"Gather Wood, Gather Words, what goes up in Smoke," 
Allard Pierson Museum of
Mediterranean Antiquities 2014.  

detail

“Gather Wood, Gather Words” is a project that originally began with an art/anthropology project on issues of work and gender, from research on women laboring to gather wood to warm their cook fires in rural Morocco. Their work contributes to deforestation, increasing the long treks they make to assure their families’ survival. 

 

Attending to the bundles of branches that are the fruit of this “fieldwork” I noticed other women nearby who etched the landscape with otherwise. They too gathered the fruit of their work with twine; bundles of grain gathered to shape belted, feminine forms at harvest time. Reflections on the cyclical nature of women’s’ work led me to associate this work with that of other anthropologists who have studied how workingwomen exchange poetry and songs and stories as thy labor. Like the wood they gather, these words are impermanent. Like the grain that must be sown anew each year, these words are impermanent but the flow of words is renewed by successive generations.

 

Studying the bundles, their Mediterranean-wide significance became clear. Harvested bundles of wheat form the Roman fascia, a symbol of justice and power, except these male appropriations of the form add axes to the gatherings of grain. Contrast of what is saved and what must be used, what is written down and inscribed for posterity, women’s and men’s experiences of work and of the weight of their words further shaped the direction of these investigations as the project moved from paintings to museum installations, associating tiny “”sculpture/bundles” with fictionalized accounts of stories about women gathering wood around the Mediterranean.

 

For this further development of this reflection on work and value, I am now working on a multi-media piece that associates p paintings, a sound scape and sculptures. What words of our interlocutors and our notebooks “go up in smoke” like wood on a fire? How can words, spoken or written, be worked with through art to reflect on fieldwork? These are some of the questions that I continue to ask myself as I myself work between the studio and office.

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