Ceramics artist, musician, mother, collaborator and traveler Meagen Svendsen swims creative seas like a natural. As an installationist, she builds worlds inspired by inquiries into natural science, and as the lead singer/songwriter of Avifauna, a band of local artists making moody and atmospheric music, she brings listeners closer to their essential animal core. Here are her answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Meagen Svendsen: There are an endless number of people in history that I would love to spend some time with. Frida Kahlo would be high on my list. I’d like to tell her how humbled I am by her ability to transform pain and vulnerability into powerful works of art. I’d like to hear Martin Luther King’s take on our current affairs. More than anything, I’d like to spend a day with Barack Obama. His optimism, tenacity and empathy give me hope for humanity. Plus, that dude is hysterical.
But, really, if it meant that doing so would permanently change my daily life, then I would probably pass. I feel so blessed with all the collaborative opportunities I have, I don’t know if my heart or my brain could handle much more.
I am in the band Avifauna with four of the kindest, most creatively brilliant people I know — my husband, Robert Treta; Christopher Nelsen; Mark Penner-Howell and Patrick Loehr. I also collaborate visually with Tracy Tomko, Mark Penner-Howell, Patrick Loehr, John Haley and Jennifer Jeannelle in our artist collective Pangloss Gravitron. Still, of all my collaborative efforts, nothing compares to the joy of parenting our two beautiful sons, Aidan and Gavin, with my wonderful husband.
Who in the world is interesting to you and why?
Fabrice Schnoller is a French biologist and engineer who is working to decode the language of sperm whales (coda clicks) through the use of spectograms. This is interesting to me both on a personal and an intellectual level. I have been hearing-impaired all my life and have known firsthand the terrible impact of loud, human-made noise on the nervous system. I have great empathy for animals that rely on sound as their primary form of communication. I believe the more we can do to understand them, the better our chances of preventing the destruction of their acoustic environments.
Also, the synesthetic aspect of visually interpreting sound with spectograms is especially intriguing to me. When I got my first hearing aid, eighteen months ago, I began to experience the beautiful range and texture of sound that most people take for granted. It was right around this time that we formed Avifauna, and I realized that, when describing the music, I was “seeing” sounds that my bandmates were hearing. My relationship to sound has deeply impacted the way that I experience the world, and I am fascinated with how this translates in the brains of other animals.
What’s one art trend you’d like to see end, and why?
I believe in the importance of individuals expressing themselves artistically in whatever way they are inspired. But if it is a trend, I generally don’t consider it art.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What would you do with it?
I’d hire young minds to invent a machine to extract the plastics from our oceans. I’d build more migratory corridors for wildlife. And I would put musical instruments in the hands of every person on the planet, encourage them to forget all the rules and just play. And to raise their voices in song, like birds and wolves and whales do. I’d encourage them to sing together. On public transportation. At family picnics. In bars. At world summits and political rallies — especially at political rallies. Because song is in our nature. It is what reminds us that we are all in this together.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here – or what makes you want to leave?
I adore Denver. I moved here from Manhattan twenty years ago for the nature, but I quickly fell in love with the people. I especially appreciate the artist community here, which I have found to be so generous, inviting and inclusive.
Nothing makes me want to leave (except the occasional winter day). Still, I have never been a big fan of the “I was here first"/“native” mentality. This attitude seems to be growing more prevalent as more people move here from out of state. I understand the complaints about traffic jams, ugly buildings and the loss of open space, but the “us” and “them” mindset is a slippery slope, at the bottom of which rests a Republican toupee. And where would we be without the likes of Adam Lerner, Dana Cain and the Lumineers? Denver is becoming a real city now, but we don’t have to start acting like city people about it. We can still be friendly, kind and compassionate.
What’s the one thing Denver could do to help the arts?
Make public transportation a way of life, so we are forced to bump into one another more often. This will increase our urban angst, thus inspiring artists to make more art.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Nick Sullivan at the Keep Recording Studio is my current creative hero. He is not only a tremendously gifted audio engineer, but he is also endlessly inspired, generous, patient, supportive and full of integrity. The band can’t wait to get back into the studio with him.
What’s on your agenda in the coming year?
I will be showing with Walker Fine Art. Bobbi Walker has curated a fabulous show that will open January 22 at the McNichols Building. Also, Avifauna has an entire album worth of material to record. We just released four singles from our upcoming album The Gyre, which we will complete in the coming months. In the space in between, I will continue to create forms from clay, and words and notes on my guitar.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Denver has become such a mecca for creativity in the past few years. Recently, I have been really enjoying the comedy that is being written and performed here. The young female comedian Georgia Rae is especially courageously funny and intelligent. I’d place my bets on her.
Learn more about Meagen Svendsen Visit Avifauna’s Facebook page and Soundcloud channel for info and a listen.