Patricia Dominguez is feeding me images of shrines in Thailand. She says she’s seen hundreds, and “they all have small inhabitants inside them…”
I’ve started trying to find out more about the history of the land where I’m going to build the shrines. Looks like it’s part of Croxton Yard, and near the Hackensack River and Penhorn Creek. Before Europeans pushed them out, Lenape Indians lived here. They had a belief system that was animistic, which works perfectly with my project. To read more about how Animism relates to my shrine projects, check out my 2008 thesis paper.
The Lenape believed that there were spirits – called manetu – all around them. They believed that the great spirit Kishelemukong created the world and that evil spirits, known as manetuwak, were responsible for sickness and death. They felt there was a spirit in every wild storm and in each new bud on the trees in spring.
“The Lenape believed that spirits could be helpful or harmful and so they had to be treated with respect. To gain a spirit’s favor, people left small offerings in the place where they thought it lived – for example, near a huge tree, a waterfall, or a strange and lonely rock. The gifts might be a handful of leaves or flowers, carved stick, or some pipe smoke. The Indians were careful not to offend the spirits.”
Certain localities, it is said, were thought to be the dwellings of local genii, to whom offerings were occasionally made, especially such places as displayed curious or unusual natural features, while even certain stones were said to have an animate principle or indwelling spirit.”
A new little shrine on top of this hill. A stable base made from found pieces of twisted wood. Held together with gravity, a few nails, and duct tape. Adorned with a colorful tag and a scrap of orange sack cloth. Spray painted moon-rocks underneath.
In the time since my last visit, I decided that my first site has to be this cement-covered hillside overlooking the NJ Transit railroad. It’s a really unique site, a perfect example of the weirdness that can crop up in junkspace with the intersection of people & nature. It’s right above a tunnel. As you’re standing on this ridge facing out, you might see a train approaching you directly and then passing underneath you. It’s a powerful spot. A shrine here would be devoted to the train system’s infrastructure.
My intention was to go back last Sunday, get to know the site in more detail, assess what materials are available nearby, and maybe make something small. When I arrived, the gate was wide open, and there were U-Haul trucks parked bumper to bumper in the NJ Transit lot.
I walked towards the back of the lot, towards this site, but then I realized a pack of kids were following me! They ran up ahead of me and squeezed through the hole in the fance and into this site. I lost my nerve. How could I explain that I wanted to build a shrine to the trains on their hangout spot? I went elsewhere for awhile, and then came back after they were gone. Not sure exactly what to do; this is obviously their territory. I ended up making some very simple lean-to structures with just a few pieces of wood, sort of as a test. We’ll see if it’s still up when I return.
I do think of this as public art, but it has to be presented to the public in the right way and at the right time.
Here are a few detail shots taken in the area:
I also explored another area nearby more fully than before. This involved lowering myself off a little wall and walking down a steep hill of rubble, closer to the level of the trains. There, I assembled this shrine around a drainage pipe. The air inside the pipe is cool.
I like the visual rhyming of the tunnel to the shape of the pipe. They’re both corridors, in a sense.
I’ve been wanting to do another shrine project for quite some time (the original was Kilmer Shrines). I’ve made a few attempts recently, which were interesting in themselves, but they weren’t quite right. The Gowanus Shrines would have been amazing, especially since you’d visit them via rowboat. But I couldn’t compel myself to make the one hour commute regularly, especially after the hurricane washed them away. Shrines need to be close to home so you can visit often. Creek & Valley Shrines was a short-term project, so, there too, I couldn’t really develop a deep relationship with the place and the shrines.
So this summer I’m hoping to develop a network of shrines in Jersey City. The Journal Square area, where I live, is full of junkspace. I can see junkspace on Google Maps and from my roof … any tiny patch of woods that isn’t a park, or a deserted lot … I just have to figure out how to get to them on foot. Today I started to try to do that.
My goal for today was to reach the green tree-filled areas to the west of JFK Blvd. I walked north on JFK trying each dead end. Right before Elm Street, there is a weed-filled meadow, completely blocked off by fences. It looked like the elevation dropped at the end of the meadow, and there was orange construction mesh there. Looks promising.
But I couldn’t get in; the only part of the fence low enough to climb over comfortably, at the end of Elm, has barbed wire all over it. So I tried the next street north (Floyd). There, there was an open gate, but the area inside is chock-full of weeds taller than me. Not the sort of thing you can push your way through.
So I proceeded to the next street: Spruce. I walked down the sloping hill of the street, passing front-yard shrines to the Virgin Mary and a weird fake palm tree flanked by cherubs.
At the end of Spruce, I turned right onto Liberty. Liberty, aptly named, gave me entrance to the wooded area I was looking for. There was a large fence, but with a hole in it that I was able to squeeze through.
This is what I found there:
Cement was poured all over the side of this hill (below). It’s like a cement mountain with terraces. It’s easy to climb on and explore. This will definitely be site for a future shrine. There are, miraculously, two trees growing on it as well as several small plants.
This orange fencing is the same that I saw from Elm Street!
These cottony spores are all over the base of the trees. Looks like it’s probably cottonwood seeds, which the trees produce in large quantities 2 weeks per year.
When I was in Japan in 2006, I visited the Great Shrine of Ise. Every 20 years for the last two millennia it’s been rebuilt out of Japanese Cypress trees using ancient construction methods, so that it’s “forever new and forever ancient and original”. Only one priest(ess) can enter the central shrine, within which there is supposedly an ancient mirror cocooned in cloth bag after cloth bag. There are tame deer roaming the town, which just heightens the surreal / mythical qualities of the place.
There is an ancient forest there, and it looks like visitors have built tiny shrines to the huge trees. These small shrines were the most memorable for me.
You can’t tell from this photo, but this tree is absolutely huge. I could have easily crawled underneath it.
Today I’m working on sketches for the Gowanus Shrines workshop, as part of Sea Worthy. Here are a few. These are purely speculative: workshop participants will be the ones to determine the form the shrines will take.
A full slideshow of sketches and plans will be on view at my show at AIR Gallery.
I want to make a Shrine Manifesto, a pamphlet I can just hand to people to explain the concept quickly and clearly. Now is the time, because there will be new Shrine projects on the Gowanus and in Queens this summer, plus documentation to be shown at EFA and A.I.R.
Last night I flipped through the big yellow Manifestos book (which Rutgers folk will recognize) to see how others have done it. I found “Bless England” by Wyndham Lewis, written in 1914-15. It could be a manifesto for Sea Worthy, if we could just substitute “New York” for “England”.
Here’s Mike reading “Experiment, Ostriches, and Music” by Pierre Boulez:
Other favorite manifestos, though only the first is included in the book: