Since I went to see Zoe Scofield embody a creature tangled-up-in/ruling-over a blue crocheted river running between the trees at West Seattle’s Camp Long last Thursday, I keep thinking about one part.
We were all seated on the banks of muddy Polliwog Pond, watching Scofield gradually, shudderingly, partly disentangle herself from the wild, layered blanket of blue that wrapped around her and leashed her to the trees. (This was a one-time performance.)
Standing in various places on the banks, Morgan Henderson played clarinet and megaphone. His contribution was not a sideline; it was dangerously pied piper–like. If he were playing still, I might still be at the pond.
The overt symbolism of Scofield’s constrain-and-release movements—a foot would jut out violently, a hand would shake its freedom, hips struggled against their string cage—felt clear and fairly simple. She ruled her unruly environment, but she was also its victim. She was a terrible goddess and a helpless, palsied mortal.
Considering that the “fiber river”—an installation that will stay up in the Camp Long trees through August 23—was made by hundreds of individuals who came to gatherings set up by the artist, Mandy Greer, Scofield’s ambivalent entrapment also was a study of the individual in the group.
But what fascinated me was Scofield’s central act of labor: It came about two-thirds of the way through and is not easily read. She reached down to the edge of the pond and began to pick up crocheted ropes that led into the murky water. The ropes had been unseen until that point; they were camouflaged by being saturated with mud and murk. Attached to the other end of these ropes, under the water, were stones. She began to use all her weight to pull them out of the water.
This horrible dredging exhausted her. Soon after the rocks had ridden up the bank and left their terrible pattern of tracks, Scofield finished her performance lying at the foot of a tree. Was she asleep or dead?
What had she brought up?
I couldn’t help but think about the red tracks of paint that Ana Mendieta left on a white wall and about Nancy Spero’s “maypole” installation Take No Prisoners at the Venice Biennale in 2007. The heads of torture victims dangled from the festive ropes.
And of “Strange Fruit,” with its “blood on the leaves and blood at the root.”
Northwestern trees have strange fruit of their own, and Scofield joins the ranks of various artists trying to pluck it from the landscape.