“This text originally appeared in ART PAPERS Fall/Winter 2020, Monumental Interventions, as part of a special dossier highlighting seven artists who have fought—and continue the fight—to transform their public spaces by uncovering suppressed histories, resisting oppression, and telling formerly silenced truths.
Beverly Buchanan’s practice referenced southern vernacular architecture to interrogate relationships between Black people, history, and the landscape. In 1981 Buchanan (1940–2015) placed a triangular formation of three sculptural mounds on the edge of the tidal marsh in Brunswick, GA. Titled Marsh Ruins, the large amorphous forms were made by layering concrete and tabby—a concrete made from lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash—and then staining the forms brown. This grouping is the most referenced work in the series of sculptural markers Buchanan placed in Georgia to memorialize sites of Black presence. Buchanan often explored the concept of ruination to uncover the transformative powers of distress and destruction. These markers symbolically bear witness to the 1803 mass suicide of enslaved Igbo people who collectively drowned themselves off the coast of nearby St. Simons Island. Although their exodus was forced by the traumatic capture and abuse of their bodies, their act of defiance made them free. The work remains visible to the public, though it is not clearly marked and blends in with its natural surroundings.
Tabby was used throughout the American South to construct shacks and quarters for enslaved people. This material functions as a protective shield for Marsh Ruins. Buchanan’s use of tabby, rather than such enduring materials as marble or steel, gestures to the material historically employed to construct Black people’s homes, which she revered. Vulnerable to nature and unstable marsh ground, these forms were intended to be lost to erosion. Buchanan welcomed nature to shift, fragment, and disintegrate her sculptures, knowing that, like the body, they would one day be completely obscured or forgotten. Succumbing to the earth, the materials live on in new forms. Marsh Ruins rejects the representational form of conventional monuments and memorials to speak poetically through the languages of materiality and ephemerality.” (credit)
“Sebastián Díaz Morales (1975-), Pasajes IV, Digital video / HD format / 22’40 min on 5:30 hs loop / 2013, 32’’ monitor; Character: Maya Watanabe
This idea follows the same narrative, concept and structure as of former Pasajes video series.
In the so far three Pasajes video works a similar formula repeats on different backdrops: a character unites places through gateways, doors, stairs and roads which would be naturally disconnected from each other. This is the geography of a story expressed in an alteration to the normal, which so far aroused from a montage of urban spaces.
In this proposed formulation of Pasajes the video explores the landscape of Patagonia.
Crisscrossing this territory in the search of the differences on the landscape, a character as a guide, unites different territories disconnected in its geography, as essential pieces of a puzzle to understand this region’s present.” (credit)
“The ghillie suit is traditionally used by military snipers and hunters to camouflage the human body, allowing the wearer to blend into various natural landscapes. Sight Unseen: An Un-camouflaging at Guildwood was part of a series that repositioned the ghillie suit in the open air of suburban space and areas slated for development.
For Restless Precinct, I created a series of “un-camouflagings” in Guildwood Park in partnership with the Community Arts Guild Youth Theatre Troupe, an offshoot of Jumblies Theatre. The project evolved over six weeks, exploring concepts of visibility and belonging through our relationship and engagements with nature and each other. Participants learned how to create their ghillie suits, and together we developed movements in response to the site. Guildwood Park (now Guild Park and Gardens) contains over seventy architectural fragments and edifices. The research revealed that the park was once the location of Bytown II, a military training base for radio operators in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service during World War II. A custom camouflage headpiece was created for a sculpture entitled Musidora (artist unknown) and installed for the duration of the exhibition. This work was a gesture toward acknowledging the invisibility of bodies, histories and contributions at Guildwood Park, including a site specific work created by Ana Mendieta. The culminating performance took place as part of Restless Precinct’s opening events.”
Guildwood is a sculptural sanctuary park in Toronto and has beautiful gardens.
“On November 15, 2015, more than thirty people, including artists, adventure racers, casual joggers, track champions, walkers and other members of the general public, ran from Old Mill subway station in Toronto to Sherbourne subway station, following four major urban watersheds. The route followed the Humber River from Bloor Street to the Black Creek, crossed the North York hydro corridor north of Finch Avenue, joined the West Don River and followed the main artery of the Don River to the finish at Bloor Street, passing under Highway 401 twice. Covering fifty-five km in total, the route took more than 9 hours and almost entirely followed riverbanks and ravine trails. Two people finished the entire distance.”
