This drawing from 2016 is a proposal for the TREE SPA we are presently developing. The project is currently based in neglected Keney Park, in the North End of Hartford, Connecticut, a neighborhood with a poverty rate near 50%.
We 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. HMSC has partnered with Herb Virgo of the Keney Park Sustainability Project, Lauren Little of Knox Parks, and Artspace New Haven‘s CWOS, 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 Knox Parks.
We celebrated the maple syrup harvest with our third annual BYOBatter Pancake Festival, at the Keney Park Pond House, on March 10, 2018.
The continually expanding TREE SPA seeks additional uses for the steam generated as a byproduct of the maple syrup evaporation process. Participants will take the healing waters of the trees and discuss important matters affecting our communities, in the relaxing social space of a communal steamroom, while drinking tree juice and eating food steamed in the very same steam! This portion of the project will begin in earnest as a commission of Artspace‘s CWOS in October of 2018.
The following is a collection of images from my tree juice collecting and sharing research process from 2015-2017. I drink lots of tree juice every spring, and encourage others to do so. I’ve been toying with this idea 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.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with making and installing custom infrastructure for tree juice sharing in public spaces, like this 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.
This image is from a parallel project I was 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 juice is a ton of work, but it’s so rewarding.
I have been working at tree juice gathering in earnest since 2013. I make, sell, and donate syrup from some of the juice I collect too. You can buy some in the Emporium of Real Things if you want.
I started out collecting and boiling tree juice 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 hut 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 tree juice, 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.
Then for awhile my rocket stove was at Hartford Art School, where we used it for soup, syrup, and socializing with the Sculpture Club. Now it is at Keney Park Sustainability Project, along with the rest of the Tree Spa.
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.
The following images and text are excerpted from a slide lecture I gave at Pecha Kucha, New Haven, in 2015, about my tree juice collecting practice.
That’s all for now, I leave you with another quote from the book of work…
I produced this work while I was in retreat from the world at Phats Valley residency in Truro, Cape Cod in December, 2013.
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.
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.
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.
I made driftwood scraps into seats and flooring and lashed in place.
The hand stitching on the canvas was laborious but rewarding.
Ann Chen helped with the stitching, and also encouraged and supported the entire project.
The boat is light enough for me to easily carry it on my back.
The canvas is coated with tar for waterproofing.
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.
This was the final phase of the Pulling Together / Legends of Willimantic project I organized with Ted Efremoff. During the intervening years the boat was stored under a tarp at my parents’ house. We used it once or twice at Alexander’s Lake, where we go every year for vacation, but mostly it just sat there. Then one time I recklessly left the boat tied out in a lake during a bad thunderstorm and it got wrecked pretty badly against some rocks. There was a huge split all along the bottom plank, by the keel. So we had to decide whether to fix it or do something else with it.
In the end, we installed it as a sculpture at the I-Park Foundation, an artist’s residency program, land-based sculpture park, and alternative cemetery in East Haddam, Connecticut. We named this iteration of the project Weighing Anchor. Ted and I worked with James Holland and Johnnie Walker to brand a text into the sides of the boat, explaining the adventures we’d had with it. Then, we cut away the bottom of the boat, and planted a white pine inside it, to symbolically replace the tree that had been cut and milled for the planking.
Finally, we landscaped the area around our boat to create a fire pit and stone field, trying to make the site inviting as a place to sit and share stories. An invitation to use the space for storytelling was also branded into the side of the boat. It is our hope that the site will be used by residents and visitors for years to come, as the tree matures and the boat gradually decays back into the landscape.
I made a new set of woodblock prints around the time we were working on installing the boat at I-Park, thinking about the life of a project, the many lives it touches and connects, and how it can be sad when it comes to an end. In the context of I-Park’s Thanatopolis, a proposed alternative cemetery, the leaving of the boat was like a burial rite for our project; a project that had been so much about action and adventure, now finally coming to rest. Later, I made a watercolor painting of the boat in the style of an illuminated manuscript, with a stylized tree for a mast, sailing over the ocean, with a varied crew of friends. I wrote the text with oak gall ink that I made myself, and gold leafed the tree trunk. This painting was part of my residency work at the Center for Book Arts and it was exhibited there in 2012.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One time I wheat pasted some signs up advertising to find collaborators. I had this idea that I wanted to get a group of strangers to work together on something and see what would happen.
So that was how I met Kim, Christine, and Freeland. They responded to the advertising, and we agreed on a day that we would spend working together. I had this temporary studio space at the time that was on ground level in lower Manhattan, provided by LMCC. So we got into this whole thing of trying to get people to come inside when they passed by the window.
I had previously made this phone outside the studio that allowed people passing by to talk to people on the inside – basically like an intercom. That studio was where I became friends with Huong Ngo too, we kind of made the phone together. So with Freeland, Kim and Christine, we sort of got into tying cookies and stuff onto the scaffolding outside the window and writing notes and telling people to take the food.
At the same time, we had collected all this junk that was being thrown out in the trash on the surrounding streets. So we used it to make a kind of fort/art installation/clubhouse/??? inside the studio space. When people took a cooie or whatever we would invite them to come back and visit us when the fort was done.
I don’t think anyone really came back, except maybe Kim’s friend, but it was pretty fun making it and playing together for the day.
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:
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!