Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Packrat on Bumpkin Island

This is the companion post to this more formal-looking page.
Packrat was excited to be a part of the 2011 Bumpkin Island Art Encampment. Bumpkin Island is a small island in the Boston Harbor with an interesting and layered history of human occupation. At various points in recent history, it has been used as a farm, children's hospital, military base and park. It is clearly within eyeshot of downtown Boston but is far enough removed that it was used as a camp for German sailors during World War I.

There is architectural evidence of 4 clearly delineated waves of human occupation. Currently, it has more historical relics than useful facilities and is maintained as a park with a strangely casual relationship between historical preservation and ecological practicality. The vegetation has the typical conflict between native and invasive species but is made richer by the persistence of overgrown ornamentals and fruit trees from long gone gardens and agricultural fields. Because the island is a park, much of this historical record is preserved. We became interested in the diverse histories of objects on Bumpkin island as a key to understanding some of the complex relationships that make up the current Bumpkin Island. Packrat is Dirk Adams, Helen White and Jesse Kaminsky.

We chose to work in the oldest surviving structure on the island, a farm house from the early 1800s. We were allowed to clear some of the brush, since it was an invasive species.
these were our tools:
We began by collecting samples. We proceeded as if we were going to collect a sample of one of everything on the island and started with that was most interesting to us. We acknowledge the bias in this method. Here, we are collecting a portion of the Pokeweed plant.
That sample is bagged:
and logged. We identified the object and categorized it according to what type of process brought it to the island: atmospheric, oceanic, anthropogenic or terrestrial
We then flagged the location of the sample with a numbered flag

and created an infrastructure of wooden stakes along the walking pathsDirk carried a lot of the flagsWe then tied color-coded string to the numbered flagThe string was color-coded to mean: blue=oceanic, black=atmospheric, red/orange=anthropogenic and green=terrestrial. We colored the string with sharpies, like this:The wooden stakes were used to route the string back to the central collectionWe ran the string coming from the flags along the stakes so that atmospheric was at the top, followed by oceanic, terrestrial and anthropogenic.The stakes were pre-marked in one-inch increments, we used staples to hold the string loosely in placeI estimate we covered a half-mile of trailsHere are the numbered balls of string, waiting to be connected to the central collection funnelSince we were working in a public park, we had to be careful to route everything away from where people walked or high enough overhead that it would not be in the way. Here are some of the strings routed from one of the main hubs, over the walking path and into the old farmhouseOur central collection funnel was made with the same cotton string we tied to the flags. We needed to secure string around the doorway to build the funnel so Dirk and I played catch with a ball of string for 6 hours. I had a broken wrist alreadyAn important restriction with this art encampment is that you could only build with what you can carry. String can be carried in a very compact spool and yet can take up a remarkable amount of space when it's unwound. I fell in love with this curve early on.and the way the early morning sun came through the windowHere is the first wall, almost finishedlaying out the framework for the second wallthe second wall makes it more of a funnelPhotographing a large scale installation is always difficult, especially without a wide angle lens. I use the photoshop to photomerge a lot, here is my favorite panorama that I made in photoshopHere is another one from the side that turned out a little rougherand a nice shot of the morning light coming through the eastern window
After the funnel was complete, we placed the 35 samples we collected inside so that you could trace the line back to the original, flagged locationHere are a few other samples we collected, number 10 is a rose hipand number 11 is raspberry
After 3 days of installation and 6 hours of living time, we began dismantling the funnel. We started by rolling the string up on the flags back to the main funnel. The larger ones were farther away. Here are a bunch of them waiting to be cut loose.
Look for them at the Bumpkin Island follow up show at a Fort Point gallery soon.


  1. Love your documentation. Let us know when you have the Fort Point Gallery show.

  2. This is awesome Jesse! Will share with the Natural resources crew at the Boston Harbor Islands, I'll let you know their feedback!

  3. Hi Jesse,
    Find your blog fascinating. Lots of stuff here and music too.

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Appreciate. Let's keep in touch. I have one or two Commandos records and will post them soon.

  4. Thanks Andy,
    Glad you like it! I'd love to know if you know anything more about the Commandos. I'm assuming that they were Indonesian but haven't found anything else about them, aside from a few cover scans online.