Expedition Behavior was a site-specific, interactive exhibit, housed in the greenhouse at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge for April 2017. Kacie Erin Smith constructed a series of backpacks through rigorous handwork and detailing, informed by her experience with farming, outdoor education, and the place itself. Smith’s gear invites audiences to acquaint themselves with the outdoors, to consider the embodiment of knowledge, and to play with things in flux. Designed to use at the Refuge, the backpacks investigate cultural and environmental narratives, and the limits of self-sufficiency.
Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge
7851 2nd St SW, Albuquerque, NM 87105
The greenhouse is just north of the entrance gate, across from Visitor’s Center.
April 1 – 29, 2017
Open hours: Mondays + Wednesdays: 11am – 3pm; Saturdays: 2 – 5pm; and by appointment.
Reception: Saturday, April 22, 4 - 7pm
Artist talk: Tuesday, May 9, 11am, George Pearl Hall, UNM main campus
Based in New Mexico, collaborators CB Bryan and Kacie Erin Smith create a variety of artworks and happenings exploring homes, place and community. Building on a series of art-focused bike tours and camping trips together, they share stories of the sentimental and the absurd.
In summer 2017, I spent one month on residency in northern Spain in the Valles Pasiegos to study transhumance agriculture. My stay was hosted by Irish artist John Gerrard, who invited me to borrow one of the 19th century stone cabins he owns near the village of Vega de Pas. John put me in touch with a family who keeps cattle on his land, and I developed a close relationship with them. On the mountain and with the family, I gained in intimate glimpse of the culture, which, in Gerrard’s words, may be practicing the “last gasp” of this way of life. My studio practice was focused on themes of portability and settlement, acclimationand belonging, wilderness and stewardship, and the preservation of vernacular craft, so investigating this land and culture proved to be very inspiring.
The Pas River runs through the mountainous rural area. The people are called Pasiegos, known for their geographic isolation and traditions around dairy and cattle. Over centuries, they developed a network of villages, trails and stone-walled pastures set into mountainsides, sprinkled with cabins in which to practice transhumance. Families would move their cows seasonally from pasture to pasture, as well as thier burros, chickens, tools, and belongings from cabin to cabin about ten times a year. With their migratory lifestyle, they developed rich crafts including woven baskets for collecting hay, backpacks for carrying children, walking sticks, clogs, mucking tools, saddlebags, etc.
Funded by Land Arts of the American West and the Mellon Foundation, my time in Spain was dedicated to daily life on the mountain, namely cooking, cleaning, and hiking in supplies. I also visited ethnographic museums, studied vernacular tools, inquired about contemporary crafting, and worked on embroidery and backpack design prototyping. I accompanied the local family to regional festivals, a livestock auction, a cheese factory, and properties where they kept their herds. I observed between what is perceived by tourists as the “old ways” of life and how the locals of today embody their traditions and perceive themselves. At Gerrard’s cabin, I completed a site-specific stone sculpture.
Back in my home studio, I integrated materials from Spain – feed-sacks, hazel wood, yarns, and photographs – to create an exhibition based on my time in Valles Pasiegos, which was held at Sanitary Tortilla Factory in Albuquerque May – June 2018. I showed photographs printed on vinyl in sculptural installations integrating clay and textile artworks and tools from the residency. I made and exhibited two handmade backpacks – one woven and another sewn.
I hold a tender picture of a lifestyle that may not survive into the next generation. Fewer ranchers are living in the traditional cabins and there is great economic pressure to shift gears, which would impact land stewardship, traditional notions of belonging and self-sufficiency in the valley. This is a critical moment for the Pasiegos, as their unique culture is hybridizing archaic traditions with contemporary life. I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this place and its traditions and share those stories through my artwork.