Circus is Not Dead


waist-high dandelions at roadside, Montreal

Two weeks ago I was in Montreal connecting with Jeremie Robert, a super-talented acrobat and circus performer currently performing with Compagnie XY.

Jeremie and I met through his work with ArtCirq, an indigenous circus in Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada.

I have been applying for grants to travel to Nunavut for about two years now (still no luck) and would love to write about these performers in the Arctic. It’s super-expensive to get to the far north, though.


Image via ArtCirq

Climate change is occurring in the Arctic twice as fast as in the rest of the globe, with a predicted 5 to 7 degree Celsius temperature rise in the next century.

Igloolik is a community on the front-lines of climate change, and also a place deeply invested in the healing powers of performance art. I can’t imagine a better place to record stories.

What is circus, anyway?

I asked this question to a Compagnie XY acrobat at a barbecue a few nights before their first show.

“Almost anything can be circus in the right context,” she said, “and there are whole theoretical classes at circus school devoted to this exact question. Circus art is something that you have to train and study for years in order to perfect.”

(I’m familiar with this line of questioning, though I’m usually on the receiving end of it: What is Folklore & Mythology?“)

Circuses are generally performed in round tents, too––or so I learned from a mini-exhibition at TOHU.

Ringling Bros. is dead, but circus is not. Modern circuses don’t have animals. It’s more about skill and training than flashy oddities.


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If I decide to go to grad school in the coming years, Performance Studies is a field I’m considering. I love the idea of wrestling with the circus question, and interviewing / writing about performers in this sphere.


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Montreal though, what a place. Light tastes different in every city.


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My favorite thing to do in Montreal was just wander.

c'est moi

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Montreal is spiral staircases on the outside of homes.

(I love walking up and down these kinds of stairs. It feels like being inside of a seashell.)

island full of curvy staircases

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…long afternoons in the park, eating fruit and watching the world go by,

long summer days mean more time for adventures 🌞

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… rainbows everywhere,


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I will take all the rainbows, please 🌈

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… and of course, poutine. (Pro tip: poutine tastes best after drinking local beer in the park with a new friend, and will keep you full forever & ever.)

baby's first poutine 👍🏽

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I think I’m falling in love with public spaces / places where people can picnic. Afternoon light. Fists full of blueberries — blue blessings.

Montreal is full of bicycles. Jeremie let me borrow his for the week.

borrowing my friend's 🚲to explore the city on 2 wheels

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In attending a few performances at Montreal Completement Cirque, I learned that I’m fascinated with flying… maybe because I know it is something my body won’t do.

Is it too late to learn?

#rouge #montrealcompletementcirque

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Why do I travel?

To see more fully. To be surprised. To search for the blessing that sits just outside of my comfort zone. To begin over and over again.

When I travel to a new place, the days are long. Empty and waiting to be filled.

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Before I left the states I bought myself two rings, one for the middle finger on each hand. My left hand is a tree, to remind me to stay grounded:

growing roots

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The right is a feather for flying free. Serendipity.

When I visit a city, there are always layers––the detritus of cities I have been. The shape of houses in Montreal is not unlike DC. The parks that make me breathe deeper remind me of Paris. And anywhere I feel disoriented in language has an odd similarity––I could be in Fiji, or Tuvalu, or Thailand again.

I’m grateful for the sense of dislocation that not knowing a local language can provide. I get lost in the recesses of myself that I didn’t realize were still there.

I am the postcard monster.

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Montreal, I’ll be back. I want to connect with the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) this fall, where I have been an affiliate for three years.

… and maybe find some Canadian folks to collaborate with on the audio map in progress.


still one of my favorite signs — spotted in Suva, Fiji, 2014

More soon. Here’s to living the questions.




