Queens in the Desert series, Meet the Characters:

Dame Dracaena La Puente, heiress to the great Shelly oil conglomerates is still seeking paydirt with her fashion savvy. Oblivious to the environmental repercussions of her family’s over one hundred year legacy of natural resources exploitation, she still dresses to the nines to impress. Even though the oil wells dried out years ago, her privileged LA upbringing entitles her to the finest luxuries. She favors the exotic pedigree of the Dracaena Draco leaf, often called Dragon’s Blood, a red resin extruded from the plant, which was used in ancient times as varnish, medicine, incense, and a dye. Inspired by the deep red brown of the Stradivarius Dracaena stain, her skirt echoes the lines of the famous Red Violin with round luscious curves, constructed from the fallen sheaths of the Palm tree. The color scheme is furthered with the addition of woven Philodendron Seloum sheaths with their flame like spiked ends.

Dame Dracaena La Puente wearing her dress and matching hat and shoes in the desert

Dame Dracaena La Puente wearing her dress and matching hat and shoes in the desert

Queen Gabriella San Nicholas is a direct descendant of Juana Maria, sole survivor of the Channel Islands massacre of 1814. It is said that when a fur trapper finally rescued Juana Maria, she wore a skirt made of greenish cormorant feathers. Today Queen Gabriella imbues the fierce survivor instincts of her ancient native ancestor by dressing in a simple but elegant dress made from Palm tree husk. The rich toned fibre is accented with Rosettes made from Araucaria, New Caledonia Pine Needles and strings of red Palm Berries. Her wide rolled collar is festooned with clusters of pods from Firmiana Simplex, the Chinese Parasol tree and to top it off she accentuates her eyelashes with turquoise feathers. Juana Maria would be proud of this revival especially in light of the fact that she died only 7 weeks after her arrival at the Santa Barbara Mission due to the richness of the foods in the New World. It might also compensate for the fact that her feather dress was apparently sent to the Vatican, but it appears to have been lost.

Queen Gabriella San Nicholas  wears feather eyelashes to honor her ancestor Juana Maria

Queen Gabriella San Nicholas wears feather eyelashes to honor her ancestor Juana Maria

The Mandarin Princess is the great great-great granddaughter of Citrus tycoon Charley Chapyman, who was himself a descendant of the legendary Johnny Appleseed. She is nostalgic for the lazy days of summer when what is now the Fullerton Arboretum was an orange grove and the fruit dominated the development of the SoCal area. She also likes to reminisce about her childhood visits to the now abandoned Magic Kingdom in Anaheim. Subsequently the short curved sleeves and the puffy overskirt of her dress evoke the cartoon design of Mary Blair’s Cinderella costume. This SoCal belle of the ball wears a party dress festooned with dried Mandarin peels within a lapelled bodice and overskirt of Palm sheaths. Her high collar is covered with the lace-like Miscanthus sinensis (Maiden Grass) and the skirt is made from the long succulent leaves of the Aloe ( Canaria), which are held together with long palm thorns, which act as guards for her shattered sun kissed dreams.

Mandarine Princess  close up

Mandarine Princess close up

I spent the last 3 weeks of my art residency at Cal State Fullerton creating new pieces at the Fullerton Arboretum. It was a fantastic experience for me because Chris Barnhill, Director of the Living Collections let me pick a large variety of plant material from their extensive botanical garden, tucked away on 26 acres within the university campus. It was my first time experimenting with tropical plants such as Palm trees and Citrus peels and i could have spent months there experimenting with new materials. I built 3 dresses based on the Little Green Dress Project, which were worn by models for a photo shoot in front of a giant Cactus at night. The aim of the project though was to install the dresses in the section relating to the plants plants used in the garment as an educational tool for plant identification. Furthermore this project is an extension of the Weedrobes series which promotes DIY and Eco fashion.

The Queens in the Desert: The Mandarin Princess , Dame Dracena La Puente and Queen Gabriella San Nicholas

The Queens in the Desert: The Mandarin Princess, Dame Dracena La Puente and Queen Gabriella San Nicholas.

