Looking to a Place Beyond
When people move and uproot their lives to relocate, their motivation is borne on the hope of finding, or being able to build a better circumstance. This hope carried the slaves from the south, guided by the constellation Ursa Major and the code of quilts laid out on fences. Their travel was a collective act, involving the assistance of abolitionists, casual opportunists and many more who risked their lives to ensure the slaves safe passage. This act built a community – an experience that bound the lives of participants and observers to one another. While ultimately a fraternity of thought not bound to geography, those points where events occurred also became physically-locatable communities in their own right, diverse in their history and participants, but with common experiences tied to the past.
Sites for gathering, like Johnson’s Park often have a history of communion that extends beyond our time. These sites serve as beacons for congregating, and bellwethers for the circumstances of their communities. The area now known as Johnson’s Park in Milwaukee has a deep history and connection to the past. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad and later a nexus between highway development and neighborhood resistance, the Johnson’s Park neighborhood is now in the midst of gathering resources and rebuilding itself after years of job and home loss.
This sculpture, titled Looking to a Place Beyond, is modeled after this history of Johnson’s Park and the nests of the Sociable Weaver Bird, a species native to the Kalahari known for building and maintaining colossal intra- and inter-species nests. While the forms of their nests are dramatic, they serve the purpose of providing safe shelter from predators, insulation from the heat and cold of the desert, as well as acting as a network for locating food and resources. In Looking to a Place Beyond, the nests of houses, along with the quilt patterns and arrangement of elements in the form of the Drinking Gourd serve as metaphors for the events that shaped and currently work to form our communities. This piece is an invitation to gather, to share and to build.
Annushka Gisella Peck