On October 14, 2017, I did a project for Skowhegan Performs at Socrates Sculpture Park, in Queens. For this performance I gathered wild plants from the park and cooked them on a small homemade rocket stove I had brought with me, to produce a magic potion. I told participants that drinking this potion would aid in the decolonization process that we so desperately need to go through, and served it to them. The plants in the magic potion included mulberry leaf, pine needles, rose hips, rose petals, mint, sumac, and mugwort. It tasted pretty good too.
After my 26 mile walking performance, Mapping the Audible Dominion of the Mission Church Bells, I began leading group walks of public spaces to think about the private property ownership structure we live within. Here are a few images from the first two walks, which were part of a “Day of Action” at Emmanuel College in October, 2017. We circled counterclockwise around the bell tower at the Catholic college where these young people study, performing three widening circumambulations and talking about evidence of the history of the colonization of this land (the homeland of the Massachusett Indigenous Peoples), as we encountered it along the way.
During these walks we carried sticks with which we banged on fences, making a kind of music, almost as though we were ringing bells of our own, as a form of permanent revolution against the control and legal structure of church & state represented by the church bells and the fences alike.
We also did some innocuous trespassing on posted private property, for the same reason; a simple transgression, but with great symbolic power in the individual imagination.Each of these Walks for Decolonization was two hours long, marked by bells ringing from the tower we orbited around at the start, middle, and end. I invited participants to react to the ringing of the bells however they liked. We knelt down for the first one, spun in circles for the middle, and played dead for the last, in honor of the ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples in this land.
This drawing is a proposal for the tree spa that I want to create. Currently I am building this program from the ground up in Keney Park, in the underprivileged North End of Hartford, Connecticut. I am collaborating with the Keney Park Sustainability Project and the Sculpture Department of Hartford Art School. I am building a mobile sugar shack, tapping trees in Keney park and at schools and residences in Hartford, and running a series of environmental education programming for area youth in collaboration with Knox Parks. We will be celebrating the maple syrup harvest with our third annual Pancake Festival this year, to take place in Keney Park in March 2018. Finally, I am building a sauna that will be powered by the steam generated as a byproduct of the maple syrup evaporation process, where participants will be able to take the healing waters of the trees and discuss important matters affecting our communities.
What follows is a collection of images from my tree sap collecting and sharing practice. I drink lots of tree sap every spring, and encourage others to do so. I’ve been toying with this idea ever since about 2010 when I wrote We Common. At the time I was living in New York and covertly tapping trees in city parks, among many other foraged food sharing experiments.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with making and installing custom infrastructure for sap sharing in public spaces, like the bucket on the tree here.
There are a lot of great things about the tree juice gathering lifestyle. One of the best is that you are active during the coldest time of the year, which is great for mental and physical health. It also means you get to experience magic like seeing the crocuses come up in your footprints where your body heat has literally melted the snow and warmed the Earth.
This image is from a parallel project I’ve been doing at my workplace, the sculpture studio at Hartford Art School. I often put quotes from the book of work up on this chalkboard. Collecting and processing tree sap is a ton of work, but it’s so rewarding.
I have been working at sap collecting in earnest since 2013. I make, sell, and donate syrup from some of the sap I collect too. You can buy some in the Emporium of Real Things if you want.
I started out collecting and boiling sap with my brother and some friends (that’s Nick Brown in the picture) at the homestead we were working in Storrs, CT (see Building Buildings and Landing on Land). We had an old borrowed evaporator from Sweet Acre Farm and a plastic covered wigwam kinda thing we slapped together from bamboo poles.
I made a rocket stove which has been useful for finishing and bottling the syrup. Rocket stoves are an incredible example of appropriate technology that allow you to boil water (or sap, or soup, or whatever you want) using a mere handful of twigs or scrap wood.
I first made the rocket stove as a visiting artist at Bennington College in 2014. I wanted to inspire the sculpture students to cook for themselves and boycott the corporate dining hall.
Now my rocket stove is at Hartford Art School, where I work, and we use it for soup, syrup, and socializing with the Sculpture Club.
We also make the syrup in plein air, right under the old sculpture gantry, utilizing a 2′ x 6′ wood-fired evaporator I purchased used in 2016.
It’s been a good time, we got some publicity for the University too, which they of course loved, when the local TV news covered the story. The first video is better. We had a really fun BYOB (Bring Your Own Batter) pancake competition when the syrup was ready.
The following images and text are excerpted from a slide lecture I gave at Pecha Kucha, New Haven, in 2015, about my sap collecting practice.
