From Absence to Presence takes the form of a slave quarter that materializes from the ground up evoking how this history was uncovered from archaeological research – making the invisible visible. The surfaces are gradated in a pattern of staggered and alternating Ipe wood clapboard and mirror polished stainless steel, recalling the staggered pattern of erasure poetry. At night, the words of poetry become dramatically illuminated. This appears as a beacon that becomes an eternal vigil to the memory and resilience of the enslaved people who once lived, loved, worked, and resisted on the grounds of St. Mary’s College.
During archaeological work that preceded construction of a new stadium, St. Mary’s College discovered evidence of slave quarters from two distinct periods that pre-date the founding of the College. The theme of this commemorative artwork will offer viewers an opportunity to contemplate and reflect upon the lives of these enslaved people and celebrate their resilience, determination, and persistence. Major themes related to the artwork are “The past is never dead,” the idea of redemption, and making the invisible visible.
Our expression of poetry through the tectonic slave quarter form is inspired by the sculptural presence of the “ghost frame” architecture that is found on the sites of Historic St. Mary’s City. For us, these structures gesture towards the idea of an emergent narrative on the verge of becoming. Activist Angela Davis described the sacredness of slave quarters in the lives of enslaved peoples as “the only space where they could truly experience themselves as human beings.” As artists, we envision the private space of the slave quarters as a symbol of resilience, determination, and persistence.
In a form of found poetry called erasure poetry, the artistic expression is created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. Poets have adopted this form both to achieve a range of cognitive or symbolic effects and to focus on the social or political meanings of erasure. Erasure is a way to give an existing piece of writing a new set of meanings, questions, or suggestions.
We were honored to have Poet Quenton Baker join our design team, composing meaningful verse that joins the sculptural expression of the commemoration, freedom, and slavery. His exhibition, Ballast, at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle is an outgrowth of an in-process collection of poems that examines the 1841 slave revolt aboard the brig Creole - the only successful large-scale revolt involving U.S.-born enslaved people in American history. The project is a combination of erasure poems—made using pages from the Senate document detailing the Creole case. Similarly, we will draw from utilitarian documents related to the Mackall-Broome plantation and recontextualize the text into poetry through erasure, giving it a powerful site-specific resonance.
The reflective nature of the surfaces suggests that even as viewers of the present day, we are not to penetrate the sacred private space of the enslaved people who were once present at the site. The Commemoration juxtaposes the current site of sports field with its slave past, holding them in dramatic tension. This connects our lives with the lives of slaves, reflecting on how we as Americans are connected to this history. When viewers engage the work, they see themselves, the activity surrounding a sports event reflected, interlaced with poetic text, coalescing into a visually resonant sculptural experience.
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[ manifesto ]
Art matters. Attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, which brings us to take responsibility for the spaces where we live and work. And by extension, the people with whom we live and work. And by extension, to our local communities, our cities, our nations, and our world.
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Architects and designers know that remarkable design can change everything. They connect the dots across disciplines, collaborating with artists to make the world a more beautiful place. They are the ultimate patrons of the arts.
In the process, design professionals promote imagination and creativity, and through their commissions, make original art integral to and accessible in people's lives.
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The architecture of our buildings and the design of our interiors affect our happiness and well-being. Each of us deserves a daily dose of inspiration.