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These Walls Were Built by Slaves was performed at Ingenuity Fest 2010. For this project, actor Anna Register and I continually built and dismantled a stone wall in a nasty room deep in the understructure of the Veterans' Memorial AKA Detroit-Superior Bridge on Cleveland's near west side.
We did this for three 12-hour days. To prepare, I cleaned filth inches deep from the shelving in the room chosen for this project. I then hauled 1,500 pounds of stone a half a mile under the bridge, and carried buckets of water to wash the stone, in order to keep dust to a minimum while we performed. I designed Soviet-Block-style costumes, and we wore faux ankle monitors created by Jim Swonger from re-purposed car alarms.
Anna and I had a rough time the first day. We both felt pretty near constantly on the verge of throwing up, even though she's a dancer and we trained for this for months beforehand. By the end of the third performance day though, we felt much better, and we realized that we could, if needed, repeat the performance for many more days. It's amazing what a person can get used to.
Here is Dennis Congdon's poetic description of the event that inspired me to create this piece, as it appeared on the door/sign (faux finished by me to resemble mahogany with whitewashed lettering) leaning up against the wall outside our performance space:
One day in the spring of 1963 I was alongside my father at my grandfather's farm off the Old Post Road. We were working on a mortar-less stone wall, working to pile stones back on top that had tumbled down and to cut back the bittersweet vines that were taking over. It sticks in my mind that we were on the wall separating the Sheldon Lot from the Tractor Piece. These lots have been the Congdon Farm since the early 1700's when our forefather moved down from Providence. In South County my people are known as Swamp Yankees. Stone walls draw the perimeter of each lot on this rocky, boney land. To plow this ground the stone had to be hauled to the fence rows. But we were cutting hay and pasturing dairy cows at Grampa’s place at that time and were working on the walls before we moved some heifers in. Sweating in the sun my dad straightened up, dug out his bandana and as he wiped his brow, he looked off down across the fields and said,
“Do you know who built these stone walls? White men never built these walls....Slaves built these walls...”
I have never forgotten that moment or the way it changed forever my view of home. Ever after I lived in a different New England than the land where Frost's stone wall connects and separates two neighbors.
- Dennis Congdon
© 2015 E.D. Taylor, Artist in Flux, LLC; All rights reserved.