Collecting as Rooting: Cara Bonewitz Studio Visit
Cara Lasell Bonewitz is an artist for whom time in the studio and time in the natural world are equally important. During her two years of graduate school at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, she became a collector of seaweed, traveling by train to the seaside areas around the city and coming back to the studio with bags full of it. She would then draw the different specimens of kelp and make ephemeral hanging sculptures.
She started the practice after reading about British women in the mid-nineteenth century for whom seaweed-collecting was a fashionable pastime. Bonewitz says, “During my first year of grad school, I got really excited about the idea of my studio as a garden. It turned into this futuristic landscape of color and light and pseudo-plants made out of various bits of packaging material, paint, glitter, disco mirror tiles... From there, I began researching botanical gardens their development, historical importance, and purpose—and from there this connection to collecting/collections and Victorian England started to emerge.”
Now that she is back in California, she still collects seaweed, but, unlike in Scotland where it maintained its green hues, here, she says, “everything is browner.” No matter, though, Bonewitz allows for variation in her approach as well as in the results. The seaweed dries out and eventually deteriorates, but it is all part of the process. “How do you let something decay gracefully?” she asks.
When she goes collecting, she gets lots of questions from strangers. “If I’d been collecting driftwood, I wouldn’t have been asked about it,” she says, pointing to our ideas about what is "collectable." Cara is interested in unpacking ideas of beauty, in art and in nature, and what we as humans find valuable. There is also a rich history and psychology surrounding practices of collecting. For her, collecting is a kind of rooting, no matter where she finds herself.
Cara Lasell Bonewitz is an interdisciplinary artist working primarily with paint, sculpture, installation and photography. Her work examines the manner in which dominant attitudes about the natural world shape one's sense of self and is especially concerned with what contributes to different senses of place, both in terms of what a place is, and what it is not. Presences and absences are felt simultaneously, and an object’s past and future journeys are essential to its present iteration. Central to this exploration is a personal response to environment, location and light. Often working in series, the aesthetic of her work changes according to her surroundings. She is based in Ojai, California.