Building Buildings and Landing on Land

So for the last few years I have been building more large architectural structures. I built a treehouse around four sugar maples with Caroline Woolard at the Anthill Farm in Honesdale, PA for our friends there, Monique and Skye.  I took some introductory workshops in timber framing at the Heartwood school in Western Mass., and was very inspired by a talk that Jack Sobon gave there. I pitched in on a strawbale timber frame house that Jonah Vitale-Wolff of Soulfire Farm and Hudson Valley Natural Building was working on in upstate New York, and did some other building projects with Jonah. CAM00184In In Connecticut, my bro Brendan and I built a chicken coop for our chickens, a milking stand and stalls for our goats, and a wigwam-shaped bamboo shack for boiling maple syrup.CAM00114

I fixed Alice Rubin’s greenhouse and built her some new cold frames. I installed SIPs on a timber frame barn with South Windham Post and Beam.  I pitched in on a few hand raisings that the Barn Raisers were doing around Connecticut for their timber frame projects. I helped Sam Ekwurtzel saw some massive logs into timbers for the barn he’s planning to make in Granby.CAM00285And this past year, I built an 18×24 barn/root cellar/sleeping loft for Bryan and Anita O’Hara from Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT. CAM00338It was a stick frame of rough sawn hemlock and white oak, with a gable dormer on the south wall upstairs, and incorporating a hand-hewn post and beam for the central support.CAM00327We covered the building in tongue-and-groove pine boards, and a cedar shingle roof with shiny copper valleys. CAM00342

Tobacco Road Farm is a wonderful place to work, with communal lunches of greens and veggies grown in the field, and a good steady work ethic and friendly spirit among the crew. They grow with no-till practices, biodynamic preparations, indigenous micro-organism compost, and plenty of love and gumption. It’s been very inspiring and nourishing to be a part of their community.

A Boat for Christine Periord

I produced this work while I was in retreat from the world at Phats Valley residency in Truro, Cape Cod in December, 2013.

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I made a small skin-on-frame boat as a magic tool for exploring my cultural heritage. I was thinking a lot about my Irish ancestors and about an ancestor on my paternal grandmother’s side. My Grandma Helen’s Great Grandmother was a Native American woman named Christine Periord from Hawkesbury, Ontario. That’s all we know about her. No tribe information, nothing. All lost in the shifting sands of cultural assimilation. So I kind of made this boat as a very indirect way of finding out more about her.

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I lashed the frame of willow saplings and split locust gunwhales together with nylon sailmaker’s twine. The form is similar to a very foreshortened Irish Currach.

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I skinned the boat with canvas salvaged at the town dump, sewn to fit the form of the hull and lashed to the frame in the style of an Umiak.

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I made driftwood scraps into seats and flooring and lashed in place.

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The hand stitching on the canvas was laborious but rewarding.

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Ann Chen helped with the stitching, and also encouraged and supported the entire project.

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The boat is light enough for me to easily carry it on my back.

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The canvas is coated with tar for waterproofing.

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We tried it in the salt marsh in Truro, by the house where I was staying. Our neighbor Rich asked us to retrieve a red plastic trash can that had drifted in and gotten stuck in the marsh grass. We got it back to him in no time.

I also made a small hand-stitched photocopied book in an edition of 31, documenting my research and building process, and incorporating a new set of 6 woodblock carvings and engravings, as well as some drawings and a bibliography. Copies of the book are for sale in the Emporium. Read on to view the full contents.

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Living Like the Animals

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I was in a funk that winter. Making these drawings kind of got me going on making stuff again, but I think you can tell I was in a funk when you look at the drawings. I made them for this online residency project that Gabriela Vainsencher organized for a different artist to make a drawing every day for a week: the Morning Drawing Residency. Go to the link to see all the drawings.

 

The Corner Libraries

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I built a small weatherproofed shed and installed it in New Haven as part of A Lot in Our Lives in 2007. I made custom clapboards for the sides, little round windows, and a miniature orange door, and I put asphalt roofing on it. It was pretty sturdy.

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Inside the shed was lined with bookshelves and had a parquet floor. I filled it with old books and made signs that explained people could borrow the books and put other books back, or return the ones they had borrowed. The books mostly seemed to go out and not come in that much. But I organized with a literacy advocacy group to restock the library with books throughout the summer. We ended up removing the door, because the staff at Artspace, who I was collaborating with, were concerned that a child could get trapped inside there with the door closed and not be able to get out.

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 At the end of the summer, I had to pack up everything I had installed in New Haven.  But over the following winter I began doing some heavy organizing work to make it a big going concern in New York City. I had this great angle on it, using a loophole in public space regulation that allows the proliferation of newsracks everywhere. Why not a non-corporate version in the form of little public libraries?  I mean I was writing grants, making models, planning budgets, talking to city agencies, recruiting librarians. I thought maybe I was going to create a non-profit organization or something and spend my life building miniature libraries all over the world. I got pretty worked up about it, I really did.

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Well, it didn’t happen. The grants didn’t come through, and I moved on to some other projects for awhile that were more immediately accomplishable. But it stayed in the back of my mind over the years, and I kept struggling with the idea.

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We made some more tests now and then, little temporary guerilla style libraries. Most of them were rapidly removed. One was burned. Yep, street library arsonists, they’re out there. Who knew?

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That was kind of discouraging. But also kind of cool: at least we had gotten a rise out of somebody! I just couldn’t give this idea up though, it haunted me for years. For awhile I was even living in this imaginary utopian city, and I brought the library with me…

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Eventually that first library I had built ended up back on the streets, in Brooklyn. Instead of making it fit into newsrack regulations, we put it on wheels and locked it up to a signpost, just as you would do with a bicycle. Gabriela Alva from Eyelevel BQE became co-librarian with me and we had it out by her spot in East Williamsburg for a year or two.  This time we had a combination lock on it, and if you wanted to use it you just had to know the combo (B-O-O-K). That worked really well, people respected the contents much more than when it was wide open.

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We have some good children’s books in there for all the kids. Plus some neat comics, artsy books, ‘zines, odds and ends. Gabriela documented the stuff for awhile and made a blog showing the collection. Last I knew, the library was still operational, although we had to move it again, to the corner of Bogart and Harrison, near the Morgan Avenue L station and NurtureArt, but I have to confess it’s been awhile since I visited it. Hunt it down if you’re interested. Anyway, that kind of got me back into doing the libraries guerilla style and figuring out other strategies for placing them on the sidewalk without getting permission. It’s a neat kind of mental chess game against the government regulations.

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For example, this one is disguised as a bench attached to a tree guard. The city parks department actively encourages citizens to put up these tree guards and cultivate the soil in the street tree beds. The city doesn’t have the resources budgeted to do regular maintenance on all the street trees, so it’s left to the citizens to do a lot of it. That’s why you see so many different versions of tree guards around. Often when a building is renovated they will landscape the sidewalk in front of the building too, including planting new trees, and adding tree guards, mulch, etc. Sometimes outside coffee shops or other restaurants they will build a bench type tree guard like this to sort of expand their seating area out onto the sidewalk.

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This one was built in Crown Heights, on Franklin Avenue and Park Place, outside of a community center called Launchpad. The guy who started Launchpad had planted the tree, and he was all for having a tree guard around it like this, so it worked out well. I gave the library a seed collection of books related to nature, gardening, and farming to go along with the tree theme. I also built it in part to say thanks for my inclusion in 5x5x5, a project started by Nora Herting and Ann Chen, in which they grew vegetable gardens in Nora’s Backyard in exchange for art work. Nora lived around the corner from the Launchpad site.

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I also built these twin abandoned payphones into libraries. They were right next to Ann Chen’s parents’ place in lower Manhattan. I made plexiglass doors for them, and they were used for awhile. Then eventually the parking lot they were in got turned into something else, so they were removed.

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This little one was in East Harlem for awhile, and was maintained by Christine Licata while she worked at el Taller Boricua. But then she changed jobs, so the library had to go. It was a planter with plants growing in it, that had a drawer where you could share recipe cards and seed packets.

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I built this library onto a red wagon foundation, and had a nice long trek taking it from the woodshop at Smack Mellon in Dumbo, Brooklyn, where I built it, all the way to Word Up in Washington Heights.  On the walk up there we ran into our dear friend Christin Ripley, a great artist and sailor. She was just going to work at the sailing school on the Hudson.

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The Word Up Collective decorated it and used it for mobile book sharing and outreach for their local bookstore/community center hybrid. If you live uptown in Manhattan you really should hang out at Word Up, it’s a super cool place.

I have slowed down on the library project now, since moving back to rural Connecticut. I felt okay letting it go, especially knowing that another group, Little Free Libraries, was doing lots of organizing around pretty much exactly the same thing. They really have their stuff together. If you’re interested in making a micro-library in your community you should do it! It’s easy, can be made from scraps you’ll find lying around, and it’s a great way to use up some of your creative energy. There are lots of ideas on the Little Free Libraries site, and some strategies you might try on this site too. Hooray books!

Dead Branch Memorial Tree Guards

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Ted Efremoff organized a show called Insite/Out in June 2012 at Artspace, New Haven, CT.  For two weeks I lived and worked in the gallery along with artists James Sham, James Holland, Rebecca Parker, andAriana Jacob. For me, this was a return to a neighborhood in which I had previously done a major project (A Lot in Our Lives). I had also grown up going to punk shows around the corner at a club called the Tune Inn that is no longer around. The neighborhood has been gentrifying and developing a lot since I’ve known it, due to its proximity to Yale and the downtown New Haven Business Improvement District.