Credit: Morrell, Amish and Diane Borsato. Outdoor School: Contemporary Environmental Art. Douglas and McINtyre, 2021. Page 62.
“Toronto’s ravine system provides city-dwellers with an urban oasis that’s not often explored. But on Sunday, a small group of Torontonians will run a day-long marathon through these expansive green spaces.
Organizer Amish Morrell, who’s the editor of C Magazine, says these runs aren’t competitive. “It’s not a race at all, it’s really an adventure.”
Morrell notes that his friend and performance artist Henri FabergĂŠ started doing conceptual running routes a few years ago. Together, along with artist Jon McCurley, they ran from Kipling to Kennedy (35 kilometres above ground).
About a year ago, Morrell mapped out a marathon route through Toronto ravines – areas that he regularly explores and runs through. He even cross-country skies the ravines in the wintertime. “A lot of this kind of evolved out of finding different ways of moving through the city,” he says.
For Sunday, he’s planned a 55 kilometre trek between the Black Creek, Finch Hydro Corridor and Don River sections of the ravine. “I would say 90 per cent of it is trail in the ravines and about 50 per cent of that is totally kind of secret, clandestine paths,” though Morrell stresses that the event may not be for everyone.
“It’s a pretty DIY, kind of punk event,” he says. Anyone who decides to join needs to be well-prepared with proper equipment and supplies – a detailed list can be found on the Epic Ravine Marathon Facebook page.
And, don’t expect a timed race. “Our motivations are more about exploration, curiosity, discovering places and learning things about them,” says Morrell. He knows the distance may be daunting and expects many of those who join his small group will tag along for the first 10 to 15 kilometres.
Morrell says that while most of the route is accessible via the TTC, being the in the ravines provides an alternate way to view Toronto. “It totally shifts and transforms your experience of the city.”
In the New Field, Public Studio walked the entirety of the 900km Bruce Trail while actively exploring the question: What does decolonization look like?
Along the trail, Public Studio invited by artists, activists, scientists, writers, curators, philosophers, and youth groups to join them and activate the footpath as a way of sharing knowledge across a diverse public. Indigenous writer and “geomythologist” Lenore Keeshig lead Public Studio across the unceded territory of the Chippewas of the Nawash; artist and theatre director Ange Loft lead a tour that included theatre warm-up exercises and a discussion of land acknowledgments; Geologist and director of the Bruce Trail Conservancy Beth Gilhespy chronicled land formations, activist and artist Syrus Marcus Ware led thirty five kids on a botanical drawing walk; multidisciplinary artist Diane Borsato brought art students, a western botanist and a traditional Indigenous medicine woman into dialogue; and writer and critic Amish Morell’s graduate students walked, read poetry and reimagined the land at a reconstructed Iroquoian village archaeological site.
September 28 -30, 2017 The Creative Time Summit: Of Homelands and Revolutions Stage Design & Closing Ceremony
On September 30, 2017 a public choir demanded the end to extraction and colonial destruction, to war and displacement driven by economic greed. On this day we demanded the earth be re-centered together with people and that the Canadian government include the Rights of Nature into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Public Studio together with Hiba Abdallah created the set for Creative Time Summit and with collaborators Ange Loft and Terri-Lynne Williams-Davidson staged the performance of the Rights of Nature, a document based on Haida ideology demanding that nature be inscribed in Canada’s constitution.
Check out the Rights of Nature publication here.” (credit)
“Public Studio is the collective art practice of filmmaker Elle Flanders and architect Tamira Sawatzky. Public Studio creates large-scale public art works, lens-based works, films, and immersive installations. Grounded in the personal, social, and political implications of landscape, Public Studio’s multidisciplinary practice engages themes of political dissent, war and militarization, and ecology and urbanization, through the activation of site. Public Studio often works in collaboration with other artists.” (credit)
Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds, (Cheyenne/Arapaho, 1954-)
This work was a temporary memorial for Native Americans who died in Italy as part of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in the late nineteenth century, and was installed at the Venice Biennale in 2007. It consisted of a series of 16 outdoor signs to remember and honor their loss, 8 outdoor signs that serve as commentary, several signs in the water-taxis encouraging repatriation of the Native people’s bodies from Europe to the U.S., as well as a large billboard at the Venice airport that stated ‘welcome to the spectacle, welcome to the show’ as a faux welcoming sign, which was visible as people walked through the airport check point. These Lakota warriors were formerly imprisoned in the U.S. and were given the choice to remain in prison, or go perform in Europe, which was not much of a choice.
