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.
I collaborated with Lani Asuncion on this. We named the project in the style of the names of groups of birds, such as a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, a siege of herons, or a whiteness of swans. Our “Colony of Drifters” included us, a basket boat with a chess board, a walking house, a house with duck feet, and a few other odd sorts.
We were commissioned to make this installation for Artspace CWOS at the Goffe St. Armory, in October, 2015. We made some videos, one was of me playing chess with myself, floating in a little basket boat I made during a residency (see A Boat to Find Christine Periord). The other one was of Lani walking around a park in a golden house made from emergency blankets.
Those were projected across from each other and timed such that one video seemed like a still image whilst there was action going on in the other, and then it switched. In the next room the boat and the house were there to look at, along with a few other items.
Here’s an overall shot, it was a cool space to work in, up in the attic of the old armory.
I made a little cedar house with duck feet, inside of which there was a video screen showing water flowing.
We placed a sprouting acorn on this piece of timber.
My boat had the chess set in it. I whittled the pieces from sticks.
I played chess with this young participant.
There was a pile of sprouting acorns in one corner. In another corner there was a yak fur thing listening to NOAA weather radio loudly on headphones, but I don’t have a picture of that.
One time my brothers and I played a crazy game of apocalyptic ping pong in the middle of winter. It was based on a game from “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace called “Eschaton.” Ours was “Eschatong.” The resulting video was included in an exhibition organized by Sam Ekwurtzel called “A Failed Entertainment,” as one of the films of James Incandenza, a fictional filmmaker from the book.
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.
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.