Ultimately I plan to make an aestheticized installation of elegant tubing on a polyculture hillside of trees connected to a retreat space where tree sap is both drunk and absorbed through the skin in communal steam rooms. That’s all for now, I leave you with another quote from the book of work…
Seven Widening Widdershins Circumambulations for Decolonization (How to Get to Know This Land)
On August 3rd and 4th, 2017, I performed a 26 mile walk, which I have mapped out here, circumambulating nine times counter-clockwise around the beautiful Mission Church in the present-day Mission Hill neighborhood of the traditional homeland of the Massachusett people (greater Boston, Massachusetts, USA). At the time I was living in the neighborhood, as a resident artist at Emmanuel College, a private Catholic liberal arts school. My idea was to map the sphere of influence of the church bells, which ring out over the neighborhood every 15 minutes. I got the idea because the bells would wake me up in the morning through my bedroom window, which was a pleasant enough alarm clock, if a little invasive. For this performance, I intended to widen my course with each loop around the church, never recrossing my path, until I circled it seven times, or until I could no longer hear the bells, whichever felt right. A summary of my research informing this project follows.
In English folklore, it was believed that to go around a church anti-clockwise or “widdershins,” as I did, was unlucky. For example, take the fairy tale of “Childe Rowland, where the protagonist and his sister are transported to Elflandafter his sister runs widdershins round a church.” This superstition was bound up in the long history of the spread of a Christian worldview to people of other belief systems, including so-called pagan and animistic spiritualities. These terms come from the nowadays discredited social evolutionist discourse of early anthropology, which takes monotheism and science as the culmination of social evolution in so-called civilized societies, in contrast to the beliefs of so-called primitive societies. Our contemporary pop-culture notions of elves and fairies are remnants of belief systems that existed in Europe before conversion to Christianity happened, and remain important to some people. In Ireland’s traditional spirituality, for example, fairies are known as theaos sí or the Tuath(a) Dé Danann. Non-Abrahamic (Judeo/Christian/Muslim) belief systems are still vital for many indigenous peoples around the world, who have successfully survived centuries of genocidal and assimilationist policies, and maintain their commitment to practicing traditional cultural and spiritual beliefs.
Christendom’s specific role in the colonization of the Americas and the ongoing genocide of the indigenous inhabitants is indisputable, and tragic. The various Catholic Popes of the 1400s and 1500s issued numerous papal bulls (declarations) in support of colonial land claims by European royal powers, including the Spanish and Portuguese imperial projects, laying the foundation for the colonization, Christianization, enslavement, and genocide of the “new world,” as well as Africa. These papal bulls make up what is known in the U.S. judicial system as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has been cited in decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2005. The important precedent case of Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) forms the basis of all Federal Indian law and settler property claims. This landmark case has been cited in numerous land disputes regarding treaty claims by Native American Nations ever since. These matters are thoroughly elaborated in the works of indigenous legal scholars Steven Newcomb and Robert J. Miller.
Additionally, the ongoing genocide of colonized native peoples has been carried out by individual settlers, by policies of settler governments, and by the assimilative drive of Christian churches, particularly in the history of residential boarding schools and missions work. Many progressive Christian groups have joined indigenous groups in calling for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery in recent years. For instance, in 2014, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (which represents about 80% of Catholic nuns in the U.S.) passed a resolution stating, “We humbly and respectfully ask Pope Francis to lead us in formally repudiating the period of Christian history that used religion to justify political and personal violence against indigenous nations and peoples and their cultural, religious, and territorial identities.” However, in 2015 Pope Francis canonized the controversial Spanish Missionary Junipero Serra, to the dismay of many indigenous people of California, who view him as the architect of their peoples’ genocide, and the destruction of their languages and cultures; a far cry from saintly behavior indeed.
Despite the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the U.S. was one of only four countries to vote against, and much progress in the growing transnational indigenous rights movement, indigenous people remain among the most marginalized and ignored groups in many settler societies, including the U.S. and Canada. Indigenous cultures, ways of life, and sovereignty remain under constant threat from the culturally hegemonic neoliberal white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, managed by the elites that rule our world. Additionally, the facts of the genocide of indigenous peoples remain painfully under-recognized by citizens and governments of settler societies. The decolonization of indigenous lands and peoples is an ongoing project of indigenous rights activists and allies around the world. These indigenous leaders dispute the claim that we live in a “post-colonial” era, following the deconstruction of European colonies in Asia and Africa in the mid-20th century. The fact is, colonialism is alive and well in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia, to name just a few of the biggest offenders, as evidenced in current dealings with indigenous peoples inside their borders.
My small action of walking against the direction of the clock is in solidarity with the Bolivian government’s 2014 adoption of a “decolonization clock” running counter-clockwise, as a sign of their commitment to the indigenous population of the nation, as well as upending Eurocentric northern-hemispheric domination. As Bolivia’s foreign minister, David Choquehuanca remarked, “Who said clocks always have to run the same way? Why do we always have to be obedient? Why can’t we be creative?”