In the summer of 2001 on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan Indian Reserve in the northern reaches of Saskatchewan, a woman was running, reenacting running done two generations earlier by Cistemaw inyiniw, a Cree man who delivered tobacco from community to community to ask for their attendance and support at ceremonies. He was part of the Moccasin Telegraph: a runner, a traveler, and a messenger. Cistemaw inyiniw (whose name is Cree for tobacco being) walked or ran even when horses were available to him. People were amazed at the distances he could cover and how he traversed them so quickly. Cistemaw inyiniw’s grandson, Harry Blackbird, recalls that “[h]e could cross all the rivers in the region without seeming to get wet.”
Wearing a racing jersey with a number (distinguishing her as a member of a formal event), Cheryl L’Hirondelle ran from one end of the reserve to the other (approximately twenty-five kilometers) on the main road through the community. In most places, her action went by unnoticed, but on the reserve—as in most small communities—everyone knows what everyone else is doing. During L’Hirondelle’s performance, and inspired by her action, some women in the community began a Moccasin Telegraph of their own by phoning other people on the reserve and notifying them about the event.
Aware of what normally constitutes the art audience, certainly not the people from Makwa Sahgaiehcan, L’Hirondelle’s goal was to involve another kind of viewer. Engaging this other audience, as it is with all art that seeks to resonate with a particular community, required her to negotiate a new set of rules and develop a different set of cultural strategies. In some pre-performance musings she remarked that “the activity has to somehow engage people instead of alienate them…it has to occur where people live and where performance has survived for many years—in people’s camps, homes and at the kitchen table.” Her task of “engag[ing] people instead of alienat[ing] them” was determined from the outset. Her strategy was to stage the performance in the local, engaging the community by performing a part of their history.
Cistemaw inyiniw’s story was handed down to L’Hirondelle in typical Native tradition, orally. In Native culture, stories are not simply stories. They are told and retold so that they resonate in the present, not as myths and legends, but as a vital part of history. They teach critical lessons and cultural values, like bravery and the necessity of communication. By mimicking Cistemaw inyiniw’s running, L’Hirondelle’s performance highlighted the distinctions and pointed to the ambiguities of what constitutes public, community, and audience. The Elder originally telling the story has a captive audience: they are members of the given community. However, in L’Hirondelle’s performance the audience is not so easily located. In some cases the term itself is challenged (when does a passer-by become part of an audience?), its definition moves out of focus and its location shifts.
Audience is commonly defined as the assembled spectators or listeners at an event. In L’Hirondelle’s action the viewers were not formally assembled; the performance was happenstance and informal. This questions the distinction between audience and public. Are the people in the community an audience simply because they witness the event? Or, do they have to somehow engage with the action to gain meaning from its occurrence? Can one be called an audience if they refuse to be involved and ultimately disregard the action? Possibly the public are those who choose (for whatever reason) not to be involved with the work. The audience could then be further distinguished as those who gain meaning from the event.
As L’Hirondelle ran through the community of Makwa Sahgaiehcan, a film crew captured her performance and the performances of three other people, Louise Halfe, Cheli Nighttraveller, and Joseph Naytowhow, who, on consultation with the artist, also interacted with the community. Each performer was given a disposable camera, a list of Cree syllabics, and chalk. They were encouraged to write messages in syllabics wherever they saw fit. The performers were also encouraged to ask the people they visited if they would still be willing to honor the age-old tradition of never turning a stranger from your door but, rather, inviting that person in and giving them food and drink. This is based on the Elders’ belief that you never know how far someone has traveled. If the person still abided by this tradition, “water” was inscribed in syllabics on the outside of the house. During her run, Cheryl stopped at two houses where she saw syllabics denoting “water” and visited with the people inside.
Each additional performer interacted with the community in a separate way. Joseph Naytowhow recited the story in typical Cree tradition by becoming the spirit of Cistemaw inyiniw. He offered tobacco to the people he visited and alerted them to Cheryl’s action. Louise Halfe chose to do a photo essay in addition to informing the community about the performance and recording their opinions of the action. Cheli Nighttraveller visited the home of an elderly man in the nearby community of Loon Lake and documented her visit with photographs.
