This installation consists of a 5′ x 8′ print on paper, a collection of carved wooden block sculptures of various sizes, a set of chess pieces whittled from twigs, a dried common mullein plant, a representation of a monumental roadside religious pilgrimage site built by a distant cousin of mine, my grandmother’s drawing of a piece of driftwood, and the actual piece of driftwood. The matrices from which the print was made are carved and engraved on the set of sculptural blocks. Some are patterns, others contain images and/or words, while still others are typographic sets of letters and punctuation marks in two different sizes. I have been carving this series of blocks and printing them in various combinations since 2005. For awhile I was doing street performances using the blocks, in a project I called Footprint Factory, and they were also a part of A Work of Art.
The chess pieces are arranged such that all the high ranking pieces have not moved from where they started, but the pawns are gathered at the center of the board, as though conspiring together around a long feasting table laden with food.
The message in the patterned, quilt-like patchwork of prints reads as follows: “
WE’VE WORKED SO HARD FOR YOU
BUT KEEP YOUR MONEY, HONEY-!
TAKE IT, & HIDE IT SOMEPLACE
WE DON’T REALLY NEED IT:
WE ARE RICH IN LOVE
When I was young, my family, like the vast majority of families that share this planet, did not have a lot of money. We struggled to get by in those days, and in some ways we still do. Although we lacked financial resources, we had another kind of wealth. We had love for each other, for the land where we lived, for our neighbors, and for people and places far away. This work considers the immense, immeasurable value of love, in contrast to the quantifiable, comparatively meager value of money. The distance between these understandings of existence is enormous, and yet overlaps succinctly in each person’s life.
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.
Cloud City is an imagined utopia somewhere out there… A collaboration with Huong Ngo and numerous participants…
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.
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:
We must vanquish Predictability!
We must defeat Boredom!
We must restore Impermanence!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
A small vegetable and herb garden, the Lot Garden Plot:
The Citizens’ Collection Cabinet, which was a shed for the public display of small objects:
A wall of homemade and found musical instruments called Elm City Sound Relief:
The Black and White Wall for Writing, which provided a legal site for graffiti:
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.
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.
Later we made up a game with these sheets, but I don’t remember how to play anymore. I remember it being fun though.
This is an adventure I had with a giant pumpkin, in 2005. I was invited to make a site-specific performance art work for a halloween party, as a member of the Independent Performance Group, curated by Marina Abramovic. I carved the pumpkin into a house and lived inside of it for the duration of the party. Later on, I made a children’s book about the whole experience using photographs, ink drawings, and woodcuts. I want to publish it sometime. Here are the pages of the book:
In 2005, I worked 40 hours a week at a museum for five weeks, tending to a film I had installed, talking to people about the film and whatever else came up, playing music, writing, making prints, etc. Here is a video of it.The film was installed as a sculptural material, running through the space, hanging in the air and going in and out of two projectors in a giant loop. I shot it on black and white 16mm film stock and edited it manually with a splicer.
The projectors were pointed at two stations where people could sit and interact with it: a typewriter for writing responses and whatnot called the Creative Communication Department, and an electric organ where you could improvise a soundtrack for the film called the Spontaneous Soundtrack Department.
I made a book of music to project the film onto. The organ came from my grandmother when she moved out of her apartment into an assisted living situation. In the bench of the organ there were a bunch of music books that I went through and picked out songs I remembered her singing, or that she said she liked, and made the book from those. I named it Our Songs. You can buy a copy in the Emporium. If you didn’t know how to read music though it was kind of fun to just noodle around on the keys anyway.
The other place the film was projected was on this long roll of paper hanging down and feeding into a typewriter. The film itself was images of me and my brothers playing games, joking around, and doing chores around the house. I come from an unschooling family of six boys. The family has an island quality as a result, maybe more than most, because of that radical self-educating setup and the fact that we live out in the country. Most of us were in our twenties or teens when we shot it.
People could sit and write and then file their work in a set of folders, labeled as follows: Poetry, Prose, Suggestions, Memoranda, and Top Secret. Another cue for writing, in addition to the film, came from a small takeaway book I had printed called the Handbook of Workspeak. You can buy a copy of the book in the Emporium.
Since it was one film going through two projectors, which run at slightly different speeds, inexpertly rigged up, there were some breaks and hangups. Needing to maintain the film was something I had anticipated, so I had all the tools to do it there. So over time the film wore down and acquired a really old scratchy patina.
This was another station of the work called the Footprint Fabrication Department, which would become a separate project, the portable Footprint Factory. It is a setup for block printing collaborations. Somebody would sit in the chair and be the press, stepping on the block and using their weight to force the ink into the paper, while I worked on the floor inking the blocks.
I carved a set of blocks with images on all six sides. There were six blocks, for a total of 36 images. The idea was for someone to choose a series of images to tell a story or make associations and contrasts, normally of a personal nature. Together we printed their choices in sequence on a long piece of paper, sort of like a filmstrip. Then we cut the paper to length and the person took the print home.
I made this poster to show what all the options were. Most of the images were iconic objects like a chair or a book, with a few other things thrown in that came into my head around that time.
This installation was also shown at ISE Cultural Foundation (NYC), in 2008, as part of a group show called the Ideal Cloud, curated by Yuka Yokoyama.
This was a banner drop I did on a parking garage in 2003, trying to create a blank, neutral, unspecified, and therefore disturbing message. I was thinking about and documenting the way American flags were being displayed on overpasses, construction sites, homes, and gas stations around that time, as the Terror War was getting going after 9/11/01. I made a short super 8 film about it. This action of hanging the banner was an attempt to complicate the conversations that were going on, which seemed to be all about choosing sides. The phrase “These Colors Don’t Run” has been used as a patriotic slogan for many years, in reference to national integrity and pride as embodied in an enduring, bright flag. My flag was colorless, blank, white on white.
One time I custom made a couple of signs for an empty sign post that had been sitting there for years with nothing on it. It was in front of the human resources building at the University of Connecticut, and across the street from a prison. The signs sparked some discussion among university employees through an interesting misreading and coincidence of timing. It was placed on a Friday, one week after Thanksgiving. The previous week university staff had been given the day immediately after the holiday (Friday) off work, for the first time ever. So people were worried that the phrase “Today is a Work Day” might seem like a (rather absurd) authoritative admonishment to employees, something along the lines of, “You had last Friday off but that doesn’t mean you have every Friday off, make sure you are at work today.” My signs were removed and eventually, through my having drawn attention to it, so was the signpost.
This was a studio process project I did in 2002 when I was a senior in college, and had my own art studio for the first time. I made a series of sculptures from a bunch of found junk; each time constructing something, taking a slide photograph of it, making a screen print based on the construction, then taking it apart and reconfiguring the materials for the next cycle. The project was shown as a suite of 10 prints and a new arrangement of the objects, along with a slide projector automatically advancing to simulate the chug-chug sound of a train, while flashing images of the previous configurations on the wall.I still have copies of all the prints. If you want one, buy one at the Emporium of Real Things. They’re actually not bad, although this photo sure could be better: