Mauriah Donegan Kraker: Artist in Residence in the Milwaukee River Greenway
July 4, 2021 | Topics: featured artist
The Natural Realm presents Mauriah Donegan Kraker who is among 17 artists participating in a year-long residency program called ARTservancy, a collaboration between Gallery 224 in Port Washington and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, River Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy, Tall Pines Conservancy, and the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. The mission of ARTservancy is to promote the visionary work of both the artists and conservationists. Each artist has selected a preserve to spend time in and to engage with.
Artist Statement by Mauriah Donegan Kraker
I am a movement artist, a collaborative performance maker, a long-distance walker primarily invested in slow travel: walking around the block and through the city as a means of attending to choreographic unfolding of time cycles in the body + land.
Another way to say this: I am interested in place and time.
My interest in place has taken me around the globe. Working with movement and dance as my primary means of expression, I have led folks on walks through the Italian alps, to outdoor skating rinks in Taiwan, to highway underpasses and prairies in the Midwest—the walks culminating in participatory events and dance performance.
I’ve toured and taught at universities and cultural centers throughout the US and Europe, teaching movement workshops that draw on sounding, walking, improvisatory movement and outdoor practices. My background in athletics (competing as an Olympic-level athlete, touring around the world with Pilobolus Dance Company, and being raised in a family that walked and biked everywhere) is a driver in the creation of physical performance works that live somewhere in the realms of dancing and walking.
Through the ARTservancy residency and in partnership with the River Revitalization Foundation, I currently attend to the Milwaukee River Greenway/Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Menominee lands. Each month, I offer outdoor walking practices open to the community as a safe space of congregation, restoration, communion. These mindful walking practices are based on shifts in weather, temperature, observations of the river.
At the river: I’ve been thinking lots about how my feet are meeting the ground beneath me, all who came before me, on this land, all still to come. I’ve been thinking about the purpose of movement, in quarantine times, in the wake of social/political re-imaginings:
We need to be in contact with the ground beneath us right now. We need to practice breathing deep belly breaths, placing our hand on the bark of a sycamore while we breathe. We need to dip our hand into the river and notice its icy cold temperature and fast running pace. We need to turn our face to the sun, feel it meeting cheekbone, then turn away, feeling sun on our back while our feet firmly meet ground. We need to listen in to the current of place. These are the movement practices I teach in the community. These are the walking practices I engage with during Saturday Morning Walks at the Milwaukee River. These are the movement practices I believe will lead us forward, keep us grounded, allow our nervous systems to REST AND RESET after a year of huge upsets, devastations, days of grief and isolation. We need to attend to and heal our own bodies so we can then lift our eyes, see who is walking next to us, and attend to the health of our street, our neighborhood, our communities. We do this by attending to place, first interior, then exterior. This is why movement is important.
I’d like to invite you into a slow walk through my work (visual, video/performance, audio works), but first, let’s breathe:
ground your feet on the floor
feel your back meeting the chair behind you
take an inhale—
feel your lungs expand like wings …
exhale long …
air exiting your body like a soft sigh
Let’s continue on.
TRACKING LIGHT: Dawn, a transformative time to work, if you can shake some of the sleep from your bones. East of me, a two-lane highway. North, the hospital that I go to time and again, as my fractured finger heals. West, farm and the smell of manure. South, my home, my campus, my writing + teaching + making. I come here at dawn to gentle the pull of directionals. To remember I dance because I am alive because movement is wellness for my spirit. This morning I bring along a GoPro, a dollar store sheer curtain, nude underwear. The wind is blowing from the south, the curtain will catch the wind, the sun will rise and light will shine. I wait.
LENS + LINEAGE: This is a self-portrait, an ode to Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, 1963 + Francesca Woodman’s Space series, 1975-1978. My primary form of work is creating movement experiences, dance performances. How I see body + space is shaped by my time looking through lens, allowing my body to be seen or hidden by lens, and the practice of editing footage. Lineages are important to me. Here I list, as an extended ode, some folks that have shaped my choreographic eye: Bas Jan Ader, Helena Almeida, Francis Alÿs, Francis Bacon, Charli Brissey, Maya Deren, VALIE EXPORT, Andy Goldsworthy, Celia Rowlson Hall, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Deb Loewen, Terrence Malick, Helen Mirra, Jennifer Monson, David Lynch, Kenji Misumi, Maggie Nelson, John Ruskin, Kirstie Simson, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Simon Whitehead, Francesca Woodman.
