted walls to steady ourselves. At the top, we see our destination, a hidden cove, and after a serpentine downward hike, we find ourselves laid out next to the great blue Pacific, white water breaking across a stretch of marbled rock slick with dark green seaweed. Above the cavernous walls that protect this place, a few 10 million dollar homes sit like monuments. The sun is blinding and we quickly get hot enough to wade into the water.


You are a photographer as well, and work with light. How does this affect your more sculptural, object-based work?


MCR:  Almost all of my sculptural work has a reflective element to it so that I can capture the light within a space and pull it from context to enable it to become even more than it already is.  I am extremely sensitive to light so reflective material holds a certain fascination for me. At the onset of my migraines when I first begin to experience auras, my eyes will be caught by anything reflective. It can be anything from the head of a nail in the wall, or the sliver of a mirror almost out of view, or a gum wrapper. These little details are never something I would have otherwise noticed. You will often see mirrors, foil, gold leaf, pyrite, salt crystals, and glass employed as light sources within my sculptures to pull light out of context and make it tangible for others.
After a day of sun-worshipping, we return to Maggie’s home, a space alive with light and air: all-white walls that carry and hold the contents, including us, in an effortless way.
There is finesse in her life here, and a seamlessness between living and working.  She brings out two glasses of rose that I notice immediately are crystal because of their fragility, weight and tone. We cheers and hydrate and start to clean up for the night.  Los Angeles is quickly turning into it’s dusty-evening self, and later we will meet up with several other artists also living and working in the city. We’ll share stories of success, hardships, and the burgeoning LA creative community. The chilly desert air will pass over us like rudders out on the sidewalks of Los Feliz, each of us a working piece in the complex system of the city.


Maggie Carson Romano
featuring Adam Boehmer

September 10, 2013