Artist Lab Report:
An Immersion Into a Symbiotic Relationship with Nature

by Makayla Carlson

When I arrived the first day to Lakeside Labs, I only experienced the tip of the iceberg of the incredible that was yet to come. The first two days were all about getting acclimated to the culture of Lakeside Labs, whether it be early morning yoga sessions, exploring the area, listening in on lectures, attending speaker events in the evenings,  or listening to the professors discuss subjects varying from diatoms to the plants you should be aware of while staying here.


On the third day, I was invited to go along with the Acoustic Ecology class to the Badlands to do some recordings. The Badlands was an incredible, yet thrilling time. Actually being immersed in the environment of the Badlands after attending a speech about Geology and Earthquakes the evening before helped me put two and two together regarding the coloration of the Badlands. Not only just that, but I truly was not aware of how quickly the terrain can change in such a short distance. I also was super excited to see so much plains prickly-pear cactus.  As beautiful and calming as the Badlands were, (so we thought) we became aware of Bison and their habits quite quickly once we set up camp and read some signs about how bisons’ tails stand straight up before they are going to charge at someone. It was also neat to see the Acoustic Ecology class in action while recording the prairie dogs and setting up and tearing their little recording devices. To actually record in an area where it is undisturbed by cars driving by or people is absolutely vital to their research and getting good quality recordings. On the fourth day we headed back from the Badlands and we of course had to stop at infamous Wall Drug to see what all of the signs hyped up. I was excited to see such brilliant stained glass on the ceiling and to gather some fallen pansies to press for my work.


In the evening of the fourth day, I was able to attend a presentation by the author of the book Poached about her book and what inspired it. I was not aware of the reality of Poaching and how there is so much more than just people killing animals to sell their body parts. There are humans out there truly trying to survive and their only means of survival or what they’re good at is trapping animals. It was an enlightening talk about the world of poaching and the author actually proposing a solution and what we can do to help the situation in our country was really neat. After the talk, I retired to the Bodine Lab to my little studio area. Actually having a designated studio space to create art has improved my habits as an artist immensely. I feel as though ideas are just brewing constantly and I feel so inspired because of learning about all of these beautiful things about the environment from the professors, students, speakers and reading books and being immersed in nature itself. The symbiotic relationship that I feel as though I share with nature and regarding my work as an artist feels totally reaffirmed and strengthened. The experiences I have had the past week have been absolute fuel for my work and for my bones. So I have a couple pieces that I have been working on and two are finished while the other three are works in progress.


I have never had so many works in progresses or work completed in such a short time period, but it is absolutely enthralling. The first piece I foraged some mushrooms and created spore prints on top of an watered down acrylic background and attached pieces of cottonwood seeds. The second piece is an impasto painting inspired by birch trees. The third piece is a study I did of tree fungi for the charcoal drawing of the lower half of the lady face in the last piece. The fourth photo documents a sculpture of clouds made of fallen Annabelle Hydrangea threaded together. The last work in progress piece is a mixed media charcoal piece on cardboard that will have tree fungi on the person’s lips.

This residency so far has truly brought great introspection into my soul and affirmation to my being regarding my connection to nature and body of work. Romping around the marshy area learning about the fruition of rare flowers of the area due to the excess amounts of alkaline in the soil and being taught about kettle holes and succession of the environment today was an absolute treat. I am genuinely stoked to learn more this coming week about all the things ecologically and to also create more work! =)


“Artists and scientists are both asking questions about the world, they’re just doing it in different ways”
Alex Braidwood
Director, Iowa Lakeside Lab Artists-in-Residence Program
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