Tag Archives: installation

Invisible Ink: Homeless | Project Statement

Invisible Ink: Homeless
36” x ~250’, lemon juice and butcher paper, 2018

Dedication
This work is indebted and dedicated to the many people who entrusted their words to my care…guests and residents at the Compass First Presbyterian Shelter in Seattle and the Interfaith Works Overnight Shelter in Olympia, and those passing through the Interfaith Works Community Care Center and the Saturday Warming Center. Thanks also to the staff of these places and others who were generous with their time.

Project Description         

Invisible Ink: Homeless is a process of embodied listening.

I asked homeless members of our community to put their thoughts down in writing. They finished statements such as “When I look at myself I see…,” “I want people to see that I…,” or wrote without a prompt about whatever was on their mind. I was—am—moved by their candor and generosity. They are at the heart of this project.

I carefully transcribed their words in lemon juice (homemade invisible ink) on an uncut scroll of butcher paper, filling hundreds of feet with surprising, blunt, kind, sad, funny, stirring messages. It is a slow, contemplative, tender process of acknowledging and abiding with the truth that there is no difference but a home between me and a homeless person.

When heated up, the words appear. Visitors to the installation are invited to help reveal the words using a household iron. It isn’t just that sugar in the lemon juice caramelizes…browns. It is more profound than that. There is a structural alteration. Citric acid breaks down the pure white fibers of the butcher paper, making it more vulnerable, making it possible to see the invisible.

This process represents the care, effort and vulnerability required to overcome personal and institutional obstacles in order to see and address the needs of community members who live without adequate shelter and who are often silenced and ignored. It is about seeing people as people.

More simply, this is just about taking time to listen to what people have to say.

Artist’s Statement
I like to work with ordinary materials the inherent properties of which inform and reiterate the conceptual underpinnings of a given project. In all my work, I attempt to design processes and constraints that require me to labor longer than my initial inspiration or enthusiasm or outrage hold out. It is only after this something new can happen and I am changed by the work. Collaborating with strangers is unnerving, and writing with lemon juice is arduous: like the effort to see one’s own privilege or to make one’s own vulnerability seen. It is also basic, a little magical, and imperfect. Like human connection.

MacGyver

Lemon juice. Butcher paper. Ironing board. Iron. Reamer. Pyrex measuring cup. Sieve. Candle. Hairdryer. Two cheap paint brushes I must have gotten twenty-five years ago.

I am working with what is at hand. The ordinary materials of of domestic existence. The ordinary magic of homemade invisible ink held up to a candle.

I took the trash out last night and saw something – someone? – moving strangely in the darkness of the sidewalk. I went back in for a flashlight. It was a man with a bike and tarp-covered trailer – the delux rig for so many homeless people here. I held the flashlight for him as he reattached the trailer hitch, which had come undone as he was riding and had nearly flipped him off the bike. The rain and wind were wild. He declined various offers of assistance – to hold the bike, to hold the trailer steady, to get a crescent wrench if it would work better than his Allen wrench. He told me people called him MacGyver because he never had the right tool and always had to make do.

For some things – maybe not fixing bike trailers – there is no right tool. Racism. Misogyny. Heteronormativity. There is only what you have under your sink.

It wasn’t intentional, but now it seems essential – that I use familiar materials…domestic tools…to interrogate the familiar, domestic oppression. This violence is cooked up, tended, mended in the home: in the pantry, in the kitchen. There should be no polish on the surface of this work. No seductive, sealed-up, done-ness.

I said to MacGyver that it must be hard to work with his hands with it so cold. He said, Ya, especially when you’ve only got one. One hand? I said. Ya, he said. Jesus, I said. Are you sure you don’t need help? Ya, he said. It’s been twenty years. I know what I’m doing. I noticed then that he had his coat sleeve pulled down like a mitt over what must have been the end of his arm – is a wrist a wrist when it doesn’t lead to a hand? – which he used to steady the bike. I thought, Marilyn and I have been together twenty years.

It is absurd to compare my near-vestigial organ of race-consciousness to this man’s missing hand. There is no pat analogy in the reality of another person. And I was not made hopeful or inspired by this interaction. By the after-the-fact analysis of what else I could have offered. There is the analogy – to my after-the-fact analysis of how race was the determining factor not in Trump’s election, but in the entire history of American politics.

Flashlight. Lemon juice. Allen wrench. Ironing board. One good hand. Some words.

First and Next

The first impulse is to surrender the space. To make room. To not fill white gallery walls with more work by a white person.

The next impulse is to take responsibility. To make work. To not shift the responsibility–response/ability–to the people who already most bare the burden of whiteness.

And so I wade in–not stripped down and smeared in lard, but fully clothed and prepared to drown.

Whiteness.

Space, Place & Site Specific Work

As I consider how to install TRP at Feast, I am thinking about the nature of space and place. I can equate space with the unrepresented world–everything in the world as it is and has been–and place as the narrativized world–a selection (or selection out) of specific elements of the world in order to describe the world. Meaningless and meaningful.

The humanist geographer Yi-Fu Tuan writes that space requires the move from one place to another. I developed all of the elements of TRP for the Salon Refu space in order to transform it into a place. Now as I relocate it to a new space, as I consider how to transform that space into the place that is TRP, there is then a gesture–a motion–that describes/inscribes a new, larger space. Can that space also be a place? The space described by the gesture…can it be a place? And can that place be TRP?

The Redaction Project Closes

I spent the weekend packing up index cards and patching tiny map pin holes. Salon Refu is restored to emptiness. The criss-crossing wires of The Archive no longer contain the space between floor and ceiling, transforming it into object. No redaction pattern shadows on the floor. No sentient, skin-prickle flutter of words as the door opens.

It all fits nicely into four boxes.

I listened to Krista Tippett’s interview with Ann Hamilton (On Being, November 2015) as I took The Instance Cards down, feeling very keenly the impossibility of anyone other than myself having the experience of time rushing out of the room in that hour. Hamilton said some of what I have said and felt about the banal and incremental nature of large works, about the experience of being in the room with my own work…getting to know it only having made it. I feel very fortunate to have had long hours alone in the space. It has given me a chance to understand some of what I was doing all these years. And then my understanding shifts.

Hamilton also talks about not knowing. Not saying. Waiting as long as possible to fix a thing to a name. I hope I remember this.

Here I am in the awkward place again of searching for sticks…or perhaps I am not at that point yet. At the beach in Maine, we always made little homes for inch-tall avatars. It started with an idea of the home formulated long before that moment. So it seemed the first thing to do was find enough sticks of the right size. But really the first thing happened with the idea of home, the perfect shape of shelter. Or maybe the first thing was before that first thing. Maybe the first thing was the need for shelter. A need so powerful, it dominated imagination and play.

What is my new powerful need?

What is the new shape of shelter?

Where are the sticks?

RP_uninstall