I had been working on my Odd Jobs business card parody book around the time of these events, so I put a copy of it up in the window, along with some signs, trying to get hired, but nothing really panned out from that. So I ended up putting myself to work.

I worked on the street trees right outside the gallery where we were living. They all seemed to be dying, so I aerated their roots by removing the cobble stones  that were crowding them, added some mulch, pruned off dead branches, and built little tree guard fences around them using the dead branches I had removed. I called it the Dead Branch Memorial Tree Guards.

Meanwhile, I was doing a lot of foraging for wild edible and medicinal herbs in the city parks around New Haven, continuing a practice of amateur botany I’ve developed over the years, (see also: MOBILIZE the Portable Pantry, We Common, and A Boat for Christine Periord). I dried the herbs and used the cobbles I had salvaged from the street tree beds to set up a table for having Wild Tea Parties with whoever happened to pass by.

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Weighing Anchor

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This was the final phase of the Pulling Together / Legends of Willimantic project I organized with Ted Efremoff. During the intervening years the boat was stored under a tarp at my parents’ house. We used it once or twice at Alexander’s Lake, where we go every year for vacation, but mostly it just sat there. Then one time I recklessly left the boat tied out in a lake during a bad thunderstorm and it got wrecked pretty badly against some rocks. There was a huge split all along the bottom plank, by the keel. So we had to decide whether to fix it or do something else with it.

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In the end, we installed it as a sculpture at the I-Park Foundation, an artist’s residency program, land-based sculpture park, and alternative cemetery in East Haddam, Connecticut. We named this iteration of the project Weighing Anchor. Ted and I worked with James Holland and Johnnie Walker to brand a text into the sides of the boat, explaining the adventures we’d had with it. Then, we cut away the bottom of the boat, and planted a white pine inside it, to symbolically replace the tree that had been cut and milled for the planking.

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Finally, we landscaped the area around our boat to create a fire pit and stone field, trying to make the site inviting as a place to sit and share stories. An invitation to use the space for storytelling was also branded into the side of the boat. It is our hope that the site will be used by residents and visitors for years to come, as the tree matures and the boat gradually decays back into the landscape.

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 I made a new set of woodblock prints around the time we were working on installing the boat at I-Park, thinking about the life of a project, the many lives it touches and connects, and how it can be sad when it comes to an end. In the context of I-Park’s Thanatopolis, a proposed alternative cemetery, the leaving of the boat was like a burial rite for our project; a project that had been so much about action and adventure, now finally coming to rest. Later, I made a watercolor painting of the boat in the style of an illuminated manuscript, with a stylized tree for a mast, sailing over the ocean, with a varied crew of friends. I wrote the text with oak gall ink that I made myself, and gold leafed the tree trunk. This painting was part of my residency work at the Center for Book Arts and it was exhibited there in 2012.

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The C.R.I.E.R.S.

This work imagines what it would be like to convene an inter-species committee about the monumental environmental crises we face on Earth. The acronym, C.R.I.E.R.S., stands for “the Committee for Relentless Inquiry into the Earth’s Regretful Situation.” Click on the image to view it bigger so you can read it.

Handset letterpress, original text, four color reduction woodcut, additional marks made in homemade oak gall ink and storebought shellac paint. Printed at the Center for Book Arts in 2012. Edition of 15 deluxe four color, plus 45 single color. 14 1/2″ x 11″. For sale at the Emcee C.M. Emporium.

We Common

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In the winter of 2009-2010 I was  working on how to collect Sycamore (London Plane) sap from all the street and park trees in New York, and boil it down for Sycamore syrup, which reportedly is like maple syrup, but a little more “mediocre.”

I documented that project along with some other related thoughts and experiences in a work called  We Common, published by ISCP in an exhibition catalog called Out of the Blue, and online at the Center for Collective Wealth.

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One time my brothers and I played a crazy game of apocalyptic ping pong in the middle of winter. It was based on a game from “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace called “Eschaton.” Ours was “Eschatong.” The resulting video was included in an exhibition organized by Sam Ekwurtzel called “A Failed Entertainment,” as one of the films of James Incandenza, a fictional filmmaker from the book.

Cloud City

Cloud City

 1. Before the Revolution

In the days before our independence was won, people would wake up in the morning and look out the window or turn on the radio, and already they would know exactly what was going to happen that day. Everything was excruciatingly boring in those days. No surprises, no mysteries, no suspense. It was a vapid, mechanical way of life. Every day, we dressed appropriately. We brought an umbrella at 30%, we wore rubber boots at 70%, and at 100% we just stayed home. Our picnics and vacations were planned to the utmost detail, cancellations performed days if not weeks in advance. Weather reports ruled our lives.

Bit by bit, a small enclave of dissenters formed.

“No more!” said the little boy with silver hairs of lightning to his father who forced him to wear a raincoat.

“No more!” said the little girl with a heart of thunder to her mother, who insisted she stay indoors and play with her dolls.

The two brave souls ventured out, unintimidated by the slight possibility of a sudden thunderstorm with a chance of hail. They told the gentle man with a mustache of blue who ran the corner store, the little old lady with twinkly toes who tended her garden below, and even some local toughs stealing rainbows from the sky. No more would they endure the oppression of predictable weather patterns. The gentle man with a mustache of blue, the old woman with twinkly toes, and even the toughs with hearts in their eyes took to the streets, following the little boy and the little girl, and thus the revolution began.

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2. The Commune

It started out harmlessly enough. A few puddle jumpings here and there, quietly, when no one was looking. But gradually these rebels were forced to adopt harsher tactics, in the face of rapidly increasing consistency. Rain dances quickly became blood baths. Umbrellas were booby-trapped and sunglasses outfitted with sophisticated tracking mechanisms. There were many such examples of grotesque terror – even suicidal monsoon missions that left many a father and mother weeping buckets.

The corner store on Eagle Street, run by the gentle man with the mustache of blue, became their regular meeting place. Under the cover of night, Lightning and Thunder (as the little boy and girl came to be called), clapped and banged at the back door of the shop, signaling their arrival. Every week, there were new recruits. One meeting in particular our elders still remember well. The forces were joined that night by Dew and Frost, who nearly disappeared in the heat of the glowing fire whilst removing their cloaks.

The girl with a heart of thunder spoke first. “You have all risked much to come here, but is it not adventure, excitement, life – real life – that we seek in our rebellion from our former boring existence?”

This gave the group pause. The little boy with lightning hairs spoke next:

“The rain can only touch those with fire in their hearts!”

The message was enigmatic, but effective. The room filled with applause. Committees formed and important goals were drawn:

  1. We must vanquish Predictability!

  2. We must defeat Boredom!

  3. We must restore Impermanence!

  4. We must replace all the ice cream bars in our host’s freezer case! We’ve eaten him clean out of stock what with all these planning meetings!

The growing band of guerilla revolutionaries, our esteemed forebears, became obsessed with their quest for spontaneity to be reintroduced to the lifeways of the earth. As their wills hardened, their organization grew denser and more cunning. An immense network of spies and informants spread out from the commune on Eagle Street that was the heart and soul of the project for a future of free floating. Eventually the web of dissent covered the entire globe like a dense fog, continuously shifting with the breezes and tides, adopting new sympathizers and strategies with the speed of an avalanche.

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3. Civil War

At last, the leaders of the newly christened Organization For The Ideological Supremacy And Free Formation Of All Life As Clouds Floating In The Blue Sky (OFTISAFFOALACFITBS) declared all out war on the pervasive systems of attention to detail that subjected them to such intolerable exactness.

Alas, the revolutionary group quickly grew far too large, and it was plagued by incestuous bickering. New leaders had emerged through the complex process of global expansion, and any notion of the sanctity of life had long since ceased to concern them. Plus their acronym was pretty hard to remember.

Frost (along with Dewdrop, his squint-eyed lackey) was the leader of one extremist faction forging artificial glaciers across the entire Southern Hemisphere and even venturing into warm valleys elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Sunbeam the Wicked, as he was called, developed ever grimmer reflectivity technologies with which to terrorize the poles and mountaintops.

The two factions overlapped and undid each other’s work repeatedly in a farce of disgrace. The original ideals the revolutionaries had cherished so long were all but lost in the torrent of violence that pulled them forward with no end in sight.

But the little girl with the rumbling tummy and the little boy with flashing eyes never lost hope. This war was a terrible condition, but if they could just manage to pass through – beyond, across, over away, above – how great the reward must be. Thus they consoled themselves in the darkest hours, when even the flicker and spark of Lightning’s magic hair seemed to be fading.

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4. Breakaway

The little girl fell asleep one night thinking, “Golly gee, if only we could get away from all this somehow. Have a fresh start.”

She had a prophetic dream that night, and in the dream a wise old blackbird with an Illinois accent told her about a place called Cloud City. “To get there all you have to do is clean out the fridge and throw a party to finish up all the leftovers,” croaked the blackbird. “Then sell everything you own, put the money in a ragbag, and go all the way to where the highway runs into the blue sky and then four hundred forty-four and one fourth ways beyond that. Give or take a mile.”

Knowing this the little girl named Thunder set off with the little boy, Lightning, followed by the faithful few: the store owner with the mustache of blue, the old lady with twinkly toes, and the band of toughs.

All of them had their money in ragbags to match their souls. Thunder had a loud rumbly one. Lightning’s was flashy and momentary. The store owner had a fuzzy blue ragbag that smelled of pipe tobacco. The old lady had pink polka dot sequins painted with nail polish on her ragbag. The toughs had plain black and blue ragbags hung on the end of a big stick.

Little Tough-Tough tired out first from swaggering too happily, so the old lady carried him on her belly back and the group moved on. They began to imagine what Cloud City must be like, and realized that each one had a different version!

