Life Art + In Fragments
An exploration of “Life Art” through a series of radical rituals
Hello and happy full moon —
This is my first email newsletter in almost four years, now coming to you through the medium of Substack, though the subscriber list itself dates back to 2003. Thank you for following along over the years.
Tonight is the first full moon of 2022 — a so-called “Cancer Moon” whose higher qualities of motherlike nurturing, receptivity, and learning seem to offer an appropriate context for the project that I would like to share with you this evening, a project that’s been in the works for the last six years.
Many of you probably joined this newsletter because of your interest in my earlier work with data visualization and interactive storytelling, from which this new project is quite a departure. It began in 2015, following a 2–3 year period of creative block, when I was feeling the acute limitations of the Internet as a medium for making art, without yet knowing what other medium I might adopt instead. Around that time, after several years of intense study and exploration, I found my way to a series of harrowing plant medicine experiences that radically broke open any sense of a frame, leaving me with the uncanny sense that life itself is the medium.
While integrating this strange realization, I began to wonder how and where to explore the newfound practice that I began to think of as “Life Art” — art that works with an actual life situation: using tools, materials, stories, and dilemmas that exist in the chosen frame of experience, as a way of evolving the practitioner’s world.
I was living in Brooklyn, New York at the time, while considering the possibility of returning to my family’s ancestral land in the small town of Shelburne, Vermont. A place of material abundance and great natural beauty, High Acres Farm also harbored a difficult family history of alcoholism, divorce, depression, infighting, trauma, and secret abuse, stretching back in our lineage for generations. Haunted by its patterns of suffering, yet inspired by its future potential, it occurred to me that this particular life situation offered a natural context for me to explore and practice Life Art.
I began to create and perform a series of “rituals” on our family’s land in Vermont, working with the shadows of its past as a way of preparing the place (and myself) for the best possible future. A few months into this process, I decided to leave Brooklyn permanently and relocate to Vermont, so that I could immerse myself more fully in this practice of Life Art.
I arrived home on March 5, 2016 — and my mother ended up dying that very afternoon (after a long illness), a couple hours after I’d finished unloading my U-Haul truck.
The timing of her death was uncanny, and made this notion of Life Art take on a dramatically deeper dimension — one that continued to reveal itself over the following six years, as the world of High Acres Farm gradually transformed and evolved alongside these radical rituals.
Today, I’d like to share the resulting project with you — a series of short films that document each of the twenty-one rituals performed, collectively titled: In Fragments.
The full project is freely available for you to explore — including a video introduction; a brisk trailer; a friendly FAQ; a photographic index of people, places, and tools; a family genealogy; a collection of images; a set of illustrated essays about each ritual; and the twenty-one films themselves — available both as individual fragments or as an undivided whole. There’s also a brief text describing the notion of Life Art, an essay about the project’s origins, and another about the special gathering where the films premiered for an audience of around 100 family members and friends at High Acres Farm this past fall.
The films feature gorgeous original music that was composed and performed by the amazing Julio Monterrey — and were edited with the invaluable help of Scott Thrift.
Given the scale and complexity of this multi-layered work, I thought it would be helpful to guide you through the series of rituals one at a time. So, for the next twenty-one weeks, I plan to write an original commentary about one ritual per week, which I’ll be sending out by email to the folks on this list, through updates such as this one.
As the winter unfolds into spring, I hope these brief weekly updates will be a source of learning and light for you — perhaps even inspiring you to create your own Life Art.
With many blessings,
Thanks for reading Jonathan Jennings Harris. Subscribe for free to receive new posts.
Missed your work and glad you are back.