This is a video installation work, in which an American field research scientist character performs experiments to prove the insubstantiality of political barriers from a natural law perspective. The video was produced on location at the fence on the closed border between Armenia and Turkey.
THE TREE SPA FOR URBAN FOREST HEALING uses the steam generated as a byproduct of the maple syrup evaporation process. Participants take the healing waters of the trees and discuss important matters affecting our communities, in the relaxing social space of a steamroom, while drinking tree juice from the maple trees growing nearby. The Tree Spa is based in Keney Park, in the North End of Hartford, Connecticut, a neighborhood with a poverty rate near 50%.
The Tree Spa has developed over several years. Colin McMullan (Emcee C.M.) started the Hartford Maple Syrup Club in 2017, an off-campus expansion of the maple syrup project that was previously operated by the Sculpture Club at Hartford Art School. The club has partnered with Herb Virgo of the Keney Park Sustainability Project, and Lauren Little of Knox Parks, to build the reach of social-engagement for this project.
In winter of 2017/2018 we built a mobile sugar shack, tapped trees in Keney park and at schools and residences in Hartford, and ran a series of tree-tapping workshops for area kids in collaboration with with Knox Parks. In addition, we did a series of discussions about decolonization and land connection with students from the University of Hartford.
The steamroom portion of the Tree Spa premiered at the Artspace CWOS festival, in October, 2018. In March, 2019 we visited Real Art Ways in Hartford for a two week installation and series of events, along with tree tapping workshops at Keney Park and public schools in Hartford. In March of 2020, we are scheduled to visit the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, as a part of their Weather Report exhibition. We are interested in bringing this project to other venues within the maple producing region, please reach out if you are interested in hosting us.
This drawing from 2016 represents the seed of the TREE SPA idea.
I’ve been toying with this research ever since about 2010 when I wrote a piece called We Common. At the time I was living in New York City and covertly tapping trees in city parks, among many other foraged food sharing experiments.
Custom infrastructure for tree juice sharing in public spaces: bucket with a custom spigot and paper cup dispenser.
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.
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 tree juice, or soup, or whatever you want) using a mere handful of twigs or scrap wood.
At Hartford Art School, we used to 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 was a good time, we got some publicity for the University too, which they of course loved, when the local TV news covered the story. We had a really fun BYOB (Bring Your Own Batter) pancake competition when the syrup was ready.
Originally commissioned by Artspace, Inc, for City-Wide Open Studios with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Connecticut Office of the Arts. There has been additional funding from Macktez Summer Stipend, Real Art Ways, and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.
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.
COLONIZATION is EATING US UP: a WILD TEA PARTY
A performance project using the edible wild plants growing around the park. I harvest them and explain to people what they are, as I prepare them and infuse them in water for tasting as WILD TEA. I make a brief speech about the colonization of indigenous lands by settler societies, and the historical justification of these morally bankrupt actions, through reference to the idea of finding a “promised land” for Christian people on this continent. Colonization has an etymological relation to digestion, which I draw upon in my speech, in order to make clear the truly hideous gluttony of our contemporary consumer society. I challenge participants to take on a practice of occasional fasting, to remind us viscerally of our decisive power to choose decolonization actions over remaining subdued by the restrictive potentialities of a worldview into which we have all been indoctrinated, known generally as western civilization. The goal of my performance is to disrupt the hegemonic complicity of the average person in the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchal empire that we call “the beast,” in whose “belly” we are slowly being digested. After the conclusion of my speech, before each person tastes the WILD TEA offered them, I ask them to make an oath, speaking in unison, repeating after me:
“From this day forward I intend to do everything in my power to decolonize my mind, body, and spirit. I intend to think deeply about the possibility of radical land reform on the land that I occupy, as well as lands occupied by my family and friends, in the interests of respecting the sovereign rights of this land’s indigenous people, who were and are systematically dispossessed, enslaved, killed, assimilated, disappeared, and ignored. Moreover, I intend to stand up and protect lands raped by illegitimate governments, which extract resources for the benefit of false profiteers, which look to false prophets for their moral authority. I intend, by cooperating with my friends and neighbors of all kinds, to find a way to rip a gaping hole in the colon wall of the beast of empire that has us stewing in the digestive juices of its belly. As I take this WILD TEA into my insides, I also allow inside me the possibility of freeing myself, along with everyone else, from the bondage of civilized society, that I have complied with so meekly until now. This has been through no fault of my own, but rather out of a gripping fear for my safety, under the constant threat of a violent, military state that dominates and subdues us all. This WILD TEA is a MAGIC POTION, which reminds me of my wild animal soul, buried deep inside, that longs for me to unleash it upon the world. May this MAGIC POTION protect us all, and give us courage, in the endless struggle for justice, peace, and love that looms before us.”
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So far, many of them have been about an exchange of some kind.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
So she did. And what did she dig up? Ice cream!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Emmett, Brendan and Fred crewed the boat’s maiden water voyage on May 7, 2007, at Mansfield Hollow Lake.
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.
Ted, Johnny and Sean look on here as the boys prepare to shove off.
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.
Here are the six of us, the main shipwrights. From left: Pat, Johnny, Fred, Sean, Ted and Colin.
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.
As you can see, it worked just fine.
We took the boat on a trip down the Connecticut River in June of 2008, spreading Legends of Willimantic as we went.
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:
Here is a video showing a version of the project performed in Somerville, MA, at a street festival, in 2006. Thanks to Jamie Rinaldi for the camerawork.
This project started as one aspect of my elaborate MFA thesis exhibition, A Work of Art, in 2005. It continued as a portable system for one-on-one collaborations with strangers for several years afterwards.
I made a kit of tools that resembled a shoeshine’s setup, which I used to make relief prints from wooden cubes that were carved and engraved on all six sides with images and text. Sometimes I set it up on the sidewalk in New York or Boston. Once I took it on the plane to Berlin, Germany for a performance art show.
Sometimes I did it as a mute, not speaking, but using gestures and images to communicate. Other times I would converse freely, and try to get people to tell me stories while we did the work together. There was an intimacy to the situation that made some people uncomfortable, while others seemed to be overjoyed at being served by an artist on his hands and knees. By creating the situation I was aligning my work as an artist with other working class occupations, in an attempt to critique the elitist pretensions of the art world, and reclaim the artist’s rightful place in solidarity with working class movements of resistance to labor exploitation.
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.
I ran a life sized board game for a couple of days, working with some other people, back in 2001. The path was marked off with colored duct tape and we had these big dice. This was on my college campus when I was an undergraduate, and the idea of the project had to do with a critical attitude toward choosing a career and finding success in life. The game itself was all about being a kid. There were tasks you had to complete to advance along, things like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in 10 seconds, or coloring in a coloring book. Doing this project I started thinking more seriously about engaging creatively in public life, and it was the first time I used the Emcee C.M. moniker. So for me personally it was about choosing that as my game (and by “that” I mean this: what I still do now and whatever this website is all about).
This was the first public action I ever organized, back in 2000, and it has stayed with me as an example of a successful project and influenced a lot of the other things I’ve done since. I made this wooden machine out of shipping crates and cable spools with a support frame. A group of friends and I pushed it around disrupting traffic, and then rode it down a big hill. There were no brakes to speak of, so we were worried about hitting something or somebody, but in the end it was fine, and actually that was a little disappointing!