Fort Gorges may be the most visible and least visited fort in all of Maine. It sits in the mouth of Portland Harbor on a tiny ledge called Hog Island, close enough to the city you can almost touch it. It has an unsatisfying past and is nearly impossible to access unless you have your own boat.
All of which makes it a compelling place for performance art, said Erin Colleen Johnson, artistic director of “A Long Wait,” a month-long performance series at Fort Gorges that starts on Saturday.
Johnson has arranged three performances of site-specific dance, music and verse for July, with others following on July 15 and July 23. The artists will create multi-sensory art that responds to the fort as an icon and inspiration. Each artist will create a distinct piece, and in one instance invite the audience to participate by, among other things, entering the water with flotation devices. In another, musicians with brass instruments — the instruments of war — will stand in the casements and make music that reverberates within the fort and, perhaps, beyond.
“I think it’s fascinating,” Johnson said of the fort. “It’s close to the city, but very few people have spent any time there. It remains this place that is both close to us and, at the same time, very far away.”
For each performance, there’s room for 45 people, who will be taken to the island by boat from Chandler’s Wharf in Portland Harbor. The performances will unfold on the fort’s parade grounds and along its muscular structure.
Construction of the fort began in 1858 and was completed in 1865. The need for the fort grew out of the War of 1812, but construction didn’t begin until just before the Civil War. Work proceeded slowly, and the fort was obsolete before it was finished.
“The place has never really fulfilled any real purpose and never had a chance to be what it could be,” Johnson said.
Until now. Fort Gorges’s long wait to become a purposeful place ends with “A Long Wait,” she said.
The performance-art series comes during a time of heightened interest in the fort. A nonprofit group, Friends of Fort Gorges, formed last year to explore resurrecting the Civil War site.
The art piece is part of the larger effort to raise awareness about the fort’s history and make it safe and accessible. The group hosts clean-up events and picnics, as well fund-raising swims from East End Beach.
The performance-art series begins on Saturday with Anne Wolfe-Pauly, whom Johnson describes as a “social practice artist.” She is from Chicago and designs programs that involve audience participation. Her piece at Fort Gorges, “Future Weather,” is about climate change and changing weather patterns and will include mirrors, windsocks and flotation devices for people who want to get into the water, Johnson said.
The piece will flow across the island along the ledge and will be visible from Portland harbor, Johnson said.
On July 15, the dance-theater company knightworks from Portland will use movement, music and verse in an evening program about our need and impulse to make art to combat fear and uncertainty. This piece is called “Spectacular Black Death” and is about making dance “at the end of the world,” Johnson said.
The series concludes July 23 with throat singing, trumpets and trombones, featuring composer and vocalist Ken Ueno, a former U.S. Military Academy student and Berklee College of Music graduate. He will place musicians within the gun casements, facing the inner courtyard. Instead of firing canons, Johnson said, they will launch a volley of music.
A series of performance art pieces are scheduled throughout July on Fort Gorges, one of the least-visible and least-visited islands in Casco Bay.
WHEN: Three performances throughout July
WHERE: Fort Gorges, Portland Harbor
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday: “Future Weather” by Anna Wolfe-Pauly. Rain date: 3:30 p.m. July 10
HOW MUCH: $10
7 p.m. July 15, “Spectacular Black Death” by knightworks. Rain date: 7:30 p.m. July 16
HOW MUCH: $15
2 p.m. July 23, “Fortress Brass” by Ken Ueno. Rain date: 1:30 p.m. July 24
HOW MUCH: $15
FOR ALL PERFORMANCES, meet at Chandler’s Wharf 30 minutes before the event’s start time. The cost includes round-trip ferry ride and admission to the event.Bring water, chair and sunscreen. The grounds are rocky and uneven. There is no wheelchair access, and there are no bathrooms.
MORE INFO: alongwait.com