Wonderment: The Hay Ball's Journey Across America
Wonderment: The Hay Ball's Journey Across America
Be part of an interactive and multidimensional art project sprouting smiles and inexplicable delight across America.
Be part of an interactive and multidimensional art project sprouting smiles and inexplicable delight across America. Read more
About this project
Join me on the "Wonderment" project -- a two month journey that melds public art, sculpture, performance, documentary photo and video, social analysis and the art of the roadside attraction. It will do this through a long journey along back roads and communities across This country with a large hand made and perfectly formed ball of hay on top of my car. Those supporting this will become a part of bringing a bit of wonder and delight to people in assorted locations across America. A well formed, fleeting and wobbly gift from Maine to the nation.
This project will be creatively documented through writings, sketches, a blog, photographs and videos, and participated with through social media.
The journey's route will go from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon and then returning through California, across the Southwest, the South and back to Maine. It will, with some deviations, roughly follow the route and spirit of John Steinbeck in his book “Travels with Charley: Searching for America”, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Steinbeck sought to re-acquaint himself with the nation and take the pulse of its people.
Traveling with Hay Ball offers ample opportunities to engage with communities and people in unforeseen ways. Out of this will be developed various bodies of work including a limited edition Artist's Book and travelogue; archival quality prints and photographs; and a video documentation working with Ramble Productions. The primary goal of the project however is the journey itself and the wonder and delight gathered and shared by this simple delightfully perplexing object on a car.
While simple delight is overarching and important for its own intrinsic value, the ability to take delight in the unknown and to embrace the idiosyncratic is a need equal to that of understanding and purpose. It is particularly so in times of stark conformity. To curiously stand out, to defy the norm and to do something for no apparent purpose is a healthy way of claiming identity. In our culture today, it is a gentle act of defiance.
One of Steinbeck's great disdains was our national homogenization. With the instantaneous internationalization of culture and commerce there is today a loss of uniqueness of place compounded to a degree Steinbeck could not have imagined. Despite these forces I expect that our intrinsic nature to challenge norms and to connect to place still exist. While the land may seem parched there is opportunity for new life. I would along the way explore where and how people are creatively challenging the forces of cultural expectation. Be this through creative businesses, activism, how lives are lived or simply by being a spectacle.
Another subtext to this journey is the act of connection and re-connection. It exists on the broad level, but also personally. I will be meeting with some people and visiting locations that have been profoundly important to me and greatly affected my life. As such there will be a personal sense of reconnection threaded throughout. Likewise there will be the challenge of new connections. There is an intentional openness to the journey. Embracing the unexpected encounters and coming to know the feelings of those I meet, I hope to find out where they are individually and perhaps where we collectively are going.
By funding this project every supporter will also become in various ways connected to it. Beyond some great collectible rewards, supporters will also receive the simple but profound satisfaction of knowing they have helped allow someone somewhere a momentary smile, chuckle or a full belly laugh about something that is at first perception perplexingly pointless. They will also be updated on the progress of the trip, and will be a part of helping to shape the exact route and activities through sharing their thoughts and ideas.
Traveling with The Hay Ball is something I have been doing for a few years around Maine and New England. With every trip either to a different city or to the supermarket it inevitably is a bit of an adventure producing numerous smiles, conversations and insights. Having done this for some time locally, I have decided to take it on the road.
Why this and why now?
There seems to be a need in these times for small curious occurrences that are beyond the expected -- to make people wonder and smile -- and question and think.
In The Hay Ball Journey there is a healthy nod to Steinbeck's travels and his populist ideologies. To some degree this serves as a backdrop to this project. The Hay Ball journey seeks to meet America in the same fashion as Steinbeck did, however it blends being the observer with being the observed.
Traveling with The Hay Ball is a gentle act of non-conformity seeking to create a sense of momentary joy from the unfamiliar and inexplicable. I do not know what the result of this will be on those that see it. I do however know that those that see The Hay Ball smile, wonder, remember and say to others “Guess what I saw?”
Eliot -- neighborhood philosopher, collector and yard artist
How did this idea emerge?
For thirty years have I been making large sculptural works with hay. They are monumental, mostly temporary, bound and woven forms, built or assembled for museums and Contemporary Art Centers. As such they are often very connected to the physical nature of the space. This work can be seen at my web site www.shaughnessyart.com. This journey is different in how it is not connected to any one place. It is less a display than an ongoing event. It is in a way being in a very long, yet very short parade.
Traveling with The Hay Ball came about rather simply. I had been working with children making hay things at the Common Ground Fair in Unity Maine and was asked to bring a sculpture up to have around the space. While I usually do not have things to transport, it just so happened that I had this hay ball in a crate that was shipped back from a Museum in Florida. I needed however a way to get it to the fair. A truck was going to pick it up. In classic fashion for some reason or another could not make it. Now this was a museum piece, or so I then thought, but I decided to take a leap of faith, throw artistic dignity to the wind, and strap it on to the top of my car. If the hay blows off, I thought, I could always repair it.
As I was going down the highway it seemed to hold together well and I gradually increased in both confidence and speed. At one point however, I noticed a long cluster of cars following me but staying a good bit behind. I was concerned that something was wrong but as far as I could tell it was fine. Suddenly, one of the cars broke from the pack and passed me. A young woman was leaning out of the passenger window taking pictures. Then others did the same thing. It only got better. People laughed and waved, gave me a thumbs up, children pointed and teenagers cheered. Later that night on my trip home, the late night crew at an all night drive through window burst into laughter and grabbed their phone cameras as I drove up to the pick-up window.
People loved it.
