Category Archives: Writing

Mapping the Audible Dominion of the Mission Church Bells

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 Elfland after 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 the aos 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.

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(7 minute excerpt)

 

We are Rich in Love

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 Earth, did not have a lot of money. We struggled to get by in those days, and we still do. But we did have some love, and I must insist that it will always mean so much more, in spite of everything we’ve been conditioned to believe, here in the brutal clutches of capitalism.

Our Running Running Running Father

I made this print on commission from Kate Riley. She said she wanted something for her best friend Nora. Nora’s favorite story is the Parable of the Prodigal Son a.k.a. the Running Father from the Bible. I read Henri Nouwen’s book about Rembrandt’s painting of the story. It gave me a lot to think about in terms of my own family and the human family more generally. I made two new carvings, which you see repeated in the bottom of the print. Both are self portraits from photographs, one laughing, one crying. The other images are assembled from blocks I had made in the past: a tree, some people in the Siberian landscape of my memories, and a visual feast of food within a house frame, from the recent print project “the Land Gives…” The original text in this piece I did by hand in oak gall ink. I made it in an edition of three. One went to Nora, and I have two left.

A Boat to Find 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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The Land Gives…

 

This is a work I made at the Center for Book Arts in 2012 when I was a resident artist there. It consists of thirty-six woodcuts and wood engravings from all six sides of six handmade type-high (0.918″) blocks of maple, with an original narrative text & list poem handset in lead Caslon Antique type, letterpress printed in seven colors on a paper booklet & fold-out broadside. For sale in the Emporium of Real Things.

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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.