Thursday April 24th 2014

Art Spotting

Grand Temple: Q&A with artist Sarah Bouchard

By: Jamie Thompson

Inside Portland’s Masonic Temple, a curious transformation is taking place. Artist Sarah Bouchard is in the process of creating site specific artwork inside the Temple that draws from the rich symbolism of the Masonic Order. This is an unprecedented project, as it is the first public art installation inside a functioning Masonic Temple.

Orbs in Process. (Studio Image). 2012.

The project will be completed and open for a private premiere in June, coinciding with the New England Foundation for the Arts Creative Communities Exchange Conference. It will open to the public following the private premiere.

The installation is multifaceted, and will consist of hundreds of papier mache orbs inspired by bee’s eggs, a 25-feet tall papier mache bee’s nest, and a 30-minute audio tour. Viewers move through the installation while listening to the audio component on an iPod, provided at the front desk. Historical information about the Masonic Order as well as the significance of the rooms in the Temple will be interspersed with a ” fabricated soundscape” to give viewers an impression of the Temple at its zenith of activity. The sound of bees buzzing will get increasingly louder as viewers inch closer to the Eastern Star Hall, the ultimate destination of the tour. It is here that viewers will be confronted with the enormous bee’s nest.

Bouchard was very much inspired by the importance of bees as a symbol within the Masonic Order. For the Masons, bees and the hive represent industry and regeneration. From Bouchard’s description of the project: ” 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.” Thus the egg-like orbs arranged throughout the Temple reinforce the concept of new life. This is especially profound when taken in context with the Temple’s status as a grand building with rich history that is in need of restoration. Bouchard’s project is sure to raise public awareness that the preservation of such buildings and traditions is of vital importance. The installation is anticipated to lead to further arts and cultural events within the Temple.

What inspired you to create this project?

I was initially inspired by the Temple when the Masons initially entertained the idea of selling the building, several years ago.  I was struck by the grandeur and intensity of the space, and shocked that the interiors had remained essentially hidden from the general public for the past 100 years.  I remember thinking that if I could have access to the building, being allowed to work in the space as an artist would be a phenomenal experience.

I thought this would be impossible, so I decided to take it on.

Once I received the go-ahead to set up a studio within the building, I began researching the Masonic Order more seriously.  I was intrigued by the intersection between Freemasonry and Art.  I was moved by the similar trajectories … Freemasonry was originally an order of practicing Masons, focused on the physical craft of masonry.  As the society of Freemasonry expanded, it evolved into what is today termed Speculative Masonry, essentially a philosophical system that uses the principles and symbolism of masonry to communicate a way of life.  When I think about the visual or fine arts, I see them as evolving from a similar focus on physical craft to a more conceptual practice in which ideas hold prominence.

I believe there is a deep wealth of knowledge and skill embedded in historical spaces.  The ritual significance of the Temple’s interiors inspired me to think about how to reawaken the space.

Can you expand on the symbolism of bees and its significance to the installation?

Bees and the hive have long been symbols of industry and regeneration within the Masonic Order.  As a woman working within a fraternal order, I found myself needing a point of entry to engage with freemasonry, on a symbolic level.  A colleague brought the importance of bees within the order to my attention, and I dove into a study of their own order and habits.  I continue to research the symbolic significance of bees across cultures and throughout history.

With this project, I am bringing together an awareness of the decline of the bee population, the decline in contemporary interest in freemasonry, and the dying out of Maine’s paper industry as three consequences of our current way of life.  I’m interested in thinking about how, or if, there is a common thread.

The intersection of visual and audio stimulation is central to the piece. Can you explain the inspiration behind that?

I don’t see the intersection of visual and audio stimulation as central to the piece, but I do see the potential of an audio component as a compelling way to move through the space while absorbing the historical significance of the building.

One of the most powerful artistic pieces I’ve experienced was Janet Cardiff’s “Her Long Black Hair,” an audio tour of Central Park, coupled with a selection of photographs. The melding of what I was experiencing, in “reality” while walking through Central Park and what took place within Cardiff’s audio tour fused “art” with “life” in a way I’ll never forget.  It both transported me out of time and landed me immediately within the current moment in a way I hadn’t experienced since hallucinogens or prolonged meditation.

What do you hope to accomplish with the installation? What do you hope viewers will take away from the experience?

I am first interested in simply completing the installation to see how the work interacts with the architecture and symbolic presence of the space.  It’s been an ambitious project, and just having it behind me will feel incredible.

For the Portland community, and the Masons, I would love for this piece to facilitate an open dialogue aimed at preserving and restoring the phenomenal space of the Temple, ideally opening it up as a public cultural space while maintaining the active Masonic use.

I’d like viewers to be pleasantly surprised and transported by the piece.  I’d like to leave viewers pondering what we choose to carry forward with us through time, what we choose to leave behind, and the consequences of those choices.

For more information about the project, visit the following websites:

USA Projects

Mahatma Projects

 

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