I make work with the aid of drawing devices that have been designed to record various outdoor pursuits, ranging from long distance cycling trips, to backcountry ski tours. The resulting work exists as a seismic series of drawings, which end up being an indexical record of my travels. The properties of this work engage the the human body as a vehicle for expression, mark making, movement and endurance, while exploring ways nature and the landscape can potentially influence me both visually and physically.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I grew up in a rural community in the mid-west, the open space of the plains, in may ways this has contributed to my desire to explore. The desire to explore has had a huge impact on my thinking and my work. I feel that we are often a product of our environment, and that it shapes our understanding of who we are in the world. I can remember at a young age going on small excursions with my twin brother. We would pack provisions, then walk the train tracks for a mile into the country to a nearby creek, which we would wade through for hours catching crayfish. These small trips felt like epic adventures, we left our comfort zone and at that time walked into the open. Thirty years later, I still have the same desire.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Methods for automating drawing, particularly drawing from life, appeared simultaneously with the earliest accounts of constructing linear perspective. What does this long search for mechanical drawing tell us about our relationship with art and technology? My interests and artistic practice is positioned between this complex relationship of technology, the machine, in my case a very simple device, and nature.
Over the course of the last few years I have become interested in using devices in the process of making drawings. In a time of digitalization of the work process, you can easily forget the freedom and fun of play. By creating new drawing tools, I give myself the opportunity to break free from standards in design. In addition, this provides me with the freedom of movement and access to the outdoors, leaving the confines of the traditional studio space behind.
Space is process, the drawings establish a direct link to the concern for human conduct and natures role in affecting that conduct. We can argued that the natural epistemology of human activities can be conditioned by nature. This work provides an objective lessons in the way that nature, and the artist, can shape our understanding of experience. The work confronts us with issues of time, space, geologic features, and relationships between the body, perception, and nature.
By leaving the traditional studio approach, I have gained a richer understanding of the places I have occupied, and a deeper understanding of my position within the landscape. The relationship between the body and the landscape becomes evident as the body responds to the transformation of the land. As the land is observed, the aesthetic value of the landscape is reconstructed in the drawings, however esoteric that connection may at first appear. Given the long history of artists who have created work about nature and their environment, part of my artistic practice is simply to finding new ways to respond to nature today.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I feel that one of my primary goals is getting people to think about how a work of art can be made. How a drawing can be a byproduct of its environment. Drawing as a medium lends itself readily to the theoretical and the experimental. Drawing is a medium that offers an intimate and open field for imaginative elaboration, in which concepts and ideas can emerge and change with relative ease.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I think about my work and artwork everyday, perform research, etc. The dynamics in which the work is constructed relies on performance, in some cases these performances last for days or hours, depending on the nature of the trip. My recent projects have involved a fare amount of logistical planning, preparation and physical training. Organizing equipment, milling over maps route planing, building and experimenting with the drawing devices all become a fundamental part of the practice. I like the process of preparation in my work, the idea of building towards an end goal. The idea of nearing a departure date for a big trip brings excitement.
I saw a considerable shift in my work, since completing my graduate studies at Washington State University five years ago. In addition to finishing my MFA, moving to Spearfish, South Dakota and accepting an adjunct teaching position played a major role. That physical shift to the Northern Black Hills allowed me greater access to cycling, mountain biking, skiing and the outdoors. I was devoting a lot of time and energy into cycling, my studio time waned. I wanted to figure out a way to merge the two activities into one practice. This is where my interest in drawing and passion for cycling and skiing merged.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Others artists work have a large influence on my own ideas and approaches. I spend a lot of time looking at artists from all disciplines, particularly drawing. I would say recently, I gravitate toward those individuals expanding on non-traditional methods to create drawings. From the pendulum-based drawing machines byEske Rex to the art of Tim Knowles who attaches writing implements to trees. In addition, the work of Kip Jones, who brings the oldest of mark-making skills into the purview of technological control through the use of various mechanical devices. I have always admired the walking art forms of both Richard Long and Hamish Fulton.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty who was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger has had a major impact on my thinking. The constitution of meaning in human experience was his main interest and he wrote on perception, art, and politics. Merleau-Ponty emphasized the importance of recognizing bodies as the entity through which we experience the world and emerge as individual subjects.
The profound reflections of British anthropologist and writer Tim Ingold, on what it means to create things. According to Tim Ingold, author of The Perception of the Environment, “meaning is gather up from the environment in which the body is immersed, and there recursively regenerated. This sensing body makes meaning directly through its performance in the environment rather than waiting for direction.” Anthropology, philosophy, art and architecture are ways of thinking and creating, and all are dedicated to exploring the conditions and potentials of human life.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I at times feel as though I live parallel lives, which teeter back and forth between; artist, educator and outdoor adventurer. Prior to graduate school, I worked as a climbing guide and US park ranger. During these years, I traveled extensively throughout the inter-mountain west from the Rocky’s to the Alaskan Range, in and around Denali National Park. I was very fortunate to work and train in this environment. These are what many people consider dream jobs. I was formally trained in high angle rope rescue while working for the National Park Service. I would spend a week or more training with other park rangers in locations such as Zion National Park and Canyon Lands in Utah. It was a great experience as a climber and artist. Wearing the grey and green was a privilege and honor that I always will remember and hold at a high regard.
I’m interested and spending more time on extended back county trips, either trekking, bike packing or ski mountaineering. Recently, I have been looking over maps of the greater Yellowstone region, devising a route from the northern entrance into Jackson Hole, Wy.
Michael Baum left the plains of the Dakotas in his early twenties for the mountain ranges of California, Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Alaska. His interactions with nature and the wilderness became the impetus for his graduate studies in fine art, which he completed at Washington State University, with an emphasis in painting and printmaking. Michael is currently an Adjunct Professor of Art at Black Hills State University, South Dakota.
Since 2008, he has been featured in various exhibitions both internationally and across the United States. Most recently, in 2014 Michael has become the recipient of a career development grant from the South Dakota Arts Council. His current drawings have been featured in INDA 9, Manifest’s Drawing Center, International DRAWING Annual and included in Drawing Discourse: International Exhibition of Contemporary Drawing at The Tucker Cooke Gallery, UNC Asheville. His work was also selected for the South Dakota Governor’s 6th Biennial Art Exhibition in 2014.
In addition, Michael has been included in exhibits at the Missoula Art Museum in Montana, Fictilis in Seattle, Washington, the Mighty Tieton in Tieton, Washington and the South Dakota State Museum of Art in Brookings. His work has also been accepted into multiple public collections, which include the Primo Piano Living Gallery, Lecce, Italy, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Oregon, the Museum of Art/WSU in Washington, the Boise Art Museum, Idaho as well as, the Missoula Art Museum.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.