In Which I Fall in Love with a Bike Path

I visited Chicago last year, fell in love with a bike path, and wrote this for Bicycling Magazine

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I mean, the beauty. How could I resist?


inside the Chakaia Booker sculpture

Experiencing the Bloomingdale Trail has made me want more out of cities. I don’t want to spend all of my mental energy dodging cars. I want to have corridors (or heck, whole carless streets) that let me intersect with art, poetry, and other humans face to face. I want topographical variations that make the eye move. I want the air to taste good (read: lots of plants).

Most of all, I want outdoor spaces that inspire people to get out of their homes and have conversations with one another. And I want those conversations to cross borders of race and gender and age and class and ability.

Long live the Bloomingdale Trail!


poetry underfoot

Christchurch People’s Climate March

Art and activism at work:

an aside:

I don’t have a way to monitor sound or block the interference of the wind on my camera when I make videos right now, which is v. frustrating. It was a windy day. I chose the least windy takes to share with you all. I’m working on fixing this so that future videos can be ever better.

Thanks for being here & for giving me the opportunity to play around with a new form.

This video made possible by supporters on Patreon:

Much love,


In the Company of some Fierce Artists / Activists

Howdy! Just want to let ya’ll know that One Bike, One Year is registered as a part of ArtCop21, a global festival of cultural activity on climate change leading up to and during Cop21 (the big climate talks in Paris this December). It’s an honor to be in the company of some amazing artists worldwide.

Map with all events:

Little me roaming by bicycle / boat:

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P.S. I’m writing this from a marina in northern Queensland where I’m a new crew member on a boat called Far Fetched. Our departure has been delayed a day as we’re waiting on a new head gasket for the outboard engine. I’ll write a post later on tonight to bid adieu to the internet for a little bit until I’m back on land. Love you all muchly. x

Interview with Artist Sasha Baskin

Hello, world! I want to introduce you to my amazing friend Sasha Baskin, who makes woven portraits.


It’s not a direct link to water or climate change, but I think that Sasha makes absolutely stunning work. She collects stories about people through their faces, and storytelling is what I’m all about.

“There’s a really beautiful moment in the dying process when you take yarn out of water and it’s just a mess, it’s just total chaos. It reminds me of hair when you climb out of the ocean. I love the detangling and finding the order in it all again. I think there’s a pretty beautiful chaos to water and a certain equalizing quality. It does the same thing to any organized structure. Nothing is immune to the chaos of water.” – Sasha Baskin

I believe that one of the functions of art is to make us more alive in the world––to start a conversation. Sasha is doing just that. Her woven portraits were featured in the JM Gallery in Austin, Texas from 1 August through 12 September, 2015. I can’t wait to see what she creates next.

Read on for Sasha’s words on her process:



How do drawing and weaving intersect? How do they diverge? 

I think it all comes down to line. To me weaving is just a different kind of drawing, a different kind of working with lines and tonality. Weaving allows colors to overlap in a way almost impossible in any other medium. When two differently colored yarns overlap they maintain their own structural integrity, but blend together in the eye. It feels like pointillism to me sometimes. Or pixilization.

Tell me about your process in making woven portraits. 

The first portrait I wove I made in a process called double cloth, where two separate planes of cloth are woven simultaneously at the loom and intersect when the colors change. This only allowed for a dichromatic image, which I wasn’t satisfied with. I tried to manipulate the process of doublecloth to provide a midtone, which really went against everything double cloth intends to do. That was really the start of my efforts to take what a weaving is supposed to do and push it further. I like to make looms mad.

After working with the fabulous Mary Smull at MICA, she helped me incorporate hand-controlled damask into my process, another effort at forcing a loom to do a lot more than it ever wanted to. With her guidance in this process I was able to capture 4 different satin structures in one shot of weft, that is, each line of horizontal weaving contained 4 separate kinds of weaving within it. Each of those different kinds of weaving produces a different shade and allows me to draw pretty much free hand at the loom.

