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  • Counterclockwise
  • Ernesto Pujol (bio)

I performed a walk of compassion with an older woman who had lost her only child to a freak heart attack.

She first proposed a walking route through thick woods to a distant moon pond. But she confessed to feeling stuck in a place of darkness, unable to find her way back. Instead, I suggested walking across sunny hayfields, the land surrounding Sutherland Pond, located inside the Ooms conservation area in Chatham, NY.

In preparation for our circular performance, we sat in her humble home and read the project’s instructions to each other, selecting a date. Early Sunday morning, January 29, 2017, we bundled up and I drove a pickup truck across hilly dirt roads. It was extremely cold.

We began to walk slowly around the pond, counterclockwise, as if undoing time. Our boots sank or slipped often, even as we stepped carefully, laboriously. She held on to me while my body performed, trying to balance us. A large family of eager beavers had recently colonized the pond. So, along with hoping to collect water for the small vial that the project had provided us with, I began to collect bark chips from the gnawed trees. I intuitively wanted to harvest something not created by an artist, something performed by a sentient being sculpting wood just as beautifully yet outside the realm of human art.

Finally, I managed to obtain a water sample from the mostly frozen pond fed by deep springs and snowmelt. As a teenager, I had traveled to Lourdes in France, a site famous for its holy water. Yet this water-gathering experience felt like a pilgrimage, too. Our endurance walk ended at 12:30 P.M., as my neighbor spontaneously commented on how surprisingly relaxed she felt, as if she had just “dipped in warm waters.” She somehow felt momentarily unburdened from her deep dark grief.

Postscript: On Thanksgiving 2017, near the first anniversary of her son’s death, my neighbor called asking if we could take a walk again around the same pond. She had not been back since then but remembered it as a healing experience. [End Page 17]

But for this second walk, she took command. Midway, we sat on a bench atop a hill overlooking the pond. She spoke intensely. I listened silently.

She passionately expressed never having known such depths of unabated grief. Having survived many other losses, she thought that she knew grief. But as the first anniversary of losing her only child came around, her landscape of loss expanded and became vast. For me, she now lived in an invisible valley of unacknowledged heroes.

As I reflect upon our walk, it was not a performance with a closure. We performed the pain of unceasing devastation. Catharsis was fleeting. I witnessed her performance of courage. I witnessed a performance of the secret heroism required to inhabit ongoing loss.


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Harvest package from beaver sculpture. Photo: Courtesy the artist. 2018


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Microscopic Image of water collected January 29, 2017, Ooms Pond, Chatham, NY. Photo: Courtesy Katarina Weslien.

[End Page 18]


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Harvesting water. Photo: Courtesy the artist. 2018.


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Left: Beaver sculpture at Ooms Pond, Chatham, NY. Right: Harvesting bark from beaver sculpture. Photos: Courtesy the artist. 2018.

[End Page 19]

Ernesto Pujol

ERNESTO PUJOL, social choreographer, is known for durational performances as public portraits of peoples and places facing challenging issues. Pujol designs immersive performative experiences crafted with elements of walking, stillness, silence, and mindful gestures. In 2018, he led a Listening School resulting in a participatory performance called The Listeners during the River to River Festival of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Pujol is the author of Sited Body, Public Visions and Walking Art Practice. The artist serves as a mentor to graduate students from The School of Visual Arts, New York. He lives in Philadelphia.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 17-19
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-14
Open Access
No
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