object lessons

Since 2007 I've been experimenting with crafting wordless explanations, in which hands manipulating objects on a small stage are asked to take on the work of explanation that usually rests with language. Over time, I've come to be most curious about the way in which language permits certain kinds of sense to come forward while actively preventing other kinds of sense from being made. Can this play of hands and objects do the work of foregrounding relations such that the relation itself becomes the subject? Is it helpful to have "a something" in relation to another "something" if we wish to temper our noun-heavy ways of thinking? And is this just an idiosyncratic wish of my own to see telling take this form, or might this play of hands over and through objects do something useful within the larger project of systems thinking?


In 2007, I found myself at an artist residency with Mark Jeffery and Judd Morrissey. I had with me a hundred or so wooden houses. Mark and I were butting heads about something and decided to use that force to spin off a short experiment. We set up a camera and over the course of a 52 minute tape I attempted to arrange the houses into villages and he into armies. The resulting video, entitled lesson in conflict can be viewed here.

From 2009-2012 I served as artist in residence at the Design Studio for Social Intervention, a Boston-based creativity lab for the social justice sector. During the residency I looked for ways to surface systems understandings through visual and formal means. I experimented with using object choreographies, with the objects in someone else's hands to see if this kind of 'telling' could do something words couldn't. On the occasion of the studio's move to their current location, I produced housewarming, a video work in which friends of the studio were asked to use a set of clay objects made for the occasion to render a wish they had for the studio in it's new incarnation.

In 2012 I was invited to extend this inquiry in another direction, producing wordless didactics for The Hairy Blob, an exhibition curated by Adelheid Mers for the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago that sought to examine artists' conceptions of time. In place of the usual explanatory wall texts next to each work of art we offered short videos in which I tried to tease out the essential dynamics of each work, relying only on my own hands moving small objects in relation to one another.

In 2013, I was invited to extend and expand this experiment for Resonating Bodies, an exhibition of large scale sculpture organized by Shannon Stratton for The Soap Factory in Minneapolis. I situated myself as a kind of exhibition parasite and built a set of 25 short videos that served as wordless didactics for the show. The videos picked up the question of participation animating the exhibition, and turned it slightly to ask "What does it mean for one thing to be said to participate in another?" The videos were accessed via QR code printed seats arranged near the sculptures in the space (by Sara Black & J Soto, Kelly Kaczynski, Ben Fain, & Conrad Freiburg.)

In 2014 I took up an invitation to participate remotely in the exhibition Virtually Physically Speaking, curated by Kelly Kaczynski for the A+D Gallery at Columbia College in Chicago. For this exhibition, twin stage/tables were built in Boston and Chicago from the same spare set of instructions. I gathered a set of objects together and began to build choreographed sequences suggested by the relations among those objects. Here the objects served not to tell a given story but to surface a latent one. What emerged across a month of 'rehearsals' live-streamed from the table in my Boston Studio to the gallery in Chicago were partial narrative arcs pointing to familial and national legacies of violence, the training of parents and children, and relations of power.

I have twice performed these live. Once to accompany a lecture by Kelly Kacyznski at a 2014 Colllege Art Association conference panel held in conjunction with the Virtually Physically Speaking exhibition, and once to accompany a talk about the work of the Design Studio for Social Intervetion given by Kenneth Bailey at the 2013 Creative Time symposium.