Rebuilding Connections: The Collaborative Works of Patrick Dougherty

Modern life makes it easy to lose our connection to nature, to others and to our childhood. Can art help?

Close Ties, 2006 Scottish Basket Maker's Circle, Dingwall, Scotland Image © Fin McCrea

Close Ties, 2006
Scottish Basket Maker’s Circle, Dingwall, Scotland
Image © Fin McCrea

River Vessels, 2010 Waco Arts Festival, Waco, Texas Image © Mark Randolph

River Vessels, 2010
Waco Arts Festival, Waco, Texas
Image © Mark Randolph

Patrick Dougherty builds fantastic nest and hut forms from saplings, fusing sculpture and crafting with architecture. After designing a project, he recruits people to help him with construction, teaching them how to weave and work with sticks. Inviting the public to be involved in the joy of creation is a wonderful way to spread the word about a new installation and give the community a sense of ownership and participation in the art. Materials are drawn from local plants which are often grown and harvested specifically for the project.

Call of the Wild, 2002 Museum of Glass, Tacoma Washington Image © Duncan Price

Call of the Wild, 2002
Museum of Glass, Tacoma Washington
Image © Duncan Price

Over the years, Dougherty has built more than 250 installations all over the world. He describes his creations as “whimsical, ephemeral, and impermanent”. You might see a striking resemblance to illustrations by Dr. Seuss. Parts of us which we put away when we grew up into serious adults start to thaw out and wake up in the presence of this kind of whimsy. Why do we insist on being so serious?

Uff da Palace, 2010 Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, MN Image © Todd Mulvihill

Uff da Palace, 2010
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, Minnesota
Image © Todd Mulvihill

Last January, Dougherty built Boogie Woogie in Hermann Park, here in Houston, from saplings of Chinese tallow. Chinese tallows are ubiquitous here, accounting for almost a fourth of all trees in Houston (Wikipedia). These quick growing and weak trees, despite their pretty leaves, are invasive and it is actually illegal to sell, distribute or import them in Texas. I’m constantly pulling them out of my garden. They are perfect for this kind of application, because no one will miss them.

Boogie Woogie is designed to look like an ancient glyph or symbol when viewed from above. I really enjoy the variable height of the roof, with its dramatic slopes. You can see the sky quite easily through that lightly woven roof, which makes being inside even more magical.

This is a lovely video featuring Pomp and Circumstance, an installation built in 2011 at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. It is part of the Inspired By… series by Shwood Eyewear, which presents artists and creatives operating in the Pacific Northwest, and was filmed by Gary Tyler Mcleod and Austin Will. They did a wonderful job of capturing the humble and generous spirit of Dougherty and his work, which never ceases to draw you in.

Video via Shwoodshop on YouTube.

I am fascinated by the value of illusion here. First of all, the eye is fooled into believing the nests are lighter and more fragile than they are. In fact, Dougherty’s goal is to make something that looks simple and haphazard despite the complexity and sturdiness of the weave. His work is inviting rather than intimidating. The Monk’s Cradle below looks as if it will collapse at any moment, but it is completely stable.

Monk's Cradle, 2012 College of St Benedict and St John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota © Thomas O'Laughlin

Monk’s Cradle, 2012
College of St Benedict and St John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota
Image © Thomas O’Laughlin

Secondly, Dougherty creates spaces that suggest an alternate reality to our modern, computer driven society. From inside one of his nests you get the feeling that the world is a playful, imaginative place. You can imagine leaving normal life behind to wander and cavort here indefinitely. It reminds me of my childhood playhouse, which was an a-frame design built from scrap plywood. It wasn’t nearly as cool, but it gave me a similar feeling. Dougherty does a wonderful job of cultivating enchantment and contagious joy, evident in both the construction and exhibition phase of his creations. It makes me want to go out and play. Put your shoes on; the last one outside is a rotten egg!

All images are used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational and analytical purposes.

Carrying Home: The Work of Do-ho Suh

Our experience of home deepens and changes with time. Does moving away from our roots help us understand them better?



