Berwick Research Institute

A 30-acre island as playground.

Bumpkin Island Art Encampment: Photos by Patrick Johnson

Every summer for five years, I worked with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Boston Harbor Island Alliance, co-curators Carolyn Lewenberg and Jed Speare and, collectively, 105 artists to produce a unique five-day residency on Bumpkin Island in Boston Harbor.

We originally conceived of the Bumpkin Island Art Encampment within the context of the Homestead Act, the  morally complicated 1862 federal law that offered no-cost land to anyone, including women and people of color, as long as they pledged to “improve” the land. As affordable art studio space became more difficult to find in the city of Boston, we joked that the only place left to go would be to jump into the harbor: and that’s exactly what we did, envisioning the Boston Harbor Islands as a new canvas for artists and artmaking. We made a land grab for the islands.

In a loose interpretation of the act for five seasons, we granted eight artists or artist groups with a five-day deed to one plot of prime, arable land on Bumpkin Island. As “homesteaders,” they:

  • Built some kind of “home” on the land
  • Lived on the land for five days, and
  • “Improved” the land via a site-specific, temporary project or installation.

To “improve” the land, artists could only bring onto the island the materials they could physically carry, including everything they needed to eat and sleep for five days. This constraint encouraged artists to think creatively about the art materials they could source on the island itself, and led to some transformative projects. Over the course of five years, projects included a shoreline interpretation of an Octopus’ Garden; a giant weather balloon that hovered over the coast; beautiful, floating, translucent pink sheets that mimicked the sumac found all over the island; a secret pirate radio station broadcasting only to Bumpkin; a dance piece performed by two movement artists that followed the lines of the closing tide; and many more unique and engaging installations and performances.

For a complete list of projects as well as a downloadable pdf of the project catalog, visit www.berwickinstitute.org/bri/bumpkinisland.

Filmmaker Patrick Johnson shot and edited a series of lovely portraits on selected projects. One is below; follow the links in that video to the rest of Patrick’s work.

Bumpkin 01 – Orchitecture from Patrick Johnson on Vimeo.

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