What Are All Those Fabric Strips Around Campus? An Interview with Jess Cummings ’17

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Some of the mysterious fabric strips tied to a Wesleyan emergency call box in the CFA

If you’re anything like me, you may have noticed a new addition to Wesleyan’s campus this fall. Is it a message from the squirrels? The aliens announcing their impending arrival on Foss? An underground side-mission in the Tour de Franzia? I sat down with the artist Jess Cummings ’17 to get to the bottom of the curious incident of the fabric in the night-time(/daytime/anytime)

Read more about Jess’ project after the jump!

Michelle: Can you just explain what this project was?

Jess: I’m in a class called Space and Materiality with Marcela Oteiza. In the class, we spend a lot of time thinking about spaces of non-traditional theater. One of the things we explore is site-specific performance. For a site-specific intervention project, we were supposed to choose a campus space and intervene in any way. I thought about spaces that were personal to me and meant something to me. I was drawn to residential spaces that I don’t have access to anymore or don’t know anyone who has access to them. I ended up choosing the path between Westco 1 and Music House.

M: Why that path?

J: It was a place I walked a lot at different times of day. In the morning, in the afternoon, late at night—walking along this path constantly brought up more memories. It wasn’t even that the memories happened while I was on this path, but the path brought up the memories that happened in the places at its endpoints.

Jess then outlined the structure of her project for me: For the week of Wednesday, October 7th – Tuesday, October 13th, she would walk the path between Westco 1 and Music House at different times of day. She invited people in her class to come with her on these walks, and many of them did. the guidelines for the walk/performance were: walk, clear your mind, take in the space around you, and let your mind float where it goes. If your mind goes to a certain word/phrase/song, write it on a piece of fabric and tie it to something nearby.

J: It was interesting to think how memories (both mine and other people’s) relate to the same space. I also thought a lot about how, through memories, we’re constantly imposing our mark on spaces. The fabric in the project made this a tangible imposition. It was interesting to think about imposing ownership that you feel over a public space.

M: Why the fabric strips?

J: I wanted it to be a lasting intervention in space. It’s interesting to see which ones are still there. You know the yellow cords that block off the grass in the CFA? They took down the ones on the yellow cords on the second to last day of the project. It was weird to see that you left your mark and then it was taken away. I didn’t realize the impact it would have on me, like feeling that they were taking away my memories in a way.

M: Did you have any interesting interactions after you did the project?

J: A friend was really upset about us leaving the fabric strips around because it’s littering. I didn’t really consider that it would even be thought of as littering. It’s interesting to think about the contrast between the project being deeply personal art and litter. I also found it interesting seeing the ramifications of the project and interactions with both friends and strangers. I wanted to explore the idea of taking personal experiences and making it public. People in my class asked me, “Are people going to read these?” I couldn’t tell them yes or no because you have no way of knowing. I know some people would go around and read every single one, but there are also people who never even noticed them, I’m sure. The whole project explored the idea of being an “anonymous artist” versus being open to other people with your art.

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Now that you know all about Jess’ super-cool project—and your fears about the impending alien invasion have been temporarily assuaged—take some time to engage with the project in whatever way feels right for you: maybe you’ll read some of the fabric strips, maybe you’ll just notice their presence on your walks around campus, maybe it will make you more intentional about the time you spend in transit between places. Whatever your response is, it’s really neat to hear about the things your classmates are up to around campus!