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- Nari Ward: Episodes: Bus Park & Forevermore
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- Artists By Year
- Nari Ward, drawing for <em>Bus Park</em>, graphite on paper, 2002.
- Nari Ward, <em>Bus Park</em>, (installation outside museum's wall), 2002.
- <em>Nari Ward: ISG Duster</em> (gallery view), 2002. Photo: John Kennard.
- Nari Ward: Once (detail), 2002. Photo: John Kennard.
- <em>Nari Ward: ISG Duster</em> (gallery view), 2002. Photo: John Kennard.
- <em>Nari Ward: Bus Park and Forevermore</em> (gallery view), 2002. Photo: John Kennard.
- <em>Nari Ward: Mimesis: Glove Book</em> (gallery view), 2002. Photo: John Kennard.
- <em>Nari Ward: Flashlight Tour</em> (gallery view), 2002. Photo: John Kennard.
- <em>Nari Ward: Make Believe</em> and AIR <em>Reading Table</em> (gallery view), 2002. Photo: John Kennard.
Nari Ward: Episodes: Bus Park & Forevermore
October 16, 2002-January 5, 2003
Nari Ward is a magician and a conjurer of space. His thought-provoking installations present theatrical narratives that evoke new spatial perception in viewers. Ward transforms commonplace objects to create materially dense environments that bring to light the kinds of stories and legacies that typically remain untold or unacknowledged.
Episodes: Bus Park & Forevermore was comprised of two site-specific installations. Each suggests a different "episode" in the artist's response to the Museum collection and to the Isabella Stewart Gardner's unusual requirement that the museum galleries should be preserved exactly as she had arranged them "for the education and enjoyment of the public forever." Ward took us on a metaphorical behind-the-scenes tour focusing on the objects as well as on the people who are the custodians of this unique and challenging enterprise.
The first installation in the special exhibition gallery, Forevermore, played with the concept of time in museums. Mimesis: Glove Books and ISG Duster 2002 was dedicated to the Gardner Museum's conservation staff and their efforts to protect the collection and to slow down the natural degradation of objects. The A.I.R. Reading Table invited the public to peruse exhibition catalogues and a CD-ROM to illustrate how former Artists-in-Residents have connected to the collection. These materials represented yet another way that museums defy time by documenting the work and presenting it to the public. Finally, Once, an installation combining clocks and baby pictures of the Museum's staff, presented a more general comment on the passage of time and the human attempt to bring some semblance of order to it.
Other works in the special exhibition gallery included Flashlight Tour, a look at the hidden contents of furniture in the Museum galleries and Make Believe, a fanciful rack with playful cloaks visitors could borrow to wear when viewing the outdoor installation called Bus Park.
For Bus Park, the second installation, the artist chose a small yellow school bus, and filled it with photo albums and images of works in the collection and a sound piece of young voices, to create an imaginary threshold into the Museum. The seats were covered in tailored barrier cloth, a nod to the history of bussing in Boston, a city which witnessed some of the most recent virulent resistant to the national bussing policy. An icon of American education and childhood, the school bus provokes personal and societal memories. Created with the help of young people in the community partnership program, Bus Park gave shape to the artist's imaginative journey through time and space into a place of his own making. Episodes: Bus Park & Forevermore is both commentary on and tribute to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's unique environment."
Nari Ward came to the Gardner Museum as an Artist-in-Residence in 2002. He emigrated with his family from Jamaica to the United States at the age of twelve and now lives and works in Harlem.
Boston Arts Academy, October 2002
This interview with Nari Ward was conducted by Jessica Johnson and India Perryman, grade 12 students at the Boston Arts Academy and participants in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Associates Program and School Partnership Program. The students worked with Ward to create and install elements of Bus Park, including creating the web of pencils, recording the audio component and digitally capturing images from the collection for the albums. Episodes: Bus Park & Forevermore marks the second like collaboration by the artist; in 2002, Ward worked with high school students at Phillips Andover Academy in preparation for his exhibition at the Addison Gallery, Andover, Mass.
Q: How did you think of the title for this project?
A: Actually, the project has three titles. The whole project is called Episodes. Then there’s Bus Park, which is the bus outside, and Forevermore in the gallery inside. When I go around looking for things on the street to use in my artwork, I always look for the stories behind them. So for me Episodes is really multiple stories. Bus Park is a play on words in that it’s both parked – like a car would be parked – and a park, meaning a natural, controlled place where people can sit [and] which describes this particular bus; it’s a place for people to sit and for things that grow. Then, in the gallery inside, several pieces make up Forevermore. It’s about time. It’s about the passage of time and the Sisyphean task of museum conservators who try to control the inevitable changes in materials that come with the passing of time.
Q: How do you come up with your ideas? Are they spontaneous?
A: Some of them are. I think one of the great things about working at a new site is that you don’t fall into the same old habits that you might in your studio where you have your bag of tricks. For me it’s always necessary to react to things that are in the immediate environment and to find a way to use what I see in those spaces. A lot of times I look for things in the spaces that people take for granted and try to give those things new meaning.
Q: What made you decide to use a school bus and all the other materials?
A: I was thinking about three parts of the museum that are really vibrant in terms of how they interact with the public or vice versa: the Education Department, the Conservation Department, and the interior courtyard space. And I was thinking about the parts of the museum where you get the sense that Mrs. Gardner created an entire installation. I feel she’s an artist and that the museum staff are the caretakers of the installation. So I really wanted to work with the idea of installation and the passage of time and at the same time I wanted to think about the museum in terms of education. So I came up with the idea of the school bus as a space that I can control. It was really a way of carving out my own niche, so to speak, within Isabella Stewart Gardner’s very strong vision.
The pencils, of course, went along with the idea of education. Right outside the courtyard area they have these greenhouses where they grow the plants. As I passed by the greenhouses going in and out of the museum I saw these pots, bringing to mind the idea of growth and development and nurturing. And then it was a matter of seeing what would grow in these flowerpots which led me to think of pencils, which again made sense in terms of the school bus. Pencils are what you use to communicate thoughts and to make your mark, you write it down so that you can communicate. The very rich dialogue of how these different elements interconnect made sense.
Q: How do you want people to experience your artwork?
A: I hope that people will come to it with very few preconceptions. A lot of what I do is really about breaking down people’s expectations. At first when they come in they might be perplexed or a little confused but in the end they get visually engaged. I use unexpected visual elements as a kind of lure to “trap” people into a dialogue with the work – it forces them to deal with the work in ways they wouldn’t normally in any other kind of situation.
In creating my work I think about how to layer stories and how to build a body of work and what kind of questions to ask. Then I start thinking about the materials that I want to use, and then about how I want people to react to the whole environment or the individual transformed object.
Q: Were you an artist first or a discarded materials person?
A: I grew up in a family where artists were really the guys who were crazy and went around cutting their ears off and doing other stuff you didn’t want to get involved in. But I had some drawing skills and I had gotten the reputation in school as the class artist, so I gravitated towards art. But then the question was how to make a living at it. I met a really important teacher, Emily Mason, and she got me to go to an art camp. And it was a fantastic experience because I got a chance to be around real artists who weren’t cutting their ears off or doing crazy things (laughing)– they were actually making a living! And so I realized that I could do that. In the course of all that I moved to Harlem – this was before Harlem became the boomtown that is now. Back then people were using all the empty lots as dumpsites, and I started seeing things that had been thrown out, and some things really spoke to me. I started using them in my work, trying to echo the stories behind those discarded objects.
Mrs. Gardner’s Books, and Nari Ward’s Bus Park
Books are like imprisoned souls till someone takes them down from a shelf and frees them.
- Samuel Butler
In a sense, Isabella Stewart Gardner started off as a book collector. Her deep love of Dante Alighieri was nurtured in the 1880s by Harvard professor Charles Eliot Norton who encouraged her to acquire significant Renaissance editions of the Divine Comedy. She also began to buy illuminated manuscripts, historic documents, and garden books.
