From installations and exhibits to restorations and residencies, historic places love opening their doors to artists.
The ACT Public Art program offered a particularly warm welcome to creatives with its “Park-ist In Residence,” which involves artists bunking at homes situated on “two of Providence’s most unique and underutilized parks,” according to the call for entries. The Esek Hopkins Homestead is one of those locales, with “writing in essays” and “poetry” modestly listed as “recommended disciplines.”
But the new inhabitants of the Esek Hopkins house will be making a lot more than texts. Matthew Garza, Anthony Andrade and Trent Lee moved in in December and are “still living out of boxes” at the moment. Once they’ve unpacked, you can expect a slew of their interactive and interdisciplinary art to arrive at the historic Admiral Street property.
The trio comprises PVD’s portion of the Glitter Goddess Collective, an art collective so multifaceted that the term ‘art collective’ feels a little inadequate. Per the group’s own description, they’re “a community of artists, performers, educators, counselors and healers…[who] believe that systems of oppression fundamentally depend on people forgetting that creativity is our natural state of being.”
This sparkly pantheon has its origins in Garza’s PVD apartment where, in 2014, a visit from friends and colleagues led to “a weekend nuzzled up,” full of painting, costuming and communion with their inner children. This was their first “play institute,” Garza says, and also the germ of an idea: Why not share this “restorative” experience with the public?
Garza says one of the collective’s crucial goals is “decolonizing creativity,” and the Esek Hopkins house is an ideal place in that regard. Those who know their Rhode Island history likely know our tiny state was very active in the slave trade, and Hopkins was at the center of one tragic incident. In 1764, having no experience operating a slave trading vessel, he took command of the vessel Sally, with West Africa as its destination. When Hopkins docked in Providence 15 months later, 109 of the 196 enslaved Africans on the ship had died, some having been killed in a failed revolt.
“A queer POC family living in the house” of an enslaver? Garza admits: “There’s a lot to unpack there in and of itself.”
This contradiction-cum-discomfort is a particularly rich riff on artists’ makeovers of historic spaces. After all, what better way to investigate the past than to raze and reveal the cruel foundations on which it was built?
“We’re bringing our kind of revolutionary practice with play and color to a house and land that has a dark history,” Garza explains. “We’re occupying a space with glitter.”
Garza is planning for an opening party sometime in March. The residency calls for the artists to host at least a dozen public exhibits or activities over two years (in addition to more mundane tasks like mowing the lawn).
“We trying to be intentional and thoughtful of everything we do in the house,” Garza said. He’s hoping that intentionality will “shift the [house’s] center from a white patriarch to energy that feels liberating and healing for everyone.”
Garza expects that energy will translate to not only installation art, but a score of community-focused events. Of the artworks, though, two previous installations will be reincarnated. Unravelled, first displayed at Providence Honk Festival last October, consists of thousands of yards of yarn, which participants can toy with. The second redux will be Glow Up, Grown Ups, which appeared at the RISD Museum in January. It’s a piece grounded in the sizable wardrobe shared by Garza and his partner Andrade. The gist is simple, but sweetly subversive. Using clothing, accessories, craft supplies and makeup, kids get to makeover adults however they please.
Glow Up outstretches a hand to the adults who didn’t participate in installations like Unravelled. While kids might play in the yarn, Garza noticed that parents would stand at the perimeter, serving only as spectators. Yet it’s more likely that adults, burdened with worries, are the ones in need of play’s medicine.
“It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality,” the psychologist D.W. Winnicott once wrote.
He argued that playing is “inherently exciting and precarious,” as it exists on the cusp of “shared reality” and the “near-hallucination” of subjectivity.
That’s the same realm the Glitter Goddesses evoke — a place to resist our collective amnesia and feel our way toward the things we’ve told ourselves to forget.