The Ground as People, 2015, Great American Performance Art Festival, Rosekill Farm, Rosendale, NY
Two barbells were made for this performance and installation. One barbell was a tree trunk that carried buckets on each side. The buckets were reminiscent and symbolic of lifting heavy containers of clean drinking water for long distances in countries that no longer have the luxury of providing their citizens with enough water. As a child in Albania, I remember carrying huge bottles of water, up four flights of stairs so we could have enough for the week. Yet, instead of water, the buckets carried rocks. They carried, and I carried the weight of the land. I could not measure the weight of the rocks. I was carrying an unknown weight, a weight that can only be lifted on the ground.
Ian Deleón's performance ended and intertwined with mine. He pulled an empty boat through the meadows by his neck. He had nothing on his back but a rope that dragged the boat. He waited in the water with the boat until I was no longer physically able to lift the "barbell" and the rocks/land it carried.
I jumped in the water. Another woman, Ivy Castellanos, got in the empty boat. Ian and I, pulled and swam the boat out in the middle of the lake. There was a floating platform in the water, waiting there with a different barbell. This barbell was made of a metal beam and tractor tires. I got on the platform, as did Ivy Castellanos. I tried to lift the weight over my head, time and time again. I could not do it.
When I was lifting on land, I realized the ground had given me an unexpected power and resistance. The water, on the other hand, did not give any strength back. Not only did I have to balance on top of the platform on water, but I had to push off of the water. I kept hearing everyone's encouragement from the shore. They were waiting there with canteens and torches, for me to complete an impossible task. It was as if they were part of a ceremony. Yet, they were giving me a vigil, for the land I had left behind.
From the platform, the people looked like a bed of unweathered fireflies. The barbell and it's bumper plates became a reference to floating devices for survival. The two surviving bodies on the platform, in the middle of the water, at night, could only survive with the other persons presence. The strength and resistance once provided by the ground was now provided from the people.
There was an unexpected failure from the inability to be "grounded". The success or failure of lifting the weight overhead was dependent on another person. It reminded me of the refugees I had witnessed leaving Albania in a little boat at night and waiting in the middle of the ocean until another boat got to them. The piece became about struggle, survival and interdependence. Sometimes, the only way to overcome and conquer the Sisyphean struggle is with someone else.
The barbell was finally able to be lifted overhead when Ivy and I lifted the barbell together, both struggling, both surviving and both overcoming. Once what seemed like an impossible task was conquered, the boat was left empty, in the middle of the water, the barbell with tractor tires remained on the unbalanced, ever-moving platform and Ivy, Ian and I swam back to shore in the darkness. The next day, during daylight, people swam out to the platform to try and lift the barbell. The floating barbell had became a functional installation. People were its activation, as long as they tried and failed with one another.