Mrs. Gardner collected a large number of children’s books. These included some of her own childhood books, and those of her family, while others were bought for her orphaned nephews whom she raised. However, children’s books had long been (and remain) a special category of collecting. In particular, illustrated works which allowed artists a sense of fantasy and freedom of expression difficult to find in other media, are a particular treasure. Among the highlights of the collection are several New England chapbooks from around 1800, Japanese fairy tales printed in Tokyo around 1888, a first American edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885), and several volumes by Walter Crane. She also owned English, French, and German editions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Ward saw Mrs. Gardner's collection of children's books as a "point of entry" into the Museum experience. Focusing on this sometimes overlooked aspect of the collection the artist selected sentences from eighteen children's books and recorded students from the Boston Academy (one of the Museum's community partnership schools) editing them to create a haunting sound piece for the exhibition's outdoor installation Bus Park. Young voices could be heard reciting the tales in a rap-like juxtaposition of voices.
Children’s Storybooks from the Collection included in Ward’s work, Bus Park:
Juliana Horatia Ewing, Old-fashioned Fairy Tales. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; New York: Pott, Young, & Co., . Illustrated by A.W. Bayes, Gordon Browne, and others. (4th Floor Cabinet)
Rudyard Kipling, ‘Captains Courageous’ A Story of the Grand Banks. London: Macmillan and Co., . Illustrated by I.W. Taber. (MacKnight Room)
Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Who Lived Twenty-Eight Years in an Uninhabited Island. With an Account of His Deliverance. Philadelphia: Grigg, Elliot and Co., . (Blue Room)
Laura Elizabeth Richards, The Silver Crown, Another Book of Fables. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., . (Blue Room)
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Snow-Image: A Childish Miracle. New York: Hurd and Houghton; Boston: E.P. Dutton and Company, . Illustrated by Marcus Waterman. (Blue Room)
Middle Shelf: Edward Lear, A Book of Nonsense. London: Frederick Warne and Company; New York: Scribner, Welford, and Armstrong, [ca. 1880]. (Long Gallery)
Randolph Caldecott, R. Caldecott’s Collection of Pictures & Songs. London: George Routledge, . (4th Floor Cabinet)
Bottom Shelf: Walter Crane, Flora’s Feast: A Masque of Flowers. London, Paris & Melbourne: Cassell & Company, . (4th Floor Cabinet)
The Kobunsha’s Japanese Fairy Tale Series, Nos. 1-13. Translated by B.H. Chamberlain and Mrs. T. H. James. Tokyo: Kobunsha, [ca. 1888]. (Long Gallery)
Aino Fairy Tales, Nos.1-2. Translated by B.H. Chamberlain. Tokyo: Kobunsha [ca.1888]. (Long Gallery) Lieutenant F.M. Bostwick, Oyuchasan. Tokyo: Kobunsha [ca. 1888]. (Long Gallery)
Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol in Prose, being A Ghost Story of Christmas. Boston: Samuel E. Cassino, . Illustrated by I. M. Gaugengigl and T. V. Chominski. (Long Gallery)
Jean Pierre Claris de Florian. Estelle. Paris: Marcilly Aîné, [ca. 1840]. (Long Gallery)
List of works in the exhibition Episodes: Bus Park and Forevermore
BUS PARK (Outdoor Installation)
School bus, upholstered seats with barrier cloth, pencils, cable ties, audio recording, photo albums.
FOREVERMORE (Indoor Installation, Special Exhibition Gallery)
Photographs, cloth in collaboration with John Cunnard.
Mimesis: Glove book
Museum catalogues, conservation gloves.
ISG Duster 2002
Cart, brushes, dust from Museum galleries, archival corrugated board, light vacuum cleaner elements.
Clocks, photo images of museum employees, extension cords.
Conservation smocks, Museum guard uniforms, barrier cloth, feather, Museum coat rack.
In collaboration with Jennifa Crowell.
A.I.R. Reading Table
Catalogues and CD of former Artist-in-residents; conservation table and chairs.