In each MUSE interview we take time to explore the lives + creative processes of the folks who inspire us to live each day most wildly and authentically, close to the Earth and to our own Spirits. To meet more of our MUSES, visit the Archives.
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Cameron is an artist, an activist, a force for all things good and wild. He is someone who has, quite admirably, devoted his life to the practice of being free—hitch hiking and freight hopping across the continent; protesting global neoliberalism; throwing underground variety shows; experimenting with alternative construction methods; making art through writing, photography, illustration, and sculpture; and most importantly, wandering quietly through the woods as often as possible. He currently resides in Barre, Vermont, where he is apprenticing on an organic vegetable farm. Last time I saw him, he was driving away from Austin, in a red truck that matched his beard quite nicely.
Sophia Rose: I first came to know you as a grassroots activist, creating spaces for community dialogue around social justice, particularly as it relates to Capitalism and the reclaiming of public spaces. How has your activism informed your art and how has your art informed your activism? Do you see them as connected?
Cameron Krow: Absolutely. I would even go a step further and say that, to me, our lives in society are defined by both activism and art. All of our actions—everything we say and do—can be understood as our own creative expressions in reaction to the social and political context of the world as we experience it. So when I act more intentionally, or publicly, and do what some would deem as “art” or “activism,” what I’m interested in doing is blurring the lines between the two, finding where each of them are always in conversation with the other.
SR: Where did the idea for this body of work spring from? Did it percolate slowly over time or come to you fully formed?
CK: In my late teens, I began developing a deep sense of reverence and longing for nature. Then, I felt as though I’d discovered something I’d been deprived of my whole life prior, something integral to who and what I was. At some point in the course of history, the dominant cultural identity has become profoundly severed from the Earth; we no longer understand ourselves in terms of it. For a long time now, I cannot escape an almost painful longing to connect more deeply to the land. These works serve as both a way for me to express that longing, and also as a way to fulfill it.
SR: Can you share with us some of the initial challenges, both inner and outer, that presented themselves before you began creating the Stickhouse, the first structure in your series?
CK: I’d say the most difficult challenge was starting it, and believing in my vision enough to follow it through into reality. The next was getting other people interested in and excited about the idea enough to get them to help me, and then organizing times when they could get together. A serious existential challenge I often struggle with is the perceived irony of harvesting living things to honor and commune with the living things. It can be painful for me to saw through a willow reed time after time. Or to cause damage to the habitat of a bird or spider. The feeling of taking life can be uncomfortable. To deal with this, I do my best to to be gentle, by thanking the plant and the land for what I take, not over-harvesting in one area, not taking more than I need, and returning the materials I gather back to the land.
SR: Each of your works evokes an immediate connection to the larger ecosystem in which they are housed and your reverence for the landscape is apparent in the care you have taken with each one. Tell us about the process of choosing a specific site for each piece. What does each place mean to you and does that meaning change over the days and weeks you spend completing each piece?
CK: It is very sad to admit that truly wild places, which have remained unscathed by industrial civilization, are now totally uncommon. Especially those places which are publicly accessible, and not guarded by the barbed wire fences of private property. Near city limits, where most of us are basically forced to live, these kind of places are virtually nonexistent. Still, if one looks hard enough, traces of resistance can be found to this relentless domestication.
When I find such a place, I consider it sacred, and I make it a point to visit it often, and connect with it as a way to renew that same sense of wildness in myself. Creating these offerings is an opportunity to really fortify this connection, spending a significant amount of time with it, and experiencing it in a more intimate way than I otherwise would. Every moment spent working in one of these places is a new window into the complex system of interrelationships that exist within it. The longer I spend with the place, the more rich my own sense of relationship with it, and belonging to it, become.
SR: Some of your works, such as the Stickhouse, of which I am particularly fond, are not only meant to be looked at, but engaged with. The Stickhouse is well hidden from plain view so that it will not be easily found, and yet it has held space for many sacred communal rituals as well as more individual rites of passage. Can you talk about the ways in which your work engages and invites certain people while remaining hidden to the masses? Is this intentional, and if so -- what is the underlying reason for this choice?
CK: Well, first of all, it’s probably important to mention that the impetus of the Stickhouse was born from some kind of dream or vision. In many ways, I did not know why or how I was to manifest it, just that I was called to reproduce what had been revealed to me. I knew it must be hidden in the forest; I hardly considered why.
