Amy Stacey Curtis: 9 walks

“Some Context (Part 1 of 2)”
By Amy Stacey Curtis

In 1998, I began what would be an 18-year commitment to art-making, nine solo-biennial exhibits from the year 2000 to 2016. In the end, I will have installed 81 large-in-scope, temporary, interactive installations in the vast mills of eight or nine Maine towns. Each solo biennial explores a different theme, while inviting audience to perpetuate its multiple installations.

I committed to this 18-year project to convey our interconnectedness, that we affect everyone and everything while everyone and everything affects us, no matter how small or fleeting the contact. I examine this concept through nine broad related themes—experience (2000), movement (2002), change (2004), sound (2006), light (2008), time (2010), space (2012), matter (2014), and memory (2016)—in hopes that my exploration is thorough, the total of all biennials’ imagery making a cohesive whole.

Three of the video works presented as part of “9 walks” at the Portland Museum of Art, are taken from three previous solo-biennial exhibits: forward II (from CHANGE in 2004 at Brunswick’s Fort Andross), forward V (from TIME in 2010 at Biddeford’s Pepperell Mill), and forward VI (from SPACE in 2012 at Winthrop’s former Carleton Woolen Mill). My exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art gives me opportunity to push even further/learn even more from the ideas behind these works.

Amy Stacey Curtis, Still from "9-hour walk (III)," 2013, video. Courtist of the artist. Copyright Amy Stacey Curtis. Photo copyright Amy Nesbitt.

Amy Stacey Curtis, Process still from 9-hour walk (II), 2013, video. Courtesy of the artist. Copyright Amy Stacey Curtis. Photo copyright Amy Nesbitt.

I am currently working toward my eighth of the nine biennials, MATTER, open for participation October 4-24, 2014 throughout 15,000 to 26,000 square feet of one of Maine’s vast abandoned mill spaces. As with my previous biennials, MATTER will comprise nine large-in-scope, interactive works—each an audience activated experience.

Each solo biennial is a 22-month process. Within the first 5 months of MATTER’s 22-month process (which spanned February 1 through June 21, 2013), I devised its nine installation concepts and began a series of drawings which also support the concept of matter (these happen to be on view at June Fitzpatrick Gallery through November 2, 2013). For the next 15 months, I continue to fundraise, and to bring my installations to fruition while scouting/securing the right space for the work, the space determining the final configuration of several installations. During months 19 and 20 (August and September 2014): I clean and prepare the mill space; transport materials from my studio; install the work…

The Maine community is especially engaged during this time and the exhibit itself, as each biennial re-energizes and brings attention to one of its historic mills. The biennial is open for participation for three weeks within the 21st month (October 2014). During the 22nd month (November 2014), I organize my storage and documentation (update website, video, artist materials, talk, etc.). Then, I rest for two months before beginning the 22-month process for my ninth and final solo biennial, MEMORY.

As with my previous biennials, many of MATTER’s installations require participants’ physical touch, effect or perpetuation while others function through active and purposeful perception. Each installation is accompanied by instructions, an integral part of the experience. Audience is asked to manipulate, maintain, enter, notice, distinguish, recognize–challenged to contemplate matter in new ways (”matter” being something, object, substance, that occupies space, has weight, has gravity, has inertia, has definite or indefinite quantity).

flux IV, 99 spruce posts, steel, audience, 10.6.12-10.26.12 .

The seventh of nine solo-biennial exhibits of installation, SPACE (October 6-26, 2012), was nine interactive installations installed throughout 3 floors (27,500 s.f.) of Winthrop, Maine's Winthrop Commerce Center (formerly Carleton Woolen Mill).

Without the audience’s careful participation, my work is unfinished. My biennials’ installations, in a way, are given over to the audience once each exhibit opens to the public. The work is no longer my own, rather, for each participant, an introspective experience, as I invite participants to touch, move, maintain, change, to be inside, part of, or in close proximity to my work.

In giving my work over to my audience, it requires from me a certain balance of control and surrender. Each installation has a desired progression and result, but through the relinquishing of my work, it sometimes proceeds in a contradictory way. The audience does not always follow instructions, sometimes through interpretation, sometimes through a kind of internal rebellion. This has always been part of my work, and an interesting, powerful contrast to the control I try to maintain with my instructions. In the end, whatever happens, happens.

Following each biennial, my installations exist only through documentation, dialogue, and memory.

Because of the independent nature of these projects, the only ways to know the whens and wheres of MATTER and then MEMORY, is to “like” me on Facebook, or better, to be added to my e-mail list or mailing list. Please write me at to add yourself to one or both of these lists. If you have missed my first 7 solo biennials, they are well documented on my website:

The Rules of Engagement

By Julia Einstein
Assistant Director of Family and Studio Learning

Visitors listen to sounds created from bells in the Biennial installation "Sferics 2: Bell Cloud" by Zach Poff + N.B. Aldrich.

Our upcoming Artist Intervention was designed by 2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial: Piece Work artist N. B. Aldrich. For the Biennial exhibition, he and Zach Poff, who have been collaborating since 2002 on audio, video, and performance work, have created a site-specific sound-based installation in the parlor of the PMA’s historic McLellan House. On Friday, October 11 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Aldrich will ask visitors to participate in an experiment in social engagement. We talked about this Artist Intervention during a walk through the galleries.

