FIRST MATTER/an alchemical remediation of contaminated space
Brielle DuFlon + Nina Frances Burke
Art in Odd Places 2018: Matter, Charlottesville VA, 2018, curated by Ed Woodham and the University of Virginia Arts Board
We propose to purify the ground (as prima materia—the primordial base of all matter) of twin outdoor spaces through a dual exchange of material transmutations, interpreting alchemy as a foundation for public remediation in response to the August 2017 events downtown and at UVA grounds. The dual site-specific installations will use fiber, reclaimed materials, organic matter exchanged from each site, and found objects to create connected, interactive zones - the first on UVA Grounds under a historic Magnolia tree near the Rotunda, the second at the traffic bollards at the intersection of First Street North and East Main Street, a location that adjoins the Downtown Mall and is near Emancipation Park and The Haven, a day shelter for homeless community members. In this intervention, cast-off or marginalized matter (be it trash/discards or people) becomes valued and renewed, forming open spaces for contemplation.
First, a clear seeing of the present and past. The traffic bollards give us a visceral reminder of A12. Blood was spilled. It was not the first blood. The land and the bricks of our town and our University were built with it, on occupied land by enslaved people. Rather than turning away, we look toward ourselves and our community. Intermittent mirrors and reflective surfaces move light and color through the space, which at night is transformed anew with glowing lights. We build upon this truth as ground to stand on as we reclaim this space for all.
Second, a place to sit. Charlottesville has never been a safe space. We acknowledge a history of displacement and exclusion. The historic African American community of Vinegar Hill was destroyed to create the Main Street Corridor. The pedestrian mall has become less welcoming to people of color; benches were removed to keep homeless citizens from resting and police officers monitor activities. We invite passersby to enter the contemplative FIRST MATTER spaces, where barricades are permeable and the brick ground is softened by cushions, carpet samples, and plants. FIRST MATTER is a place to sit, to talk, or to be still and quiet for a time.
Third, an offering. We offer a bower; a sheltered space encircled by organic matter, fiber, colored yarns, and discarded objects—bits of plastic, sticks, metal fragments. We welcome the public to a safe space where we can reconcile our collective complicity, so that we may begin a process of transmutation that expands outward toward the future.