Project Cocoon | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Project Cocoon

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In a couple of weeks, Jacksonians will have an opportunity to participate in an international art event: Cocoon Jackson.

"Anyone can participate in constructing the Cocoon," says Kate Browne, an artist, writer and director who is bringing the project to Jackson. "The Cocoon is made almost entirely of local materials. It will be built by members of the community and is meant to reflect the collective consciousness of the city's residents."

Participants will build Cocoon Jackson, measuring 26 feet long by 10 feet high, in the Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St.) March 12 through 24, when it will open to the public. The project is part of a sculpture series that already has installations in Cragsmoor, N.Y., Mexico City, and Greenwood, Miss.

Inside the larger structure, individuals will contribute their personal cocoons, Browne says.

"These little cocoons are literal vessels for individuals' hopes and dreams for the future and collectively, they serve to commemorate and record the hopes of the community at large," she says. "I will also interview those who make little cocoons and record their hopes and wishes. The audio will play on loop as part of the Cocoon installation."

Browne, 51, grew up in rural Pennsylvania and graduated from Hampshire College in Massachusetts in 1978. She now lives and works in New York City with her husband, Eric Etheridge, and their daughter, Maud Etheridge.

Can you describe the work of a conceptual artist?
A conceptual artist produces work without language. In other words, I work through structures and imagery so people can relate to it without the use of words.

What drew you to Jackson to build Cocoon?
I am drawn to Jackson because of its rich history and its diversity of people.

Why is recording prayers important for the Cocoon experience?
The Cocoon project is a representation of multitudes of individual voices and expressions that, when gathered together, say something compelling and powerful about the community as a whole.

These recordings are done anonymously in a sound-proof place, compiled and put into an audio loop.

The power of the spoken word is integral to the experience. Each vision is going to be different; people will say many different things. The audio compilation is a chorus that speaks to where we are today in the community of Jackson.

My job is to bring as many people into the artwork as possible. It is not about my own conceptions of the place or of the community; rather, the participants shape the experience and dictate its ultimate meaning.

How will the cocoons be introduced to the Jackson community?
Individuals and groups in the area have begun constructing their own little cocoons. During the weeks of March 12 through 24, the Cocoon will be constructed, assembled and illuminated. The Cocoon Jackson pilgrimage, set for Friday, March 23, at 5:30 p.m., is a symbolic acknowledgement of the past, present and future of Jackson. Members of the community will process through downtown Jackson past sites of historical and personal importance. This procession is a shared experience for all involved. Woven mats, made by participants in the days preceding, will be carried through downtown during the procession, arriving ultimately in the Art Garden where Cocoon is installed. These mats cover the skeleton of the Cocoon and complete the structure.

We are asking people to help design the processional route by marking spots on a map that are important to them or to the history of Jackson. One such interactive map is on the wall of The Palette Café by Viking at the museum. The Cocoon skeleton will be in the Art Garden while close to 200 people come with the woven mats. Each individual in the procession wears a light around their neck. ... The procession casts shadows on the streets and buildings important to us as a group. The power of light is important symbolically to illuminate the sites along the route, some of which may have had troubled histories.

On Saturday, March 24, at 5:30 p.m., Cocoon Jackson will be illuminated at the Mississippi Museum of Art, and the public will be invited to enter the completed installation, encountering the collected little cocoons along with the recorded wishes and stories.

Elaborate on the psychological effects of "recovering a childlike state of wonder and surprise."
People participating in the physical construction have interesting experiences that are freeing and surprising. The process of constructing a little cocoon from found objects or weaving mats as a cohesive community carries a meaning that words alone cannot express. The agency of the individual is exercised through the construction or weaving or processing, and the processes are at the same time in service to a shared community goal. This connection of labor in service to a mutually beneficial end is strikingly powerful. It can be a healing process.

How did you develop the concept of cocoon sculptures?
As a writer and director in the theater, I collaborated directly with an audience. Cocoon is created outdoors, and people participate in constructing their sculptures, building the Cocoon and offering their individual prayers and statements. I am fairly invisible. Each Cocoon is about the people in the community and what they want to do with the project. We reach out to different people to get ideas for the material used to build it.

For example, in New York, Cocoon was built and shaped with interlocking circles that are shaped around gigs (hooks) with silver maple saplings while another New York location will use orange tubing. In Greenwood, willow was used for the Cocoon. Each large design is a 26-by-10-foot structure, including the frame or skeleton, and is covered by a semi-transparent skin, but the materials are locally sourced and tied to the community in a very real way. People take their experience very seriously. It has great meaning, and people who participate are very sincere.

Different cultures react to it differently. It's what makes the entire process so interesting and compelling.

What do you want readers to know about you and your work?
I think Jackson is really drawn to places with rich history and a diversity of people. My interest in Jackson comes from growing up in rural Pennsylvania and seeing the world the way I saw it growing up, combined with the elements I saw living in urban New York City. I think growing up in a rural setting is why I have an interest in outdoor work. Jackson is the largest city in a historically vast, rural state, and these characteristics of the place offer very interesting possibilities. In my experience, people will be surprised at the meaning and understanding they gain from participating in a project so uniquely tied to the history of consciousness of their community.

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