Pati & Ben – Shrine Tour

Patricia Dominguez and her husband Benjamin came on a tour today. Pati is doing her own shrine-like experiment/performance with a tree, so the act of shrine building came naturally to them; They added interesting found objects to each shrine as offerings. We walked all the way to the end and finally confirmed that the fourth shrine is alive and well. We even built our own shrine — a large one which we made out of metal debris and an amazing set of strings of beads for a doorway. Pati found a book called “Strange Stories, Amazing Facts” with some pretty eccentric stories and images.

She spoke about what she saw as “looking at our civilization from the future. As closest as Robert Smithson’s tour as one can get…pray[ing] to the elements of the industrial landscape.” She also compared the graffiti to cave paintings and indigenous art. Some do in fact look to be influenced from aboriginal art.

She suggested I push the participatory elements of the tour, and I have experience doing this from my Elastic City walk… I can just imagine shrines accumulating along the length of the cut.

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Unsolved Mysteries

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Snow and sub-freezing temperatures kept me away from the shrines for over a month. I thought about them during that time, wondering if they’d been flooded out or vandalized or met some other end. At 45 degrees, today was warm enough for me to check on them. I saw three of the four. They are totally fine! A little damp, but hardly a scratch. I didn’t see the fourth because I spied a tent under one of the bridges and didn’t want to disturb any possible occupants.

I’ll most likely post photos this week of the shrines, but in this post I want to focus on something interesting I saw, and something I didn’t notice until now, looking at the photos, that I can’t quite make sense of. I’m sure people come across my shrines and don’t know what to make of them. So, touche. I guess we’re even now.

Water dripping under bridges forms mounds of ice in the winter. I’ve seen them before. For some reason, this time there were some that were yellow. I guess with sediment or dirt or chemicals…

Under the first bridge there were three. This one:

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And these two:

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Interesting shapes, right?

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Wait, what’s that… under the point…. a lady?

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A doll undergoing water torture? What is the meaning of this?

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Shrine Installation: Part II

See Part I here. And now the exciting conclusion!

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Basically, Mike and I went back the next day, retrieved the two shrines hidden in the bushes and the two that were left under a bridge. We found sites for each of them and installed them. It took some time, but went pretty smoothly.

This one, the one with the TV, blends in really seamlessly with the background. Camouflaged. At least now, in the winter.

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It does look really different here than when it’s green. You can see much further.


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Even though it was in the fifties that day, the ground was still mostly covered in ice, and there were huge (melting) stalagtite-icicles.

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This one is anchored: I tied a string to an inside structural element of the shrine, and then tied the other end to a large rock. I wedged the rock in this pipe. The string is taut.

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Mike took this cool photo:

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And then we found this guy: looks like he’s traded bamboo for cordgrass reeds.

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Snow In North Jersey


Brendan Carroll curated this show, which opens Thursday, around the poem of the same name by August Kleinzahler. I’m happy to be introduced to this poem, as it takes place where I live, and I’m familiar with a lot of these landmarks and places. The park with the stone bears (and stone buffalo!) is my cue for when to yell “next stop” to get off the bus from New York. It’s great to know that the landscape that inspires me has inspired other artists and writers long before me. It makes me feel like I’m part of a larger conversation.

As the press release says:

The poem, Snow in North Jersey was chosen to be the theme of the exhibit because of its vivid imagery. “One of the motifs in Kleinzahler’s poem is the collision between the natural world and industrialization,” said Carroll. “This forceful coming together of disparate entities is jarring. It’s like a fight between a stick of cotton candy and a ball peen hammer.”

I love that last line. Here’s the poem:

Snow in North Jersey
Snow is falling along the Boulevard
and its little cemeteries hugged by transmission shops
and on the stone bear in the park
and the WWI monument, making a crust
on the soldier with his chinstrap and bayonet
It’s blowing in from the west
over the low hills and meadowlands
swirling past the giant cracking stills
that flare all night along the Turnpike
It is with a terrible deliberateness
that Mr Ruiz reaches into his back pocket
and counts out $18 and change for his Lotto picks
while in the upstairs of a thousand duplexes
with the TV on, cancers tick tick tick
and the snow continues to fall and blanket
these crowded rows of frame and brick
with their heartbreaking porches and castellations
and the red ’68 Impala on blocks
and Joe he’s drinking again and Myra’s boy Tommy
in the old days it would have been a disgrace
and Father Keenan’s not been having a good winter
and it was nice enough this morning
til noon anyhow with the sun sitting up there like a crown
over a great big dome of mackcrel sky
But it’s coming down now, all right
falling on the Dixon-Crucible Pencil factory
and on the spur to Bayonne
along the length of the Pulaski Skyway
and on St Bridgit’s and the Alibi Saloon
closed now, oh dear, I can’t remember how long
and lordjesussaveus they’re still making babies
and what did you expect from this life
and they’re calling for snow tonight and through tomorrow
an inch an hour over 9 Ridge Road and the old courthouse
and along the sluggish, gray Passaic
as it empties itself into Newark Bay
and on Grandpa’s store that sells curries now
and St Peter’s almost made it to the semis this year
It’s snowing on the canal and railyards, the busbarns and trucks
and on all the swells in their big houses along the river bluff
It’s snowing on us all
and on a three-story fix-up off of Van Vorst Park
a young lawyer couple from Manhattan bought
where for no special reason in the back of a closet
a thick, dusty volume from the Thirties sits open
with a broken spine and smelling of mildew
to a chapter titled Social Realism

Into the Wild

On Saturday, Chris helped me bring my shrines, previously living a sheltered life in my former studio, to the great wilderness of the Erie Cut in Jersey City.

(1) Studio to van. (2) Van to the side of Tonnele Avenue. (3) Tonnele to the bottom of the weedy hill. (4) Bottom of the hill into the Erie Cut.

4 shrines / 2 people = 2 trips each.

Running out of time, we placed two in the cut and disguised the two remaining shrines with brush.


Proposal: Shrine for Old Pens

Just submitted this proposal to Flashpoint Gallery in DC. A few new things since the last proposal I sent out:

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’.”


Spent a few hours yesterday collecting materials for shrines building, which will start on October 1st in SOHO20’s studio residency.

This included hunting around for a good patch of cordgrass for weaving, and I found one:

The plant sent multicolored runners along the ground,  alternating cream & magenta segments. Never seen this before.