About Queens in the Desert:

Set in the not so distant future, where California’s water supply has evaporated and the economy as we know it has crashed, 3 women rising from the ashes of the SoCal elite gather one evening to parade their latest fashions. They have turned to artists to create their outfits as the design houses have all but vanished. As nature rebounds from years of being paved over, organic elements proliferate and the previous yards of jewel-encrusted fabrics of haute couture are replaced with the exotic shapes and textures of the desert world. Five-inch long bright yellow thorns of the Palm leaf are used as pins and orange Dracaena sheaths make up a not so billowy shirt flounce. Theses Queens in the Desert have an aura of eccentric determinism about them. Conjuring up the charm of their royal predecessors they exude the Grand Dame worldliness of the original Gertrude Bell with a dash of the campy drag of the fictional Priscilla. It’s Mad Max au Naturel with a touch of withered Rodeo Drive prestige.

The Dragon's Blood Dress in the desert section. The orange front piece was made from the Dracaena leaf which is to the far left o f the image

The Dragon’s Blood Dress in the desert section. The orange front piece was made from the Dracaena leaf which is to the far left o f the image

The Mandarine Princess in front of the Heritage House, which is surrounded by orange trees.

The Mandarine Princess in front of the Heritage House, which is surrounded by orange trees.

Queen Gabriella San Nicholas stands at the entrance of the Fullerton Arboretum.

Queen Gabriella San Nicholas stands at the entrance of the Fullerton Arboretum.

Photo Shoot Credits:
Photography and design: Nicole Dextras
Photo Assistant: M. O. Quinn
Makeup Artist: Adrienn Ihasz
The Mandarin Princess: Rachel Burkert
Queen Gabriella: Cosmo D’Aquila
Dame Dracaena: Megan Eras
Light Painting crew: Emily Tyler, Marty Loggan and Peter Lang
Special thanks to Harriet Bouldin of the Fullerton Arboretum

The Ego Eco, environmental art for collective consciousness exhibition was curated by Allison Town and Emily Tyler for the Begovich Gallery at California State University Fullerton, which featured to work of 13 artists. I participated on a variety of levels during my 5 week residency there. During the first 2 weeks i completed the Traveling SeedBomb dress and assembled the Urban Foragers series and staged a public intervention which was filmed and shown along side the Traveling SeedBomb dress in the gallery. The 3 Urban Foragers were at the opening reception and i was also on hand to talk about my work at the opening preview earlier in the day. During the evening, Juliana Rico made seed bombs with the public, people signed adoption paper for Vaughn Bell‘s Pocket Biospheres and i was delighted to meet artist Esther Traugot and her delicately crocheted seeds. Here is an excerpt from the Curatorial Statement.

Disconnect between real actions and real-time becomes increasingly evident in our fast-paced, technologically saturated urban environments. Selected artworks in ego|eco: environmental art for collective consciousness aim to confront traditional notions of “spectatorship,” promoting involvement over complacency through the inclusion of engaged public art practices and environmental art conveying a collective call to action. Juxtapositions of mediums, content, scale, forced perspectives and changes in cadence and flow will encourage viewers to become both physically and psychologically aware of their own roles as “spectators”—symbolic of a greater need for action and social reform in the pursuit of sustainability.

A 100-page catalogue including a scholarly essay by CSUF Exhibition Design alumna and founder of ecoartspace.org, Patricia Watts will be published in early 2014. See more of the exhibition HERE.

Gallery entrance view with title wall, Traveling SeedBomb dress and dress form with vest and hat and Urban Forgers video beside it. Photo: M.O.Quinn

Gallery entrance view with title wall, Traveling SeedBomb dress and dress form with vest and hat and Urban Forgers video beside it. Photo: M.O.Quinn

The Urban Foragers got together for the first time as a group to share a communal meal made from the food sources they each carry in their self sufficient dresses. The Mobile Garden Dress, aka Madame Jardin, The Nomadik Harvest Dress, aka Miss Cornucopia and the new kid on the block, The Traveling SeedBomb Dress, aka Agent SeedBomb got together at California State University Fullerton for the Ego Eco exhibition at the Begovich Gallery. The day began with the dresses walking around campus and interacting with students about sustainable food practices and also promoting the exhibiton. They then settled into the courtyard in the Visual Arts Department where they set up camp for the day. Madame Jardin and Miss Cornucopia helped Agent SeedBomb set up her teepee and then they began preparing the meal. They traded foods to enhance each others recipes and each created a dish to be shared. The Mobile Garden Dress made a salad from the veggies in her over 40 potted plants hanging from her hoop skirt  and added pomegranate seeds from the NomadiK Harvest dress. The Harvest dress in turn borrowed fresh herbs from the Garden dress to add to the soup she made from the many vegetables harvested from the Fullerton Arboretum. She also made a tasty fruit salad topped with Coconut from the SeedBomb dress. As it was her first time making food, the SeedBomb dress prepare a simple dish of energy snacks by crushing nuts and seeds with a mortar and pestle and rolling them into balls. She also shared some of her fresh sprouts for the salad. After inviting friends to join them in their communal meal, they told stories while soaking their feet in the pool and then later retired, each to it’s own comfy little shelter to bed down for the night. The event was held beside  Richard Turner’s “Wall Gazing Gallery”, a open structure with a corrugated roof with water falling from it into a pool surrounded by peach coloured Bougainvillea trees.

