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The More That Is Taken Away

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The More That Is Taken Away
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In his back yard the artist digs a mass grave. The “weirdly compelling” videos become a multi-channel interactive installation.


         A synopsis video from the first part of the project
         A few minutes of the multi-channel installation at the work-in-progress show

In October 2011 I clear an area behind my home in upstate New York, mark out a rectangle sixty feet by nine feet, and begin to dig. I work, unaided, almost every day for more than a year, recording my actions in high definition video and sound.  

My initial plan – to dig a mass-grave-for-one – develops additional layers of formal and visual exploration. With simple hand tools I create geometric patterns, ramps, and steps in the heavy, rocky soil of this small piece of land. Each set of shapes is photographed with an 8x10 camera. Eventually the intermediate forms are all removed, leaving the rectangular pit.  

I build a crude wooden watchtower. It is a presence, an observation post, and a laboriously-movable camera stand.  

I lose weight noticeably.  

I photograph myself lying in the pit in multiple poses, after shaving off my long hair. I place life-size prints of these photographs in the pit then refill it. Later, the site is landscaped with plantings and flowers.  

I expect to complete the excavation and refilling work by late 2013. Editing will be ongoing from mid- 2013. I showed a work-in-progress version in November 2012 at Pratt MWPAI School of Art Gallery, Utica, NY.  

The More That Is Taken Away is an interdisciplinary project. I will present the work as an installation using multiple video displays, the body and land-art photographs, and a participatory element in which visitors sprinkle dirt on the body photographs in a large wooden box. One video channel will carry a synopsis, the remaining displays will show the full-length footage. Sounds from the various channels will combine in random patterns with amplified sounds from the box of dirt and photographs.
Only in a very tangential way can I share the experiences of victims of atrocity and mass murder . Similarly, however immersed visitors become in the installation, they cannot fully share my experience – the video footage takes days to cycle. The work is in the attempt and in the failure.  

Along with its grimmer references the work meditates on aging and endurance, manual labor as art-making, decay and repeated repair, the watcher as watched, and the lyrical use of pattern, perspective, light, and weather.  

I am targeting, initially, a contemporary art audience. However, strong positive responses to the material I have already produced are encouraging me to seek wider distribution. I plan to create a short to medium length movie, Internet videos, and a sound album.  

Witnessing, bearing witness, participation, and complicity are often my themes. I seek imaginative engagement, for myself and for my audiences, with fraught historical, political, social, and personal questions. I use my body, self-imposed difficulties, and the context of my own home to frame these explorations, often inhabiting polarized roles. I have done work on torture – photographic mixed-media pieces using water-boarding, stress positions, and force feeding on myself. In a recent work I photographed myself in the roles of both protesters and a squad of police. I encourage visitors to touch, work, and sometimes to write and draw on my installations and to consider their own connections to, complicity with, and sympathy for not just victims but also perpetrators.  

As a naturalized US citizen with an English mother and a Jewish father, I find myself multiply displaced – not belonging to my native England, slightly alien where I live, and closed off culturally from the Jew in my blood. The More That Is Taken Away links my origins, racial histories, and cultural lacunae to my present. I strip off middle-aged padding and re-appraise the youth I once was. I unearth and re-bury, in effigy, what lurks beneath my comforts.

Note: Prior to being accepted for fiscal sponsorship, this project was supported in part with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts' Electronic Media and Film Finishing Funds grant program, administered by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes (www.NYSCSA.org, www.eARTS.org).

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