I spent four weeks on PEI from mid-June to mid-July, a slight summer vacation in semi-warm weather. I only made it to the beach twice (in layers the first time) but I did take a couple day-long road trips up West, in search of Island art environments, continuing my research for The Builders. I don’t remember the last time I drove to places like Alberton, Tignish and North Cape, and I’d never done the coastal drives on that end of the Island either (at least not since I’ve been driving on my own). But, I had vague memories of visiting the Bottle Houses in Cap-Egmont as a kid, and the site had lodged itself into my consciousness when I first began to research art environments as a larger phenomenon in 2011. I’d also heard about Kerras Jeffrey’s Backroad Folk Art in Alma, since he had done design work for Young Folk and Row 142 a couple years ago. So with a car, a camera, lots of snacks and two days of clear skies, I set out on a PEI road trip with my mom, in search of art environments.
Step into an environment constructed by seven unlikely architects – theatre artists, dancers, and a musician. The space buzzes with energy as the builders work tirelessly to create the realms of their dreams. In a chaotic merging of theatre and installation, The Builders investigates transformation, territory and the practice of making ourselves at home in the world.
Taking inspiration from the worldwide phenomenon of art environments built by outsider artists, The Builders explores the compulsions behind transforming spaces, materials and the self. The performance immerses the audience into an unfamiliar territory inhabited by the builders, each one engaged in a relentless effort to transform their immediate surroundings. As they work, they reveal their stories and their processes, illuminating the ways in which occupied spaces become reflections of individual identities, mythologies and desires.
Constructed almost entirely out of found materials, the environment of The Builders features 500 feet of netting, three bolts of cast-off fabric, 35 milk crates, along with heaps of ivy, plastic recycling, mylar and scrap metal. Although the materials of the builders are familiar, the spaces they build defy convention and expectation. A gardener tends to a heap of plastic garbage, turning bottlecap seeds into translucent flowers and spindly trees. A lonesome mechanic becomes a bedazzled cowboy in a rhinestone realm that glitters and shines, while another builder aspires to live in the trees, alongside a giant woman woven from branches. All this and more comes to life within the performance, which also features music by David Cowling (of the band Leave) and additional set design by Amanda Larder.
Conceived and directed by Megan Stewart. Devised over a five-month process in collaboration with the ensemble: Robert Azevedo, Gordon Havelaar, Eveleen Kozak and Keely O’Brien
“The oddball protagonists of The Builders shrug off the senseless oppressions and conventions of the society that surrounds them, and set themselves to the sublime task of cobbling together their own unusual havens – or perhaps, heavens. …they reveal the infinite little ways in which a space can be explored, adored, claimed, conceded, and endlessly changed by anyone who identifies with it, and calls it a home.”
– Dillon Ramsey, VANDOCUMENT
Oh the excitement of discovering a kooky little art environment right in East Van! Keely, who is a part of the ensemble for my MFA project, discovered this house on a walk, and brought us photos of it today for our creation/devising session. I hopped on my bike after the session to go find it, and here are the photos! Nobody was outside while I was there, nor when Keely was there. But I’m so curious to know who is behind this work!
More photos are being added to our little tumblr of research and inspiration, check it, here:
In June 2014 I spent nine days on a solo road trip through Wisconsin, searching for art environments. I visited folk art environments scattered throughout the state, and paid visits to the Kohler Foundation and the John Michael Kohler Arts Centre, two organizations dedicated to the preservation, maintenance and display of art environments around the world. I was lucky to be granted access to the collections in storage at the Kohler Foundation and JMKAC, and was able to see works by Mary Nohl, Madeline Buol, Stella Waitzkin, Emery Blagdon, Eugene Von Bruenchenheim among many others.
I visited eight different environments all around Wisconsin:
Mary Nohl’s house in Fox Point, Milwaukee
Dr. Evermore’s Forevertron in Baraboo
James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden
Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips
Herman Rusch’s Prairie Moon Museum in Cochrane
Nick Englebert’s Grandview in Hollandale
The Dickeyville Grotto in Dickeyville
The trip immersed me into these environments and practices of making, which I’ve been researching for the past year and a half. This preliminary research will eventually evolve into a devised theatre piece based on these environments and their makers for my MFA graduating project.
Below are photos from Mary Nohl’s House, the Forevertron, Prairie Moon, Wisconsin Concrete Park, and James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden. All photos © Megan Stewart