Project Mairead is an interactive performance art piece that initially appeared at the Firefly Arts Festival, Summer 2016. Reprise performances have included Figment 2016, as well as moonlit nights around the city of Boston. Beautiful and strange, she moves silently between the worlds, wafting in the slightest breeze; sometimes giving gifts, sometimes guiding travelers along darkened paths to other wonders. She has been called The Ghost, The Willow-the-Wisp, The Glowing Angel, The Lady of the Forest, and The White Goddess. Behind these names is a secret story:
Mairead is what became of the Lady Margaret, who “appeared all dressed in white,” standing at the bed of Sweet William the night after he marries another woman. She interrogates him, sends him nightmares, and he awakes asking for her... but by morning, as is traditional in these old stories, she “sits in a cold black coffin with her face turned to the wall” - too late for even his mildly necrophiliac ministrations. The songs about her in Anglo traditional music are likely well more than two centuries old, and there are many versions of her story. I love the tradition of these old ballads. These stories have given voice to centuries of human experience that could not otherwise be put into words, and they’ve resonated with my own ambiguous loss since I was very young. Project Mairead is secretly about loss, mourning, and transformation.
I imagine that Lady Margaret didn’t stay in her cold black coffin. I imagine she rose and journeyed on, in between the worlds, and became Mairead.
On the first night of the Firefly Arts Festival, she wandered the woods silently with a lantern; sometimes searching for something herself, sometimes lighting the way for the other travelers who could see her. On the second night, she appeared again giving gifts: 24 glowing orbs. Each contained a piece of Mairead’s journey from loss, through mourning, through transformation, to something closer to peace, told through the words of feminist philosophers, poets, old and new folk songs, and the odd internet self-help guru. On the third night, she reached the edge of the field and watched Temple burn, and gave away only blessings before moving on.
With Mairead, I mourned. She was not as I initially conceptualized her; in my journeys with her, I transformed, as did she. I love other people’s interpretations of her, the stories she inspired: they are a further continuation of a folk tradition hundreds of years old.
From a technical standpoint, Project Mairead is a prototype of Project Violet Hour: A twelve person dance performance art piece I hope to build over the next year to two years. Imagine twelve figures, all in white, masked, dancing in patterns inspired by modern contra dance, old English and French court dances, and partner acrobatics. As these ethereal bodies create patterns across the space, the lights in their garments will also be programmed to create beautiful patterns across the figures collectively. (Envision something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSF5TjicohY - on dancers, moving.) Creating Mairead helped me understand why (to my knowledge) a dance piece like this has not been created yet: It’s an enormous technical and financial challenge just to build the garments. (About $4000.) I am on the lookout for art grants; Please do email me if you have any leads!
I feel incredibly grateful to everyone who supported Project Mairead with donations and/or sharing their expertise, as well as the folks who interacted with her! This has been the most daunting performance art piece I’ve attempted so far, and the only one I’ve ever created simply to be beautiful. It means so much to me to have received the support of my community!
Feedback on Project Mairead
"I *love* her. She made me feel things. I'm so glad she came."
" It was so fantastic seeing this a few nights. Super haunting and ethereal. I love love love performance art and was so glad to see something like this literally walk by my tent several times."
"That ghost was probably my favorite single art/installation/performance this year. She was around again the night of the temple burn. Very haunting and beautiful. Thank you ghost-person for the glowing orb!"
" I passed her in the woods. Creepy cool! "
"It was described to me by many throughout the burn. There was a first time firefly, looooong time burning man artist/volunteer... talking about it when discussing the differences between BRC and FF. He said that despite all the amazing art at BRC, it was the first moment of grace he'd experienced at a burn."
"I was lucky enough to have seen her all three nights. So good."
"Thank you so much for sharing this her story, this brought me to tears. Such amazing work. Thank you."
"It was beautiful to see such a lovely creature gliding through the forest."
"We saw the ghost while drinking scotch and smoking cigars at old man camp, and couldn't do anything but react as childishly as possible, with giggles and squeals due our extreme amazement and giddiness by a piece that had more magic in it than I've ever seen at any burn ever before. Thank you for re-inspiring and reminding me why we do this exhaustive art thing, you ethereal creature..."
"I'd just like to once again say thank you for bringing such haunting beauty to the woods this year, and for sharing your story!"
" I was "greeted" by her when I first entered the woods, hauling all my stuff to camp on Wednesday night. This was my first burn (it certainly won't be the last!), and she was the first thing I saw that made me think 'oh, wow, I've just walked into the land of my people.'"
"Incredible. It added such great energy to an already spiritually rich site. The backstory takes it to 11. Thank you so much for that."
" I was definitely memorized. I'm even more honored now to receive an orb knowing it was one of 24. I was totally excited again later when I realized there was writing in it. I was just in awe."