This is the Cocoon international project blog of artist Kate Browne. Cocoon is a crowd-and locally-sourced outdoor sculpture performance project I have now produced in three cities — first in Mexico City in 2009, and then twice in Mississippi, in Greenwood in 2010 and then Jackson 2012. I have begun the process in the South Bronx, NY and a Cocoon is underway in Paris, Goutte d’Or for October, 2014.
I chose each location for their dense histories of violence and repression entangled with decades if not centuries of forced and voluntary migrations. In Mexico City, for example, we built on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, site of the 1968 student massacre as well as the climactic battle between the Aztecs and Spanish long before.
I look at each of the sites in the present but take into account the past and future. I hold these three time periods in one place and create Cocoon to do the same. Together I connect these sites as if they are islands unto themselves but connected to each other by their mutual histories of extreme trauma caused by human against human. During the creative process I do not reflect too deeply on the tragedies against humanity, but I do keep them in mind because they ulimately shape the artwork as they have shaped the city or neighborhood where I am a guest, building the Cocoon. Cocoon offers everyone in the neighborhood a structure, a performance, in which to participate as themselves with their own voice and memory of history.
To make Cocoon a true representation of the neighborhoods at the site a great deal of advance work is necessary. Over the year leading up to the two-week build, I work hundreds of hours as a field organizer to enlist volunteers and create a lasting network for the entire city or area, crossing race and class and income lines. One or two field organizers are hired by me from the area to work with me, a local core build team of 5 people is also hired by me. Over the two-week build, the core build team and I direct the volunteers as they fashion a 24-foot long by 10 foot high Cocoon from local natural and man-made materials.
During the same period, each participant also builds a little cocoon assemblage from found and personal items to hang inside the Cocoon sculpture. Eric Etheridge photographs them (see below).
I then interview every person, asking them to talk about the wishes embedded in their cocoon. I record their answers, and Eric Etheridge makes their portrait. The little cocoon assemblages line the interior of the large Cocoon, and audio of all the wishes can be heard inside the Cocoon. The portraits and the photographs of little cocoon assemblages go to the next site where they are exhibited.
Once involved, partcipants often find themselves confronting memory and perception while they work as peers alongside people they see as “other”. The field organizers, the core build team and myself do not make judgements, instead we work to keep the network we have painstakingly organized intact and people at ease with their own realizations. Participants mostly work in small groups at various times, but there are several ceremonial events during two weeks when the city comes together. At the final one, the Cocoon is illuminated at dusk and people walk through it looking at the little cocoon assemblages and listening to the wishes and stories of their neighbors. The sculpture stands for about a week, and then a gradual un-build or deconstruction process begins. Within days, it’s all gone. However, the network, field organizers and the core build team along with participants continue and I involve them in the next Cocoon. The 5 members of the Jackson, MS core build team will be Skyping with the next Cocoon Paris, Goutte d’Or team throughout 2013, one of the Jackson Core Build Team will be going to Paris as will Jackson field organizer, daniel johnson.
I have now begun field organizing a build for Paris in October 2014, in La Goutte d’Or, a neighborhood of immigrants from North and West Africa and the Middle East, and the Bobo (bourgeois bohemians). It was the site of the (1954-62) Algeria war fought in Paris, the riots in 2005, and the 2010 conflict Apero Geant Sauccisson et Pinard (an attempt to provoke practicing Muslims). A beautiful and busy neighborhood where public space is used in a very powerful way to meet, observe passersby, and do business.
In the Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Arts, March 24, 2012
March 2012 in the Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, the Cocoon was built from Chinese Tallow and bamboo, a walkway of grass lined the bottom of the Cocoon. There were 600 little cocoon assemblages and an audio of over 3oo wishes from the Jackson area. It was a jewel.
Listening to wishes inside the Cocoon at the Mississippi Museum of Art
In March 2010 I built a Cocoon with the people of Tlatelolco, Mexico City and CCUT. We built it of Poliducto plastic tubing and wove approximately 3,000 veins from banana leaves to create the skin. It was delicate and geometric on the outside with beautiful shadows on the inside.
Plaza de las Tres Culturas, Tlatelolco, Mexico City
In July 2010 I built a Cocoon with the people of Greenwood, Mississippi and CIS. The skin was woven out of bamboo and giant cane and the structure of willow. We used solar power and three LED bulbs to illuminate it. The repetition of the form that the Cocoon made with the Keesler Bridge behind it looked like ocean waves in the night.
Behind the Cocoon is the Keesler Bridge and the Leflore County Courthouse, Greenwood, MS.
In 2008, Cragsmoor, NY, I built the first Cocoon along with friends, associates and family from Cragsmoor, New York City, and Los Angeles. The Cocoon was 26 feet long by 10 1/2 feet high. In 2009, I added the second element to the project. The group that formed around the Cocoon wove a skin out of 300 cornstalks which we attached to the Cocoon. People then created miniature cocoons around a meaningful object. These were hung in the large Cocoon and I recorded their stories.
How I see it.
I have purposely designed the Cocoon so that everyone can build it. I lead the build keeping this in the forefront of my strategies. This way I make no hierarchies to divide the neighborhoods that are involved, or pigeon hole people into preconceived notions of what a person can and can’t do to achieve the Cocoon. In the end the process will clearly represent the place and people I have chosen to work with — their past and present.
Where the large cocoon is the physical representation of the local people, the miniature cocoons are the individual voices within the neighborhood. They are what people wish for the future.
In brief, here are the steps to the process.
First, I always consider myself a guest and an outsider in all the sites where I build the Cocoon.
One year is spent field organizing locally to reach all the people in the surrounding neighborhoods. Local field organizers are hired as are 5 local core build team members.
Local people build the large Cocoon structure together, then make the skin and cover the Cocoon – all with material that is manufactured or grows naturally in the area.
There are several Ceremonies through out the process including a Procession of the Cocoon Skin to the Skeleton. The route for the procession is based on historical research, local input and aesthetics.
I also ask people to collect materials from their neighborhood and build little cocoons. I then record their wishes (all wishes are anonymous), and photographer, Eric Etheridge, takes a portrait of each person holding their little cocoon.
The miniature cocoons and audio recordings are put inside the large Cocoon. At the Illumination Ceremony, people walk through the large Cocoon, look up at the little cocoons and listen to the wishes of their neighbors.
Portraits from all the Cocoons are exhibited together.
3 minute video
photo credits: Eric Etheridge
video credits: photography by Eric Etheridge, produced by The Doc Tank, edited by Gregory Maher, music use restricted to this private demonstration video only music credits are “Green Arrow” by Yo La Tengo and “Road” by Nick Drake, Pink Moon album 1972