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So you sent Bubb to China ...

Local administrator and artist returns


When Karen Bubb was invited by former Boise City Arts Commission (BCAC) director and current Washington State Arts Commission director, Kris Tucker, to join one of the first ever cultural delegations to China, Bubb knew she was embarking on a journey that would build upon her own experiences and interests as BCAC's Public Arts Manager. Public art projects by Patrick Zentz, Dwaine Carver and Amy Westover had inspired Bubb to research China and Boise's Chinese-American past. She knew the experience would enable her to be a leader and a resource in the community for future exchanges and partnerships with Chinese artists and performers. What she did not know was how profoundly the trip would influence her own artistic endeavors.

As fulfilling as her work at BCAC and as an artist may be, financing the trip was a challenge for Bubb. She credits the idea of the "Send Bubb to China" campaign to friend and local artist Eve-Marie Bergren. The campaign was simple: supporters could sponsor Bubb by sending her $32--one percent of the initial cost of the trip. The project grew, however, when Bubb began to plan ways to acknowledge and thank her investors. The idea of simple "thank you notes" grew into the creation of "shareholder certificates" printed with a unique polyester-plate design. The courtesy of a postcard sent from her destination naturally evolved into painted, printed, sewn and beaded pieces of small-scale artwork (each with a handwritten note), a specialty of this collage artist. And the need for some kind of "proof of learning" assessment tool became the promise of an encaustic collage for each sponsor to be completed upon return.

The project grew again when 220 friends, family members, business associates, art collectors, fellow artists and complete strangers took up the challenge of sending Bubb to China. Whether the investors wanted to support a local celeb, be part of the greater good of the cultural delegation or purchase an affordable piece of Bubb's artwork, their enthusiasm made it possible for Bubb to cover the trip's actual expenses. Those costs included the supplies required to create the aforementioned artwork and an investment in a piece of equipment that Bubb used to deepen her understanding of "collage" and imagine future possibilities for multidisciplinary artistic collaboration: a sound recording system. Bubb hopes to edit the myriad of sounds she collected, from the clapping and swooshing of Tai Chi practitioners to the familiar lilt of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" wafting over foreign voices, into a piece of sound collage that could inspire local choreographers to create an accompanying dance performance.

In addition to sound bits, Bubb also collected piles and piles of Chinese memorabilia, gathered with the help of her traveling companions. "I think they thought I was crazy, but by the end of the trip they were bringing me labels torn from bottles and pieces of trash with interesting patterns," she recalls. She plans to use these materials--cigarette wrappers, beer labels, dried jasmine, seed pods--to create her encaustic collages. The collages will be the size of joss paper, a funerary paper burnt to send messages and good wishes up to the dead. In her infinite gratefulness for the resources she was given to make this trip possible, Bubb thinks of these final thank yous as gifts or offerings. She also hopes the encaustics express the experience of her trip through the many physical and metaphorical layers of collage. "There's the imagery and the symbols that I can draw upon, but also the physical textures," she explains. "In the Forbidden City the walls were red, stained with pig's blood. They had a physical texture, but knowing that the color and the texture were the result of sacrificial offerings gave them another layer of meaning."

If you didn't have the foresight to purchase a share in the experience, you will still have an opportunity to view the work inspired by the trip. Bubb plans to work with Stewart Gallery to create an anniversary exhibition in late May or early June of next year. The exhibition will include the shareholders' encaustics in addition to other work.

Prior to that, you have the chance to view China through the eyes of the artist; Bubb has scheduled two slideshow presentations that are free and open to the public. The first will be held Friday, June 25 from noon to 1 p.m., the second on Saturday, October 2 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., both at the Boise Public Library Auditorium.