Thanks to the power of Eduardo Galeano’s writings, I have created my first outdoor art installation, entitled MIRRORS, in my own front yard, smack in the middle of this working class neighborhood of Hammond, Indiana where I have been living for 13 years.
This installation opened on Halloween, just in time for trick or treating children and their parents on Monday, October 31st. I thought that the subject matter of the exhibit lent itself to the opening days of the exhibit which include Halloween, Dias de los Muertos, and the feasts of All Souls and All Saints. And, I thought, it might find persons more open to participating in the Woman from Oslo segment of the exhibit.
This installation includes three short works excerpted from books by Eduardo Galeano, a journalist, novelist, poet, and artist from Uruguay. He is considered one of the great writers of Latin America. I created the elements you’ll see pictured here in response to his stories.
As a sonic backdrop that evening, from my open windows came the movie soundtrack from “American Beauty,” composed by Thomas Newman.
The title piece of the exhibit, MIRRORS:
Mirrors are full of people.
The invisible see us.
The forgotten recall us.
When we see ourselves, we see them.
When we turn away, do they?
from MIRRORS, Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano
THE ART OF DRAWING YOU
In a bed by the Gulf of Corinth, a woman contemplates by firelight the profile of her sleeping lover.
On the wall, his shadow flickers.
The lover, who lies by her side, will leave. At dawn, he will leave to war, to death. And his shadow, his traveling companion, will leave with him and with him will die.
It is still dark. The woman takes a coal out of the embers and draws on the wall the outline of his shadow.
Those lines will not leave.
They will not embrace her, and she knows it. But they will not leave.
from MIRRORS, Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano
The third piece took the most time, thought and work to create, and has a dual title: “The Woman from Oslo, aka The Passion of Speech ”; the latter title being Galeano’s original title in his book.
Marcela was visiting the snowy North. One night in Oslo, she met a woman who sang and told stories. Between songs, she would spin yarns, glancing at slips of paper like someone telling fortunes from crib notes.
This woman from Oslo had on an enormous dress dotted all over with pockets. She would pull slips of paper out of her pockets one by one, each with its story to tell, stories tried and true of people who wished to come back to life through witchcraft. And so, she raised the dead and the forgotten, and from the depths of her dress sprang the odysseys and loves of the human animal for whom speech is life.
From The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano
I made the “enormous dress” and affixed three pockets. In each pocket I placed a slip of paper. On the slips were written:
“Joan Ruel McQuade / Daughter-Sister-Cousin-Wife-Aunt-Mother / 1932-1985.”
“Sean Francis McQuade / Son-Brother-Uncle / 1957-2012.”
“Mary Katherine McQuade /Daughter-Sister-Aunt-Mother / 1962 – 1986.”
By evoking and including the names of my family members, I felt I could invite others to do the same, without fear of being prescriptive – I wanted to be a colleague in the exercise, rather than a puppeteer. As trick-or-treaters came streaming by, groups of adolescents, youngsters with parents and/or older siblings, it quickly became apparent that the entire exhibit was drawing them in. They were interested, asking questions, taking selfies in the mirror, eagerly reading the words, asking what the slips of paper on the table were for. I explained that this was an art project, something called public art and that it needed the participation of others to be truly successful. If they would like to write the name of someone they knew who had died, someone they could keep alive in the act of remembering, I would add that person’s name by placing it in a pocket of its own on the dress. By the end of Hammond’s trick or treating session I had 21 names on 21 slips of paper. This level of participation was more than I had hoped for and it left me feeling at once awestruck and deeply satisfied. My work had made an impact. People welcomed the opportunity to name and give life, in that moment, to someone who had died. They wanted to share their story. My interest reminded them that their story had meaning just as their loved one’s life was precious and worthy of remembrance.
Each weekend during the monthlong exhibit I will take down the dress long enough to affix new pockets and add the slips with names. I have posted a sign inviting those who care to record their stories to contact me. I’ve also invited people to write their stories for inclusion in a dedicated website and for possible printed publications.
This project is one which I hope to continue in other places, even as I hope to repeat it each year at this time for one month. In future years I hope to include a performative element by wearing the dress and telling stories of the people whose names are on slips in my pockets.
This project also opens the door for other hoped for, yet to be imagined public art projects which I would like to facilitate, which would be expanded to include the works of other artists in the community. I would like to work with students of all ages in the schools in creating visual and sonic responses to literature by the many important writers of our times and earlier times. I would like to facilitate art that brings people together in discovery and sharing.
I welcome invitations to facilitate this project at other sites. Similarly, I would welcome an invitation to be an artist in residence in community working on other installation projects. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org to begin the conversation.
My thanks to Eduardo Galeano, who passed away April 13 2015. He is remembered by the many people who loved him. His spirit also is alive and well in his many literary works, which include The Book of Embraces; Mirrors, Stories of Almost Everyone; Open Veins of Latin America; and Memory of Fire Trilogy, among others.
Also, thanks to Barb McBride who spent hours with me getting these pieces in place in the yard. Thanks to Eva Volkmann whose counsel came in just the right ways at the right time as I developed the work.