The process that I’m working with is an analog version of the Jaquard weaving process. I work with a pick-up stick at a rising-shed jack loom, hand selecting sections of warp to weave as different structures. Jaquard looms computerize the process and control each warp thread independently and mechanically.

How long does it take? 

At my fastest I can weave about an inch an hour of a complex large-scale portrait. The smaller the portrait, the quicker I can go. The more detailed the moment in the portrait the more time I need to process each move. I work with a reference image taped above the loom and when I’m on a deadline I’ll draw big bold lines across the image indicating where I need to be by when. It’s a pretty heavy-handed motivator.


What draws you to this process? 

There’s something about weaving that I just can’t put down. It feels good in my hands. I recently learned a process called twining, which I can only really describe as weaving both sides of a structure, off the loom. You make your own warp threads out of hemp and hold the whole weaving in your hand like a basket. And while I had never worked this way before something about the process felt very familiar to my hands. Like I had been doing this all my life. Fiber work has always made sense to me. Muscle memory is a language I understand.

I think I also like the chaos of weaving. I like the wildness of the threads and making them go in order. I like the organization. I had a teacher who used to give tours of the weaving loft and introduce us as “the people who know how to take many tiny strings and line them all up right next to each other.” And that’s the best way I can explain weaving. We take the tiny strings and we make the chaos into an order. loom photo

What is your favorite / least favorite part of the process? 

My favorite part of the process is called beaming the warp. The loom actually holds this whole river of yarn and winds it all up like a scroll at either end. There’s this beautiful process when you first get all the yarn threaded through every eye of every heddle when you just wind all the threads in perfect order onto the back beam. Everything lines up perfectly and it’s this beautiful ribbon of unwoven cloth. That’s my favorite part.

My least favorite part of the process is probably the hanging and installation process. I’m very engaged in the act of weaving and less so in the installation. Woodworking and levels and measurements, while incredibly important, do not come as naturally to my hands as threading yarns does. I get frustrated with the measurements and the finality of cutting and drilling. I miss the fluidity and ease of weaving.

Why do you make art?

I’ve never known how to answer that question. Art school spends a lot of time asking you what art even is. So maybe I think that everyone makes art in their own way. I think someone doing something beautifully is art. Someone really loving what they’re doing is making art. I’m very lucky that I was able to study what I love and continue to work on that craft. And I love it. When I’m drawing or when I’m weaving, everything feels right in the world.


What do you hope for people who interact with your work? 

I hope to make people slow down. I love faces. I love learning the intricacies of what makes someone who they are. I memorize very easily and very quickly and I can look at things over and over again in my memory. I want to make that available to everyone. I want people who look at my work to see people in a new way, to discover them, almost. I try to embed the act of looking in the time intensive process of weaving


What kind of materials do you use? What draws you to those materials? 

For weavings I work predominantly with silk and tencel (a tree based fiber that is heavier but similar in shine and drape to silk). I love the way fabric falls and I love playing with anything that has a beautiful drape to it. And anything that I can get as small a diameter yarn as possible. Silk comes impossibly thin and I love the image resolution I can get with that medium and the challenge that it poses in the weaving process.

I’m about to start working more with cotton and making some utilitarian cloth, dishtowels, wraps, blankets. I want to see what the fabric does in use. How can I change the act of looking to the act of noticing? Do I want to do my dishes more with a beautiful dishtowel? Does that moment become more important? How can I embed importance in cloth?

For drawings I usually work in graphite or obsessively sharpened charcoal or carbon. Whatever I’m working with needs to be small and precise. I actually just had to talk myself out of ordering obsessively thin cotton to weave cloth out of. Dishtowels need to be made with something substantial. But I love the detail of fine threads. I picked a medium weight cotton instead of the more practical thick stuff because I couldn’t resist.


Why people? You could weave the likeness of trees or doorways, for example. What draws you to the human form? 

