When You Are the Paint on Your Canvas by Christine Olejniczak

It's been just a few short weeks since my studio was built in my backyard. I actually ordered it online through a company called Kanga Room Systems. (Check out their website at: http://kangaroomsystems.com/) There is so much construction going on in Marfa that it is very difficult to get help with small, residential projects and this company made a long time dream come true.

It's a 16 x 20 foot structure. Complete with clearstory, well insulated, birch panel walls and bamboo floors. I've spent the last couple of weeks setting up shop and getting organized to start my practice. The re-organization has meant weeding through boxes and boxes of files, notes, journals, old art and sometimes bits and pieces of childhood memorabilia. It's been really interesting to see how long I've been hammering away at the same ideas. There are journal entries and drawings that have floated to the top of the pile and remind me that I am not at the beginning of my journey. It's hard to see how far you've gone until you look back at where you started.

As I've been prepping the space to draw, paint and record I have started a daily habit of hoop dancing for an hour a day. Sometimes I sing while I'm hooping. I feel like a living Leslie Speaker spinning around with my voice radiating throughout the space and bouncing off of the hard, resonate surfaces of the interior.

Last weekend I hoop danced in public at a Chromeo concert. The first time I've danced in public - ever. I felt like a Sufi at a rave. My body twirling in time to the beat. Everyone around me was a blur. The lights flashing, people pulsing in time to the music like one big heart. I was completely and totally in my hoop. In my head. In my body.

Today I will be participating in a reading of Steve Ramser's screenplay Empire of Dirt as part of the Marfa Film Festival. This time my voice is the required tool for the job. It surprises me that my body and all the embedded energy in it could be a piece of art - or at the very least a brush stoke in a collaborative, bigger painting.

I'm excited to see all of these different art making methods coming together. With the studio stocked and ready I am pushing myself to connect the dots. I know I have a story to tell about the land - this time I plan on revealing myself as the narrator.

Stop the TransPecos Pipeline by Christine Olejniczak

Out here in Marfa, Texas citizens are waging a fight to preserve the environment and oppose the industrialization of the Big Bend area. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline (TPP) is a proposed natural gas transmission line intended to transport massive quantities of fracked gas to Mexico. The pipeline would cross through the heart of the Big Bend, running east of the Davis Mountains--skirting the town of Alpine--passing through the famed Marfa Lights and the historic town of Shafter on its way south to tunnel beneath the Rio Grande and pass into Mexico.

Recently citizens were asked to write letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stating our concerns. I am posting my letter and urge others to follow our fight and support our efforts.



Right now one of our main concerns is simply raising awareness and building community for whatever comes next. We currently have James Parker in the area, a filmmaker from LA who will be creating a documentary about our situation. This documentary has the potential to bring our story to a MUCH wider audience than would otherwise be possible...this will be extremely important not only in fundraising for the legal effort, but also if and when direct action/civil disobedience becomes necessary.

Here's what I had to say to the FERC:

Dear Chairman Bay and Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,

Below please find my concerns regarding some of the potential cultural, environmental and socio-economic impacts of the proposed TransPecos Pipeline project, FERC Docket CP 15500.

Thank you for the opportunity to express my concerns and for your thoughtful consideration.

I am an artist living and working in Marfa, Texas since 2001 and have been employed by Ballroom Marfa, the Judd Foundation, the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute in San Antonio and the Presidio County Health Services.  As an administrator at these establishments I have been involved in many projects that cause me to have serious concerns regarding the TransPecos Pipeline. I would like to address these issues highlighting the information I have gathered from these working relationships within my community.

1.     Cultural impact. On the Marfa Plateau the land is the culture. Donald Judd came to Marfa and established the Chinati Foundation, and subsequently the Judd Foundation, precisely because of the vast, open spaces. He purchased the decommissioned cavalry base at Fort D.A. Russell and set out to re-purpose the buildings and land to create a different kind of museum. A museum that required visitors to walk through the natural environment to experience art that was, and still is, installed in this stark, undisturbed landscape. He continued to buy land in Presidio County with an emphasis on conservation.

"I have a ranch on the north end of the range overlooking the Rio Grande called Ayala de Chinati. This has two small houses which I've thought a lot about, but done little about, since I hate to damage the land around them. Here, everywhere, the destruction of new land is a brutality... Within a real view of the world and the universe this violence would be a sin—there are no words since there are no ethics that correspond to the present nature of the world."

–Donald Judd, 1989

This type of philosophy reflects the ideology of individuals and families who have made the TransPecos their home well before Judd arrived in the 1970s and set the tone for newcomers and tourists who have come to the area since then.

In 2015 Marfa continues to lack a strong municipal infrastructure and is typical of the small rural towns scattered across West Texas. It is not convenient to live here. It is challenging. We experience power outages on an annual basis, phone reception is spotty, homes are rarely insulated and the sun can be blistering. We don’t live here because of the comforts associated with urban living. We live here because of the land. Disruption to the land is an assault on the lifestyle of everyone here. The proposed TransPecos pipeline is a threat on the land under the stewardship of the residents and arguably the most dynamic attraction to visitors.

In May of 2005 the Ballroom Marfa presented it’s first single-topic exhibition, a multi-discipline project devoted solely to bringing attention to a global environmental issue: Water. Agnes Denes, a pioneer of environmental and conceptual art, presented The Pyramids of Conscience.  To quote from Denes’s website:

‘The Pyramids of Conscience touches on the immediate issues of clean water, survival, politics, human weaknesses and needs. They refer to the global problem we must soon face with the life-giving substance of water and the politics that surrounds it.

They are presently in the exhibition Treading Water, in Marfa, Texas, dealing with the privatization of water and things to come.

One of the pyramids is filled with crystal clear water, the other with polluted water from the Rio Grande. Another is filled with crude oil, the common denominator. The final pyramid is a mirror in which you see yourself reflected, whatever you do, feel, fight against, or agree to. It reflects the drama of it all.”

Using polluted water from the Rio Grande underscores the precarious nature of the ecosystem that serves as our national border. The TransPecos pipeline is slated to cross the river into Mexico. Already an area of great environmental concern to residents on both sides of the border, the pipeline provides an additional threat to the waterway and health of the residents.

2.     Environmental Impact. While employed at the Presidio County Health Services as Assistant to the CEO I witnessed the flooding of the Rio Grande. This tragedy shut down the border for more than 2 weeks closing off the cities of Presidio on the Texas side and Ojinaga on the Mexico side. The town of Redford was isolated by floodwaters and many people were without clean water, food and medical supplies until the water receded.

To quote from the October 17, 2008 article in the Texas Observer by Marfa resident Sterry Butcher:

"The International Boundary and Water Commission is the binational agency with responsibility for some ofthe Rio Grande's levees, including those at Presidio. . .

We do regularly exchange water data with Mexico," said Sally Spener, spokesperson for the U.S. section of the commission. "We got into a situtation where that water was coming to Luãs Leãn. The Mexican section advised us of the planned releases so we could prepare. By September 5, we were basically in flood operation and over capacity at the big dams. We started to see the water rise. . .

The authorities gave us about 24 hours' notice," said Ojinaga Mayor Cásar Carrasco, who added that his city's unavoidable flood was better than the alternative: a burst dam upstream. "Ojinaga and Presidio would disappear if the dam collapsed," he said. . .

On October 5, the bridge reopened to non-commercial traffic. Lacking their Mexican customer base, some Presidio businesses say they saw an 80-percent decrease in sales while the bridge was closed. Ojinaga took an economic hit, too. . ."

I site the flooding of the Rio Grande to underscore the precarious nature of the river that borders the US and Mexico to again ask you to stop the TransPecos pipeline.