Do-ho Suh grew up fascinated by the sea. His dream was to become a marine biologist and study the movements and migrations of fish. Unfortunately, his math scores were not up to par to enter that field of study, so he followed in the footsteps of his father, the famous Se-ok Suh, gaining Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Oriental Painting from Seoul University. Although he did reasonably well, he didn’t really find his voice, perhaps because his father’s success made it difficult for him to establish his own identity. He did, however, fall for a fellow art student. When she moved to the United States for further study, so did he. The Rhode Island School of Design accepted Do-ho Suh, but only as a sophomore. He found it difficult to get into the classes he wanted to take, but decided to take a course in sculpture instead. There he found his medium. After graduating, he would continue sculpting as a Master’s student at Yale, building a preference for styrofoam, resin and fabric as opposed to more traditional materials.

Seoul Home

Seoul Home

Living in New York City was a different experience from living in Seoul, although both are crowded cities. Suh found it extremely difficult to sleep in New York due to the noise and often desired the serenity of his parent’s home. He wished he could bring that sense of peace with him and had the idea of constructing a portable model of his parent’s house out of fabric. This was the inspiration for a whole array of installations, beginning with Seoul Home. His mother helped him find fabric, which was then dyed to the color of jade, and put him in touch with traditional seamstresses that could help him realize his vision and teach him how to sew. He is constantly building on and transforming the concepts of home, homeland and the past. This video is a wonderful capsule of his work.

Video via Chloe Boleyn Palmer on YouTube.

Do-ho Suh is frequently on the move. It is interesting to note that he has, in a sense, become like a fish, migrating from one place to another for opportunity and growth. The colors and textures of his pieces are akin to those of the coral reef.

Perfect Home

Perfect Home

His interest in home does not only manifest in the creation of ethereal models of his former and current residences, but takes in other forms that contrast his modern, global identity with his traditional, Korean one. What a fascinating and thoughtful artist, capable of poetic recreation of space and memory!

Specimen Series Toilet

Specimen Series Toilet

Want more?

You can read the full interview from which the video was made here.

Today Suh lives in London, but he is still haunted by his former homes. Recently he has taken to making rubbings of his former New York studio, adding a deeply sensual element to his work. You can read about that here.

All images are used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational and analytical purposes.

Sharing a Difficult Journey: The Art Installations of Serge Alain Nitegeka

How do we break cycles of violence? Art helps us share painful personal stories and build empathy across cultural lines.

Serge Alain Nitegeka

Serge Alain Nitegeka

Serge Alain Nitegeka was born in 1983 in the African nation of Burundi. When he was eleven years old his homeland erupted into open conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, violence that devastated Burundi and neighboring Rwanda. The two countries had been a single nation, Ruanda-Urundi, until 1962, and the longstanding animosity between peoples recognized no boundary.

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and the President of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down. These were not the first assassinations in the region and the backlash was fierce. The Hutu led governments began to execute Tutsis and moderate Hutus in an attempt to secure peace by killing all possible dissenters. Those who did not perish began a shadow existence, unable to move back home or establish a future anywhere else because of the prejudice that dogged them and their lack of legal standing.

Black Subjects, 2013

Black Subjects, 2013
Video available here.

Nitegeka was one of these refugees, fleeing the genocide behind him and trying to eke out a life for himself. As he moved throughout Africa, he constantly had to bow to the conditions set for migrants in different countries, the catch-22 situations that meant he couldn’t relax anywhere. His journey to freedom would take a decade and leave scars and impressions on his internal landscape and imagination. He has found a way to express the darkness and pain of those years of wandering by making art.

Nitegeka's work displayed as part of Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness, 2015

Nitegeka’s work displayed as part of Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness, 2015

Nitegeka, who now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, makes a living as an installation artist, combining sculpture, design, construction, painting and performance art. Most of his pieces feature beams of black wood arranged in such a way that they impede movement. Visitors must find their way through by stooping and stepping over and through obstacles. This is Nitegeka’s way of creating empathy, sharing the feelings he felt as a refugee, remembering a time when he constantly had to modify or retrace his movements in order to survive and hold on to his sanity and humanity.

Performance means that the body is ‘directed’: this installation directs you in a manner that prompts your body to rehearse and perform certain movements, puts you into my position. I’m sharing my story with you, and you’re completing it as a performer. The installation can be interpreted as a stage.

© Jay Caboz used in accordance with fair use Policy

Black Lines, 2012
image © Jay Caboz

It is an obstacle course, intended to express the idea of liminality. It’s is as if I am saying, ‘That is not how you’re going to walk in here, THIS is how you have to walk here’. Avoiding the lengths of wood as one negotiates the space is like an enforced ritual: one’s movements are, to a large extent, broken up into a set of prescribed parts and paths: that is a ritual process.

–Serge Alain Nitegeka, Interview for Artthrob

You may read the entire interview here.

Obstacle 1, 2012

Obstacle 1, 2012

Nitegeka has won numerous awards and has exhibited his work at the Dakar Biennale in Senegal, numerous galleries in South Africa and the Armory Show and Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York City. His work is featured in Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness, an exhibition currently showing at The Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, exploring the impact of colonialism upon identity. This week he will be opening a new solo exhibition, Configuration in Black, at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia.

What a tremendous journey and what a brave and noble means of working through one’s past!

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Dream of Water: Tears Become… Streams Become… at the Park Avenue Armory

Darkness falls as an acclaimed pianist begins a recital devoted to music about water. Slowly the hall becomes a lake.


It might sound like a dream, or maybe just the wild imagination of humans high on music, but this week the Park Avenue Armory will make this image a reality. Tears Become… Streams Become… is a collaboration between pianist Hélène Grimaud and conceptual artist Douglas Gordon opening Tuesday, December 9th and running through December 21st. The installation is open until January 4th. If I were in New York City I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The installation itself is quite a feat, as the entire floor of the Armory had to be leveled and covered in Viroc, particle board bonded with cement so that it wouldn’t float up or bow as 122,000 gallons of water are poured over it. Having experienced a flood in my own home I can attest to the destructive power of water upon floors. This is far from the only difficulty, of course. You can read about the construction project and the performance in this wonderful write up from the New York Times.

I have a particular fondness for the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, having performed there last July in Weinberg’s The Passenger as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. You can read about the wonderful historic building here and about our production of The Passenger here.

Living in a Crack: Keret House in Warsaw, Poland

© Centrala used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

© Centrala used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Less than 4 feet at its widest point, Keret House, the narrowest residence in the world, isn’t for the claustrophobic.

Polish architect Jakub Szczesny is famous for radical thinking inside a very small box. One day, as he walked through Warsaw, he had the idea that he could fit a very small domicile in a narrow 5 foot gap between an old tenement and a tower block at 22 Chłodna Street and 74 Żelazna Street. His drawings, which debuted in 2009, were considered a fantastic flight of fancy that would most likely never be built. In 2011, the architecture collective Centrala took on the expensive and innovative project.

The result is Keret House, named after its first resident, Israeli writer Etgar Keret, who used the space as a work studio. Keret’s personal ties to the area are deep. The house lies within the former Warsaw Ghetto, where the Nazis deposited and confined over 400,000 Jews. Keret’s mother, Orna, was one of them. As a child, she slipped through cracks in the ghetto to scavenge food for herself, her father, mother and younger brother. By chance or synchronicity, this structure is built in the very place of a Nazi checkpoint. She had to sneak past soldiers here every day in order to return successfully to her family, who all perished in those horrific and unimaginable days, leaving her alone in the world. The idea of living in this crack in Warsaw gave him a chance to interface with her story in a powerful and transformative way.  If you would like to read his thoughts, please click here. Although Keret House contains amenities that Orna could not have imagined during World War II and none of the terrors of that time, it presents its own challenges. It is as if the stubborn persistence of humanity has found a way to take root in an impossible place, much like a weed growing up through a sidewalk.

The building itself is incredibly small, with an interior living space that is, at most, 47 inches wide and, at its narrowest, a slim 28 inches. The entire space is about 46 square feet. Polish law doesn’t allow for a residence to built to such small specifications, so it is classified as an art installation. The steel frame is covered by a thin semi-transparent polycarbonate sheeting that allows sunlight in, keeping the building light and airy, and maximizes the size of the former alleyway. There are two windows, which do not open, and the interior is painted white to guard against claustrophobia. Electricity is obtained from a neighboring building, while Keret House has its own water and sewage technology, unconnected to Warsaw’s water systems. 

