The Burden Boat Project.
I will be conducting this ceremony on 9/11 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC this weekend. Conducting I call it rather than a performing as this is not entertaining but a ritual and it involves all that choose to participate. This project has opened me up to something new within. It is easy to call myself an artist because I have twenty-five years of art in my wake, but this has woken up the healer, shaman and ritualist within me. At first this was intimidating to my ego, as I do not have a shaman certificate but gosh I never went to art school either. When I get out of my own way and just allow my life to unfold moment-by-moment this is the kind of thing that happens, I become more then what I thought I was. I am coming to believe we are all more then we think we are and we all are healers in one form or another.
This whole project came from my need to heal my own deep pain. With a broken heart and a broken spirit and pain that I questioned whether I could endure, I came back to my art for healing. I sewed by hand dozens of canvass bags and stuffed them with my wood chips, these chips represented my pain and something inside felt better when I had that pain in bags that I could see, hold, feel the weight of and hang outside myself. I eventually found joy again in my life and after that intense dark time the joy was felt with more gratitude then I had ever known before. I found myself smiling again and even laughing often all by myself as I walked in the woods.
Shortly after this I was invited to show at the Art gallery of Virginia Tech. The pain I had just gone through gave me compassion for the victim’s families and loved ones involved with the mass shootings that took place a couple years prior on the campus. I wanted to do something meaningful to help ease the pain. The bags I stuffed with my pain, now called burden bags and the healing I found in them sparked the idea to do a participatory art project as part of the sculpture show. A beautiful curved piece of wood showed up that spoke of boat shape and the idea of the Burden Boat originated.
A vessel for people to write their burdens down and place them outside themselves. A place to collectively lighten the load we carry and to realize that we all carry pain not just our own but also the collective pain of others. This allowed the opportunity to see that so many others are carrying burdens as the boat filled we could see that we were not alone in the struggles of life. Over the duration of the show the boat filled with more scraps of paper all inscribed with burdens people were ready to let go of. A courageous act to let go of something we may have held onto for perhaps a lifetime and even holding the identity of who we think we are. On the last day of the show, the burden boat was carried outside onto the grounds of the campus and a ceremony was conducted, the burdens were set ablaze the burden bags that hung over the boat by strings burned through and fell in to a hole dug in the earth, the notes turned to ash and the heaviness of all those burdens became as light as smoke.
On 9/11 the Burden Boat will be carried to the courtyard of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait gallery. Here a new ritual will be conducted to release the burdens associated with the pain of 9/11 ten years later. This time instead of fire the burdens will be cleansed with water. The boat will be placed in a “scrim” of water, a (shallow flowing stream) and water will be poured over the burdens, cleansing them and washing them down stream.
The wet paper now cleansed of burdens will be collected and re-pulped into new handmade sheets of paper and a book will be created for people to write their hopes dreams and intentions of what to do with the space within opened up by the release of their burdens.
This is to happen in a few days from now, I prepare the space and myself and when the time comes it is my job to simply step aside and allow spirit to move as it dose.