I take this action in denial of normative hegemonic notions of property ownership, reflected in the legal structures of Federal, State, and local governments. I trespass frequently and with great enthusiasm on my walk.
Ultimately, I take this action with the deeply-felt intention of reversing the colonization of my mind, body, and spirit; as well as holding intention for decolonization of the land I walk, and of the people I meet along the way.
I imagine organizing and performing future group “Walks for Decolonization,” in the tradition of the Situationist dérive and in solidarity with Indigenous Walking Tours taking place today in Canada, embodying a commitment to unravelling the mess we’re in, through an active practice of looking, listening, and engaging in social discourse on these pressing matters.
With any luck, or rather unluck (in this uncivilizing process I embark upon, feeling it to be my uncivic duty as an uncitizen), I might even get to visit Elfland sometime soon :) …or at least, to begin to really know this land that I call home.
(2 hours 15 minutes)
(7 minute excerpt)
This was a two-channel video installation with additional objects, placed in a public hallway at Emmanuel College, a small Catholic liberal arts college in Boston, Massachusetts, after the action described above. The work includes the video documenting my decolonization walk and a playlist of youtube videos I curated of indigenous leaders and scholars as well as Christian allies working to undo the impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery. The space was set up as a lounge for students to hang out and watch the videos, while playing “We Are the 99% Chess,” for which I had redesigned the rules of chess and created a takeaway printed chessboard, as well as an assortment of scholarly reading materials related to the content of the videos.
Since 2012 I have been researching and building large architectural structures, and trying my hand at homesteading.
In 2012, 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 about timber framing at the Heartwood school in Western Mass., and was very inspired by a talk that Jack Sobon gave. 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, as well as being inspired by Soulfire’s whole way of life, and especially their commitments to social justice and love.
The following year, in Connecticut, my brother Brendan and I built a chicken coop for our chickens, and a milking stand and fences for our goats and pigs.
We made a fast wigwam-ish bamboo shack for boiling maple syrup.
We also had a beehive, a big garden, and a lot of fun with friends doing all the hard work. We raised and preserved most of our food that year, and gave lots to friends and family too. Those were some damn glorious meals, if I say so myself.
I helped Sam Ekwurtzel saw some massive logs into timbers for the barn he made in Granby, and helped him cut some joinery and raise them too. Sam is a wild man… we worked all night in a January snowstorm raising a bent with a jury-rigged setup.
I pitched in on a few community hand raisings that the Barn Raisers were doing around Connecticut for their timber frame projects as well.
In 2014-2015, I built an 18×24 barn/root cellar/sleeping loft, among other things, for Bryan and Anita O’Hara from Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT. It 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.
We covered the building in tongue-and-groove pine boards, and a cedar shingle roof with shiny copper valleys.
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.
In 2015 I worked for South Windham Post and Beam for 6 weeks building a huge Douglas Fir timber frame house for a guy in Vermont. I loved working with Bob and Lex, those guys are hilarious.
When we did the raising I scurried up all the rafters setting the purlins with another guy, kind of a harrowing experience. Never built something this big before, feels pretty good.
In summer of 2016 I led a group of visiting MFA students in the low-res Nomad9 program at Hartford Art School on a building project. We built a cob pizza oven and timber frame shelter at Knox Parks, an urban community farm in Hartford. Matteo Lundgren, from Cob Therapy, led the oven building.
I collaborated with artist and author Linda Weintraub on teaching the first part of the course, at her incredible self-designed home in Rhinebeck, NY.
I led the green woodworking, tree felling, and timber framing, while Linda led the slaughtering, cooking, gardening, foraging, and wild eco-art conversations.
We cut down an ash tree that was badly infested with Emerald Ash Borers, and used the clean heartwood to make pegs for our building.
We also made some rough mallets and cut the joinery for the braces of the timber frame.
I had come prepared with lots of tools I had made: sawhorses, a froe, a shave horse, and even a spring pole lathe, which still had some bugs to work out, but I managed to make a chisel handle on it.
Back in Hartford we had another part of a week to cut all the mortise & tenon joinery on the eight big 10″ x 10″ timbers for the frame, which I had designed in Sketchup. We got it done with only a couple of late nights, not too shabby.
We got the timbers from Steve Strong in East Hampton, CT. Highly recommended sawyer, timber framer, and he also raises delicious chicken and duck eggs.
The finished timber frame was finally raised over the oven after the students had already departed, but better late than never, and there will surely be a pizza party next summer when they are back in Hartford. If you live in Hartford get in touch with Knox about having a party of your own!