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Tortuga: Perspectives on Design Winner

Artist Morrain Bauer-Safonova shows award-winning work

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“Sage is Sacred, Styrofoam is Shit.”

“Sage is Sacred, Styrofoam is Shit.”

Photo credit: Kyly Clark

Photo credit: Kyly Clark

“Sage is Sacred, Styrofoam is Shit.”

Kyly Clark, Managing Editor

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The 2016 Perspectives on Design Award recipient Morrain Bauer-Safonova held an artist talk and performance at a reception on Sept. 28 in Sierra Nevada College’s Tahoe Gallery. The exhibit comprises the work she completed since graduating from SNC with a bachelor in fine arts degree in the spring of 2016.

The POD award, given annually to an excelling alumni artist, includes a stipend to support their continued work after graduation. The award recipients return to the college to show their projects a year later.

Bauer-Safonova is a mixed-media artist. She spends time connecting to natural materials as part of her artistic process.

During the reception, she talked about developing a deeper understanding of the concepts of her work as an artist. She came back to a question that she was asked during her BFA show, “What is sacred to you?”

“Everything is sacred in the sense that everything is connected,” said Bauer-Safonova. “I realized what’s sacred to me are things that I am able to receive messages from, specifically messages that reaffirm the idea that we are all interconnected with nature.”

Bauer-Safonova explained that she really began to understand the concept of “what is sacred” through her new body of work.

Two of her 18 pieces include, “Sage is Sacred, Styrofoam is Shit,” made with materials of Styrofoam, sage, dried mud, wood, house paint, thread, and glass sea beads, and “Shamanic Response,” made with paper, wax, gouache, positive and negative image transfer, colored pencil, ink, burnt leather and rawhide.

Bauer-Safonova shared that her experiences in the natural world have directly influenced specific art pieces. “It’s not so much the concepts that are important in my work but the experiences that brought me to those concepts,” she said in her lecture.

In a piece named “Seedling,” a corn lily flower is attached to its root with an image of a plastic bag, the contrasting components resembling a seedling. “I found the natural objects (the corn lily) as well as the synthetic object (plastic bag) whilst leaving offerings of thanks in the Mt. Rose Meadows,” said Bauer-Safonova. “It felt as though the corn lily flower was speaking to me from the spirit of an ancestor.”

Fine arts professor Mary Kenny shared that Bauer-Safonova’s work needed more than one visit to the gallery because of the smaller, hidden pieces.

“I was drawn to the small details of the work, which I think gives the viewer a moment to appreciate the smaller happenings in the work and focus on the allotted time one spends with it,” she said. “I’m really excited for the direction of Rain’s work. I can still see hints from her previous work done during her undergraduate time at SNC but she’s tapping into new territory with her use of new materials and conceptual interests.”

A significant concept that went into “Tortuga” as a body of work revolves around Bauer-Safonova’s mental health.

“I used to say that the repetitive processes in my work added to my healing process,” said Bauer-Safonova. She suffers from anxiety and depression. “I realized that a better healing process was for me to actually go out into the environment, go on walks, and wait for natural objects to find me.”

Bauer-Safonova shared an energy exercise with guests before reading aloud a series of short poetic stories based on moments when reconnecting with the earth helped heal her mental health disorders.

After fielding questions, she invited guests outside for a performance piece, where they proceeded to find her on the ground dressed in black, tied up in an electrical extension cord and humming shamanic song. She released herself from the cord and began following the wire, digging it out from underneath the ground, tracing it to its end where a noose was revealed from the dirt. She lifted the noose onto her neck when an ancestral helping spirit tapped her on the shoulder. The figure dressed in white poured cleansing water with sage and lichen over her head to reconnect her with the earth’s energy.

Miranda McFarland, SNC alumna and fine arts major, performed with Bauer-Safonova as the ancestral helping spirit. “She reached out to that spirit in this performance,” said McFarland. “The message was that there is always help there when you are in the dark places of your mind and think that there’s no other way out than self-inflicted death.”

Bauer-Safonova’s 20-minute performance was an extension of her work in the gallery. It’s a medium where she plans to focus her energy in the future.

“Everything that she’s overcome made it all the more inspiring,” said SNC alumna Katie O’Hara, a psychology and art major. “When you see art that is so precious, and to her sacred, and you see that it comes from a place of pain and struggle, I think it makes it all that much more powerful.”

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