Rena grew up about 15 miles south of Russell, Kansas. She claims central Kansas with its endless horizons, thunderstorms, the crystal clear Milky Way, buffalo grass, expansive cropland, and pockets of magical prairie as her home. She earned a BFA in Visual Art, Expanded Media, with a minor in Art History at the University of Kansas. While at KU, she took classes in history, literature, and archaeology and worked with science professors in addition to her studio and art history courses, so that when she developed projects, she could view them through multiple lenses. She loved having this breadth of knowledge at her fingertips. See Rena’s artwork here.
What drew you to work at TLI?
I’ve been dreaming of collaborating with this organization for years. I admire the incredible work TLI has done developing sustainable Natural Systems Agriculture and the way in which Ecosphere Studies fosters a creative and interdisciplinary approach to imagining a more beautiful, just, and generative relationship with the land. I feel an affinity with the slow and careful labor and the deep connection between the research scientists and their subject: looking closely, counting petals, measuring roots, tending, touching with fingertips, recording incremental change. It is that kind of intimate relationship and deep awareness I am after in my own work as an artist.
What work experiences on your resume are most relevant to your position at TLI?
My work and research through my art practice, exploring the social and environmental histories of Midwestern landscapes, led to my interest in working with Ecosphere Studies. I make drawings, objects, installations, and sculptures from found natural materials and I’ve become interested in the memory embodied and embedded in the earth. I am interested in asking deep questions about our troubled relationship to the land and exploring alternative ways of knowing, seeing, and living with the more-than-human ecosphere such as plants and critters.
What would people never guess that you do as part of your role at TLI?
I am currently helping to prepare a Hikaru Dorodango workshop for an Ecosphere Studies Creative Arts Gathering. Dorodango (泥だんご”) is a Japanese art form in which dirt and water are molded to create a delicate shiny sphere, resembling a billiard ball. We’re calling them “ecospheres” and using the process as a grounding exercise for our gathering.
What TLI perennial crop do you look forward to eating most, and how would you prepare it?
I used to work as a baker, I’m hoping to get my hands on some Kernza® and experiment with making sourdough bread.
What’s one aspect of your life history that most people don’t know or wouldn’t expect?
I spent six months studying in Seoul, South Korea during my undergraduate studies. I’m still dreaming of going back.
What else are you passionate about (outside of work)?
I love to read, cook, and travel. I’m still hoping to improve my Spanish and learn more than a few songs on the guitar.
If you were to write a book, what would it be about?
I’m not sure what I would write a book about, but someday I hope to illustrate a children’s book that my dad wrote.
What were you like at age 10?
I was a curious kid and everything interested me. I spent a lot of time outside, drawing, inventing projects. I remember asking my parents for ballet lessons, fencing lessons, piano, guitar, singing, you name it, I wanted to learn.
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