Anna set dressiing Yo's house
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself” - Henry Miller
We just completed a three-month residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts. We were invited to the Project Space Residency, “a place of exchange among artists and visitors - a place where ideas are germinated, conversations are shared and new work is made.” It was a great fit for the Heaven through the Backdoor project and we wanted to use this update to share and reflect on our experience. Project Space gave us the opportunity to observe over one thousand people interacting with these work-in-progress elements of the project and we learned a lot about how the work functioned.
Yo’s House: The central sculptural element of the installation is Yo’s house at scale (measuring 16’Lx5’Wx7’H). In our Headlands studio, the house was positioned so it would be the first thing people would see and explore, often before engaging with the media. The little building seems to hover in space as if it is frozen in time. Everything inside and out is captured in great detail: the chipped paint, mossy bricks, junk mail, reading glasses, a tea cup. Despite the detail, there is an anonymity to the installation. Most participants do not have background or know who Yo is. Their first encounter has not been overly directed or framed. Peering in the bedroom window reveals an empathetic portrait of an older woman who, by being no one, can be anyone. From this place, the participant can connect what they see to their own personal experiences, to their own memories and emotions.
Many visitors shared with us that they had had a powerful emotional reaction to the piece, often recalling specific memories surrounding grief, loss and remembrance. We observed how participants were in total control of how much time they want to spend with the variety of sculptural elements, and how that introduces a measure of agency to the interactivity. We saw that visitors would often walk directly back to the house after finishing watching media of Yo’s real house, exploring details and story elements in the house, cross-checking them with what they had just committed to memory.
In our space, we had five clips totaling 24 minutes on a loop. People used headphones and watched for a long as they wanted. Headphones gave people a type of privacy. Then, they could take them off and interact with others. The ability to move between social and private spaces seemed to give people space to think and feel. Most people who would watch the media would return to the scale house for further exploration.
Project Space is open to the public and artists are encouraged to be in dialogue with visitors about their work. Many visitors would share stories of loss back with us after engaging with the material. For our final exhibition, we decided to formally invite visitors to participate in the creation of a Remembrance Wall (pictured below) and honor loved ones who have passed. Over a two week period, visitors added photo transfer images to a wall and wrote letters, brought photos, objects, and flowers. It added a very emotionally
Project Format: The experience of loss and grief is deeply personal and we want people to meet the project in a place that they feel comfortable and are allowed to move at their own pace. Because of this, we have begun developing a multi-platform and experientially-driven format. The final format for our works will include a feature-length documentary film and an interactive gallery exhibition that features the one-third scale version of Yo’s house, made objects and media elements.
Our project is fundamentally built around a series of stories that Yo tells about the formative events in her life. These epic tales are set against the backdrop of her failing health during the last year of her life. Her telling is presented virtually uncut to honor her “performance.” Our artistic interpretation, however, is indulgent: we use intricately built sets, animal actors and an archive of family photos and artwork. Before the portal to her magical world closed, we filmed Yo’s days, made audio recordings and collected objects and artwork from her home.
Yo’s stories are told in chronological order against the backdrop of daily life and the trajectory of her declining health. The rhythm of this narrative structure pairs observational moments of Yo interacting with family and friends with her transportative storytelling. The narrative is built around Yo’s desire to make sense of and share her own origin story before she dies. In the gallery exhibition, the collection of dioramas, sculpture, photography, and media offer a different entry point to the narrative of her story and core project themes. The function of a more deconstructed narrative allows participants to see their own life experiences reflected in the Heaven Through the Backdoor storyworld.
we want to thank the Headlands Center for the Arts for this amazing opportunity and look forward to sharing more with you all about when we will be premiering the project in the near future.
Here is a link to a media deck we made that documents our time at the Headlands:
Remembrance Wall in Project Space
Anna & Banker in the Project Space studio