From this accidental beginning, I gradually ventured out for small trips and casual drives about town. Each drive was a treat and new potentials and relevancies continued to be revealed. Then like anything delightful they beckoned to be shared further.
Is this Art?
Absolutely -- but barely, and with reservations.
Saying “It is Art” is a quick and easy way of explaining, and too often dismissing, without further investigation. So I like to shy away from this right off. The reality is The Hay Ball is just what it is. A large ball of hay in a shape hay should not hold, in a place it should not be, and doing something it should not do, all at least seemingly without much reason. It is a curious thing that has no apparent point. So yes it is Art.
Beyond this it does carry a certain symbolism. The sphere is the shape that all substances take when all forces are applied equally. Hay is a quintessential material of the earth and those that work it. The idea of postcards, snap shots, travelogues and now videos, updates and eblasts etc. are longstanding and contemporary means of identifing and communicating our selves in a place and time. Within this project and with these there certainly is a dialogue. Much of the images seem to have Art Historical references. Out of this are new combined meanings and dialogues. The simple pursuit and sharing of delight though is reason enough.
So while this project embraces simple objectives of joy and holds and values the pursuit of the inexplicable it is not totally pointless.
Fundamental to this project is the embrace and value of the coincidental and fleeting experience. In Portland, The Hay Ball it seems has become a sighting. It is like a number of years ago there was a lovelorn moose that periodically could be seen pining over a particular dairy cow out alongside a field in Standish, Maine. People would go out of their way to see if it might be there. Even school buses re-routed for the sake of the children getting a glimpse. When it was they would watch it and smile. It was a simple but beguiling mystery, not understood but accepted, and then upon going home, something to be shared.
Much as this is a form of art that merges creative artistic disciplines, it is also a form of comedy in that there is a common root in the pursuit and distribution of humor. However, rather than pursuing the bellowing laugh to a defined audience it seeks more the smile and giggle to a broader unsuspecting public.
Are there other things you will be doing?
The trip in and of itself, is the project. The encounters and situations along the way are critical sub-passages. I have long come to understand that the most powerful occurrences may also be the most fleeting and by this, treasured. However, since I will be traveling only a few hundred miles a day, if that, other gatherings will be made.
A body of photographs will be developed. There are moments when The Hay Ball is captured in context and makes for a wonderful graphic image. People are also photographed with The Hay Ball. In some cases it is in the position of a halo just behind someone's head emphasizing the individual as a saint or angel. In others people are photographed posing in front of The Hay Ball as if before a National Monument or like one of those cardboard cutouts of the President.
Miss Maine and Miss Outstanding Teen Maine, New Gloucester Fair in Maine
There will be a travel journal/book of photos and reflective writings and stories from the assorted situations, encounters and thoughts gathered from people and places along the way. The Hay Ball invites many varied encounters. Whether being mobbed by a bachelorette party roving between bars; posing at a local fair with Miss Maine and Miss Outstanding Teen Maine; or being cheered on as it passes a bunch of young boys sitting defiantly high up on the old stone lintel over their school door in South Boston -- the situations encountered are wonderful and often revealing about who we are. These along with the photographs will be blogged, placed on Facebook and ultimately incorporated into a book.
In addition, a video(s) of the journey will be made focusing on the responses from those on the street and ensuing situations that develop. Simply watching people react and sharing the expression of a joy is delightful and highly contagious. This will entail a great deal of gathering footage and then hours of editing. I am doing this in conjunction with Patrick Russell of Ramble Productions a small but brilliant video company in Portland, Maine.
Social media will be used to show where I am and where I expect to be along the way. Check out and "like" The Hay Ball on Facebook here. I will gain input from followers and embrace the chance meetings, challenges, and side quests that might arise. I can post where I expect to be and seek through online interactions places to go and people to meet.
Since The Hay Ball will come off the car and it does roll fairly well, it can engage the public in any number of ways. It can lazily roll about a park, meander a farmers market, go to a fair or park itself outside a museum. I may have it chained to a sign outside a local diner while I am inside.
While totally unscientific, and full of variables, one sees a place through a very unique lens when traveling with a specticle. It reveals how open, inquisitive, and social a place may be or how constrained. Likewise there will be a lot of inward revelations -- I expect I will learn a bit about myself along the journey. In a way it can show how comfortable we are collectively and individually with ourselves and how this is extended to others. I am happy to say that Portland Maine, where I live, is one of those places that is very comfortable with itself. I expect Portland Oregon may be as well. I am sure there are many more such places in between.
Why is support needed?
This amount is based on anticipated gas costs, traveling expenses, equipment costs, extensive video editing, and design work. There are also the production costs of producing the book, videos, photographs and printed artworks. I am expecting an eight week trip, leaving in August and returning mid-October and then working through materials in the months following.This is where much of the costs reside.
This journey cannot happen without your support and I hope that each supporter also becomes a part of the project. In effect the rewards are oriented toward inclusion. In addition to receiving “rewards” supporters can follow the progress and interact with me through the Updates and Comments pages of the Project. I will be using the Updates page to send occasional video greetings and updates along the way. Supporters can, through the Comments page, offer ideas, insights and recommendations along the way as well. I would love to find from others what they feel to be unique to the people and places along the route. As much as possible I will seek to project this out as I go along.
This is a rough sketch of the expected route of the journey. It is intentionally rough and open to deviation. I most likely will travel 2 - 250 miles a day (roughly 5 hours) and spend longer in a few larger cities. I will combine traveling, creating and engaging though out the day. It is certainly less about the getting there than the going.
OTHER RECENT WORKS:
Below are a few images of my large scale bound and woven hay sculptures. More can be seen at my website: www.shaughnessyart.com.
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- (30 days)