The Encampment is a large-scale public participatory installation that proposes the archaeological dig as its metaphor. A dig for artifacts is replaced by a dig into the collective memory of a public space and its history.

The Encampment continues to attract interest due to its adaptability to place and history. To date we have presented 4 versions of the artwork and continue to look for new opportunities where people would like to explore and reveal aspects of a controversial history through collective engagement.

2006 – Toronto – History of Mental Health between 1870 and 1940 before the introduction of chemical treatment.

2007 – New York City – History of quarantine including prisons, asylums, poor houses, orphanages on Roosevelt Island.

2008 – Ottawa – National history of the treatment of intellectually disabled individuals from 1830 to 2000.

2012 – Toronto – History of civilians, native and colonial, during the invasion of Canada by US forces during the War of 1812.

The Encampment invites people to participate in the research of stories/narratives which reflect individuals from the specific history being explored. Then over a three-month artistic process Thom Sokoloski and Jenny-Anne McCowan work with collaborators selected from a public call for participation. Like archaeologists, they commit to “getting their hands dirty” in unearthing and transposing the stories of a particular history into a massive experiential expression.

Presented at sunset, the public embarks on a nocturnal journey to explore the illuminated tents. Within each tent is an assemblage of metaphorical artifacts evoking the story of an individual from the past, a visual expression of presence and absence. The entire process represents a fragile yet powerful glimpse into how society understands and interprets its past through a relational process of creative engagement.

What distinguishes The Encampment from most conceptual and relational art practices is the artists’ insistence on the primacy of the visual and aesthetic impact of the work. Though socially and historically relevant, interactive and truly public through participation, the artwork also creates an optical artwork on a grand-scale. From afar the massive assemblage of tents creates a glowing sculptural form, while up close the work offers accessibility into an experiential and visceral intimacy with content.

The intended effect of the artwork is that of a contemporary gesamtkunstwerk, an artwork that creates a total experiential environment of space, light, sound, form and story.

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