During L’Hirondelle’s performance, three radio stations, Flying Dust Radio, MBC, and CJNS, broadcasted the story of Cistemaw inyiniw in Cree as told by Harry Blackbird. While Flying Dust Radio is broadcasted to the reserve, MBC and CJNS are stations that play mainly Top 40 hits. The idea of a Cree story interrupting the regular streams of Shania Twain and 50 Cent is subversive in itself.
Each component of the performance—L’Hirondelle’s running, the visits with the members of the community, and the radio broadcasts—extended public reception of the event. The visits with the community informed people of the performance, broadening her audience; the radio broadcasts ensured that the community had access to the original story; and L’Hirondelle’s action physically inscribed Cistemaw inyiniw’s story in the landscape of northern Saskatchewan.
The term “public art” doesn’t resonate with most Native people. After all, they do not make up a large percentage of the museum audience. They certainly aren’t viewed as constituting the public or even one of the more carefully defined “publics.” Rather, they are part of a community. Will the community of Makwa Sahgaiehcan remember L’Hirondelle’s performance as a great moment of contemporary Native public art? Probably not. However, it will resonate in the minds of those who witnessed it as an honorable act.”
published 2013 by Green Lantern Press | Specs: 18 pages, 4.2 x 0.2 x 9 inches
“Deep beneath the surface of the city, a tangled ribbon of corridors runs throughout 40 blocks of downtown Chicago. This meandering passage appears to have grown up organically as if it were an animal’s burrow or a donkey’s path. Its route is illogical: the corridors exist outside of known space, and its hidden entrances lead to mysterious destinations. What is this place? It is the Chicago Pedway, an intricate non-system of pedestrian tunnels built to separate the citizens of the city from the dangers and foul weather encountered on the street.
On the Trail of a Disorderly Future was an interdisciplinary project consisting of a walking tour of Chicago’s Pedway, ephemera given and sold to tour participants as souvenirs, and a book for a “self-guided” tour of the Chicago Pedway. The project told a story across 36 points-of-interest, weaving together mythic and historical tales to tell the story of urban development, utopian impulses, and fears of the city from the Renaissance until now.
Details: Active from 2009-2013 | performance (90-minute walking tour), ephemera (postcards, map, website), book” (credit)
“Catherine D’Ignazio ran the entire evacuation route system in Boston and attempted to measure the distance in human breath. The project also involves a podcast and a sculptural installation of the archive of tens of thousands of breaths .
The project is an attempt to measure our post-9/11 collective fear in the individual breaths that it takes to traverse these new geographies of insecurity.
The $827,500 Boston emergency evacuation system was installed in 2006 to demonstrate the city’s preparedness for evacuating people in snowstorms, hurricanes, infrastructure failures, fires and/or terrorist attacks.
It takes 154,000 breaths to evacuate Boston consists of:
I created a sculptural & audio archive of the collection of breaths. There are 26 jars on a custom-made table which correspond to the 26 runs it took to cover the evacuation routes. Each jar size corresponds to the number of breaths from that run. The speaker inside the jar plays the breaths collected from that run. (Better documentation coming soon)
This piece is on view in Experimental Geography, a traveling show curated by Nato Thompson and produced by ICI.
Nici Cumpston Shelter I & II, quartzite ridge, 2011 pigment inkjet print on canvas hand colored with synthetic polymer paint diptych, 98 x 196 cm
“I am connected to the Murray and the Darling River systems through my Barkindji family, and since 2000 I have been documenting the backwaters and inland lake systems in the Riverland of South Australia. I have found many ‘signs’ in the landscape, Aboriginal artefacts and trees that bear witness to Aboriginal occupation and reflect the connection people have had with this place over many tens of thousands of years.
Everywhere I walk I see evidence of Aboriginal occupation prior to European settlement. I find remnants of flints and grindstones that were used to manufacture stone tools and to grind native seeds and grains. Bark was removed from the outer layers of eucalypt trees to create canoes and coolamons – vessels used to carry food and small babies. The scars left in the trees act like street signs, indicating areas of abundance and safe shelter. I get the strong sense that the ancestors had only just gone, leaving subtle calling cards to let me know how important these sites are for them.
Using a medium format film camera slows my pace. Spending as much time as I can in the environment, and speaking with cultural custodians to get a true sense of place are significant steps in my process”
(credit: Catalog, “From Here to There: Australian Art and Walking”)