UNLESS was produced by Now + There, a Boston-based curatorial non-profit, and commissioned by Boston Properties for the Prudential Center. Made of repurposed construction debris netting, UNLESS considered the intersection of material production and the circulation of goods, urban development, social inequities and climate change. While huge in scale, UNLESS was visually very minimal, and could be experienced in an instant. Its intricacies came from the act of patching and repairing used netting, and collaboratively embroidering it with excerpts from Pope Francis's text Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home (2015)
I think of UNLESS as a project with two distinct audiences: the most evident one consisted of the public that used or visited the space in which it hung, the main entrance to the Prudential Center building at 800 Boylston Street in Boston. This audience included tourists to the site, shoppers, diners, residents of the Tower and people on their way to or at work. But at the heart of UNLESS was a process of collaborative making that created another audience, one which had a very different experience of the piece and in many cases never saw it hanging in its final location. This audience of makers however witnessed the piece growing from scrap materials and layouts to a 60 x 60 foot tapestry that was later trimmed to fit two windows. This audience participated in embroidering fragments of sentences excerpted from Pope Francis’s ecological treatise, Laudato Si’, into repurposed neon orange debris netting. They saw these coalesce into sentences that ran in concentric circles around a central blue circle.
I wanted UNLESS both to call attention to the urgency of the climate predicament the global community finds itself in, and propose an exercise in community building and participatory making in exchange for a living wage. The scale of the piece is nothing compared to the scale of the challenge we face, yet it presented a large enough hurdle, given both the size of the space and the deadlines, to have to work quickly, involve as many people as possible, make do with imperfect materials and a variety of approaches to craft. The many hands at work in UNLESS are visible in subtle details like sewing and embroidery technique and thread color. I love that in the end mostly women worked on this piece. I love that it drew together two predominately Puerto Rican groups: five students who came to MassArt after their school closed down temporarily in 2017 following the hurricanes, and a group of elders from La Villa Victoria community in Boston’s South End, which since its founding in 1968, stands as a model of resistance to gentrification and community organizing.
The reason I chose to isolate some of Pope Francis’s words in this monumental tapestry is not to uphold a singular history of religious teachings, but because his text frames the climate crisis as a moral crisis. He asks us to reflect in our own ways and in our own communities upon the question of what it means to be human at a time when we have sent our planet into a state of hospice. This is a deeply traumatic subject we are all approaching with various shades of denial. UNLESS and the work I have been making subsequently illustrates certain values of humility, partnership, quietness, frugality, even while containing powerful emotions of anger, sadness, frustration and grief. It hung in the space as a banner of alarm, as much as a harbinger of repairs to come.
Made with Eoin Jaquith,Tanisha Pacheco Rodriguez, Jacksira Rodriguez, Ashley Rivera, Katelyn Rios, Sabrina Sorondo, Meegan Williams, and members of the IBA community.