• SICA Culture International

The Hatchery: Art Space in Badger, California


Space and time: that's what we were looking for when Bachrun and I moved to California from Brooklyn, New York nine years ago. Really it was space we needed. Not just studio space, not just a larger studio space, but space around our heads, around our lives. We needed a physical change to be able to follow the glimpses we'd had of our life direction.

And so to Badger—or more precisely, to Pinehurst, ten minutes up the mountain from Badger. We came here to live affordably away from urban life, and to be near the latihan. This is a rare matrix in the Subud world, since most centers in the US are in expensive cities. But with the founding of Seven Circles Retreat in Badger, a group of Subud members relocated to the area, and our prerequisites were met.

Bachrun's art spaces went through progressively larger manifestations, like nesting boxes, several requiring extensive renovation. The first studio was a tiny bedroom in our house, then a tiny garden shed which we doubled in size, then a chicken coop on the property of nearby art patrons (which had to be vacated each summer for visiting artists attending the Stonehouse Residency for the Contemporary Arts), and finally, 1750 square feet at Badger Creek Development, whose principals are Subud members, including Los Angeles members Reinhard and Marleen Hesse and Susannah Rosenthal.

It was as if Bachrun shed a skin with each move and remodel. His art literally grew in size, ambition, and scope to fill and ultimately grow out of each space. However, the current studio at Badger Creek is so spacious that it was hard to imagine the next direction of growth—it couldn't possibly mean making yet larger art. Instead, his (and our) growth took an entirely different form, which began with a simple invitation to other artists to make use of the rough but usable art spaces at Badger Creek. And so our life in art expanded exponentially as we tapped the energy of working artists, starting with Lex Calip and Nicole Shaffer, artists from Oakland and the Philippines who were in the area for the art residency at the Stonehouse, and stayed in the area for a month to work at Badger Creek.

Synanon and City of Allah

Lex was fascinated by Synanon and City of Allah, the remains of which comprised much of Badger Creek. Synanon was a drug rehab compound with a long, and in its later years, dark history in Badger. The attempted murder of a Los Angeles attorney attempting to expose psychological and physical abuse within the community clouds the groups's positive aspects, especially their commitment to racial equality. "The hatchery" was Synanon's name for the place (which was not located in Badger) where the group's children were raised—separately from their parents. Lex conferred the name on the hangar building at Badger Creek (formerly an airplane hangar, school, and community center), partly to redeem the word from its Synanon connotations, and partly to highlight the potential renewal that artists could bring to an abandoned, dirty location.

The City of Allah (Baladullah), a charter school and Muslim community founded in Badger after Synanon had disbanded, had its own image problems, especially after a troubled resident murdered a sheriff's deputy in August 2001 in nearby Dunlap. Then the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 accelerated anti-Muslim sentiment. The school's charter was revoked and the compound was abandoned, in what appears to have been in a hurry. More than ten years later, evidence of the school—homework, lesson plans, books, bulletin boards—remains in the Hatchery.

The Hatchery: Free Range exhibition in 2010

So we decided to do an art show in this strange venue. The Hatchery: Free Range exhibition in 2010 was a cooperative effort featuring twelve California artists with nearly 200 attendees in a single day's showing. In 2011, hoping to build on our success, Bachrun invited his long-time friend Bill Doherty of Hoboken to consider curating a new show. Bill invited his curatorial partner Tom McGlynn (also of Hoboken), and Anné Klint of Oakland (who participated in the 2010 exhibition) joined Bill, Tom, and Bachrun in taking on the monumental task of curating a new, larger, and therefore more complicated show. They were interested in work that could shed light or comment on these two failed intentional communities.

Forty-four artists from around the US and Europe were invited to exhibit.

At least half of the work was made either on-site or referenced the ruins. Laura Napier, from the Bronx, New York, in an interactive piece, staged a faux encounter group, using texts referring to the content, controversy around, and psychological techniques of Synanon and Baladullah. Two artists used sound: David Sanchez Burr of Las Vegas established his own FM radio station for the weekend, inviting the public to play his handmade instruments as well as making weekend-specific public service announcements; Anna Dembska of Camden, Maine, converted temperature, wind, and humidity readings into a computer-selected soundscape that included Synanon-era songs and sounds of the building itself.

