In 2001, I went to PS1 while visiting New York, and experienced an amazing piece by Janet Cardiff. Park walking tour, part conversation, part adventure, it affected me greatly. It always stuck in the back of my mind and an excitingly new and strange form of art. I always wanted to make one.
When I saw that 4Culture was accepting proposals for its program that commissioned site specific works in historical locations, it clicked. I was going to do a walking tour of Inscape, a building built in 1931 to detain immigrants for processing and deportation. It was used for 73 years as a detention and processing center for immigrants, and was converted into spaces for artists and small businesses. I was familiar with the space because I worked there at the time. I sent my proposal in and it was accepted.
The main creative problem left:behind addressed for me was how to combine the literal truth, and the emotional truth.
Through my work with MOHAI, I had become attuned to the way that historians think about story and fact, and felt that sometimes they sacrificed impact for accuracy. But I also didn’t want to “fictionalize” the stories of the people that were detained in the building.
So I started by doing research on the building itself. I found that the Wing Luke museum had done a great deal of work recording the oral histories of people that had been there for processing, detention, and people that were naturalized. I reached out to Cassie Chin, and she graciously helped by providing me with access to the audio files and transcripts of these oral histories.
I poured over them, grabbing the clips that I liked, and marking other clips that were specifically about particular places in the building. They also had various information about the building. A structural audit of the building done in 1984 was particularly helpful, and included a short history and the original blueprints of the building.
From there I began exploring the medium. I found more work by Janet Cardiff, and others in the creative walking tour space. I discovered binaural recording. I found a huge diversity in concept and content. I found some generic elements in the medium: A host character, ambient sound, footsteps to keep the tour-taker generally on pace. I opened myself up to being inspired.
I reached out to Sam Farrazaino, the site manager and genius that began Inscape. We talked and I learned what his take was on Inscape and the history. I met with him, 4Culture, and Cassie Chin, my stakeholders and learned what they wanted and needed from the tour, and told them where my interest was, and where my head was.
So after I had done the research phase, becoming familiar with the content, and the medium, and the stakeholders, I went to what is most exciting for me, visioning.
Visioning is where structure becomes so important. Structure is what bring the facts, feelings, and disparate parts together. It’s a funnel and sieve that gives guidance on what to keep, what to let go of, and what goes where. The structure for left:behind was Story, with the listener as the protagonist, and the building itself, or more literally the spirits inhabiting the building, as the antagonist.
As soon as those important decisions were made, it was easy to play and try different things out. I worked on the middle, then the end, then the beginning, indulging my intuition, squeezing and pulling sounds and words.
For media work, I generally have a closed drafting process that goes swiftly from idea, to test, to solution, back to test and then to idea again. I do this until I run out of self critique, and then I bring in friends, stakeholders, and people I trust to give me feedback. left:behind was no different and I iterated the work more than 11 times before the unveiling.
I launched left:behind at the Inscape open house on December 8th 2013.
We had more than 60 people take the tour that day, and over 350 to date. left:behind is one of my proudest pieces of work and I hope you are able to experience it. Here it is in full below. Feel free to skip around, especially since you aren’t there.