MOVEMENT STUDIES: ON PROCESS + RESEARCH. Or, what my outdoor movement research looks like. When researching a new writing or movement project, I spend seasons in a place. Illinois: arriving to the prairie every week, at dawn, for a year, to track light, entering the sky. Central America: walking the same 5-mile route daily, for a month, in a small fishing village, seismograph-ing all my bus rides on impossibly potholed roads (pen to notepad, with each pothole, the pen moves.) Walking out to sea at low tide, allowing incoming tide to push me back into shore, ever so slow. Attention to place, over time, is what shapes my choreographic/dance work. For the above triptych (stills from filmed research), I walk west, out of a small midwestern town, for an hour. I turned north, to escape wind, then followed the sound of crows to arrive to this field. I tape a GoPro onto a waving stalk of corn, then still my body until I am ready to join into the rhythm of row after row of corn moving in the wind. Later, I quickly pack up my camera, powerwalk home. I arrive to my porch as the first storm of the summer drops rain.
MY MOST RECENT DANCE/CURRENTLY TOURING: ARMAGEDDON OR SUNRISE OR SOMETHING is an evening length duet that I currently tour alongside my collaborator, Leah Wilks (based out of Durham and NYC). The work is a sonic and physical investigation into exhaustion, endurance and the sensuality/the geographic of both internal and external landscapes. Throughout the work, we grapple with the necessity of proximity to each other: we shake, rumble and drag each other to the ground, carry and sing to each other. Pulling from our different training histories in improvisation, Olympic-level sport, ballet, modern dance technique, photography, and sound design, the piece functions as both a grief ritual and a space for reckoning with limitation. Throughout the work the body becomes landscape, home, monument, spellcaster, caretaker, boundary, and the location of desire.
Leah and I have been touring this work around the country since 2019, STILL have tour dates set up stateside and abroad, and STILL dream of bringing the work to Milwaukee.
LONG DISTANCE + COMMUNAL WALKING PRACTICES: Last month, alongside my collaborator Leah, I led an hour long walk for folks via text message. Every 8-15 minutes, I send out a text message prompt to participants walking through west coast, midwest and southern geographies. Photo and audio recordings are exchanged with partners in different locations, via text, along the way. A keen sense of place is passed back and forth. Text messages prompts attend to how we are walking, what we are observing. We practice episodic attention: zooming in to focus our sensory intake to what is immediately around us, zooming out to attend to the space of distance, the horizon. We attended to how our body is feeling thirty minutes into the walk, then reroute ourselves towards home. Afterwards, a participant in LA commented that this outing felt like a practice in returning to a post zoom world, a practice in reentering a socialized world.
I am interested in creating spaces for congregation, gentleness, and communion through movement. I am interested in bringing attention to how our bodies relate to place, both interior and exterior. Stay tuned for more virtual walking practices.
AUDIO SCORES FOR WALKING: Last summer, I was blessed to be Artist in Residence at a very special space: The Croft Residency (Boyne City, Michigan). For ten days, I rise at dawn and allow my body to dance/move/wake up at the pace it wishes, as light enters the sky. My time at The Croft is a walking conversation with the land. I spend my days walking short and long distances, both solo and with folks who know local pathways through town and field. The cadence developed as I walk through the land and the conversations shared with other humans/species are catalogued through the creation of audio scores for walking.
Take a moment to step your body AWAY from your computer/phone/electronic device and listen to/participate in a 15-minute audio score for slow walking made in February, in Wisconsin, when it was 6 degrees outside. This audio track is meant to be experienced in your home. The practice involves being near a window, listening, and glacially paced walking. It is best experienced standing but can also be done seated, or lying down.
This is where I leave you.
I hope to meet you on a walk, in the future
This residency is sponsored by River Revitalization Foundation.
This is the latest in our series of featured artists, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. The work of the 2019-2020 ARTservancy artists in residence is currently being exhibited monthly at Gallery 224. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.
All images courtesy of the artist, except as noted. The featured photo at the top of Mauriah Donegan Kraker in the Milwaukee River Greenway is by Eddee Daniel. River Revitalization Foundation is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.