A Dance With the Environment.

The Pillars in Our Midst is a dance with the environment itself, but mostly to represent a
feeling. The artistic process ponders how to dance with the surroundings, but have it be a
gestural effect.

“The twirling figure brought it about. I'm not a dancer or a performer,” explains Tessie
Word about her approach.

“I discovered that trying to perform a role is humbling. Trying to pay respect to a
silenced historical figure allowed the piece to unfold. There's an internal silence and
everything folds into that: anxiety, waiting, inarticulation, gestures, twirling visuals,


Tessie Word, The Pillars in our Midst (2:52)


The enacted figure is that of Charity Lamb, who was a victim of her husband's violent
abuse. Her attempts to escape burdened her with one, final and violent choice. Charity's
peers in mid-19th century pioneer Oregon could either sentence her to death or imprison
her forever. The artist gravitates toward a method in which to represent an absence of
judgment for Oregon's first convicted murderess.

“That gaze was my direction. I wanted an atmosphere of only looking. Both the rock and
the tree stumps are pillars. I was thinking of religious themes of patient suffering like
Saint Simon. I also wanted to represent that we are fixed in our society and families in
certain ways and are trapped there under observation. The rock for Charity represents an
inhospitable place that she had to cling to and endure.

“I didn't plan it exactly, but the moment of silence is a moment of release from that one
prison, before she is fixed on a very high pillar and observed from all sides.”

Where Charity walks farthest out towards the ocean and the ‘score’ empties out to silence
is a choreography of looking and listening. It's the reverse of Kevin Allen's film where
the sections of black separate scenes of continued sounds—‘visual silence’ he calls them.
These moments, he says, reinforce that listening is the primary method for knowing.
Similarly, Tessie Word is seeking an emotional state. That requires restraint, she says.

“The work seemed to call for a tightly controlled approach to the sound. I play the violin,
but I play it more subdued, in the style of a base player. Then there are the wire sounds,
held tight but pushed by the wind against metal. I'm hoping it offers a sense of the
immovable and the pliant as does Charity's experience of waiting on the pillars.”

The artist says she wanted to represent the intensity of a juror's gaze and how this reveals
regretful things about the social fabric and the environment you share.

“Oregon in 1859 was a catastrophically destructive place. Charity was trapped in the
violence of not just her marriage, but of her place in time.”




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