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Yankee Remix, Remix
Artists Take on New England
July 23 - September 4, 2004
Reception: Friday, July 23, 7 - 9 pm
Curator's Talk: Saturday, July 24 @ Noon
(gallery closed August 21 - 28)

Frano Violich

Born in San Francisco in 1957, lives in Boston.
Material Witness (2003)

Plaster, Oolang tea, inkjet print, and DVD (5 minutes, 45 seconds)
Commissioned by MASS MoCA and SPNEA for Yankee Remix

A humble pewter teapot with an illustrious provenance is the focus of Frano Violich’s installation. The teapot is thought to have belonged to Crispus Attucks (also known as Michael Johnson), the first person killed during the Boston Massacre. On the night of March 5, 1770, during one of the key events leading to the American Revolution, British soldiers garrisoned in Boston’s port fired on an angry mob, killing five.
Very little is known about Attucks beyond the fact of his death, and that piqued Violich’s interest. Violich used this installation of five small plaster sculptures, the documentation of Attucks’ autopsy, and video to construct a relationship between Attucks as a person and an ordinary object that anyone could own.
In newspaper reports, in the documentation of Attucks’ autopsy, and in an advertisement placed by his master when he escaped from slavery, Attucks is described as a half-African, half-Natick Indian man of above average height – 6’2”. John Adams, in the belief that in a free land all men were entitled to a fair trial, defended the British soldier who shot Attucks at his trial. He argued that the massacre was not the fault of the soldier, but of the British policy that allowed troops to be stationed against the will of the people. He also stated that Attucks probably led a “motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jacktars.” But Attucks was soon recreated by the colonial press as a great patriot, a man of integrity who died for liberty. Since this patriot (or saucy boy) was present at the port, it is conjectured that he was working as a sailor, perhaps on whaling ships or in the China trade, which leads us back to tea.
Tea leaves spin in Violich’s ominous, beautiful video, interspersed with meditative images of pewter, trees, a man’s face, and the water of Boston harbor. Tea leaves cover the shelf on which the five plaster sculptures rest. Tea is a powerful symbol: of the Boston Tea Party (another key event leading to revolution), of the age-old practice of reading fortunes in tea leaves (or in Attucks’ case, misfortune), of the China trade, and finally of the fact of Attucks. Violich, an architect working in Boston, used state-of-the-art computer technology to document Attucks’ teapot in a 3-D scanner. This equipment, currently used in reconstructive plastic surgery, was also used to scan the eye, ear, nose, lips, and fingers of a model who resembles Attucks in a general way. These scans – stand-ins for the five senses – were grafted onto five copies of the teapot, and output in plaster by a 3-D printer. (http://www.zcorp.com/products/demo.asp?ID=2 )Attucks, Violich suggests, was both more and less than a cog in history’s great wheel: He was a man of his time, a tall sailor who owned a teapot, whom we remember today as a hero because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Photos: Kevin Kennefick
Technical assistance for Material Witness was provided by Kyle Steinfeld, Paul Wang, and Joseph Ho.

 

 

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