Video via Deutsche Welle English on YouTube.

There is a bedroom on the second (top) floor, while downstairs contains a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room. The kitchen accommodates a tiny sink and stovetop as well as a refrigerator with space for two beverages. If you need to use the restroom after drinking all that liquid, the bathroom is separated from the kitchen by a sliding door which doesn’t look completely opaque. That would be a deal breaker for me, I think. Oh, and you can take a shower while you’re on the toilet, if you’re in a hurry.

In the kitchen looking into the toilet      with CCLicense

In the kitchen looking into the toilet with CCLicense

There’s a ten foot ladder at the street entrance. This leads to a large trapdoor, sort of a glorified attic access door, that you need to clamber through and close so that you can stand on it. This is the apartment landing, from which you can climb a short ladder to get onto the first floor. You need to be reasonably fit as well as small to live here, and sleep walkers should not try it. Changing floors means climbing ladders installed in the space. If you feel like Spiderman, Szczesny says you can even climb on the steel structure itself. It’s an ideal space for an artist who doesn’t want any distractions and is guaranteed to curb the impulse for hosting wild parties. Apparently, eight people once fit in the Keret House simultaneously, but no one left with any desire to do that again!





Shining Phantoms: The Reflective Sculptures of Rob Mulholland

Rob Mulholland is a sculptor and installation artist whose work can be found dotting the countryside and cities of his native Scotland as well as on foreign soil. His recent projects have included reflective figures, sculpted mirrors which become part of the environment and reflect movement and change within that environment. As leaves change colors and fall, clouds and storms pass by, daylight waxes and wanes, and people walk by, these stationary figures shimmer and change, creating a reflection of the mood around them. They can be eerie, ghostly, magical, and whimsical by turns.

Rob Mulholland, Vestige Image © Dougie Mathieson with CCLicense

Rob Mulholland, Vestige
Image © Dougie Mathieson with CCLicense

In 2009 he created an installation called Vestige, on the woodland walk near David Marshall Lodge. This installation deals with the relocation of sheep farmers after the First World War and the planting of conifer forests in place of the farms to combat a severe timber shortage. The results were the displacement of people from their farms and a drastic alteration of the landscape. Originally intended to be temporary, Vestige became such a hit the Forestry Commission of Scotland commissioned Mulholland to rework it in a more permanent medium so that it could remain on display indefinitely. The new sculptures are made from galvanized steel polished to a mirror finish. These figures are reflective in every sense of the word.

Rob Mulholland, Vestige © Marie-Hélène Sirois with CCLicense

Rob Mulholland, Vestige
© Marie-Hélène Sirois with CCLicense

My practise aims to explore all aspects of life. I’m interested in the theme of ancestry and continuity. Our world is in constant flux and our own personal lives are shaped by political and social powers beyond our control. I want to celebrate the individual, explore the resonance we have with the natural environment and convey how we are affected by the elemental forces of life and creation.

–Rob Mulholland, 2012, from his 2013 pdf book, available on his website.

Rob Mulholland, Vestige © Katy McDougall with CCLicense

Rob Mulholland, Vestige
© Katy McDougall with CCLicense

You can see more of Mulholland’s thought provoking work here.

Night Noise at the Palais Garnier: Conatus: La Nuit du Danseur

Palais Garnier, Paris © Christopher Chan with CCLicense

Palais Garnier, Paris
© Christopher Chan with CCLicense

Conatus: La Nuit du Danseur, or in English, Conatus: The Night of the Dancer, is an intriguing video by French multi-media artist Boris Achour. A tap dancer wearing a luminous mask moves alone by night through the exhibition The Power of Art at the Grand Palais in Paris. This is part of Achour’s Conatus series, which explores the driving force or effort of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself, known as conatus. Fascinating!

Réalisateur : Boris Achour
Chef Opérateur : Olivier Guéneau, assistant caméra : Thomas Cousin, ingénieur du son : Raphael Naquet, chef électro : Olivier Barré, électro : Mathis Barré, montage et étalonnage : Gwenaël Giard, mixage : Julien Alves.
Production : Eva Albarran, Antoine Cochain, Marguerite Vial.

Video via Boris Achour on Vimeo.

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