The Encampment is a large-scale public participatory installation that proposes the archaeological dig as its metaphor. A dig for artifacts is replaced by a dig into the collective memory of a public space and its history.
The Encampment continues to attract interest due to its adaptability to place and history. To date, we have presented 4 versions of the artwork and continue to look for new opportunities where people would like to explore and reveal aspects of a controversial local history through collective engagement.
2006 – Toronto – History of Mental Health between 1870 and 1940 before the introduction of chemical treatment.
2007 – New York City – History of quarantine including prisons, asylums, poor-houses, orphanages on Roosevelt Island.
2008 – Ottawa – National history of the treatment of intellectually disabled individuals from 1830 to 2000.
2012 – Toronto – History of civilians, native and colonial, during the invasion of Canada by US forces during the War of 1812.
The Encampment invites people to participate in the research of stories/narratives which reflect individuals from the specific history being explored. Then over a three-month artistic process, Thom Sokoloski and Jenny-Anne McCowan work with collaborators selected from a public call for participation. Like archaeologists, they commit to “getting their hands dirty” in unearthing and transposing the stories of a particular history into a massive experiential expression.
Presented at sunset, the public embarks on a nocturnal journey to explore the illuminated tents. Within each tent is an assemblage of metaphorical artifacts evoking the story of an individual from the past, a visual expression of presence and absence. The entire process represents a fragile yet powerful glimpse into how society understands and interprets its past through a relational process of creative engagement.
What distinguishes The Encampment from most conceptual and relational art practices is the artists’ insistence on the primacy of the visual and aesthetic impact of the work. Though socially and historically relevant, interactive and truly public through participation, the artwork also creates an optical artwork on a grand-scale. From afar the massive assemblage of tents creates a glowing sculptural form, while up close the work offers accessibility into an experiential and visceral intimacy with content.
The intended effect of the artwork is that of a contemporary gesamtkunstwerk, an artwork that creates a total experiential environment of space, light, sound, form, and story.
The public is invited to collaborate and act as archaeologists who, in collaboration with the artists, will research the people, history, and stories of the selected site and transpose them into visually contemplative experiences within each tent.
There are several ways in which the public can participate in the creation of The Encampment. The first is as a Creative Collaborator, and the second is as Production Collaborator.
Both Creative Collaborators and Production Collaborators are required. Though they may be considered volunteer positions, we do not consider them as such. Each person’s commitment to becoming a collaborator is based on an application process, creative exchange, and a scheduled time commitment.
Production Collaborators develop all production aspects of the work; some of which include the set-up and strike of the installation, maintaining the technical aspects of the art-work, front-of-house duties, and other logistical considerations.
The Installation Creation Workshop is a six-week process during which the artists lead the Creative Collaborators in transposing their selected stories into what the artists refer to as Memory Constructs, an assemblage of artifacts found and/or created that combine into a visually contemplative experience of the story.
As an actor digs deep within him or herself to reveal traces and emblems of similarities and differences with a character in relation to a dramatic narrative they are to represent, each Creative Collaborator is also asked to dig deep within the history of their story’s characters to do the same. With the actor, it is externalized in their physical being and in the case of the Creative Collaborator, through their visual expression within each tent as a visceral sensation of absence and presence.
The time commitment of each collaborator is their personal agreement to comply with the proposed schedules and the creative process undertaken in the workshops. It is paramount to the success of the artwork. The thoughts, artistry, experiences, insight, and enthusiasm each participant brings and shares with the group is the foundation of the creative energy and exchange necessary to complete the final experience of this large-scale artwork. In as much as the final realization of the artwork re-imagines a community of the past, the creative process, and exchange proposed in this work seek to re-imagine a creative and collaborative community in the present.
The collective memory of each and every tent becomes embodied in The Encampment as a total experience, a temporal village where human interaction and creative exchange facilitate the discovery of what has been forgotten and/or ignored.