Documenting Bumpkin

octopus-01-frame-400pxDocumenting Bumpkin is a short documentary consisting of eleven sequences documenting the works in the 2010 Bumpkin Island Art Encampment, a five-day art making experience in the Boston Harbor Islands national park area. Using the metaphor of homesteading as a guide, artist groups were awarded one plot each of prime, arable land. As homesteaders during the five-day period, the artists built a home on the land, lived on the land for five days, and improved the land via site-specific, temporary projects or installations.

You can view the videos by visiting this Vimeo Album.

During the 2008 encampment I went to the island as a visitor, intrigued by the variety of the works and the way they engaged with the island on a physical and metaphorical level. The following year I participated in the 2009 encampment as an artist, collaborating with Sharon Dunn and Alice Apley (Dragonflies and Angelwings) working primarily as an embedded photographer in a hybrid installation / documentation project. I documented the progress of the installation and orchestrated light paintings during the evening hours. I also assisted Alice Apley in her activities as a video documentarian. More than previous documentary projects, the boundary between observer and observed was blurred: at some times I was an observer of Sharon’s process, at other times I was a collaborator meshed in her process. I was left with the question: how might these insights be extended to documenting the entire encampment experience?

To further explore my relationship with the encampment, I participated in the 2010 Art Encampment as a project fellow, observing the artists’ process and how they conceived of Bumpkin Island as a place. I recorded each encounter I had with the artists in one of several mediums: audio recording; observational photographs; video observation; or an informal video interview. For example, an evening walk with Cara Brostrom was recorded as audio, while other encounters were captured as photographs, with a short video interview on the last day. Zsuzsanna Szegedi’s drawing on the shoreline were recorded as two time-lapse sequences, one during the rising tide, the other during the outgoing tide, along with occasional observational photographs and a brief video interview. Many moments were wonderfully serendipitous, for example, one morning I came across Mark Davis filling his helium balloon for the first time, and thus I was able to observe the initial launch of the balloon. My experience on the island was very different from the formal documentary work I did back on the mainland, being on island time off the coast of New England provided an opportunity to linger without rushing to the next appointment, providing more time to see, to feel, to reflect.

After spending five days on the island, my interests turned to my participation in the event, and interactions with the environment, the artists, and their works, leading me to engage some of the artists in follow-up interviews to reflect on the Bumpkin Island experience and what it means to them as a place. The results of this are two works. The first is a series of short video sequences that became Documenting Bumpkin, first shown during the BUMPKIN FORWARD exhibition at Mobius in the form of a video loop and now available on this web page. The second is This Place in a Space, an installation that presents the documentary video materials in an immersive context, reflecting on the participatory relations between myself as documentarian and the artists working on the island. The installation weaves together images, sounds, and video that I produced along with media produced by the artists, visitors, rangers, curators, and other interested parties. What makes this documentary participatory is that I play the role of orchestrator, rather than an author in the classical sense of the term. The installation presented two perspectives of my experience as a roving documentarian. My guiding questions throughout this process remain: how might a non-linear documentary evolve from an experience, and what forms may it take?