A Recent Social Sculpture 

in Upstate New York

February 6-8, 2009

described by its creators and participants



Social Sculpture

 What is it? 
What we cannot see, but it is happening all the time. I imagine it as threads of light or darkness, maybe colored, maybe barbed, that trace between us as we work in our myriad relationships. How do we become aware of this sculpture?

These thoughts and questions led to an event of experiencing social sculpture February 6-8 in Harlemville, New York as part of the Think OutWord conference, " Social Forms to Embody the Future."

What did we do?

First we gathered pieces:

1. an image of lifeblood and our willingness to give it to creating positive change. 


2. a poem entitled Snow by Luke Fischer.

3. an image of the marriage at Cana, "What to you--------to me, Woman?"


τι εμοι και σοι γυναι
What -- to me and to thee, woman?
O woman , what weaves between us?
Dear woman, why do you involve me?
 ¿Qué tienes conmigo, mujer?
Woman, what does that have to do with us?
Woman, what have I to do with thee?
 Che cosa c'è tra te e me o donna?
Woman, what does this have to do with me?
What have I to do with thee, woman?
Femme, qu'y a-t-il entre moi et toi?
Weib, was habe ich mit dir zu schaffen?
Pay heed, o woman, to the power which flows between me and you.
                           John 2:4





The clouds empty their pockets

of lint,

sending multitudes

of winged-parachutes

spiralling down,

joining hands

in diving-formations,

almost weightless

as air.




radial symmetries, little universes


one upon the other,

white seeds

sewing and laying

new ground.


After weeks of news of war

sky sheds its sleep,

a veil

 like forgetting

upon charred clay.


weaving baptismal cloth

and shroud,

unceasingly trustful

in amending possibility

even as it is muddied

and melting…


Luke Fischer




[narrative by Laura Summer continues]


With these in mind we began. Four people volunteered to be observers. Three people volunteered to be interveners. The rest broke up into groups of eight surrounding four 12" x 4" panels covered with canvas. Each group was allowed to talk for ten minutes to discuss how they would work. Then, using watered-down latex paint, they began to work with red, then black line, then other colors. After ten minutes where talking was allowed the groups continued in silence. The observers observed. The interveners added unexpected elements to the canvases. We worked for a total of about 50 minutes. Later in review there were many reactions:

"I noticed I was holding on to a certain place or color and then I moved away and someone else changed it"

"why are we doing this?"

"we began at one point to move as a whole; circling, adding, changing"

"we couldn't get out of our spots, it felt stuck."


The next day we took the panels to the nearby [Hawthorne Valley Co-Op right next to the farm] store and planned the next stage.





We had various intentions, which could occur in sequence or simultaneously; to read the poem continuously, to go into the store as "fake" shoppers and then freeze when instructed to do so, to move the panels around the parking lot, etc. And so all of this activity began and it felt a little awkward. The" real" shoppers weren't sure what we were doing. We weren't sure what we were doing. We began at some point to sing. And then from my vantage point as both instigator of this whole thing, and now only observer and no longer leader, I watched as something in the group shifted. Meaning descended, meaning unspecified, but felt by the participants. And actions, previously unplanned but now harmoniously coordinated, began to take place. Repetitive song, repetitive poem.






The canvases removed from the panels and tossed, catching the air, now lay on the earth, muddy, driven over, folded, carefully folded, gradually smaller and smaller, lifted onto the stretcher of the panel, and carried away. Singing, always singing.

And as observer now I glimpse this new medium.

How do we manipulate the unseen?

How do we work the medium? I stand in awe.  


Laura Summer  February 19, 2009


Comment from Luke Fischer February 23:   I recited the poem the evening before we painted the panels and everyone was given a copy of the poem. On Saturday each of the four groups was given a part of the poem as inspiration for painting their panel.
   We sang songs that we had sung together in the course of the weekend.
    Another observation. The social sculpture in part took on the character of a funeral procession, which was interesting.


Dear Rosemary,

We have here in Harlemville an Art and Social change study group where currently we are studying Joseph Beuy’s conversation with Volker Harlan, “What is Art”.  Even though I have read much of Beuys and seen some of his dialogues and gone to lectures by experts, I still was struggling with WHAT IS SOCIAL SCULPTURE? A few of us went to a talk by Tatjana von Prittwitz und Gaffron at the DIA Beacon Museum. I asked her after the talk, what are the essentials if you want to help people become aware of social sculpture? And she shrugged and said, “it’s happening all the time”. And I thought, yes, BUT NO, that’s not what Beuys did. He didn’t just say “hey folks, it’s happening all the time.” He went to enormous lengths to help us experience it.

And so somehow I ended up with the Bible. I think this interaction between Jesus and his mother, which has been translated in so many ways, is perhaps the first instance of making social sculpture conscious. In my intro at the workshop I read these translations and talked a little about this process of mine.

Social Sculpture doesn’t begin ...or end... It is NOT these panels, (in fact at one point in our process I asked to borrow a pen and wrote THIS IS NOT IT on the panels), but it can be perceived, as I found out during the event. For me it has a lot to do with being willing to begin.  I will try to send you the slide show. Jordon Walker also documented this whole thing on film.  Perhaps we can get him to edit it.

All the best, Laura  February 21, 2009