Thunder saw bell towers clanging on every building and factories banging out drumsets and firecrackers. The streets were lined with balloons to pop as she strolled along.

Silver Lightning saw camera flashes, lines of string connecting person to person, with sparks from the bottom of their shoes that ignited at every step.

The blue mustachioed shopkeeper saw blind blues men with starry eyes on the corners and blue skies reflected in puddles of deep blue rainwater.

The little old lady saw nothing. She was in it solely for the adventure.

And the toughs saw misty dusks and dawns, perfect for ganging up on each other, lurking in alleys, and looking for trouble.

And so, clutching their visions close, they traveled to where the highway met the sky and on through, beyond, across, over away, above, until they came to Cloud City.

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A Network of Secret Gardens

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This was a wide-ranging project we did in 2009. At the core of it was growing a container garden on the roof of Huong Ngo’s studio.

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It was part of an alternative pedagogy project she was organizing called Secret School. We started thinking about all the other secret gardens, the ones that you don’t even know are there, tucked away onto rooftops and hidden in backyards.

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So we started organizing tours of the secret gardens. This was an especially cool one made by Brian Trzeciak. Later that summer his garden also hosted some great rooftop saunas that Anna Larson and I organized. Our goal with the tours was to build a community of secret gardeners, in which I’d say we were moderately successful.

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We also made some mobile gardens, like this greenhouse built onto a tricycle. We left it locked up on the street and someone put a blue ribbon made out of masking tape on it. That made us very happy.

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We made one on a red wagon too. Later on, we made the tricycle one nicer and it was part of a show called Bike Rides at the Aldrich Museum. After that it lived at the Red Shed Community Garden for awhile, and we used it for seed starting.

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We were also working on seed saving, using these custom secret seed packets we made. We participated in a seed saving exchange organized by folks from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, and also made an exhibition of seeds, along with other stuff from the project at NurtureArt, the local non-profit art space in our neighborhood.

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Some of the seeds were from wild plants, which I have a special affection for. We made little origami boxes to display them in, and laid them out on a table. It looked like a cityscape. There was also soil in bags down below the table, our trust for the future, and other ephemera. Plus we made a twin watercolor drawing of some radishes we grew, and put that on the wall.

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A related work was the Beeline Transit Map, a reimagining of the NYC subway map. It shows the routes that birds, bugs, and bees might take to get around the city, hopping from greenspace to greenspace, to point out how important those spaces are. We drew it by hand with watercolor and pencil.

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We displayed a copy of it along with the seed saving stuff, but also had it at Smack Mellon for another art show. It was kind of funny, we hung it high up in the second story window, where it would be really hard for gallery visitors to look at, but easy for birds flying by. However, we  did make a small nod to the flightless humans by providing binoculars. We also made a folding pocket-sized version of the map with folding binoculars, which you can buy at the Emporium.

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Oh one more thing, there’s an anonymous article in an online magazine called the Highlights. It refers to our map as an example of “crapomimicry,” which apparently is a new word some crazy scientists were trying to get added to the dictionary. We wouldn’t know anything else about that, but if you click on the link and scroll down to “XII” you can read it for yourself.

The K.I.D.S. Visit to Watermill

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We worked with a group of collaborators organized by BryanMarkovitz, to create an alternative tour of the Watermill Center in the Hamptons, drawing on various cues and interests of the group, especially the writings of Raymond Roussel. I was feeling pretty negative around that time I think, partly because of some personal stuff, so I kind of had a really overly bad attitude about classist, colonialist, eurocentric, and excessively normative tendencies in some aspects of the situation. Nevertheless, we managed to dress up in silly costumes, dress visitors up in silly costumes, dress up Robert Wilson‘s tribal art collection in silly costumes,  make a soap opera about our group of collaborators, make a lot of really good food, laugh, sing songs, and start a band with some elementary school kids called “the Wild Animals.” Good times!

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I really appreciate Bryan for including us in his process and for dealing so gracefully with the group dynamics. He has some great images of the project on his website too. The other collaborators were: Elizabeth Adams, Amanda Boekelheide, Ryan Dohoney, Huong Ngo, Julia Rich and Chris Piuma.

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MOBILIZE

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I’ve been out riding my tricycle a lot. I found it back in 2004. It was in pieces. I fixed it up, added some bells and whistles, and started riding. I like it, it gets me moving. Doing it. You know, getting into it, active.

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In these first few pictures, I’m projecting a film on my back while I’m riding. I call that MOBILIZE: The Moving Picture Show. I’ve projected a lot of Charlie Chaplin films. They’re perfect. No talking, just great spirited music and whacky sound effects. And everybody recognizes him. Sometimes cartoons are good too.

