Karin Bolender /
Rural Alchemy Workshop
The Rural Alchemy Workshop (R.A.W.) is a station for collaborative, experimental art-research practices that root in ecologies (all the faunal, floral, mineral, and chemical forms that comprise them), rural-urban cultural frictions, and specific acts of un/naming and imaginative, responsive, and respectful more-than-human storying and habitation. Founded in Carnesville, Georgia in 2008, the R.A.W. has worked at the edges of Philomath, Oregon’s patchwork forests and pastures since 2013. The prime investigator and main anarchivist of the R.A.W. is artist-researcher Karin Bolender, aka K-Haw Hart. The R.A.W.’s transdisciplinary projects hold space for ‘untold’ more-than-human stories and experimental anarchives within meshes of landflows and waterways, domestic and wild mammals, plants, microbes, and many others.
"RQP Card," Traditional rodeo queens, when making public appearances as ambassadors for the Western Way of Life, are armed with "autograph cards," which they sign for admirers. The Rodeo Queen of the Pyrocene, being a fugitive of sorts, does not proffer public appearances or signatures. Yet investigations have nevertheless turned up what seems to be an autograph card, one of few existing pictures of them. Authorities suspect it may serve as some kind of coded communique to those on their trail.
Through pursuit of an elusive and radical figure known as the “Rodeo Queen of the Pyrocene,” the R.A.W. investigates a flammable mare’s nest of rural-urban frictions grounded in generic myths of the “Western Way of Life,” as they manifest in Pacific Northwest forestry, ranching, conservation, and other land-management practices, in both obvious and less visible ways. As an official “ambassador for the Western Way of Life” (the job description of most every rodeo queen), the RQP thunders in and out of arena spotlights, waving a spectacular, distracting red flag amidst the more hidden dimensions of cultural, capital, and fossil flows and legacies that shape the land as we (don’t) know it and fuel its range of conflagrations.
But hounding the hot trail of the RQP, as she makes her rounds from the Arctic Circle to Down Under, is a posse of undercover agents and herbivorous grazers, mounting a widespread back-burn operation against her unchecked reign. This underground network is known to have cells in places known as “Oregon,” “California,” “Scandinavia,” and “Australia” (though those might well be code names). In cahoots with a globally dispersed posse, the R.A.W.’s investigation seeks to track and catalog actions and methods involved in efforts to predict and assuage the ever-shifting paths and cycles of the Pyrocene Queen’s wild rides.
The R.A.W. is rooted in Philomath, OR, in the thick of western forests and their industries, management practices, conservation aims, and related conflicts. Philomath is also home for 50+ years to a major node of PNW rodeo culture, the Philomath Frolic and Rodeo. The RQP grows directly out of this vortex of storied and submerged western “pulp frictions”: too-slow reckonings with questions of climate crisis within rural-urban cracks, and even longer, deeper, pricklier engagements with domestic herds and flocks and the ways they and their feral cousins inhabit and graze the grasses, shrubs, and forest edges of precarious earthly places. Regionally, the RQP is also linked to hotspots in California, including burning deserts and a specific plot of former pine forest in Paradise, to which the R.A.W. has familial connections across five fast and furious generations of settler enterprise.
more from R.A.W.'s perspective
Rodeo Mystery Clues #11 and #5: From the anarchives of the R.A.W.'s ongoing investigation, these images show the Philomath Rodeo Grounds in the Great Rodeo Gap Year of 2020, in early summertime when the activities of the RQP were smoldering underground.
Rodeo Mystery Clue #7: A fire broke out at the Philomath Frolic and Rodeo Grounds in early summer 2022, two weeks before the rodeo was to take place. The fire consumed roughly a third of the historic grandstands before it could be contained. No perpetrator has been identified. Perhaps it was an accident; these things happen.