The whole process was filmed and is now available to view here or click on the You Tube icon to watch in your browser.

The Urban Foragers camp

The Urban Foragers camp

Credits:
Agent Seedbomb: Alice Tokunaga
Ms Cornucopia: Andrea Harris-McGee
Madame Jardin: Megan Eras
Artist and photographer: Nicole Dextras
Videographer: Kirk Dickinson
Curators: Emily Tyler, Allison Town
Makeup: Dusty Germano
Support crew: Gaby Castillo, Marty Lorigan, Martha Rocha, Mark Uspon
Special Thanks to the Fullerton Arboretum Staff and Lou Arnwine

Agent SeedBomb is the name of the character who wears the Traveling SeedBomb Dress; an eco agent-provocateur with good humour and style, advocating for self-sufficiency through food independence and sustainable practices.

The dress houses 50 glass vials filled with enough seed to plant over an acre of vegetables, grains and herbs to feed a family for one year, which were purchased from the Sustainable Seed Company in California. In this role, Agent SeedBomb aims to inform viewers on the identification and preservation of seeds while also engaging the community in activities such as seed bomb making and sidewalk stenciling with grains. In addition to being and avid sprout grower, he or she prepares delicious protein snacks from recipes using mostly seeds and nuts.

This piece was developed for the Ego Eco exhibition at Cal State University in Fullerton California during the month of August 2013 and it was joined by its sister pieces for the first Urban Forager communal meal. The Foragers set up camp beside Richard Turner’s “Wall Gazing Gallery”, an environmental sculpture reminiscent of Asian shrines found along country roads and they prepared dishes with produce supplied by the adjacent Fullerton Arboretum. The dress was then installed in the Begovich Gallery for the duration of the exhibition. On opening night Agent SeedBomb, played by Alice Tokunaga  gave out Seed Money (seed embedded paper coins by Leafcutter Designs) to the public. I love their thoughtful designs and was very happy to incorporate it into the project.

View full Art Statement: The Traveling Seedbomb Art State

This dress is made for traveling and throwing seed bombs.

This dress is made for traveling and throwing seed bombs.

The Traveling SeedBomb Dress is the third instalment in the Urban Foragers series. Like its predecessors, the Mobile Garden Dress and the Nomadik Harvest Dress, it functions as a garment, a shelter and a food source. As this series is about self-sufficiency, each new piece refers to a nomadic structure and for this one i chose the teepee because the shape resembles a Pine cone.  I am fascinated by the ingenious ways that plants propagate their seeds and so i have tried to incorporate this into the design as much as possible. There are cone shaped pockets all around the edge, which hold seed bombs, which were placed within easy reach of the wearer so they could be thrown while moving about.

The structure is based on a series of hinged cedar pieces, which when folded down make up the skirt and when extended they form the teepee shape. I have used metal bolts and wing nuts as a means to hinge and tighten the segments. My intent is to someday replace these with a more organic material but for now they at least only require a small screwdriver to assemble. The skirt is covered in heavy duct canvas hand painted with a dandelion motif, a symbol of highly effective plant survival and endurance. Our agent of propagation also wears a secondhand vest adorned with épaulettes of fresh Wheat Grass and a hat formed from a bamboo birdcage with birdseed.

I looked at many options for displaying the seeds and finally decided on the glass vial because I want the public to be able to see the seeds clearly so they can learn to identify them. I created a wire cage for each one, 50 in all and hung them between the struts with linen thread. I also attached some glass globes and green cans, which have holes in them to facilitate the daily rinsing of seeds for sprouting.