Other artists used on-site materials: Elizabeth Dorbad of Oakland used oversized foam insulation pieces to construct a sculpture referencing her nomadic, post-graduate-school art life. Eric Strasberg, Subud member from Brooklyn, New York, used detritus from the property, tiny LED lamps, mirrors, and darkness to create a multi-dimensional installation (serendipitously complemented by Anna's music nearby). Anné, working in video, transformed a floor of cow manure into an unearthly, mossy carpet by projecting a video of cow manure onto itself—a neat sleight of hand. Lex had perhaps the most quixotic project—a 25-foot ladder rising from the lake—which he accomplished with his little Honda Civic making the 90-mile Home Depot run, a dozen fellow-artist helpers willing to get soaked, a teensy rowboat with one shovel for an oar, and lots of luck on the day before the show opened.

The Hatchery: East of Fresno

The Hatchery East of Fresno opened in September 2011 and attracted nearly 400 people to the two-day event. Mind you, all of this action took place in a rural area that is more than an hour to the nearest town, in a building without power or water, and with floors that had been coated in cow manure, broken glass, and rubble, until we, the artists, cleaned it up.

The show weekend was a swirl of activity: print clubs from Fresno State and College of the Sequoias hauled their portable screen printing press up the mountain to make t-shirts and buttons on the spot, and camped out on the property overnight; art was on view throughout the Hatchery building, in trashed trailers a short walk away, and a half-mile away at the lake; several pieces were interactive; video art took time to view; people relaxed and chatted at the tables set up on the airstrip. Saturday evening featured a BBQ on the strip (which was attended by the Subud California regional council and congress committee members—a fluke of scheduling had their meetings at Seven Circles on the same weekend as the Hatchery); "Ticket Pickings," the Hatchery's own fund-raising drawing; readings, riddles, and songs performed by volunteer writers, songwriters, and Not Perfect Humans (what a name!), a really good band from Visalia. Oh, and a rattlesnake that emerged inside the building after dark and had to be relocated.

A Grass Roots Project

Ultimately, we achieved our hope of creating a temporary, seasonal occupation of Badger Creek Development and the Hatchery building—a society of artists making stuff. All summer, Bachrun and I were chief hosts, cooks, art facilitators, clean-up coordinators, local guides, and calendar keepers, as artists, curators, and volunteers came, went, and stayed. Artists were without exception cheerful and energetic as they struggled with their own projects while helping each other along the way. Workaway volunteers from France, Israel, San Francisco, and Fresno, who arrived as strangers and left as friends, did invaluable work cleaning the Hatchery, assisted the curators in hanging and lighting the show, producing documents for show visitors, photographing the progress of the work, cooking, facilitating, and keeping calm. Neighbors in Badger, Miramonte, Pinehurst, Visalia, and Fresno donated generators, extension cords, and garden produce to the cause, as well as shopping and cooking for the twenty-or-so artists and helpers during the final week of preparation. It was a grassroots project for funding too: friends and friends-of-friends far and wide donated to our online Indiegogo campaign. Word-of-mouth and online Facebook activity attracted a substantial crowd. We also received generous pre- and post-show coverage in the Fresno Bee, the Central Valley's largest newspaper, even making the paper's 2011 top twenty list of local cultural events.

What came of this enormous effort? Anné Klint dubbed it "Camp Hatchery"—like summer camp, we made our own art world that had to be left behind when it was over. It was a bubble of time and space that offered an opportunity for the artists to try out new ideas in a challenging venue. People made valuable connections: Anné's work will show in a new space that David Sanchez Burr opened in Las Vegas in February; Bachrun will have a solo show at Arts Visalia in May; Bill and Tom will curate a city-wide show in Memphis that may include Hatchery artists.

Exhilarating and inspiring

Personally, the event was extraordinarily challenging and satisfying. The cooperation necessary to pull it off was way beyond anything I had ever experienced. It revealed many cracks and imperfections in myself, yet simultaneously stretched my own creativity and capacity for work and achievement (exceeding even all seventeen of my years in New York). Working with many people—friends both old and new—towards a common, time-sensitive goal was exhilarating. And observing each artist arrive in Badger with a concept and bring it into physical reality—despite the difficulties and freedoms of time and space—was perhaps the most personally inspiring.

What's next for the Hatchery? After East of Fresno was over, we realized that we had put on two shows in one year (duh!), so, time for a break. Currently we are in the process of producing a catalog of The Hatchery: East of Fresno with generous funding from SICA and other donors, and utilizing the donation of professional photos of all the work in the show by Rob Divers Herrick, a friend of artist Elizabeth Dorbad who became enthusiastic about the project after visiting the site. Meanwhile, we will be writing grants, seeking sponsors, and hoping that Badger Creek Development will be available to us for a third Hatchery show in 2013. Stay tuned!   Visit the Hatchery website for more pictures and reviews — and to get involved.  


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