Although Henry David Thoreau’s "Walden" is generally treated as a paean to solitude and self-reliance, it would never have been written without his lifelong dialogue with close friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. This paradox was the basis for “Re-Surveying Walden,” created as part of the DeCordova Museum’s exhibit "Walden, Revisited" in 2014.
While living at Walden, Thoreau was periodically employed as a land surveyor, and he produced a survey of the pond during his tenure there. In direct relation to Thoreau’s friend/mentor relationship with Emerson and his work as a surveyor, I invited six friends to mentor me in a collaborative, poetic “re-surveying” of the pond. Each “project mentor” read selections from "Walden" and designed a process for engaging with the site. The boat, a center for this work, was my corollary to Thoreau’s cabin: a hand-built framing device through which to see and experience the natural world.
All six project mentors were women- or non-binary identified, all friends with whom I have longstanding artistic dialogues. The project produced a collaborative, hybrid mode of exploration of the natural and cultural environment of contemporary Walden Pond, a feminist approach in deliberate counterpoint to the myth of rugged individuality or Thoreauvian self-reliance as a mode of relating to the land. Results of the “survey” (audio recording, drawings, and writing) were exhibited alongside the boat.
Caitlin Berrigan, interdisciplinary artist
Kathy Couch, interdisciplinary designer
Karinne Keithley Syers, interdisciplinary performance
artist and writer
Candice Salyers, choreographer
Sara Smith, choreographer, artist, librarian
Kate Wellspring, natural history museum curator
All images and text copyright 2006-2023 Gina Siepel. All rights reserved.