Arts & Culture
Habitable Spaces' new artist residency program goes deep woods outside Kingsbury
Published: May 30, 2012
GUADALUPE COUNTY — The turquoise gate on the west side of Farm to Market 1104 near Kingsbury is all that marks the entrance to Habitable Spaces, the newest artist residency program in Texas. Though the first visiting artists are slated to arrive this fall, a culvert and driveway still need to be put in, and the construction of housing — expected to continue for years — has barely begun. But no worries, building and living on the land is what everyone is here for. Eventually, up to 15 people will occupy the little colony being built on 100 acres of Post Oak forest and mesquite brush, which will include a working farm, a trading post, and serve as a sustainable research outpost and experiment in collective living. Visiting artists will be invited to design and build their own shelter using natural materials harvested from the land, or from salvage donated by neighboring businesses and a national network of supporters.
But at the moment, everyone is Shane Heinemeier and Alison Ward, two (until recently) New York-based artists who have have been clearing the land of the drought's deadwood since last winter. Ward, a visual and performance artist whose Tex and Trixie Vaudeville show helped launch the NYC burlesque scene, is originally from Florida. Heinemeier is an abstract painter from San Antonio who attended UTSA and received his BFA from the Pratt Institute. The land, just east of Seguin, has been in his family since the 1930s. They've been planning and fundraising the project since early 2011 — a recent crowd-sourcing campaign on the website Kickstarter brought in $15,000 to build a kitchen. "The whole idea is that artists will come out and build a little structure that they will inhabit," says Ward. "The kitchen space will double as a bunkhouse for artists this year, so it's going to be rough-and-tumble at first. But the artists who are coming kind of know that and want to be part of the project from the beginning."
One of the first resident artists is Mary Mattingly, whose work explores the relations between nomadic and landed communities. Her 2009 Waterpod project — a converted barge with a geodesic dome that housed a garden, water-collector, chickens, and four artists — serves as a case study for Habitable Spaces. Ward helped build and spent five months on the barge as it roamed the docks of all five boroughs in New York City, doubling as an experiment in sustainable living and a public museum. Like the Waterpod, Habitable Spaces aims to leave a small carbon footprint. To that end, Ward and Heinemeier have built a compost latrine (which surprisingly doesn't smell) and are putting a greywater system in for irrigation. Solar power and a small windmill are planned, and a water well will be dug soon. To keep out the neighbor's cattle (and a friendly, but inquisitive donkey) who share the land, about an acre of almost-cleared forest has been surrounded with barbed wire. Chickens, ducks, and guinea hens will be added this year; goats and ponds for fish will join the project next year. A small, raised garden in a clearing already promises a good harvest. Made of layers of mulch interspersed with cardboard like lasagna meat and noodles, the design was successfully used on the Waterpod for intensive gardening. While Ward and Heinemeier live in a tent, one of the first structures is underway: a tiny cordwood and bottle guesthouse. They are using wood sourced on the property, but there's no need to set up a sawmill and age or kiln-dry the wood. The logs are instead cut in short sections like firewood, then stacked like a rick, but higher, with bottles interspersed to provide light. "We plan on doing rammed earth buildings, and probably adobe," says Ward. "We want to do a variety of structures. We would like to do straw bale structures, but with the price of hay these days, we are thinking of growing our own," says Ward. Tepees and yurts are mentioned. As the hot afternoon sun starts to wind west, the sound of hundreds of katydids grows louder, and the young puppy sleeping under the lean-to wakes up: it's a new world for him. And for Ward and Heinemeier, too. "New York has really lost a perspective of what art can be. Everybody is interested in trends, in fashion. We are trying to get to a place where we can re-evaluate that. Everything here is approached with a mindset of like — it's not just a garden bed, it's a sculptural space, as well. We are thinking about things in terms of aesthetics and artistic desires as well as practical necessity. For us it's creating a community," says Ward. "Life is art — art is life. That's the idea." •
For more information and to inquire about residency opportunities, visit habitablespaces.org.
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