In collaboration with the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center, Artivism in Maine, Restorative Art Works, and Helping Incarcerated Individuals Transition
At the Emery Community Arts Center in Farmington
TUG works rhizomatically, with subterranean rootstalks thickened by being alive in the world. Our obsessive observing and incessant question-posing feed the buds and nodes that become our practice, entangled as it is in our relentless braiding together of creativity, critique, and citizenship.
Sea/sky, blood, earth, you emerged from such nourishment, one thing leading to another, sometimes so organically that their eruptions felt simultaneous, albeit adjacent.
Like in the beginning.
We were caring for Gaelyn’s mother from afar, a second embolic stroke having pushed her into vascular dementia. Escalating cycles of emergencies, which were always met with our full-throttled attentiveness, brought harsh clarity despite the various disruptions that such capaciousness engendered. And then, near death.
For Gaelyn, overseeing her mother’s recovery and relocation to our home in Maine meant opening herself up to being rent asunder, and not just by the all-out, total flip in the parent-child relationship. The behavioral and psychiatric symptoms caused by damage to the brain can render a person with dementia unable to control or prevent what they do or say, and feeling lost, worried, anxious, vulnerable, helpless, and frustrated is common. For the person who steps in to provide essential care, dementia transforms the clock into a 36-hour day. Running a race with no fixed finish line tests the limits of one’s exhaustion, and the barrage of repeating conversations dulls the mind like a brain tattoo.
We sought refuge (or was it distraction?) photographing inside the disheveled boundaries of the old cemeteries nearby, drawn to their patina and to their loneliness, to the apocryphal stories we imagined and to the simple scaffolding that propped up the most tenuous of headstones, stricken with age and warped by the branching shape and creep of seeds, grasses, and roots. The poet William Cullen Bryant once referred to the world as “one mighty sepulcher.” Were this true, on whom does responsibility fall to care for all the mounting dead amongst us, we wondered, as we found ourselves taking a slight detour to connect with volunteers from the Maine Old Cemetery Association.
In the end, however, walking among the shadows and casting our sights on scales of death were not, in fact, what the thing was trying to tell us we should know. “Relinquish the outcome,” a friend advised Gaelyn, who had become visibly invaded by grief. And, so, we did.
Imagining freedom, whether as decarceration if not outright abolition, requires empathy, and empathy—literally, the capacity to feel (pathos) together (em)—involves tapping into the part of ourselves that is relational. Sea/sky, blood, earth, you starts from that which is relational, in this case, the experience of aging rooted in the body, to gather some finer meaning about fragility, resilience, and the performance of care. Incarceration accelerates the aging process and complicates the essential, basic task of tending to the period of life before death. We carry pain on all sides, and compassion (a word whose Latin root means “I suffer with”) needs to do the heavy lifting. Tracing a relationship of kinship among caregivers, Returning Citizens, families, and reentry advocates, this multifaceted exhibition (which includes performances, a presentation, and a Franklin County Community Conversation) aims to foster reform for elderly and terminally ill incarcerated individuals and raise awareness of the presence of Returning Citizens.
TUG Collective: Gaelyn and Gustavo Aguilar (Artistic Directors)
Image at top: TUG, Landscape No. 2, digital work, archival pigment print on Hahnemühle German etching paper, limited edition of six, 20 x 24 in., 2021.