Yikes, I meant to write about this a while ago! The short version: I have a piece in a show at the Carpenter Center at Harvard U. in Cambridge, MA; it’s up till April 6th, 2014; you can see it for free. The whole show is vast & awesome, featuring some hyperlocal as well as global “social practice / art & activism” projects. The work in the show is generally extremely generous, inspiring, & great.
My piece was made specifically for this show and context, & the way you look at it (through a viewport hole, at a certain height) is an important part of it! I hope all y’all New Englanders get a chance to check it out before Monday!
More details & background follow…
Late last year, I was asked to be part of a group installation along with other former and current members of the Dirt Palace, a feminist / women’s art space here in Providence. My relationship to the Dirtpal has always been a little complicated, which meant I didn’t automatically agree to participate… but I did my research about the larger show that the installation was going to be a part of, called Living As Form, and the approach the Dirt Palace’s owners were taking to the whole thing — asking every person who had ever been a member of the space to contribute a piece of their current art that would be assembled into an installation — and I got psyched about making something… also because one of my stated goals for 2014 was to “make more three dimensional letters”, and this would give me a chance to do it.
So then in the fall I was really really busy, with the fall & holiday art sale seasons, moving stuff out of Building 16, my show at URI, etc. The first two weeks of January I spent doing a lot of house & general life projects that had gotten put off since, like, September… Then in the third week of January I realized that the deadline for the Dirt Palace installation was upon me! So I worked really hard for FIVE DAYS (!?) & busted out a thing.
I had known I wanted to make a three-dimensional diorama, based on the awesome time I had had making the poster for my show… the Dirtpal folks had given me the maximum dimensions that the work needed to fit within, and I had told them that I wanted a 6″-diameter hole in the wall that all the art works / dioramas / slide-viewers were going to be set behind. I built this box out of plywood… & made a cardboard mock-up to show the placement of the viewing port… & started drawing and cutting out letters.
The words in the box make a sentence that is a lil’ joke on me, a lil’ joke on Dirt Palace house meetings, and also a really true idea that might be the most important thing I learned while participating in the group processes & workdays of the Dirt Pal.
(…and I’m not gonna say “it’s supposed to be illegible”, cause that’s a little bit of a cop-out, but I will say “it is definitely intentional that it should take a certain amount of effort to read” — that’s for real.*)
This was fun fun fun to make and I worked really directly and I moved things around and when I liked where they were (from the viewpoint determined by the porthole) I glued them down with hot glue. YES! (ahem, excuse me, “thermoplastic adhesive”…) Part of the reason I hope folks can go see this in its installed context is that it is meant to be seen from a specific angle and I don’t know when the next chance will be to display it that way…
Also because it was made specifically about the Dirt Palace, and for this show Living as Form which talks about “social practices” and “community engaged art” and a whole bunch of other buzzwords which I am all for as real things, but which, as words, often get bandied around without people’s feet being on the ground. In figuring out what to make, I wondered: what is a way I can talk about real horizontality, true non-hierarchy? And I feel that, like washing your own dishes, shutting up can be a deeply radical act — especially when practiced by those who aren’t often required to shut up (aka. white, masculine-appearing know-it-alls like myself). !!!
ALSO! the whole Dirt Palace installation wall (seen above) is great, and does an excellent job of celebrating the history of the building and the contributions of all the alumnae (& alumni) of the D.Pal — while also extending to all those people an opportunity to have their current personal work showcased in an international show, at a fancy institution.
So much work went into the installation on the part of Pippi Zornoza and Xander Marro, Arley-Rose Torsone who drew the wall text, and many other helpers & installation workers, not to mention all the artists themselves! The labor of all the people who have worked to build the Dirt Palace into what it is today often gets erased in the magical-seeming glow of the physical building as a desirable object, and by the oft-told, simple narrative that tends to glorify the owners of the building… and it’s way more complicated than that. This installation begins to get at the multifariousness of the 40+ people who have lived & worked at the Dirtpal over the past 14 years!
In some aspects, this felt like a reunion — though we didn’t all live at the Dirt Palace at the same time, of course — and this was actually the first time I had really met a couple of these people. I was struck by the honor and delight I felt at being able to exist in this awesome company — being able to be associated with this intense, thoughtful, & creative multigenerational crew.
Here’s the one other piece in the Dirt Palace wall that I took a picture of, “Chosen Family” by the brilliant Samuel Lopes:
And here’s a picture from what was, in my opinion, the best project of the show, whereby a Harvard Business School associate seated at a desk offers financial advice to gallery-goers… the associate puts each question through a pneumatic tube through the wall behind them… on the other side of the wall, a child writes an answer to the question and sends it back. !
Some close-ups of my “RIGHT” letters, which kinda get lost in the back of the diorama… construction process:
Graphite, white colored pencil, and watercolor on pink paper:
and… infinite shout outs from me & JR to the butches, fags, gender-non-conforming folks, & queers of the dirt palace and the hive archive (its previous, collective incarnation)! “we are everywhere, making foolish smiles”
*if your device can’t display the hover-over title text on the diorama images, the sentence is: “I feel like… sometimes… to create a truly anti-authoritarian space, … the people who know the *right* way to do things… might just have to… shut up…(question mark)?”