The work we do concerns all of us. We are alive, working and playing. We have our personal and general struggles. We are trying to understand the anxieties that freeze us in place, and celebrate our power to overcome them. Our work is how we define ourselves; our life is work, our work is life, and this is our life’s work. To do work is the basic activity of being alive. Whatever else gets incorporated into a specific project, our work is always about work.
The work prioritizes collaborative social projects, and reflects back on them through printed matter, films, and exhibitions. I rode a large tricycle around projecting Chaplin films on my back and inspiring spontaneous parades. We provided sites for cooperative play at a busy downtown New Haven bus stop, including homemade musical instruments, a wall for graffiti writing, and an object exchanging shed. A collaborator and I organized 100 Willimantic people to build a wooden boat, and utilized it for actions about the misuse of local waterways. I built several guerrilla libraries in New York City, strategically claiming public spaces as information commons. I took a 26-mile decolonization walk counterclockwise around Boston’s Mission Church, reacting to the church bells, trespassing enthusiastically, getting to know the land.
My recent creative research involves wild foods, indigeneity, environmental justice, and decolonization. This stems from a deep connection with the eastern woodlands, based on my conflicted indigenous/settler heritage. I am in the midst of an expansive project involving the collection and sharing of tree sap. This TREE JUICE, as we call it, is a medium for regaining spiritual unity with the natural world, by reclaiming ancestral indigenous knowledge of the land.
Since 2017, our TREE SPA operates at Keney Park Sustainability Project, a Black-led urban farm. Keney is a neglected 700 acre park in the North End of Hartford, a neighborhood with a poverty rate near 50%. We are tapping maple trees in the park, at public schools, and at a nearby university. This situation brings people together for conversation, healing, and connection with the land. The TREE SPA is a variation on many world cultural traditions, including mineral baths, Scandinavian sauna, Islamic hammam, Russian banya, and sweat lodges and maple camps of Indigenous Peoples. In our case, the steam produced by evaporating maple syrup is absorbed through the skin as a healing forest essence. This experience honors the cultural practices mentioned, yet clearly functions as a transcultural manifestation of our fractured, yet connected, global society. The space provides people of varied backgrounds an inclusive experience appropriate to this identity-fluid moment. In the inherently transdisciplinary and risky contemporary art context, such an irreducible project can exist.
I am exploring wider phenomena of indigenous displacement from land, through a collaboration with historian Mari Firkatian. We are developing a conceptual framework involving indigenous foods, cultural exchange, historical trauma, and the empirical invisibility of borders, in the contested lands around Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. We are traveling there for a residency in summer 2018 to explore these ideas through performance, video, and social engagement.
The K.I.D.S. (Kindness & Imagination Development Society) recognizes the essential kindness of people, and strives to rupture the divisions between us. We come of age unawarely conditioned to our roles in an ethically untenable status quo. Decolonization is a process that all people, regardless of background, can explore through imaginative practices. We connect across otherness through food, conversation, laughter, work, and play. This is how we play at life’s work.