I think it’s always been portraits. Maybe because I’m a competitive person and someone told me once that if you can draw the figure you can draw anything. So I just figured I’d skip over everything else and get there. If I can weave a portrait I can weave anything. But I think it’s more than that. There’s something about getting to know someone through a portrait. I try to draw and weave people I don’t directly know because I want to learn about them through the act of rendering their features. I ask other people to send me photos and recommend subjects. I’m very interested in what makes someone exactly who they are. What separates a portrait of someone from a drawing that makes someone want to go “is that a self portrait?” “is that you?” How do I avoid the question? What is in the details that makes an image go from a similarity of a person to the person themselves.

What are you reading / listening to right now? 

I just finished rereading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The last time I read it I think I was 11, so I found a lot of new things and new ways for her writing to resonate with me now. She talks a lot about the warp and weft of family which I adored. It was also beautiful to read about these communities of women in the ancient Hebrew tribes who shear, and spin, and weave and share stories together all while traveling to craft schools this summer and being immersed in this community of predominantly female artisans and craftsmen (craftswomen?)

I just started listening to the podcast 99% invisible and learned a lot about lawn maintenance.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Florence and the Machine this summer. I’m very into Ship to Wreck.

Do you have any stories related to water or climate change that you would like to share? 

There’s a really beautiful moment in the dying process when you take yarn out of water and it’s just a mess, it’s just total chaos. It reminds me of hair when you climb out of the ocean. I love the detangling and finding the order in it all again. I think there’s a pretty beautiful chaos to water and a certain equalizing quality. It does the same thing to any organized structure. Nothing is immune to the chaos of water.

What is your favorite place on earth? 

Rooftops. Find me a rooftop.

What is the most beautiful color you have seen of late? 

Natural linen yarn.

What’s your favorite word? 



Sasha Baskin was born in Ridgefield, Connecticut. In May of 2014 she received her Bachelors of Fine Art in Drawing from the Maryland Institute College of Art. In the fall of 2012 she attended Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy where she focused on drawing, painting, and High Renaissance Art History. Baskin participated in group exhibitions in Texas, Washington D.C, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, and Florence, Italy. She currently lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. You can find her work at and on Instagram @sashbask.

Sarah Quintana’s Album “Miss River”

Cheering on my friend, Sarah Quintana​, in the last four days of her Kickstarter campaign. Pitch in a bit if you can!


Sarah is a PHENOMENAL musician from New Orleans. Her album-to-be, Miss River, reimagines the role of nature in song-writing by giving voice to the magical element of water––the Mississippi in all its glory.

Here’s the link:

And more of Sarah’s music I love (I listen to this stuff on my bicycle, often):

So glad to have interviewed Sarah on One Bike, One Year​ a while back. She is the bees knees, ya’ll. xo


Interview with Artist Sue Cooke

New Zealand-based artist Sue Cooke and I met by chance at the Whanganui Resource Recovery Centre––back in February I spent an afternoon at the WRRC collecting stories with my cardboard sign from people who came in and out to recycle their household goods.

Sue is a stunning artist. After returning from a trip to Antarctica in 2006, she set out to create a body of work that captures both the vast sense of scale and fragility in the Antarctic landscape.

In her words, after returning to New Zealand: “My art work underwent a sea change.”

Here’s to serendipity and spontaneous artistic community. I look forward to keeping up with Sue’s work for years to come.


DKL: Tell me about your trip to Antarctica. When did you go, and how did you get there? Why did you decide to take this trip?

SC: I went to the Antarctica Peninsula in December 2006. I flew from my home in Whanganui, New Zealand to Ushaia in Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina and from there I joined a 54 strong Expedition for Climbers and Photographers on the ice breaker, The Polar Pioneer. The boat was both transport and accommodation for 2 weeks. I had wanted to go to Antarctica to draw and paint since the mid 1980’s. Since childhood I have been drawn to sparse uninhabited landscapes, such as deserts, mountain ranges and national parks – Antarctica seemed to me to be the ideal of a vast untouched land. I held this desire to visit Antarctica inside me for years until finally in 2006 I had the opportunity to go!

