This year we have made mini-grants to five artists to create original works inspired by the Cemetery during a one-year period. Each of the selected artists will create an original project rooted in their experiences at Mount Auburn. Today, Ben Denzer discusses his project, “6,000 Dandelions.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your art.
I’m an artist, designer, and publisher. I studied architecture and visual arts at Princeton and worked as a book cover designer at Penguin. I currently have a freelance design and illustration practice, teach, and make art that explores the form and idea of “the book.” You can see more of my work at bendenzer.com.(more…)
Artwork above: Sanctuary by Zhonghe (Elena) Li, July 2020
It is already widely known how many setbacks arts and culture have experienced across all disciplines and media during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to support an expanded group of artists in 2021, we adjusted Mount Auburn’s artist-in-residence program, which awards one artist a two-year residency, and have made mini-grants to five artists to create original works inspired by the Cemetery during a one-year period. Each of the selected artists will create an original project rooted in their experiences at Mount Auburn.(more…)
It has been recognized since Mount Auburn’s early decades that the Cemetery’s aesthetic richness, educational value, and historic significance are derived in large part from the remarkable tapestry formed by its diverse collection of monuments and burial markers carefully sited in the landscape. In the nineteenth century, the Cemetery and individual lot owners commissioned a vast array of public art: monuments, structures, and buildings. Visitors, therefore, experienced the site as an outdoor museum as well as a place of burial. Today, Mount Auburn continues its dual mission of active cemetery and cultural landscape by striving to inspire all who visit and commemorating the dead in a landscape of exceptional beauty. While the Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery has long offered tours and programs to the public, in recent years we have further embraced our role as a cultural resource and have begun working with contemporary artists and art organizations to create original site-specific programming.
In 2014, Mount Auburn became the first cemetery in the United States to establish an artist residency program. Our program supports the creation of new work by a contemporary artist inspired by his or her in-depth experience at the Cemetery. The resident artist is charged with creating works for visitors, drawn from their direct experience, that convey a fresh and innovative perspective of Mount Auburn. To date, we have awarded residencies to filmmaker Roberto Mighty (2014-2015), composer Mary Bichner (2016-2017), playwright Patrick Gabridge (2018-2019), and visual artist Jesse Aron Green (2020-2021).
In light of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on in-person programming, and in recognition of the many talented artists who have been inspired by Mount Auburn during this time, we are awarding a series of mini grants to support artist projects in 2021. Five artists have been invited to create works or programs unique to and inspired by Mount Auburn over the course of 2021, or as planning grants for larger projects to be completed in 2022.
Jesse Aron Green, Visual Artist
Mount Auburn Cemetery’s 2020 Artist-in-Residence was visual artist Jesse Aron Green. Jesse’s work has been exhibited at the Tate Modern; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Harvard Art Museums; the ICA Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, Bologna; and many other museums and galleries around the world. Jesse received a BA from Harvard and an MFA from UCLA.
Jesse has been visiting Mount Auburn since he was a child, when his mother, who studied landscape architecture, brought him on her walks to study the grounds and plantings. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Jesse would walk the grounds for respite. More recently, he has been here for memorial services as well. In his own words, “I’ve come for nature, for art, for introspection, and in mourning. As the Artist-in-Residence, I hope to do service to all of the functions that Mount Auburn plays in people’s lives.”
During his residency, Jesse envisioned several ambitious and large-scale public art projects. Due to COVD-19, implementing these projects was not logistically possible. However, Jesse’s research and concepts are being added to the Mount Auburn archives. Learn more>>
Patrick Gabridge, Playwright
The Mount Auburn Plays: The Nature Plays and The America Plays
During his residency, playwright Patrick Gabridge wrote two series of plays inspired by Mount Auburn. In June 2019, we produced the Nature Plays, a series of five one-act plays that explored the rich natural environment of Mount Auburn Cemetery. The plays touched on topics such as spotted salamanders in Consecration Dell, birders at Auburn Lake, and historic debates between naturalists who are buried at the Cemetery. Audiences experienced the performances at various spots across the grounds, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the natural world. In September, we presented The America Plays. Mount Auburn was founded in 1831, during the post-Colonial era that would help define America’s identity. This series of five short plays, staged at sites across the landscape, brought to life the drama, philosophies, and struggles shared by Mount Auburn founders Jacob Bigelow, by sculptors Edmonia Lewis and Martin Milmore, and by strong women like Harriot Kezia Hunt and Charlotte Cushman who sought new opportunities beyond the social norms of the time. The journey through the American experience concluded with an immigrant story, featuring some of Mount Auburn’s Armenian residents. Audiences experienced the personalities and drama that lie at the heart of America’s first large-scale designed landscape open to the public.
