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 ten 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 with the layers below the garden creating a geographically and historically rich, 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, and the pulses of others. Once tuned, people rock in tandem.

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 a performance in the series, Invisible Channels of Commonality, and inspired by the sound at Northerly Island meaning 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 she return to the island on her 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 and Katie Wrobel (video editor)

When we first started working together, I would follow Mildred's train by car driving the Illinois countryside through small towns and mid-sized cities where often the roads ran parallel to the tracks; I could see where I was going and Mildred, too. When the tracks veered, the train followed barreling through farmer's fields, past woods, and then gone. Pulled over at the side of the road, I could only watch and listen as the train disappeared appreciating the nostalgia and romance of its farther and farther away whistle. I might catch up with the train again an hour or so later or never.

Time passed. Mildred had some medical problems; I moved away from Illinois. We both had romantic catastrophes. We lost touch. And yet I believe that is when our collaboration really took off. I no longer felt compelled to follow the train (I couldn't) and Mildred started playing around with the video camera. After years and years, I began looking at her footage calling it by this title and narrative:

To the bright orange place that sparkles.
I knew that I was moving forward because of surrounding objects moving in counterpoint; I knew that I'd been outfitted with gills instead of a mechanical breathing apparatus; I knew that I was swimming and that, as I swam, I was following a track similar to a railroad track in the way of two parallel lines laid down upon the seabed. Far ahead an old whale flipped its tail.

From inside her train, Mildred documented her route collecting 500+ hours of video and audio field recordings revealing the complicated system of seasons, land, language, and bells, whistles, and mechanical sounds and procedures specific to the interior environment of a freight train passing through the Illinois countryside––four rivers, small towns, famous people [the birth homes of Carl Sandburg, Wyatt Earp, Edgar Lee Masters are along the route] and historic landmarks.

Our collaboration also included conversations centering on 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 while my Scandinavian farming ancestors immigrated through the forces of poverty and drought], and the history of trains.

I think often about the fact that Mildred's work takes place almost exclusively inside a rectangular moving box and, that for all these years, she has guided that box and its contents safely from Illinois to Iowa and back again.

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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