In hindsight, though, I think there are a few reasons why it had to be that way, namely that what we built requires protection and solitude. The Stickhouse, as its name suggests, took the form of a dwelling place. A home is where one is most vulnerable. Remaining undetected is surely one of the most effective kinds of security. However, the Stickhouse was never meant to serve as a home in the literal sense, but primarily as a place of refuge, a sanctuary, if you will. Here, we seek to escape civilization. That includes even the trail, that area of the forest officially designated as safe and appropriate for people to be. We are not there for recreation. We are there to be embraced by the Land, to be healed, to feel wild again. For this we need to be surrounded by the company of flora and fauna, not bicyclists and hikers.
SR: Earth offerings are only one media in which you work. I have also seen your remarkably precise and bold illustrations, witnessed the electric hum of the community gatherings you have orchestrated in public spaces, and I even carry your art permanently on my body as the stick-and-poke tattoos we have created together in ceremony. Many artists work in different forms to express an idea or concept too large for any one medium to encompass. Do you feel that your various works have a unifying theme? What is that theme and where is its origin?
CK: In the most concise terms possible, I’d say the majority of what I do attempts to bring to light what is primordial. I want people to view themselves in the greater context of the complex web of interrelationships and endless cyclical processes of the Earth and the Cosmos. I want them to think about the paradox of our experience: how we are separate and temporary yet simultaneously infinite and eternal. I want them to think about death and birth, about cooperation and autonomy, about destruction and creation. I want them to think about the sun and the moon, about the ocean and the land, about the rivers and the mountains, about the animals and the plants.
Another recurring element of my work is the critique of those forces which I believe are deeply out of sync with the essence of nature, such as capitalism, industrial civilization, the nation-state, patriarchy, white supremacy, hierarchy, materialism, money, private property, etc. These forces separate us from the environment and from each other, and because of that, threaten the very foundation of thriving ecosystems and communities. I am of the mind that an integral part of the process of bringing forth the new world which we want to live in is being very clear about what we oppose in the current one.
SR: Plants are paramount in your sculptures. All of these pieces so far are made of woven plant material, some of which is still living and continues to grow after the piece is complete. Additionally, you cultivated a climbing rose beside the entrance to the Stickhouse, and we planted Tobacco, Datura, and Wildflowers in the area surrounding the site of your most recent work. How has your relationship with plants, both wild and cultivated been informed [or transformed] since beginning to create these structures? What has been the most gratifying plant to work with as a weaving material thus far and what plants do you hope to experiment with for future projects?
CK: Working with specific plants so extensively forces me to develop a very intimate understanding of and relationship with them. In finding and collecting it, I begin to see what kind of conditions that facilitate its growth and the role it plays in the surrounding ecosystem. I experience firsthand what kind of plants, fungi, insects, birds, etc, that exist alongside it. In preparing it, I become keenly aware the intricacies of the foliage, the texture of the bark, how flexible or rigid the branches are, every little thing about it. The way that I use plants for these sculptures has informed and transformed my relationship with them much as I would assume practicing herbalism has for you. I see a plant as something to be, not just simply looked at, but something touched, smelled, tasted, and heard. I’d say that the grapevines in the portal, while not the easiest to to collect or weave, have probably been my favorite so far. There are so many plants that I want to work with, and every time I take a walk in nature I find more, but one that comes to mind is as something I really want to experiment with more is Red Osier Dogwood.
SR: So much of the ethos that seems to inform your life and your work centers around the idea of re-wilding yourself and your community, as well as honoring and reclaiming natural spaces. How can our readers take steps to reconnect with the wild spaces around them and what do you think they can expect to experience in their personal lives through doing so?
CK: Spend as much time outside as much as you possibly you can. Starting now. Eat outside, sleep outside, bath outside, use the bathroom outside. Attune yourself with the cycles of the earth: the passing of the sun, the moon, the clouds, the waters, the seasons. Go to large undisturbed places where indigenous ecosystems thrive. Return to one or a select few often. Be quiet there. Listen and observe. Stop often and examine things more closely. Take leaves, flowers, mushrooms, bones, feathers, rocks, and other things that catch your eye, home to identify, research, and cherish. Find the wild in the city too. There are a surprising amount of beautiful resilient living things there, despite the odds being stacked up against them. Also go to places damaged or destroyed by development. Weep for them. Pray for them. And lastly, think of ways you can live with and for the Earth that prevent the constant encroachment and exploitation of it, near and far. Through relationship with the land, we receive context for and reaffirmation of our entire existence, and develop meaningful sense of purpose in our lives. If you do these things, you will find your life greatly enriched. There is no companionship as rewarding as the wild provides, no communities more inclusive than ecosystems.
Stay tuned for the upcoming release of a series of
collaborative photos Cameron and I shot together last
Summer at one of my most secret and sacred Springs.
To stay up to date on Cameron's new works and
adventures, follow him on Instagram @KameronKrow