In 2010 I was employed as the Business Operations Manager for the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. My relationship with Environmental Engineers and Sustainable Energy experts helped to enhance my ongoing education about environmental topics. I have become aware of Impact Fees. To quote James Nicholas, University of Florida and Julian Conrad Juergensmeyer, Georgia State University from their paper Market Based Approaches to Environmental Preservation: To Environmental Mitigation Fees and Beyond:

"Present environmental problems facing the world today clearly show that past techniques used for environmental protection have failed to mitigate environmental degradation. The decline of the environment, signified by rising air pollution, water pollution, and deforestation shows the inherent tension between economically profitable ventures and environmental protection. This is the tragedy: Environmental preservation tends to not be “profitable’ while environmental degradation tends to be “cheaper.” In essence, it is cheaper for a private part to pollute rather than to protect environmental resources. This construct, however, which arises as a result of concern with the “bottom line,’ exists separately from the social and natural features that society might wish to have considered. But, what if environmental conservation was profitable? Can we move towards regulatory paradigms where the profit motive works towards preservation?. . . "

I respectfully ask the FERC to consider the environment and culture of the TransPecos over the economic interests of the pipeline.






What does Sound have to do with the Sublime? by Christine Olejniczak

Joseph Mallord William Turner,  Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth , exhibited 1842

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth, exhibited 1842

As an artist who finds an abundance of content coming from the natural world, I’ve been researching the idea of the Sublime.

This past spring I saw the movie Mr. Turner. It chronicles the last 25 years of the British painter J.M.W. Turner’s complicated life.  The scene that stayed with me featured him strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm.

The idea of nature being an experience, something that you are inside of, has generated more questions than answers.  I am especially interested in how sound contributes to the experience and how I can extract an experience out of one place and share it with people somewhere else. Often that other place is inside an architectural box where people come to have more of a social experience. What does this mean? What’s going on?

Here are some of my notes:

From the Tate’s website: “Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry (1757) connected the sublime with experiences of awe, terror and danger. Burke saw nature as the most sublime object, capable of generating the strongest sensations in its beholders. “

On victorianweb.org George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University writes:  "Turner and Wordsworth created embodiments of Burke's descriptions of sublimity that make explicit his notion of a subjective, experiential world. Turner's Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour's Mouth (1842), one of the paintings in whose defense Ruskin began Modern Painters, plunges us into the midst of a storm at sea: the whirling vortex of water, sea-mist, and smoke draws us into the scene, making us look not at the storm but through it. The power, magnificence, obscurity, and awe of the Burkean formulation all present themselves as major components of the experience. But again, the viewer, like the painter before him who immersed himself in the storm on the Ariel, does not see these qualities as qualities of an object or scene but as qualities of subjective experience. . .

In other words, in place of the static composition, rational and controlled, that implies a conception of the scene-as-object, Tuner created a dynamic composition that involved the spectator in a subjective relation to the storm. . ."

Sublime Objects by Timothy Morton, published in Speculations Journal and available for free download by Acadamia.edu

A few excerpts: “. . . Heidegger’s essay “language” is about anything but language as a sign for something – more like language as an alien entity in its own right. Language is a kind of object. And language is full of objects. Take onomatopoeia: granted, guns go pan in French and bang in English but in neither do they go cluck or boing. Bang and pan are linguistic contributions by guns. Before they are French and English, they are gunish, and get translated into human. Likewise pop and splat, crack, growl, tintinnabulation and sussurate and even perhaps visual terms such as shimmer and sparkle. Those sorts of words are a kind of sonic translation of a visual effect, the rapid diffusion of light across a moving surface. Shimmering is to light as muttering is to sound. Language is not totally arbitrary. And it is not entirely human – even from a non-Heideggerian perspective.