DKL: How did the trip affect you? What changed after the trip? What stayed the same?

SC: The trip had a profound effect on both my personal and artistic life. The pristine nature of the Southern Continent meant that on my return to the populated country of New Zealand I saw rubbish everywhere for the first 3 or 4 months. I have travelled widely enough to know that New Zealand is, comparatively, a clean green country with a small population that on the whole deals with waste and environmental issues in a responsible manner. However I could not help noticing the myriad of small bits of plastic from lollies, electricians wire and bottle tops in the garden beds outside the school gates and on the city streets.

My husband and I have always composted and recycled but the experience of going to Antarctica meant that I looked for, and succeeded in finding, more and more ways to minimise my family and businesses waste foot print in the world. I not only focused on cleaning up my lifestyle externally but also internally. Shortly after my return from Antarctica, it was suggested to me the my son had food intolerances and as a result of an elimination diet the whole family found that there were a number of foods that disagreed with us. We have since kept to an almost solely organic diet, minimising dairy and gluten and avoiding preservatives and sugar. This regime of internal cleanliness has had a very positive affect on our health and wellbeing as individuals and as a family.

My art work underwent a sea change. My previous works about the New Zealand landscape used strong forms, harsh contrasts, and complementary colours to create prints and paintings that were strong, solid representations of my home country that is renowned for its strong harsh light that rarely has the protection of the ozone layer. Antarctica from the very beginning demanded that I respond with a lighter touch to the subtleties of tone essential to the watery icy nature of the continent. A fellow artist was fascinated with the extreme lightness of tone that I was able to achieve. I often had to wash out an initial mark that I had made in watercolour as it was too strong, this requirement to have a lightness of hand remained a challenge for the whole 7 years that I explored the subject of Antarctica in my Whanganui studio. Previous to my work with Antarctica I would respond to a subject from a heartfelt perspective. If the subject moved me emotionally I would create an artwork. However as I progressed with the Antarctic work I found more and more that I was weaving an emotional response to my subject together with principles and ideas; the earth’s affect on Antarctica and Antarctica’s affect on the world, care of planet earth, sustainability, concern over the hole in the ozone layer and preservation of the world’s last untouched landscape.

DKL: What kind of art did you make after returning home? Did you know when you were travelling in Antarctica what form that body of work would take? How did it change over time?

SC: I had thought on my return from Antarctica, the resource material I had collected would furnish me with ideas for the next 2 or 3 years. I found that the three drawing books, 34 water colours and 700 photos and videos gave me enough material to work for 7 years. The first works I made upon my return were a series of 18 monochromatic etchings titled ‘Blizzard in a Dark Landscape’. I resolved to start with this series while I was in Antarctica in response to the first few days in which I experienced blizzard conditions on all our landings; it was as if I were standing inside a black and white etching created by the black of the granite contrasted with the falling, blowing snow that was often white out conditions.

Because I had wanted to go to Antarctica for so many years I had had time to research and think about not only my own possible response to the great white continent but I had also had looked carefully at the work of other artists and photographers. My instinctive sense was that Antarctica was a vast land and what I felt I wanted to capture was a sense of scale in my work. I saw that this aspect of the landscape was not taken up by other artists. In April 2013 I managed to achieve ‘The Paradise Project’ that successfully used and portrayed the scale, light and beauty I saw in Antarctica. ‘The Paradise Project’ is an installation in the form of a hut/packing case 3m high x 5m wide by 9m deep. The visitors enter the hut, the door automatically closes behind them. The interior painting extends the experience of viewing an art work by surrounding the viewer, giving a meditative space in which to contemplate beauty. The effect of contemplation is subtle; the message of sustainability is not explicit the viewer is left to explore why the pristine beauty needs to be preserved and maintained.


DKL: Tell me about the eggshells.

