Finn and Lucy are spending the day with a neighbor who is an amateur naturalist. He agreed to a regular gig of taking them on hikes and teaching them about local flora and fauna, of which he is an expert. They were not so happy to have their slacker, wander-out-of-bed-at-noon schedule interrupted but they managed to get out the door, bribed with pancakes and coffee. I am excited about it not just because now I have several hours of blissful silence (I smell drywall plastering in my future) but because their guide knows all the best trails and berry picking spots in the general area. I told them to ask a lot of questions and remember everything!
In the quietude, I have been reflecting on some of the goals I had when I began The House Museum project and we purchased this house back in 2002. In particular, I had this idea that I wanted to gain access to the local community - earn their trust and learn about their lives from a more intimate perspective than could be learned from a typical visit made by a tourist or "summer resident". From past projects, I knew this kind of relationship had to be earned and could not be taken for granted. And it was especially tenuous given the fact that I was inserting myself into this community uninvited - it wasn't as if the Gillams Town Council met and decided that what would best improve their town would be if an American artist came and set up a nosy parker museum exploring tourism and culture. Indeed, there have been moments when I have suspected the Council may have been meeting to figure out a way to get rid of me!
Yet I have hung on, sometimes achieving those moments of intimacy and insight and sometimes stumbling and putting my foot in it. Drawing people in and pissing people off. Naturally I prefer the former but the latter has to be part of it too.
I have been reflecting on all of this because, on Sunday, I was working with the community, not through art but through yoga - I am teaching a beginner class at the Summerside Community Hall on Sunday evenings. Nearly 30 showed up for the first class! Based on that success, there is a possibility of teaching two or possibly three more times/week in other towns. Suddenly, I am meeting all these people who felt so distant before, particularly women. Perhaps it is a kind of shyness that has kept many women from participating in THM projects, but I so often felt like there was an impenatrable barrier between me and them. Or perhaps it was because I had set up something that felt so foreign and intimidating that they were put off. Lord knows, I didn't make it any easier if they did come - more than once I heard people ask "where's the art?" when they came in the house. My response of "it's everywhere" never quite convinced anyone.**
"You see, it is conceptual, exploring the nature of the museum experience and the gift economy versus the commodification of...whoa, where'd they go??"
But yoga is a little more real - your breath, your body, this mat, this life.
It is very gratifying to be able to offer something that is being accepted and, in exchange, get to know people who otherwise felt beyond my reach. And who knows, maybe the two offerings - yoga and THM - will someday find a way to play off each other.
**Just want to make clear that I do not believe that people here are somehow unable to get what I was up to with THM - plenty of people did get it and much of the confusion people felt originated with me. That said, for a lot of people for whom art isn't a regular topic of conversation, the project was like some kind of secret language that they didn't know. Nine times out of ten, if they were open to talking about it, they left feeling like they "got it" but that was a big leap and not everyone wanted to take it.