Traveling SeedBomb dress set up in Begovich Gallery

Traveling SeedBomb dress set up in Begovich Gallery

Curator Emily Tyler and artist Nicole Dextras with the Nomadik Harvest Dress at OC3

Curator Emily Tyler and artist Nicole Dextras with the Nomadik Harvest Dress at OC3

I was invited by curator Emily Tyler to participate in the Orange County Great Park’s OC3 challenge exhibition with the installation of the Nomadik Harvest Dress. The theme for OC3 2013 is Sun Soil City  was to inspire discussion relating to important topics of energy, agriculture, and community.  Fourteen curators from prestigious Orange County institutions have been invited to transform a designated space in the Great Park Gallery.  The challenge was simple — create a unique environment within the allotted space showcasing the work of one artist utilizing recycled or reused materials.

It was another road trip for the NHD as the yurt structure had to be strapped to the back of a pick up truck. Unfortunately LA does not offer any transportation options other than the highway! The Dress was set up in the gallery loaded up with vegetables and foraged edibles such as Purslane, Cholla buds and Rose Hips. The Urban Foragers video was installed beside the dress and played on a loop for the thousands of visitors who came by during the Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 and who voted for their favourite exhibit. Special thanks to Greg Pongetti, Nursery Manager at the Fullerton Arboretum for taking us foraging in the garden! The exhibition runs from September 15 – December 1, 2013

The website also has short videos of all the curator/artist teams.

I am happy to share with you a new short documentary about the StoreFront, objects of desire project at the Lansdowne Centre in Richmond BC by Michael Sider . This video captures the performance and audience engagement parts of the project as they occurred in the mall;  intersecting consumer culture and artistic interventions with gentle prodding and good humour. And of course the kids are so darned cute! Special thanks to Elisa Yon of the Richmond Public Art Program for supporting the creation of this video. Performers include, Nita Bowerman, Billy Marchenskie and myself. enjoy.

Madame Nicole aka Nicole Dextras gave free makeovers to shoppers as part of the StoreFront, objects of desire project at the Lansdowne Centre. Madame N was dressed in a white lad coat to emaulate the clean fresh authority of science of cosmetics and to mimic the free makeovers offered in shopping areas, which serve as a guise for selling products. Instead of makeup i applied flowers and leaves to embrace beauty plus the service was free with no strings attached. The intervention was staged in the middle of the atrium beside a white vanity with an ornate frame with no mirror. The participants ranged in age and cultural background, from shoppers to cleaning staff and it enabled intimate conversations and broke the new modern taboo of touching.  This work is based on the concept that adorning the body is a healthy and natural thing to do. Working with plant material allowed me to pay tribute to the many cultures past and present that practice the art of body adornment with botanicals. I hope continue to explore the modern implications of beauty and adornment in future works.

Silvia and Luane get the last makeover of the day and pose in front of the vanity

Silvia and Luane get the last makeover of the day and pose in front of the vanity

Sir William the Explorer is a new character that i have developed for the StoreFront, objects of desire project at the Lansdowne Centre. Sir William, played by actor/dancer Billy Marchenski appeared on July 14 looking to trade magic beans for gold. He asked people where he could find large trees to rebuild the mast of his ship as he has heard of the giant Douglas Fir trees on the West Coast that are big enough to make a large mast for a ship. His coat is made from Magnolia leaves and the braided trim is a Mongolian rope made from goat and horse hair. Front collar is made from Calla lilies and corn husk.

The jacket is made from Magnolia leaves attached to a framework of Seagrass decorated with a braid of Mongolian horse and goat rope, yellow Billy Button flowers, white Calla Lilies, Corn Husks and natural mesh. His hair is made from Sisal attached to a straw hat. The boot chaps are from the sleeves of an old leather jacket.

The jacket is made from Magnolia leaves attached to a framework of Seagrass decorated with a braid of Mongolian horse and goat rope, yellow Billy Button flowers, white Calla Lilies, Corn Husks and natural mesh. His hair is made from Sisal attached to a straw hat. The boot chaps are from the sleeves of an old leather jacket.

2 Douglas Firs left standing as the new city of Vancouver encroaches. Man in the middle points to the scale of these massive trees.

2 Douglas Firs left standing as the new city of Vancouver encroaches. Man in the middle points to the scale of these massive trees.

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