I AM VISIBLE – I AM NOT INVISIBLE – I MUST BE INVISIBLE
I AM INVISIBLE – I WISH I WERE INVISIBLE – AM I NOT INVISIBLE?
I AM NO LONGER INVISIBLE
I AM VISIBLE
I AM NOT INVISIBLE
I MUST BE INVISIBLE
I AM INVISIBLE
I WISH I WERE INVISIBLE
AM I NOT INVISIBLE?
In 2001, long before I’d ever heard of “socially engaged art”, I unexpectedly found myself in the midst of orchestrating a deeply intimate exchange with total strangers in a public space. On a scroll of paper, resting on a narrow table in an art gallery, I exposed myself. I shared on that piece of paper, my deepest, most shameful secrets about experiencing child sexual assault at the hands of people I loved and trusted. I wrote about growing up feeling unseen, unloved, and dirty. Gallery visitors were invited to share their reactions, observations, and their own secrets. And so my relationship with participatory art began…
That scroll, known as the The Collaborative Scroll, is now over twenty feet long and continues to grow as it travels from city to city, holding space for strangers to engage anonymously at whatever level they wish, inviting them to help break the silence.
“When I was small my father
left me and he did not come
back. I told no one for
years – until I was an
adult, I held it inside
shame shame shame
Does it ever completely
I think not!”
“I didn’t really
I was 55 years old…
A secret buried for 52 years.
I still can become
invisible when it suits me.”
“This made me feel big and small and natural and lost and found.”
To tell you the truth, after the Collaborative Scroll went on to it’s second venue (a small liberal arts college) and I read the entries added by some of my students, I understood that my former career as a nationally exhibiting painter needed to be put aside, and that I had accidentally found my true life – the calling of creating socially engaged art projects that are transformative – works that help to empower survivors of abuse, educate the public and create social change.
Later, in 2003, I decided to try another experiment along those lines for another exhibition I was invited to be in, so I emailed a dozen or more acquaintances and asked them to supply me with any empowering statements they could provide to encourage victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse to seek help, as well as any statements abusers might say to keep their victims silent, complacent and scared. The responses I received were revealing and truly heartbreaking.
Their words, mixed with an indescribable sense of grief and outrage, compelled me to create something that would spotlight the silent epidemic of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. I created the first Walk Unafraid installation by setting up what looked like a crime scene in a public square – police barricade tape surrounding a body outline. The outline was made with torn strips of cloth arranged on the ground in the shape of a fallen victim. On those strips were written the abusive, intimidating statements that abusers have said to keep their victims scared, complacent and silent – as submitted from acquaintances via email. On one side of the barricade tape was printed “Police Line Do Not Cross”, on the blank side, I wrote out empowering phrases, warning signs for recognizing abuse, as well as phone numbers of local and national victim hotlines and statements encouraging victims to seek support and safety.
Since then, I have collaborated with dozens of survivors, including battered women, homeless teens, health professionals, therapists, artists, law enforcement and activists to create numerous similar installations in other cities.
Drawing upon the public’s natural curiosity when they happen upon a crime scene, the Walk Unafraid installations invite closer inspection. People stop and try to peer more closely at the scene, looking for clues, wondering if they can somehow piece together the situation. As they take in the details – the warnings, the abusive statements, the empowering phrases – memories are stirred, it hits them viscerally. For some, they recognize a dark familiar truth from their past, for others, they are reminded of a relative who committed suicide or was murdered, and others simply stand at the scene and bear witness to the untold devastation caused by abuse.
I have continued to create socially engaged projects that are both performative and experimental. Some of these projects include: Art + Ice Cream – driving an ice cream truck for a summer and allowing customers to pay for their ice cream with a drawing; Heart Healing Ritual – an intimate physical connection between 2 strangers in a public space; and Berkshire Art Kitchen – an art/life experiment that involved turning my home into a public art space and my daily existence into a creative ritual.
I came to this work naively – blindly even.
But somehow, I’ve found what I was looking for… or maybe it found me.
28 May 2016
Great Barrington, MA