Tell us about your Artist Intervention.
I wanted to create an improvisational scenario in the museum around the question, “What happens to personal conversations when two people in very close physical proximity choose to interact solely through virtual presence?” This performance will be a study for a multi-media collaboration between my students at University of Maine’s Intermedia MFA program and those at the University of New Hampshire Department of Theatre and Dance.

Museum visitors will come upon a scene, played out with actors, set in one of the PMA’s galleries…
…and though sitting face to face, or side by side, the two actors will interact using only virtual means (Facebook, e-mail, Skype, etc.). This situation will conjure many of the rules of engagement in the contemporary technological landscape. It’s about the relationship we have with our personal media networks when it comes to social interaction. And, we’ll provide an opportunity for visitors to participate via their own personal media devices.

I like that the art-viewing audience becomes part of this performance. What are your expectations?
I proposed we set up this scenario in the museum to see what happens to personal conversations and social interactions in this setting, and I’m curious how it will play out.

Artist Interventions are made possible by the Peggy L. Osher Education Endowment at the Portland Museum of Art.

Media Sponsor: 94.9 WHOM

WAM: Back to School Edition

By Molly Braswell
Learning and Interpretation Assistant

It’s been a busy and exciting summer at the PMA and as September gets closer, the Learning and Interpretation Department can’t help but look forward to the return of school tours. During the school year, the energy of school tours transforms our museum; it is wonderful to see and hear kids in the galleries, excited to be looking at art (and probably to be away from school!). The PMA’s Free School Tours, made possible by the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, give Maine students the opportunity to experience one-of-a-kind artwork in person, and to see the way that our state influences artists and their work. Last year the PMA hosted over 9,000 school kids and we are looking forward to another amazing year.

The tours are guided by PMA docents, our very talented and energetic group of volunteers. The docents personalize each tour, tying in the students’ interests and classroom content; they also add a bit of their own personality and perspective to their tours as well. Docents have a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and it’s fun to see how their own ideas and passions are expressed through their tours. Along these lines, some docents have favorite age groups, and prefer to give tours to certain grades. Luckily for the PMA, we have docents for every grade, and of course there are many docents who love teaching all ages.

To get us geared up for the start of the school year, I thought I would share what some of our docents love about touring the museum with students at each stage and age: what students seem to enjoy most about their visits, how different grades contribute to the tours, and why museum visits are fun for all ages.

Kathy Sheehan loves working with the younger kids (grades 1-3) because “they are engaged, very talkative, and are excited to answer questions or participate in discussions.” Before becoming a docent, Kathy was a preschool and kindergarten teacher, so she has a lot of experience with this age. She really enjoys showing these students the artwork in the museum because “their observations are keen, unique, and sometimes very funny.” Kathy says that as soon as these younger students walk into the PMA’s spacious and commanding Selma Wolf Black Great Hall, “they know they’re in for a new adventure!”

PMA docent Rhonda Pearle enjoys taking 4th and 5th graders on tours of the PMA because “they are always excited, willing to share, and sincerely interested in the art they are experiencing.” Rhonda appreciates how the students’ thoughts about a work of art can enable her to look at the work in a completely new way. When Rhonda’s own children were in elementary school, she was involved in creating a volunteer art program for the school. They had a program for each grade, but Rhonda especially loved working with the 4th and 5th graders—she noticed how students at this age really enjoy expressing their own opinions and contributing thoughtfully to a project.

As a former middle school teacher, Sue Smith particularly enjoys taking middle school students on a tour of the museum. Sue points out that students of this age are “old enough to handle more complicated issues and ideas,” and as they have several years of school under their belts, they are able to relate the art to topics they have discussed in school. Sue has learned that middle schoolers “like variety, and it is so easy to provide that at the Portland Museum of Art.” She discovered that “they like anything that is relevant to their lives.” If a student can relate to a piece of art, they will want to share personal stories and observations about the work. Sue believes that “middle school students can be great visitors—they can be quite discerning, opinionated, and fun-loving all at the same time.”

Carolyn Outwin is the docent to call for high school groups. She has always worked with this age group—it is the grade she was certified to teach. She enjoys how high schoolers can really focus while on the tour, and how excited the students can be about what’s in the museum. She particularly appreciates how high school students bring their own personal experiences to the tour—for example, a student on one of her tours made excellent observations while looking at Winslow Homer’s painting, Fox Hunt. In this painting of crows and a fox, it is unclear if the crows are hunting the fox, or vice versa. During a conversation about the work, this student pointed out that “crows don’t hunt—they eat carrion.” The other students in the group then told Carolyn that this student hunts with his father and grandfather. Carolyn is always amazed when students use their own experiences to analyze a painting.

The PMA is excited to have students of all ages in the galleries this year. We hope the students enjoy the tours as much as we enjoying giving them!

WAM (Why Art Matters) is a blog series dedicated to taking a closer look at how and why art matters. From art education in schools to communicating with artists, tell us…why does art matter?