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The first two pictures are from New York City, where I lived from 2006-2012. But I started showing movies this way back when I lived in eastern Connecticut, where I grew up. This one was at the Third Thursday Street Festival in Willimantic, CT. I made all these manifestoes on an offset press in the printshop at UConn, and I used to pass them out when I was out riding around. You can buy one in the Emporium if you want, there are still a few left over.

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The project tends to be pretty eyecatching and people always ask me what I’m doing. So it’s a good way to break the ice and have a conversation with somebody, about anything, everything. Spontaneously like that. That’s the reason I’ve kept doing it from time to time. I enjoy it, other people enjoy it, and it seems to help bring us closer together.

Later I started doing some daytime projects with the tricycle too, as the Moving Picture Show only works when it’s dark out, and frankly riding bikes is more fun during the day.

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I built a set of different attachments for it. My friend likes to call them modules. One attachment is for the projector, film repair stuff, popcorn maker, etc. Everything I need for the Moving Picture Show. Another one is for collecting wild plants and cooking, out on the streets.

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That’s MOBILIZE: The Portable Pantry. I used it to collect rosehips, crabapples, pine needles, holly leaves, chokeberries, bayberries, and a few other things growing in New York this past winter. I was learning how to identify plants, cook jams, preserve food, and prepare different teas, in order to throw Wild Tea Parties with people.

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Sometimes it was a good excuse to climb the street trees, which I think is an underrated activity. This tree on 23rd Street near 8th Avenue had some very late crabapples that were still good in December. I made apple butter from them. Overcooked it a little.

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Another attachment is MOBILIZE: The Wandering Workbench. This is a roll-out workshop with a bench vise, work surface, and storage for hand and power tools. I’ve been using it to work immediately on the street, finding material, making Public Domestications (term coined through conversations with Huong Ngo), and installing them on the sidewalks for public use. The Corner Libraries project is a Public Domestication too, as were a lot of the projects in A Lot in Our Lives.

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Public Domestications are aimed at making public space more comfortable, more communicative, more equitable, more accessible, and less alienating. They are aimed at making public space ours.

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So far, many of them have been about an exchange of some kind.

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This is a found pirate costume installed on a coat rack on a construction wall: the yellow rose was contributed by the busker you can see in the background. He was a wizard on the pots and pans, plastic buckets and bits of broken glass, and seemed to be really supportive of my project, which is entirely mutual!

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I brought MOBILIZE to the Bronx in the summer of 2008 to do some stuff up there. I had a parking place at the Bronx Museum during June and July for the AIM show.

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Legends of Willimantic

This was a later phase of the Pulling Together project. Ted Efremoff and I made a concerted effort to reach out to the temporary community of boatbuilders that had formed around the boat initially, and to continue our adventures together in a voyage down the Connecticut river in the summer of 2008. Some folks were not available of course, but Fred Rivard, the historical reenactment enthusiast, and Pat Sold, the stencil t-shirt artist from New Jersey, came along. Johnnie Walker  and his family, and my brother Brendan McMullan joined us for parts of the trip too. Despite some bad sunburns we had a great time, camping along the river, telling stories, and feeling free. We made a pretty lengthy video during and after our trip documenting some of the legends we made up, imagined alternative histories of Willimantic, and such. If you’d like to screen the video, let us know, we can arrange something. For the final phase of the project click on to Weighing Anchor.

A Sauna

Sam Ekwurtzel and I made a sauna by the lake at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2007.

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A Sauna

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Something About Temperature & Time, Memory & Moments, Labor, Leisure & Location, Saving & Sharing, Usefulness & Us.

The Sauna by the beach is for everyone here.

It is open from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The schedule will vary somewhat based on whatever else is going on that day. We’ll try to stay on top of posting changes.

Monday is women only day.

Tuesday is men only day.

If you want to use the sauna earlier in the day for some reason please check with Sam or Colin first for a briefing (find us in sculpture yard studios 13 and 14).

The sauna is closed from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. for lake quiet hours. No exceptions. Sorry, night owls.

Try to keep it clean in there, wash your feet, sit on a towel if you want, don’t touch the stove or stove pipe (they are hot), always make sure the fire is out at the end of the night, smoke outside please. In short, common sense.

Thanks to those of us who have volunteered to help run the sauna: Rob, Christopher, Nate, Sean, Christine, Cauleen, Colin and Sam.

We Wish You Easy Steaming

 

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The sauna was used by a lot of people there. Some of the mentor artists had their families there, and they used it. Lots of the younger artists used it. It was a good hangout spot away from the studios.

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We made a lot of it from wood we found deconstructing old barns in the area. And the siding inside and out was all cedar slab wood we got for free at sawmills up there. We even made benches out of all that cedar. It smelled fantastic. Building the sauna was a great time, driving around and hauling materials, building, swimming, listening to music, exploring the Maine woods. We made a sweet little postcard window in the door so you could look out at the lake if you felt like it.