Since concluding his residency, Gabridge has published The Mount Auburn Plays as a book, allowing readers to experience Mount Auburn landscape, its “residents,” and its many stories. Learn more>>
Mary Bichner, Musician and Composer
Mount Auburn: Spring & Autumn Suites
During her residency, musician and composer Mary Bichner composed a series of new works inspired by Mount Auburn’s breathtaking landscape and landmarks, using her sound-to-color synesthesia to select the musical components that best “match” the natural color palette of each location. As Ms. Bichner completed her compositions in 2016, she participated in a series of “pop-up” concerts and gave talks about her artistic process. In early 2017, her Mount Auburn compositions were professionally recorded. Ms. Bichner completed her residency with two sold-out concerts in Story Chapel. Mount Auburn: Spring & Autumn Suites, the product of her Mount Auburn residency, is now available to stream or as a free digital download. Cemetery visitors may also experience Bichner’s music in the setting that inspired it through Mount Auburn’s Visitor app. Learn more>>
Roberto Mighty, New Media Artist
Roberto Mighty, Mount Auburn’s inaugural artist-in-residence from 2014 through 2016, drew inspiration from the sights, sounds, and individual stories of the Cemetery to create earth.sky, an immersive meditation on life, death, ritual, history, landscape, nature, and culture. The original version of his project, designed to be screened in Mount Auburn’s Story Chapel, premiered in full in November 2016. To make the films, music, images, and storytelling of the original exhibit available to audiences worldwide, Mighty completed his residency with the release of an online version of his project. Learn more>>
What is your background as an artist?
When I was a kid I was impossible to get gifts for. I hated toys and thought make believe was ridiculous. I was happiest fulfilling my imagination by making something out of nothing. Suffice it to say I had more markers and pens and pencils and ink than anyone else I knew. I still do!
To say it simply: I started making stuff when I was quite young, and I just think I haven’t stopped.
What are the primary materials that you work with?
I was trained as a filmmaker before I attended art school, and I bring the sensibility of working as a director with me. That means I conceive of projects in the same way you would a movie. First, I do a deep dive of reading and research, so I can be as informed as possible on my subject. Second, I try to zero in on what it is I’m trying to communicate, which is sometimes a story, sometimes an argument, and sometimes a feeling, but usually all three. Third, I make endless sketches—and keep in mind, I not only mean drawings, I also mean taking photos, collecting sounds, making small objects, writing, and even exploring or improvising movement. It’s through this process that I begin to figure out what form my work will take; and almost all the time, there’s not just one formal solution. When I finish a project it might include paintings, digital media, video or sculptural installations, written works, and performances, among lots of other forms. Like a movie director, for all of these different formal manifestations, I get help from assistants, fabricators, and collaborators.
In other words, it’s my job to conceive of the entire work as a whole; to determine the many different ways my ideas can be turned into something an audience can see or experience; and then to manage the technical aspect of actually making everything.
Describe how your relationship to the Cemetery developed. What first drew you here? Do you have a favorite place at Mount Auburn?
I have been developing a new body of work for about three years titled “Shake or Pop.” It’s about Americana, but not necessarily the type everyone is used to seeing. Instead it looks at the invisible kinds of American craft that live in everything from tools to mass-market home furnishings, the kind of stuff that’s in your shed or garage or living-room or kitchen right now. The project has many different parts—painting, weaving, photography—but one part in particular brought me to the attention of Mount Auburn.
I am making miniature depictions of portions of cemeteries from around the country out of carved stone. I asked Mount Auburn if I could visit during dusk, when it was quiet and largely empty, so I could use special photographic equipment to capture a digital, three-dimensional model of the landscape. They happily obliged, and soon after we began to talk about the residency.
I should also mention, however, that I have had a relationship to Mount Auburn since my childhood, when I was taken here by my mother. At the time she was studying landscape design. Mount Auburn was the perfect place to see a particularly beautiful and historical example of a built landscape, but also because of its variety of growth, to learn how to identify trees. I wish I still remembered all their Latin names!
I have returned to Mount Auburn at other periods of my life too, and for other reasons. I’ve walked the paths with friends on warm days. I’ve been drawn through the gates by historic names. I’ve brought visitors and new residents up Washington Tower to introduce them to the city, by pointing out its landscape and landmarks. And I’ve been here to mourn.
To my mind, the landscape of Mount Auburn creates an endless series of moments. Moving from one to another, and then another, always makes me feel as if I am being told a story. The narrative is sometimes about history, sometimes about the people buried here, and sometimes simply about how the light changes over the course of the day. So…I don’t have a favorite place here, but I do have a favorite way of moving through it.
What excites you about being Artist-in-Residence at Mount Auburn?
I enjoy making work in response to a site, or to the specific nature of an institution. Mount Auburn provided not only those two combined, but also the special aspect of it being of unparalleled historical importance, along with an archive in which that history is kept.
In the short time I have been here, I can easily say that the most exciting aspect has been engaging with the helpful, dynamic, and committed community of people who work here.
What are the first things you are going to do as artist-in-residence?
I’ll draw, make watercolors, make prints, read endlessly, and try to imagine ways of working with the Cemetery. If you see me walking around, dimes to dollars I’ll be staring off into the distance, building something in my mind that no one else can see. Well…that no one else can see yet.