As a meditative response to these ideas, Detrixhe collects gallons of red dirt by hand, usually at local excavation or construction sites, and transforms them into ornate “tapestries” that are ultimately swept away. Over two years, she has created several versions of Red Dirt Rug—always with Oklahoma soil—in museums and galleries in six states. On March 14th, her latest in the series opens at the Philbrook Downtown in Tulsa. For around three weeks, she will be on site, spreading a 650-square-foot layer of dirt and carefully stamping it with patterns made from found shoe soles. Following this performative installation, the delicate piece will be exposed to the gallery elements until July 22nd.
“Rena and I had a long conversation about entropy, and how she doesn’t want that to happen, but she also understands that it does and it will,” said Philbrook curator of modern and contemporary art Sienna Brown, who organized the exhibition. “We’re hoping no kids make dirt angels in it, but she said that no matter where she does this, invariably a little bug will track across it. And that’s okay, that’s part of the life of the object.”
Detrixhe’s process is slow and arduous. First she grinds and sifts the dirt into a fine dust, then spends hours shaping the soil and pressing it with floral and geometric forms. This ritualistic and ephemeral labor is akin to the making of Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas. “I think the piece offers a sense of time—or a scale of time—that we don’t often afford ourselves, or that we aren’t allowed to experience, in our daily lives,” the artist said. “What if we, as a culture, spent hundreds of hours getting to know our surroundings intimately?”