The 2nd paragraph, about a Shrine for Old Pens, is an idea for a way to bring something of the shrines into a gallery setting.
I fretted over the last paragraph. It’s hard to explain briefly about Shrines & Animism without it sounding spooky. Hopefully I pulled it off.
My relationship to the places and things around me is one of the driving forces behind my practice. I make art not by creating something new, but by reordering what’s already there. I primarily use found materials widely considered to be worthless, celebrating their unique sculptural properties as well as historical, cultural, and environmental resonances.
Near the entrance to the gallery, I would like to create a shrine to old pens. In Kyoto, there is a shrine called Fudezuka, where the calligraphy brushes of famous painters and writers are buried. I will invite the public to contribute their old pens, which will accumulate over the course of the exhibition. The main structure of the shrine will be shaped like a small house, which I will construct from a wide variety of materials and textures, possibly including tree branches, scrap wood, intricately woven reeds, plastic bags, and discarded appliances. The eaves of theroof will extend upward, crossing above the peak, and downward, nearly touching the ground. This roof style echoes the construction of Japanese Shinto shrines and symbolizes interconnection and integration of the shrine with its environment. Vessels filled with sand will be placed in front of the shrine for visitors to stick their pens into.
In the back of the gallery, I would like to show photographs and screen a documentary video about Erie Shrines, a special public project I’m now working on in Jersey City, NJ. The Erie Shrines are dedicated to a mile-long, abandoned rail line running through the Erie Cut, an excavated corridor which I discovered in the heart of Jersey City. The cut, a significant technological feat of the time, hosted an active railway from 1910 to 1959. Since then, it’s fallen into ruin. Barely visible from street level, it’s now overgrown with tall weeds and is home to several animal species. It runs beneath the city like a parallel, forgotten world—or a miniature oasis.
I am using materials found on-site to construct and maintain a network of shrines dedicated to this pocket of urban nature and the railroad infrastructure of Jersey City. My process is one of paying consistent attention over time, of growth and accumulation through repeated visits. I will ultimately lead public tours, which will function as pilgrimages. These shrines will act as focal points in the landscape and establish symbolic and ritualistic connections between participants, the natural environment, and the built environment. I will create a documentary video and a series of photographs to chronicle my process and show how the shrines develop and grow over time. To convey the unique energy of the site, the video will be accompanied by lush, high-quality audio recordings of sounds from within the Erie Cut, including birds calls, insects, rustling vegetation, cars and sirens from the city above, the rumbling of nearby trains, water dripping, and cave-like echoing under bridges. This project will function as a meditation on place; focusing on the overlay of ecology, history, and technology onto current land use.
In many cultures, shrines are traditionally dedicated to natural phenomena, such as rivers, trees, and mountains. However, our fates are no longer shaped by natural forces alone. I believe we would do well to honor our relationships to certain synthetic objects and infrastructural systems. Furthermore, as political theorist Jane Bennett wrote in her book Vibrant Matter, “to begin to experience the relationship between persons and other materialities more horizontally is to take a step toward a more ecological sensibility.” This horizontality is precisely what I aim to cultivate by building shrines: a non-hierarchical relationship, defined by respect. And what would it take to regard an object, system, or ecosystem with respect? According to religious scholar Graham Harvey, “All it might take is for someone to address the [object] as a ‘Thou’ rather than an ‘it’.”