An Archive of Site Specific Works by Artist Sarah Bouchard
I am working on a large-scale multimedia installation at an active Masonic Temple in Portland, Maine. The installation is comprised of a 25-foot bees’ nest, hundreds of egg-like orbs placed within the most significant rooms of the Temple, and an audio tour that fuses Masonic history with a fabricated soundscape to communicate an experience of the Temple at the height of its activity.
This unprecedented project – the first public art installation inside a functioning Masonic Temple – is the keystone event marking the Masonic Trustees’ initiative to increase the Temple’s visibility and accessibility. It is anticipated that this project will be the first in a series of innovative arts and cultural events at the Temple, enabling preservation of the space for both traditional and public use.
I initially became interested in Portland’s Masonic Temple while touring the building on behalf of a non-profit arts organization. I was awed by the architecture and presence of the space, and shocked that its remarkable interiors had remained essentially hidden from public view for the past 100 years. While completing my MFA at Maine College of Art, I successfully presented a proposal to the Masonic Trustees to situate myself as an artist-in-residence within the building. I have maintained my studio at the Temple since October of 2010.
In 2011, I was awarded a Good Idea Grant from the Maine Arts Commission for this project. I am currently seeking additional funding to complete the work. A public exhibition will follow.
The Masonic Temple project is the most expansive installation I have undertaken. One of my most recent installations entitled white cube (72 free-standing ladders), was exhibited at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. I have also created numerous painting, photography and collage series exhibited on both the West and East Coasts of the U.S. over the past decade. My work is represented by the Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells, Maine, where I recently collaborated on an installation exhibition in July of 2012. I have also been asked to create a site-specific piece to kick-off the Centennial celebration of the University of Maine at Farmington, opening at the UMF Art Gallery on September 12, 2013.
The most striking sculptural component of the Masonic Temple installation will be an enormous bees’ nest created out of paper mache, measuring approximately 25 feet in diameter, suspended in the Eastern Star Hall, on the fifth floor of the Temple. The Eastern Star Hall was once the ritual room for the women’s auxiliary of the Masonic Order.
Ten to twenty-five paper mache spheres, illuminated from within and measuring 24” – 48” in diameter, will be placed or suspended in each of the other significant rooms of the Temple, including the Scottish Rite Reading Room, the Armory, Boody Hall, Corinthian Hall, and the Scottish Rite Theater.
These spherical orbs reference the egg-like potential for new life within the space. Bees and the hive have long been symbols of industry and regeneration within the Masonic Order. When a Queen Bee is ready to lay her brood, she finds an unused, low-traffic space to build her nest. The work always begins with one queen laying eggs to create a new colony. In the context of this project, the Eastern Star Hall serves as the site of the nest, with the orbs in other rooms symbolizing the spread of this new life and energy from a decidedly private space throughout the more active rooms of the building.
A 30-minute audio tour will lead visitors through the Temple and the installation. It will fuse factual and historical information about each of the rooms with a fabricated soundscape to give the listener the experience of walking through the Temple when it was at the height of its activity. The listener may be ascending a flight of stairs and suddenly find themselves enmeshed in a crowd of Masons, or crossing the threshold into a room, they may “interrupt” a ritual in progress. Visitors will ultimately be guided to the Eastern Star Hall. As they get closer to the nest, the sound of buzzing will gradually increase from an occasional passing bee to a concentrated hum of activity.
Visitors will pick up a headset and iPods containing the audio tour at the front desk on the Temple’s first floor. The tour will begin following a brief set of safety instructions, and there will be docents on hand to help guide people, as needed. Active Masons will be invited to oversee the opening event, positioned in full gear, along the tour.
At a recent open house, I was finally able to create an image of the Scottish Rite Theater, one of the most impressive rooms in the Temple. It was shot with my iPhone, so the image quality is nowhere near Luc Demers’ photographs, but you can still get a sense of the space.
Along the back of the stage are the original painted sets used by the Masons, hand-painted on large sheets of heavy cloth raised and lowered using a system of pulleys and weights. You can make out the bottom of one of the sets just under the red curtain. The image was taken from the balcony.
I was given copies of the Architectural Plans of the Temple in 2009, when the building was being offered for sale. They were in a sad state – entire sections were missing or unreadable. My first task was to re-create the plans on the drafting table in my home studio. I traced and re-drew the cross-sections onto architectural vellum, then had this work photographed and printed on Hahnemuhle fine art paper.
To help visualize and communicate the form the final installation would take, I cut archival paper into small orbs and built a nest, to scale, upon the plans. Jay York photographed the resulting collages, pictured below. I will be playing with the form the orb installations will take in each room in the upcoming months, but the nest will most certainly be suspended in the Eastern Star Hall.
To secure professional documentation of the Masonic Temple, I asked Luc Demers to come in and document the space, prior to my installation. In some instances, he stitched together multiple images to create a full picture of a room. In exchange, Luc created a few images for his “Darkened Room” series.
Over the past year, my original vision for the Masonic Temple Project has evolved. What was originally intended as a large-scale installation situated in the center of the Corinthian Hall (the ritual space) of the Temple, has become a more intimate, multi-faceted project whose primary physical presence will instead be situated within the Eastern Star Hall (the ritual space for the female strain of the Masonic Order). My original intention for the project was to bring light and life into the building, opening the space to new activity and generating renewed interest in the architectural presence of the building.
Rather than focus all of my energy within the core of the space, still used today by Masons, I wanted to address the origin of my personal activity within the space, interestingly originating in the Ladies Sitting Room, and the Eastern Star Hall.
After delving through Masonic texts that spoke extensively of the ideals of the Order, I needed to find a way I could actually enter the space, philosophically. I needed to establish a sense of common ground. I was also struggling to legitimize my choice of materials for the project. After over a year of material research, I still found myself drawn to paper mache.
Deciding I needed a break from overtly Masonic literature, I focused my explorations on two symbols that had come up again and again in my discussions: bees and the hive. I began to look into bees: their social order, their environmental relevance, their body structure, and finally, how they build their nests. It was while looking through my 9-year-old daughter’s book on insects that I stumbled upon images of the exact form I had been working with in my studio.
I read further to learn that the nests were made of a natural form of paper mache using saliva and found fibers. The concept had finally caught up to the physical process of making (not how I would normally choose to attack a project.)