SC: The globes and eggshells took me by surprise; they developed as I began to push the boundaries of form and idea, firstly exploring the sphere, which was in response to what affect the world had on Antarctica and Antarctica’s affect on the world. Ostrich eggs were used as a substitute for penguin eggs; the expedition policy was take only photos leave only foot prints. I first began trying to turn an ostrich egg into a sphere by cutting it in half to eliminate the elongated ovoid form, as I was cutting with a hacksaw I accidently broke the egg creating a jagged edge. Immediately I saw that this was a perfect metaphor for the fragility of the Antarctic environment. I used sandpaper and layers of titanium white acrylic paint to create a pristine surface which I then drew on with graphite, maximising the tonal gradations and smudging when necessary. I began to use the hole that was in the egg, as a result of the yolk and white being blown, as a metaphor for the hole in the ozone layer; a very topical issue for New Zealanders as our skin cancer statistics are the highest in the world and our burn time is typically 12 minutes. The broken halves of the eggs provided two surfaces for art works and in many cases I also added maps in order to speak directly about Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula.



Images and further information regarding the works discussed above can be found at

DKL: What kind of materials do you use? What draws you to those materials?

SC: I use a very diverse range of materials, some of which are conventional artist supplies and others such as plywood and ostrich eggs are stretching the boundaries. The underlying reason for opting to use a particular material is that it will give the best result to the expression of the idea.

DKL: Who inspires you?

SC: A long list of artists inspire me, Cave Men, Michelangelo, Vincent Van Gogh, Piranesi, Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams, Elliot Porter, Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon, Barry Cleavin, Laurence Aberhart, Anne Noble, Denise Copland and Petrus Van der Velden. In short they all have in common an ability to see and touch the human soul at a deep level. 

DKL: Why do you make art?

SC: I’m driven to – I just can’t help myself.

DKL: Such a wonderful theme! I feel the same way about writing and collecting stories. So, what are you reading/listening to right now?

SC: A biography of Vincent Van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith and I have waiting in the wings a book written by Scott Timberg ‘Culture Crash; The Killing of the Creative Class’

DKL: And what projects are you working on?

SC: I have recently begun a project that explores the issues around the creation of deserts and the issues associated with deforestation. Realistically it will be 3 or 4 years before the threads can be pulled together into a solid body of work.

DKL: That sounds beautiful. I look forward to seeing that project when it is ready to share. Do you have any stories related to water or climate change that you would like to share?

SC: When I was in Antarctica the climbers spent an afternoon ascending a floating iceberg. When they got to the top they found a lake! A few years earlier this would have been unheard of.

DKL: Wow. What is your favorite place on earth?

SC: Antarctica

DKL: Beautiful. And your favorite word?

SC: Serendipity

Sue Cooke trained as a printmaker at Ilam School of Fine Arts, Canterbury University, Christchurch, New Zealand, under Barry Cleavin and Denise Copland gaining a Diploma in Fine Arts with Honours in 1985. In 1987 she held her first large scale public gallery installation ‘Panorama- A Print Based on the Landscape of Lake Ohau’ at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch. In 1990 she was selected as Tylee Cottage Artist in Residence at the Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, New Zealand. The residency lasted for 12 months and at the end of that time Cooke made Whanganui her home. In 1995 Cooke, and ceramic artist Rick Rudd, exhibited at the New Zealand High Commission in Singapore. Cooke, and fellow printmaker Catherine MacDonald, established the long running Whanganui Artists Open Studios and the Whanganui Arts Marketing and Development Trust in 2001. Cooke has worked in the New Zealand public collections of  Canterbury University, Christchurch, Massey University, Albany Campus, Auckland,  Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, The Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, Christchurch and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin, The New Zealand High Commission, Singapore, New Zealand High Commission, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the New Zealand Embassy Rome, Italy, in addition to many private collections within New Zealand and overseas. For further information visit

Sue in Studio