I created a performance based installation in a small Cedar Grove at Smoke Farm in early September. The piece was born from the desire to be in and honor the intimate natural sanctuary created by the cedars and to connect significantly with anyone who entered it.
I asked festival goers to participate in the performance by spending quiet time in the space and leaving any burdens with me. I, in return, read the burdens and made offerings of words and tokens in the form of “prescriptions” and “remedies”. The exchanges were anonymous. I could not see who was in the space and I was in a masked costume.
My intention was to make a prescription/remedy for every person who left a burden; however, I received hundreds of burdens and did not have time to address them all. Someone suggested I bring them home and put the project online. That seemed like an excellent solution. I brought the burdens home and made replies to several of them (see previous posts), but the process began to feel false. It is very different to sit in my basement studio and write to anonymous people (who may no longer care or ever read this) than being among the cedars and the people. I felt like the project had shifted to an Ann Landers or Dear Abby sort of thing. I also began to feel unqualified to make “prescriptions” for anyone about anything. I am certainly not a doctor nor am I a trained counselor or in the clergy.
I began to tell myself that the project was over and to let it go – that it was no longer art and I had no business making any kind of suggestion for people suffering with real and acute anguish.
Then yesterday I took a walk with a close friend who is suffering. At the beginning of her telling me her important things, she said, “This is for your ears only. Please don’t tell anyone.” I am someone to whom she does not need to say those things. I believe she knows this to be True. I respect her privacy because I want to. It’s an honor for me. And I know she honors mine. Still, she said the words and they ring in my ears because it is exactly that sort of safe space, a measure of intimacy, that I hoped to experience with participants in the cedar grove, if only for a moment.
So I may never know if participants return here to pick up their prescriptions, but if connection and/or relief is even a possibility then I am renewed in my energy to see this project through. The question of “Is it art?” no longer seems important.
Last weekend I built an apothecary in a cedar grove. I dressed myself in silk and wool, covered my eyes with a mask of branches that limited my vision downward and played the role of a shaman named Dr. Good. “Patients” participated in the process by writing downaches and pains of the heart or mind – spiritual burdens. Once they finished writing, they removed and pocketed a numbered portion of the chit and deposited their identically numbered burden in a jar. They had instructions to return in a few hours to receive a “prescription” and remedy for their heartache. Many people visited me in the grove as the installation was part of the LoFi Festival at Smoke Farm in Arlington, WA. When I started this project last spring, I had no way of knowing how much more connected I would feel to the grove and to so many people who began as, and remain, strangers. I am altered.
In my typical habitat I teach young children, volunteer quite a bit and generally look for opportunities to be helpful. These are my ways of connecting. As a jumping off point for this work, I wondered if I could be useful, if I could deeply connect, by making an offering of time, tokens and undivided attention (if only for a few moments) anonymously with strangers.
I found that I felt profoundly connected to people in the space and to the space itself. Though I could not see outward, I could see light, my writing and feet. I could see that people stood in the space quietly with me even after they had given me their burdens. I could hear everything. I heard how people quickly become silent in the space. I heard slow shifting and breathing. I heard people collecting their prescriptions. I strongly sensed that we were mingling our vulnerabilities and each longing for connectivity while trusting this remarkable place to keep us safe and allow this exchange – this connection.
I was and remain overcome by the candor expressed in the burdens. I hoped participants would bring me heavy woes, I specifically asked for them, but I felt surprised nonetheless by the outpouring. I was also overwhelmed by the sheer number of burdens and the time a considered prescription and remedy required. I originally thought I would make short replies, attach a remedy and quickly move to the next burden. Not the case. In fact, I was able to answer and return less than 50 prescriptions during the time I had at the festival. I actually quit taking burdens for a while with hopes of catching up but it was quickly apparent that I would not be able to. Someone offered the good solution of taking the burdens home and making prescriptions available on my blog. It was an excellent solution as the anonymity (on my side) stays fully intact and that, I believe, was an essential element to the success of this project.
And so, for the next couple days, I will post the remaining burdens and prescriptions. If you were at the festival and hoped for the token remedy to accompany your prescription, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions.
Thank you for visiting and for participating. It was magical.