Transitory, Contemporary, Interactive Art

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Photo credit: Laura Amador, May 2013

While working on her paintings in the old Djerassi barn a month ago, artist Nicole Buffett created these colored balls and placed them in shafts of dappled sunlight on the floor. The spheres are made of packed earth, grass, gravel and pigment and are meant to “embody the serenity and power” that Buffet  felt while working in the barn. She calls this piece, The Guardians, meant as it was, to guard her paintings as they sat outside overnight.

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Artist: Nicole Buffett (Bay Area artist)
Title: The Guardians (created May 2013)
Location: Inside the Old Barn (at Djerassi/SMIP Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountains)
Description: This piece reveals how quickly light moves. It becomes a meditative practice as one tries to follow the light beams, constantly moving the spheres to keep up with the squares of light.
This is a temporary piece. The spheres are fragile and may leave pigment on fingers when it’s wet out. Visitors may pick them up and gently move them into shafts of light, or place them back into the urn at the far end of the room.

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Should you happen to visit the old barn during the long summer months, you will be treated to a visual delight of busy sunbeams dancing across the floor and along the walls. With the installation of  The Guardian, you can have the additional experience of watching the sunlight move across the floor, heightening the colors of the individual balls.

If you stop by on a foggy day – as a group of visitors did recently – your experience will be different, less heightened: The colors of the spheres are totally dependent on the natural lighting derived from the sun. That is the nature of the piece. It is transitory and is defined by an uncontrolled light source that helps to determine how the viewer experiences the work. This installation, like the rest of Djerassi’s outdoor art, will eventually disintegrate. Catch it if you can.

I’ve written about Djerassi and its transitory art collection in previous articles. Here is one of those posts. The springtime photographs of the sun drenched landscape (plus one taken from inside the old barn), should give you an idea of the feel and intensity of the Bay Area sunlight. There is no need for artificial lighting in the barn, at least not during the day.

Literature Lovers’ Hike: Eugene O’Neill’s Tao House

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Where: Danville, CA (approximately 31 miles east of San Francisco)

Note: This property can only be accessed on foot or by a National Park Service shuttle.

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Take a leisurely hike through the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Follow either the Williams or Madrone Trail to where they junction at a fire road leading to the back of Eugene O’Neill’s old property. Enter the gate and walk past the final resting place of Blemie, O’Neill’s elderly Dalmatian.

The residence, Tao House, sits on a one-hundred-and-fifty-eight acre property that was once part of the Rancho San Ramon Mexican land grant. Many of the almond and walnut trees that Eugene and Carlotta O’Neill planted are still here. Except for Saturdays, entrance to this National Historic Site is by reservation only.

A black gate (pictured above) leading to the courtyard is decorated with four Taoist characters, Dao, Da, Bie, and Shu. Navigate the zigzag path directly beyond to arrive at the house’s main entryway. Inside the first floor guest room are two wall murals titled, The Mountains of Mist. Although they are representative of the Chinese countryside, they also remind me of the California mountains — Las Trampas Ridge and Mount Diablo — both visible from either side of the property.

ACTIVITIES: Hike, Art (Literature)

REGION: East Bay

HOURS: Varies: depends on whether you are doing a guided or self-guided tour. For details visit: http://www.nps.gov/euon/planyourvisit/hours.htm

COST: Free

LOCATION/VENUE: National Park Service, Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, 1000 Kuss Road, Danville, CA 94526 Phone: (925) 838-0249

DIRECTIONS: Hiking: 5.9 miles (moderate, 3 hour hike) through the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Start your hike at the west end of Hemme Avenue in Danville. Take the Ringtail Cat and Madrone Trails to Tao House. Enter through the back gate near the barn.

Shuttle: The National Park Service’s  shuttle picks visitors up at The Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville. For details visit: http://www.nps.gov/euon/planyourvisit/directions.htm

TIP: If you visit in the late spring – early to mid-May – be sure to catch one of the plays being hosted in The Old Barn/Playwrights’ Theatre. The 2012 lineup included a recently discovered one-act play, Exorcism, that was thought to have been destroyed by the author in 1920. It is based on O’Neill’s 1913 suicide attempt. Don’t forget to get a first hand look at the replica of O’Neill’s 1936 Nobel Prize before you leave. It is the only Nobel Prize to have been awarded to an American playwright. See the National Park Service’s Web site, http://www.nps.gov/euon, for more information on arranging a visit to Tao House, the home where O’Neill penned his final plays, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.

Additional: Here is a short video about Tao House: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMheCcsBYb0

A slightly different version of this hike appeared in my Bay Area Adventures Summer 2012 blog post.

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