by Jenna Crowder
A Long Wait is an event series and platform for artistic inquiry that uses Fort Gorges – located at the entrance to Casco Bay outside of Portland, Maine – as context, material, and site for performance, sound, video, and social practice artworks. Curated by Erin Colleen Johnson and funded by a grant from the Kindling Fund, the series will bring three artists (Anna Wolfe-Pauly, knightsworks dance theater, and Ken Ueno) over three weekends to create work and facilitate meaningful engagement between the public and the fort.
The first installment of the series, Future Weather by Anna Wolfe-Pauly, happens this weekend. In Anna’s words, she will “lead participants through a training program on how to survive future weather. These activities are informed by the distinction between water and air that Perceptual psychologist James J. Gibson makes in his book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. He claims that the way in which we come into contact with the qualities of an environment necessarily depends on our relationship to them. Rather than projecting about their future states using instruments that stand alone, Anna seeks to bring our bodies in conjunction with the medium, the substance, and the landmass in order to learn from the positions, the motions, and the feelings generated by joining.”
I sat down with Anna and Erin to talk a little bit more about Future Weather and A Long Wait to see what I’d be getting myself into.
Jenna Crowder: Tell me a little bit more about Future Weather. What might audiences expect?
Anna Wolfe-Pauly: Future Weather will be like walking through an experience of climate change. Most of the conversation around climate change is fear-based; I don’t want to discount the research and I don’t want to say that I don’t believe in climate change — I do — but how can we approach it differently? Let’s find a different way to do that. How can we connect to those ideas in non-language-based ways? For me, climate change still has to do with belief, and Future Weather simulates the more tangible: feeling the movement of tides, floating on pillows. But what does it mean to feel the long-term? How do we do that? Can we do it? This is a gesture toward that.
JC: I really love the idea of making the intangible tangible and this seems like a brilliant way of doing that: using physical engagement as a tactic, as a counter or supplement to data or language. What would you like participants to take forward with them from their experience?
AWP: We are so rooted in uncertainty. I want this to be a process of giving tools to participants to access being open, to access the ability to be buoyant within a storm. That feeling of buoyancy, of turning your body into a signal — if you can trust in that, it might provide some solace. Things are not going to get better, but how will you arrive? How will you show up? Maybe by trying this and experiencing being in the unknown, people might feel better with uncertainty.
Erin Colleen Johnson: You know, even negotiating the weather for this was significant! We want an amount of certainty for the work to happen, but of course it’s so unpredictable.
AWP: And what does it mean to connect with the medium of weather? I’m opening up the practice to uncertainty and to failure. You can’t push it away. You can’t go under. You have to be in it.
JC: Would you categorize Future Weather as performance or installation or something else? And what does that mean for you in terms of attracting a specific kind of audience?
A lot of parts [of Future Weather] resonate in performance — I actually almost chose to major in performance 1 — but my background is in poetry and specifically thinking about language and imagery. The participation relates to social engagement and the line between watching and performing. In Future Weather, it’s important that people can both watch others perform and then perform themselves and feel the differences between the two. I like to use the term “embodied thinking practices”. While there’s a lot of performance art I like, sometimes it just does not embody the scope of the work well enough. Poetry in this case offers a different, more relevant way of thinking about landscape and language.
You can’t push it away. You can’t go under. You have to be in it.
— Anna Wolfe-Pauly
Erin and Anna met while Erin was in the second year of her MFA program in San Francisco. (AWP: I remember that day! Yellow kitchen, yellow skirt!) Anna says she felt relieved to meet Erin and vice-versa: they quickly became sounding boards for each other and their work and had a show together in the Bay Area in 2013. When I asked Erin about choosing the artists for A Long Wait, she said she thought of Anna’s work immediately to be a part of a chorus of diverse artists and practices. Anna created most of Future Weather for Fort Gorges specifically.
JC: Part of what is so exciting for me about A Long Wait is that not only are you, Erin, choosing to activate a space in Portland that’s so visible yet so underused, but you’re bringing in a lot of different voices and visions in order to do that. I’m really interested in the conversation that can happen among the artists that you’ve chosen as well as the conversation that is made available to audiences and participants by bringing in some artists that are “from away” to Portland.
ECJ: Yes, there is something unique about the Fort. We all know the model of the factory-turned-art space, but Fort Gorges never fulfilled its original purpose or any purpose. When we talk about the future, it’s usually toward the idea that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine hope — though sci-fi is a good example of a genre that allows for hope or imagination. The space and context of Fort Gorges actually allows us to take on and play out these questions that we maybe can’t in an established venue or gallery.
With A Long Wait, I wanted to take on various perspectives and practices, invite different experiences and ways of engaging people and the space. I want artists and audiences thinking about similar questions here in dramatically different ways — what can that conversation look like? Fort Gorges doesn’t and can’t serve all the art work I find interesting, but this is all very specific place-based work that work well together and with the site.
JC: I’ve seen a lot of work described as “site-specific” that really doesn’t take in the history or context of the site — work that could probably be put anywhere without affecting or being affected by its surroundings, but is maybe labeled that way because it’s installation. How do you both interpret the phrase site-specific? What does that mean for you?
AWP: Fort Gorges is in a persistent state of waiting for an event that won’t happen — this is the crux of the work. Similarly, we won’t be here for the eventual events of climate change, but we live in that state of not knowing what will really happen and responding to these questions. The Fort has “lived” a lot longer than most of us and I’m interested in the idea of believing in its knowledge, if you can call it that, its space of uncertainty.
ECJ: And even on a more practical level, it’s specific. Due to weather concerns, we were thinking about a back-up plan that could be at the Bowdoin pool to practice floating, for example, but it would be a completely different project. Fort Gorges offers 32 windows that look out onto Casco Bay from various perspectives: the exercise [in Future Weather] on horizon with mirrors and sky wouldn’t even be possible on Peaks Island. The Fort offers a windy space (for the windsock exercises) to total stillness inside (perfect for the conversation part) to a cove for the floating exercise. It’s unusual that this all exists together and Future Weather is built around this.
A Long Wait is small this year, but I hope it keeps happening. I could imagine that next year it could be ten artists or more. Or maybe its an annual thing and grows into a dialogue among artists thinking about the same questions in context of the same space.
If the weather holds, Future Weather will be held on Fort Gorges in Casco Bay in Portland. The ferry will meet at Chandler’s Wharf at 2pm. You can buy tickets here, the price of which includes the event and transportation via ferry to Fort Gorges. The rain date is Sunday, July 10, 2016 at 3:30pm. Please check the site or the Facebook event page for up-to-date weather and cancellation information.
After this weekend, future participants will be able to watch a video by Anna introducing the project and check out a kit (located on Fort Gorges) to have a self-guided experience. Wolfe-Pauly recommends you bring a friend or small group to best experience the work and for safety.
For more information, including the ferry and event schedule, as well as information on other events in this series, please visit http://alongwait.com/.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
- Anna is currently working toward her Masters in Visual and Critical Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago through a New Artist Scholarship ↩