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There was a good little woodstove in there we were given by the maintenance guy, Bill Holmes. It steamed the place up pretty good when you poured water over the rocks. It felt so great to sweat a lot and then run out the door and dive in the lake. The perfect feeling for the perfect summer. It was a success as a communal gathering place and a functional sauna. So what next? We needed to push it somehow, to make something more out of it. After all, we were at an art school.

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So we made these event tickets out of pieces of firewood  with a dremel, and left them on the porch where everyone would see them. People took them. And they came to the sauna that night, 10pm, Monday August 6, 2007.

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First Brian and Carrie came. They made a great entrance, arriving by water, carrying the log ceremoniously in the air, to keep it dry, and wearing masks like some kind of wild sea creature.

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Then Nate and Sandy presented their deconstructed log. It says “Thy pagun loon sweat 2 god.” There were these incredible loon sounds on the lake every night, I remember, they sound like human beings wailing in the distance.

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Then Christine and Val put their beautifully painted log on the fire and it burned a magical green color through some weird voodoo they had done to it.

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The last log was retained by Sam and me. We had altered it to conceal a mobile phone inside, and while we were looking at the fire, it started ringing. Sam answered it and said, “Oh, Christine, it’s for you.”

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It was her mom. I think she was kind of embarrassed, or something.  I remember she said “Mommy?!” in disbelief. And then they started speaking in Chinese. But her mom had something to tell her. She told her to find the X, and dig there.

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So she did. And what did she dig up? Ice cream!

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It was a little melted from being buried awhile, but still delicious. And then we marked everyone with a stamp, that we had also carved into our log, along with the mobile phone. We took a photo of our branded arms together. I really like this photo. It makes me feel like everything is going to work out.

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Sam and I also made a video in the sauna, singing a song we had made up to the tune of a Woody Guthrie song from the Mermaid Avenue album. The lyrics make liberal use of hyperbole.

The sauna is still there as far as we know, still being used each summer by the new participants. It was moved away from the lake into the woods, for some reason, but who knows what other stories have taken place there since. At the end of the summer, our pal Katie Herzog organized among the other participants to give us a present, since we had given them the sauna. So they all made art for us, and she collected it into two portfolios and gave it to us as a memento. Thanks Katie, and everyone.

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A Lot in Our Lives

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This project in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, ran April through September of 2007. It consisted of a variety of activities centered around a public space called The Lot, sponsored by Artspace. I worked in collaboration with various people around the city who have some relationship to the space, to develop interactive projects to place there. The space is an empty lot that was converted by the city transit department and the local non-profit arts organization (Artspace) into a bus stop/public art exhibition space/public park hybrid. We kept asking ourselves, or at least I kept asking myself, what could we put in this space that would be of some use to the people that pass through this space day to day, waiting for the bus, or whatever. The projects included the following…

The Corner Library, a small lending library built in a waterproofed shed for sharing books and other information:

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A small vegetable and herb garden, the Lot Garden Plot:

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The Citizens’ Collection Cabinet, which was a shed for the public display of small objects:

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A wall of homemade and found musical instruments called Elm City Sound Relief:

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The Black and White Wall for Writing, which provided a legal site for graffiti:

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 The creation of A Lot in Our Lives included collaboration and input from many people. Frank Brescia, Robert Hurd, Henry Loomis, John Singer, Steve Tarquino and Kristina Zallinger co-produced the “Elm City Sound Relief” and collaborated on the design and production of the four hand-painted banners on display. Other artists from Artship of Fellowship Place were also involved in brainstorming and preliminary discussions. Frank Brescia, Henry Loomis and Kristina Zallinger also contributed their energies to “The Lot Garden Plot.” George Newman and I collaborated on “The Citizens’ Collection Cabinet,” which also received input from Huong Ngo and Ted Efremoff. George also worked on the freestanding black and white wall for writing, as did members of Artspace’s Teen Docents program. There have been other contributors who wished to remain anonymous, and many people who changed and added to the projects once they were installed whose names are unknown to me.

Thanks also to Artspace Staff, Carol Brown of the New Haven Free Public Library, Cathy Edwards from the Festival of Arts and Ideas, Cassandra Tucker and Sue Spight of Fellowship Place, and to Mario Luigi Ruggiero of the Artistic Salon on Chapel Street, for inspiration and consultation.

The New York Times wrote about the project, read it here: Steal that Book, Bash that Drum

A Game for the Kids We Were

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I got the chance to go to Belgrade, Serbia to do a project for an art festival there called “Night of Museums.” I decided to work spontaneously, with whatever materials were at hand, to make an environment that would encourage people to play together as if we were kids. It was moderately successful. There was one kid about 3 or 4 years old, who played with me for a long time. He was way better at playing make believe than I was. We had a castle and a whole kingdom going under that black sheet in the background.

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Later we made up a game with these sheets, but I don’t remember how to play anymore. I remember it being fun though.

 

Pulling Together

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This was a project I organized with Ted Efremoff. We built this boat in Willimantic, Connecticut, in three weeks. It is a wooden lapstrake canoe with a canvas sail. It was built with the help and participation of about 100 people from the local area.

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Several people got so involved that it really became a team and community-building project. The guys in this picture (Sean, Pat and Fred) worked long days with us, contributed ideas and talents, and generally took group ownership over the work. It was unexpected for that to happen, and wonderful.

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You see, we had set up the gallery as an open workshop. We got tools and materials together and established hours that anyone could come in off the street and help us figure out how to build this thing. The response was impressive, due in part to some excellent press coverage by Brenda Sullivan from the Broadcaster. We didn’t have any experience building boats before we started, but somehow through trial and error we figured it out together.

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Our boat debuted at the local Third Thursday Street Festival on October 19. We had built a cart to haul it on, and a bunch of us pulled it through the street. After dark, there was a video projected on the sail of the Willimantic River. The river runs parallel to Main Street, where we were walking, and is seen by many as an important and underused feature of the town. Willimantic is a classic old New England mill town, down on its luck. Our project was in part striving to create a symbol and a focus for people to help build community and direct attention to the resources at hand.

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Emmett, Brendan and Fred crewed the boat’s maiden water voyage on May 7, 2007, at Mansfield Hollow Lake.

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At first, the boat was much too light and didn’t sit right in the water, so we filled the bottom with some rocks that happened to be ready and waiting for us there by the shore. This ballast corrected the problem beautifully and it made us feel like we were using the old ways.

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Ted, Johnny and Sean look on here as the boys prepare to shove off.

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After we saw that no one had drowned on the first trip, everyone wanted to take a spin. On the right of this picture you can see the steer-bar we built to direct the course of our craft.

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Here are the six of us, the main shipwrights. From left: Pat, Johnny, Fred, Sean, Ted and Colin.

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The wind was gusty and unpredictable, but a few of us couldn’t resist the temptation to test out the sail. We rigged the boat and tested the ropes while on shore.

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As you can see, it worked just fine.

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We took the boat on a trip down the Connecticut River in June of 2008, spreading Legends of Willimantic as we went.

Work Together

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One time I wheat pasted some signs up advertising to find collaborators. I had this idea that I wanted to get a group of strangers to work together on something and see what would happen.

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So that was how I met Kim, Christine, and Freeland. They responded to the advertising, and we agreed on a day that we would spend working together. I had this temporary studio space at the time that was on ground level in lower Manhattan, provided by LMCC. So we got into this whole thing of trying to get people to come inside when they passed by the window.

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I had previously made this phone outside the studio that allowed people passing by to talk to people on the inside – basically like an intercom.  That studio was where I became friends with Huong Ngo too, we kind of made the phone together. So with Freeland, Kim and Christine, we sort of got into tying cookies and stuff onto the scaffolding outside the window and writing notes and telling people to take the food.

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At the same time, we had collected all this junk that was being thrown out in the trash on the surrounding streets. So we used it to make a kind of fort/art installation/clubhouse/??? inside the studio space. When people took a cooie or whatever we would invite them to come back and visit us when the fort was done.

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I don’t think anyone really came back, except maybe Kim’s friend, but it was pretty fun making it and playing together for the day.

The Cancer Kids

I was the singer and co-lyricist for this grind/punk band called the Cancer Kids. We had a lot of fun.

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And we even made a record that some people think is a masterpiece… McCoy said:

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These Western Mass outcasts with a predilection for Godzilla, Mr. T, and the Red Sox dwelt in a world where fame meant nothing and tangible politics had little to do anything found in a filthy squat. After releasing a promising split ep with Malay and playing at most two live shows, these guys disappeared back into their garage, tightened their sound, and wrote 50 songs. Represented here are the best 19 of that lot, a record so musically solid and consistent that it has claimed the throne for the loudest, most devastating LP in the galaxy. For those who may have lapsed on their note taking, THE CANCER KIDS is ex-members of the legendary cult BUCKET FULL OF TEETH, and was produced by genius Will Killingsworth of ORCHID/BUCKET FULL OF TEETH/AMPERE glory. A masterpiece years in the making. Limited to 700 copies.

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It was released by Mark McCoy of Youth Attack Records. He was kind of our hero when we were teenagers for awhile, because he used to sing in this other ridiculous band called Charles Bronson that we loved. So we were very excited that he wanted to put out our music, and then also said really nice things about it. The record’s out of print, but I have a couple of copies.

I played in a whole series of punk bands actually. Some of the names were The Lysdexics, The Garbage Pail Kids, State Assisted Suicide, Cherem, The A Team, Nullset… although in many cases these bands had all the same members. The Cancer Kids was sort of the last in that line. It was such a great time, making music together, trading mixtapes, going to shows, joking around, eating snacks, being silly, pulling pranks. Would recommend it to anyone.

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Right to Left: Nick, Chris, Matt, Colin, the Cancer f’n Youth!