Then there’s the fact that language always occurs in a medium what Roman Jakobson calls the contact.  In OOO-ese (object oriented ontology) this means that objects encounter one another inside another object – electromagnetic fields, for instance, or a valley. When the interior of the object intrudes in some sensual way we notice it as some equipmental malfunction. “Check, check, microphone check. Is this thing on?” More generally, media translate and are translated by messages. We never hear a voice as such, only a voice carried by the wind, or by electromagnetic waves, or by water, or by kazoo. Water makes whales sound like they do. Air and gravity make humans speak certain words in certain ways, Valleys encourage yodeling. . . .

We need an object-oriented sublime in an ecological age. Google Earth wouldn’t qualify as Kantian sublimity – it’s too explicitly scientific. . .

It would be a good start to look away from the supposed “content” of rhetoric, and even away from styles such as metaphor or ekphrasis, and towards the most physical form delivery. Then truly we can say that by generating more sublime objects of tone, pitch, bearing, rhythm, torque, spin, nonlocality, lineation, viscosity, tension, entanglement, syntax, climate, heft, density, nuclear fission, inertia, rhyme (the list goes on and on), rhetoric really does give us a glimpse of real sensual things, things even a cat and an eighteen month year old boy can steal, read about and get tangled up in.”

I am starting to look at language as nature – just another sound. Part of the experience, part of the cacophany, part of the landscape. The need to make sounds that aren’t language is another part of the puzzle. Stay tuned.

P.S. - Pluto's Moon Hydra by Christine Olejniczak

After posting my blog yesterday I saw this image of Pluto's smallest moon on the New York Times website. The site states that "The piano-size spacecraft traveled nine years and three billion miles to study the dwarf planet and its five moons." The images of Pluto are crisp and reveal ice mountains. It's Hydra that draws my attention.

72 DPI by Christine Olejniczak


The images we look at on our phones, tablets and computers are generally seen at a resolution of 72 dots per-inch. That's it.

All images that we see on these devices are comprised of dots. A technological pointellism that filters everything from cute cat videos to the Mona Lisa. As someone who is not very well traveled I rely on the internet to look at art. I have been able to look through the collections at The Louvre, The MOMA, The Getty, The Guggenheim - almost any museum collection I can think of. I have the opportunity to look at the details and get much closer than I could if I was in fact standing in front of the work.

I can look at the work but the scale escapes me. The dimensions are given but it never really registers until you see the real thing. It's all Red, Green and Blue dots.

I don't pretend that the images I see on a screen compare with the actual object but the power of the pieces still translate. I am very much moved by a computer generated reproduction of a Magdalena Abakanowicz sculpture. Being in the room with one of her pieces is a different type of experience that is bigger, better - but I am captivated by what I see online and grateful to have access.

Recently it has occurred to me that my work needs to translate meaning at low resolution. My website gives me a chance to see if the ideas and finished pieces hold up. I find myself thinking about work that is designed to only be seen on the web. The thoughts I'm having about poetry are occupied with this experience.

As a child growing up Catholic I was lectured extensively about prayer. I remember learning about prayers that you think about while you are saying other prayers. The idea was that if your mind wandered you would still be praying. Always the back up plan. The poetry I was referring to is hinted at with everything online that isn't a RGB pixel. All the spaces that we fill up with our own stories, perceptions and interpretations. I'm curious about those spaces and what we think they might mean.

cir·cle /ˈsərk(ə)l/ by Christine Olejniczak

#2 in a 4 piece suitcase band

#2 in a 4 piece suitcase band

To draw a line around. “circle the correct answers”

I’ve been thinking about circles. I think about circles a lot. How long has this spinning thing been in my life. There was a time when I would draw circles as a meditative act. I did sound pieces titled “Thinking of You for 5 Minutes”. I would concentrate on one person while I drew a circle over and over again with a timer running.

I’m told by my father that when I was a child – pre-school age – that my version of dancing would be to spin in circles until I would fall down. Immediately after falling I would get up and spin again. These days I hoop dance. For some reason when I have a plastic ring in my hands I feel inspired to make what I’ve come to think of as my signature move. I’m learning to do tricks with names like vortex, tornado, swirl, sparkle and helix.

