Our last day in Clarksdale was cold. We couldn’t feel our fingers and faces as we worked, but before we could leave we had to leave another little piece of our heart there. This piece is dedicated to and inspired by a special river-being and his Canoe mission. John takes people to the Mississippi River, on beautiful wooden canoes that he builds himself. He raises awareness to the way of the River – how it gathers, diverges and flows. And how through connecting to the one that is the river, we become a channel ourselves. There is an undercurrent of collective subconsciousness from which we gather and release back into the world. John’s connection to mindfulness is through the water but there are many ways to tap into the flow. We went down to the river, a group of strangers with a single mission, to row and move on. The rowing united us with it all. With the sounds and with the silences, with exertion and with release, with unconquerable nature in the shadow of never-resting industry. Wilderness is ever near. Even in the city. In the spirit of tiny weeds that grow in cracks in the cement, in the pigeons that roost on our ledges. These concrete caves of ours might be a shelter but nature is always present and amongst us. And like the Mississippi waters, the thread flows as one and as many – countless tributaries converge into the core strand which flows and churns and diverges into the delta. We are all tributaries, we are all delta, and as many and as one we merge into the sea. We flowed on.
Walking through the streets of Clarksdale, Mississippi is walking through history’s belly button. It’s all there, neatly packed in a small, tangled, half abandoned yet utterly alive and kicking town. A center, a core, a backbone, a womb, a birth place, a crossroads, a place that draws you in, that stays with you when you leave, that marks and defines and changes, like the mighty river nearby. We came here to have a cup of coffee with a stranger and ended up staying four days. We created two murals, canoed up and down and across the muddy waters, met people who are a force of nature, all the while accompanied by a soundtrack of the 24/7 no-ads Blues local radio station. We moved on, but shall return.
On our way from Selma AL to Vicksburg MS, we were connected by email to John in Clarksdale MS. We suggested meeting for coffee the next day, but he invited us to come by faster so that we could join him and friends in a canoe on the might Mississippi, the very next morning. So we took a right turn before Vicksburg, and found ourselves heading north on Highway 61. Somewhere en-route, among half-flooded fields and tempting diverging dirt-roads, we got to Leland – which turned out to be the birthplace of Jim Henson and where he grew up playing in the streams with his best friend, Kermit. We stopped for a quick visit at the “Birthplace of Kermit The Frog Museum” and symbolically parked ankle-deep in a muddy bog created by a broken pipe. The museum is full of the joy of creation, as well as Muppets galore. Stephanie, the beautiful soul in charge, joined the Heart Community and before we even left had already placed her heart with the Frog for Whom It Is Named, the fabulous and ever-green Kermit. We moved on, Clarksdale beckoned.
Heading from Alabama to Mississippi, we took the marvel that is the Natchez Trace Parkway – a road that is a national park that is a journey through history. While still essentially just an asphalt road crossing beautiful landscape, of which there are thousands across the continent, the experience on the Trace is very much different. The intent and the care invested here are felt the second you get on. The acoustics, even the air itself, change. There is quiet, there is peace. And as you slowly pass through this wonderland, you encounter scores of historical markers, progressively accumulating to tell the tale of how this land was won and who had won it. It’s a complex and dichotomous experience – a sense of awe of the enterprise of mankind and heartache from the atrociousness and self-centered hubris that historically accompany it, almost by default. One of our stops was named Witch Dance (see photo below). An almost unintentional spotlight to an ever-present parallel road through human history, one on which powerful and independent women were demonized and prosecuted and burnt at the stake. Yet, progress has been constant throughout the centuries. Like waves licking the shores, slowly turning stones to sand, turning hard unmovable axiom to an infinity of shifting possibilities. Regardless, no matter the atrocities, the spirit cannot be quenched. We will eventually be gone, a mere blip on this earth, and it will shrug off and move on. And for women and for men, for whom time is briefer, we shall carry the stories and lessons of the past within us, from generation to generation, from wave to pounding wave, and eventually shift the tides.
Our daily movements – waking, sleeping, taking a shower, eating and most importantly, walking – all are completely entwined in the making of art. There is no more separation, no buffer, no pause. We work where we stop to eat, sleep where we worked and discover new roads to travel in search of a new “canvas”. Geography, social life, health, finances, all the way to bowel movements – life and art affect each other constantly, are one and the same. This symbiotic relationship makes us somewhat unraveled at the edges. It exposes our nerve endings and blends us into the habitats we explore. There are days that we feel stretched, in the words of Bilbo: “like butter scraped over too much bread”. This piece – the first of a new series called Body of Work – was done at a coin laundromat in Gulfport, just outside Biloxi. It was conceived, prepared, put up, documented and taken down by the time our clothes were dry. We had just passed through Biloxi, a beach city defined by its casino-hotels. This whole stretch of shore felt like a ghost town this time of year. Its wind swept boardwalk was deserted, its huge blocks of hotels on top of shiny casinos were dark. All-you-can-eat seafood restaurants – painted in bubble gum pink and green and with doors shaped like a massive shark and alligator – opened their maws to admit the crowds that simply weren’t there. The striking contrast of it all, on the pale cold backdrop of the sea, was haunting. This city was programmed to have the high tide flowing through its arteries and now, in the low tide, it was struggling to find meaning amongst the empty shells revealed. Us two – who were used to walking slowly upon the sand and admire the shells and driftwood – now, adrift in the flood, we are struggling to find a root to hang on to. We moved on.