Spectres of Liberty is an on-going public, hybrid media project about the history of the movement to abolish slavery in the United States. Through this project we explore the following questions: How do we make visible histories of people and movements which resisted a status quo of oppression? What are the best forms to manifest submerged and complex collective memories? How do artists interact with a public in meaningful ways to animate the history of specific locations?
Our first iteration of this project took place in May 2008 and was entitled The Ghost of the Liberty Street Church. Built in 1840 in Troy, New York, the Liberty Street Church was an important meeting place for organizers of the Underground Railroad. The Church’s first Reverend, Henry Highland Garnet, was internationally known for his militant orations and publications calling on people to actively participate in the fight to end slavery. From old photos of the site provided by the Rensselaer Historical Society, we created an inflatable 1:1 scale model of the church and installed it at its former location, which is currently a parking lot. We animated this ghost church through video projections, sound, and digital animations representing Henry Highland Garnet and his words. The church provided a theatre in which to hold a cultural event that brought community members to think more deeply about the space, its history, and its relevancy for today.
The second iteration of Spectres of Liberty was in Syracuse, New York. It is titled The Great Central Depot in the Open City, based on Syracuse's reputation as an important stop on the Underground Railroad. UGRR Station Master Reverend Jermain Loguen called Syracuse an "Open City", a safe place for those escaping slavery. Created in May-June 2010, this multi-phased creative endeavor asked the question: Is Syracuse an Open City today? Through research and collaboration, we developed a project that highlighted Syracuse's anti-slavery history and its contemporary issues. The project took the form of a month-long storefront Open City Workshop with public programs, a public cultural event with a large-scale media installation, and an on-line radio station.
Spectres of Liberty is a project by Dara Greenwald, Josh MacPhee, and Olivia Robinson. Our hybrid work emerges from a practice that combines expanded cinema, relational aesthetics, situated and community practices, as well as media such as digital animation, video, inflatable sculpture, web, text, and print.