What are you doing? Building a house?
How are you paying for all this? How do you make a living?
You sure seem like you have a lot more to do. Are you going to finish on time?
What’re you, crazy?
Not every mill I’ve used to mount my exhibits has had security.
And, there were some mills I couldn’t lock from the outside or other parts of the mill.
My work was free to roam, and do little things to when I wasn’t there.
Each morning I entered my space, I scanned to see if anything somewhat-devastating had happened, anything I’d done, undone: spray painted walls, works knocked over, or any of my thousands of things taken.
None of these larger things happened (except 8 of 432 balls being removed along with 1 of 9 rods—this single rod hurting more—and the 1st of 99 hourglasses flipped long before my biennial opened, each to be flipped only once at a specific time during the exhibit—this single flip the night before my opening hurting most).
Most that was undone, were little things, little things I could do again or make right, like a little cut in my egg carton “quilt” (a clean 12-inches-long cut which appeared to’ve been done to my sculpture with scissors or a pocket knife).
I could resew my sculpture.
And, a little porno-mag photo added to a spaghetti-sauce jar (in front of the family photo I had inserted to dissolve in water and 20 drops of pine cleaner).
I could take that extra photo out.
And, a little can that had been moved a little bit from its precise 2,304-can array (moved about 3 feet away as if someone or something had plucked it from its nestled spot and placed it in this different spot just to show me they could).
I could put this can back.
When there is a security guard—or in the case of Lewiston, Maine’s Bates Mill Complex (where I’ mounting my 9th and final solo biennial MEMORY), several security guards—I get to know as least 1 of the guards pretty well.
Toward the start of my installation process, as he walks through each day, he stops to chat for a short (occasionally long) while, each time asking me 1 or 2 questions, learning a little more about me and and my project with each pass.
I ask him things too, like How long have you worked here? and How long does it take you to walk through the entire complex? and Did you work in the mill when it was running? and What was your specific job?
Several security guards had been working in the mill most of their lives. And, I could tell they loved working in the mill, they loved what they made, they love the mill still, they’re grateful to have a way to continue in the mill, and they protect the mill however they can.
Over the course of our fleeting time together, how the guard seems to feel about what I do seems to change.
At first they do think I’m crazy when I respond:
I am kind of building a house. Then I take it down.
I raise the money however I can—grants, selling drawings, trying to get materials donated or discounted, a sponsorship drive, a donation jar—and I always have a job because this work isn’t something I sell.
I do have a lot more to do. But, I usually, at least, get my art up in time. Then if there’s a small spot on the floor I don’t get to scrub, at least I will have swept it.
After a few weeks, as the exhibit begins to approach, rather than approach to ask questions, the security guards start shouting different kinds of things towards me, from a distance, as they pass through on their rounds:
It’s lookin’ good!
You got a lot done this week!
Wow! That wall looks great!
I’m being careful not to get near what you’re doing.
By now, their tone is utterly changed.
By now, they know I love working in the mill, I love what I make, I’m grateful to be working in the mill, and I’m protecting it (and my work) however I can.
And, they do as much as they can to protect my work too.