Invisible Channels of Commonality is a three-part research and performance project taking place over a period of several years.

the Illuminated Garden


Lurie Garden, Millenium Park, Chicago
with Lisa Johnson and Margaret Pasquesi
Photo credit: Jessica Andrasko

You can see how people are tired and need to sit down.
You can see how people need to rock in chairs.
You can see how they could do this together in a garden.

During the hours that surround dawn and dusk, on three consecutive days, three artists lined the Seam of Lurie Garden with 10 rocking chairs. At dawn, the rockers faced east towards the lake and rising sun and, at dusk, towards the west and the sun as it sets. The rocking chairs were identical and placed within arms-length of one another. People rocked as long as they wanted to rock.

From a proposal to the City of Chicago: I’m interested in revealing the garden from the vantage point of a web of inter-relational performances in which selected elements such as movement, music, text, environment, visual elements and audience are interdependent through timing, content, and catalytic events. In other words: a performed organism. Like the garden whose plantings create a mutually beneficial and communicative environment for the plants, the garden is one element in a larger urban environment. The layers below the garden are geographically and historically rich, creating a complex support for the most visible layer.

All the rocking people say, “You can hold my wrist.” You will never feel so many pulses again in your life. Once you understand the rhythm of a pulse, you signal Margaret, the harpist, who creates sounds resonant with the signal and pulse. In this way of feeling, signaling, and resonating each rocking person is tuned to other rocking people until all rocking people are in tune with the harp, the sun, with the pulses of others. People rock in tandem once they are tuned.

The sun illuminates the garden leaf by leaf by flower. The rocking people see this happen. At night, the sun leaves the garden. You can see how rabbits want to live in the garden. They see the leaf lighting and sun leaving everyday.

The Language of Birds


Northerly Island, Chicago
with Carmen Abelson, Jessica Andrasko, Lisa Johnson, Chris Sullivan,
and the Girls' Campus Science Club of De La Salle Institute

Meigs Field, a single strip airport named after the publisher of the Chicago Herald & Examiner, operated in the lake southeast of downtown Chicago between 1948 and 2003. I didn’t know of its existence until watching the TV news one night: bulldozers were seen from above the island gouging enormous, gothic X’s into the airport’s one runway. It was a secret well documented, even expected. The mayor took full responsibility, blame and credit, talking up his actions as both a terrorist prevention program and a way to make birds feel more welcome. Caroline O’Boyle, working for the Chicago Park District at the time, invited me to do something on the island. The Language of Birds is another performance in the series, Invisible Channels of Commonality, and inspired by the sound at Northerly Island: hardly any city sound at all. During the hour or so that surrounded dawn and dusk, a saw and violin accompanied the rocking chairs placed along the eastern edge (to watch the sun and moon rise) of the island facing the lake. People came, not many. One morning, geese dipped low as they flew overhead to see who rocked in the chairs. One of the science students who helped carry the heavy chairs across the island asked if it was free to watch the moon rise. Could they return to the island on their own to do that without a ticket? I invited Mayor Daley to the performance. He didn’t come, but sent a handwritten response thanking me on behalf of birds everywhere.

Coming in
From The North


with Mildred Hood

Beginning in 2007, I’ve worked in collaboration with Mildred Hood, a 35-year veteran freight engineer of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, on a movement-based project that uses historical research methodologies, writing, performance, video and audio field recordings, and the energy dynamics of friendship to generate a larger conversation about work, commerce, American slavery, and trains.

Mildred’s route begins in Chicago continuing southwest across the state of Illinois through the towns of Willow Springs, Lemont, Joliet, Pequot, Coal City, Verona, Mazon, Kinsman, Kernan, Ransom, Toluca, Chillicothe, Edelstein, Laura, Williamsfield, Appleton, Galesburg, Stronghurst, Lomax, and Ormonde. Mildred also navigates the Fox, Illinois, Vermillion, and Mississippi Rivers ending her run, some four or more hours later, in Fort Madison, Iowa. Although the train’s running time is in the four-hour range, Mildred is on board anywhere from 8 to12 hours. She hauls FRAK––Freight of All Kinds [except circus animals]––including mail, oranges and apples, wine, cheese, TVs, and any and all products from Mainland China and India by way of Walmart and Costco.

As part of our collaboration, Mildred documents her route from inside the train and has collected 500+ hours of video and audio field recordings that reveal the complicated system of seasons, land, language, and bells, whistles, and mechanical sounds and procedures specific to the interior environment of a freight train as it moves through the Illinois countryside. At times, I’ve followed the train making photographic, written, and sonic impressions of rural Illinois––four rivers, small towns, famous people [the birth homes of Carl Sandburg, Wyatt Earp, Edgar Lee Masters are along the route] and historic landmarks. It has been a natural part of this project to conduct significant research into the history of the Underground Railroad in Illinois.

Our practice also includes conversations that center around issues of work [that of a freight engineer, that of an artist and teacher], race [Mildred is an African-American woman whose ancestors came to this country through slavery, my Scandinavian farming ancestors immigrated through the force of poverty and drought], and the history of trains.

Coming In from the North


Boxcar Devotion Pretty Pretty Pretty Over There Too Thirteen Moon Dove Road Flower Atmosphere With all that She is She Desires to Give ... Hunter's Moon The Dream of the Owl Sisters
In the Palace of the Night Heron ZephyrZephyr The Architecture of Honey Cooking School of the Air Adjustment The Dream of the Owl Sisters Drove Road Other Work Labyrinth The Charioteer

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