In the first studio I ever had in graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago I was compelled to bend over and scribe a circle on the floor with my pencil. A circle that was drawn with me extending my left arm, pencil in hand. I spun around and drew a circle. I must have traced it thirty times before I was satisfied. I stepped out of the circle and took a look. I loved that spot. I loved that drawing. It seemed to be a record of so many things.

Recently I have had the opportunity to observe the change of seasons in ecologies very different from the desert plateau where I live. Pickens, South Carolina in fall of 2014 – Salina, Kansas in spring of 2015. I’ve begun studying the cycle of the seasons in diverse parts of the country. It was a gift to observe the forest change in South Carolina, sometimes over the course of an hour. I watched so many leaves fall that the path back to my cabin would be erased.

In Salina I arrived at the end of February during a snowstorm. The snow was drifting across the highway between Wichita and Salina with winds over 20mph. I had to pull over to scrape ice from the wheel wells. When I stopped at the wayside there was only about ¼ inch clearance between the rubber of the tire and the slush that had caked up inside the well. Weeks later I watched wheat poke up through the ground like sticks. By the time I left at the end of April the dogwood trees had already bloomed. One afternoon staring out the window of Ad Astra Coffee Shop I thought the weather had taken a sudden turn for the worse – I was wrong. I thought it was snowing but it was thousands of white petals blowing by.

From Wikipedia: Ensō (円相) is a Japanese word meaning “circle” and a concept strongly associated with Zen. Ensō is one of the most common subjects of Japanese calligraphy even though it is a symbol and not a character. It symbolizes the Absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the Universe, and the void; it can also symbolize the Japanese aesthetic itself. As an “expression of the moment” it is often considered a form of minimalist expressionist art.

So much more for me to consider when it comes to thinking about the circle. My art process always starts with drawing and often ends with performance. In between are many small steps. I am picking up in places where I left off. Now feels like the right time for me to be drawing circles everyday, to be expanding the ways I make circles with my body and in my life. The way I make connections to close circuits and strengthen bonds.

At the beginning by Christine Olejniczak


At the writing of this first entry I find myself back in the city where I grew up. I made an incredible 19 hour road trip with my sister and father to attend the funeral of one of my uncles. Being surrounded by my relatives and sharing stories flooded me with memories and images that stay with me.

It was a bit overwhelming revisiting the place where the core of who I am was formed. My father and I marveled at how tall the trees had gotten and I realized that he has been tracking them for 88 years. We drove by a brick building that one of my uncles had built many years before I had been born - still standing strong. I met the son of a relative who had been an incredible painter. When I was in high school I made an appointment to visit with him and he showed me drawer after drawer of drawings on tracing paper where he had mapped out his compositions.

At my uncle's funeral there were photographs on display that helped tell 93 years of stories. He died weeks away from celebrating his 70th wedding anniversary. Amazing. His wife and daughters, my cousins, my father, sister, brother and my 97-year-old uncle all gathered to honor and celebrate a beautiful, full life.

I spoke to one of my cousins about the insatiable curiosity that runs in the family. An independent and creative spirit that I have always admired. I've never been clear if I was taught this quality or born with it.

After more than 30 years of making art I am at this moment experiencing many firsts. This website is the first I have ever built and I am excited to share my work. I live in Marfa, Texas - a small but somewhat infamous town. I've been here since 2001. In the past 12 months I've done 2 artist in residency programs and I intend to continue pursuing opportunities to scale my work up and seek out collaborations.

I'll keep all of you posted on these experiences. I plan on using this blog to have a forum on some of my musings, observations and to share a bit of my work in progress.

I gathered material from the last two AIRs that is still being processed. I have a lot more art to make.

Thanks for stopping in! This is truly the beginning of a very exciting time and I look forward to sharing it with you.