Crossings: Emerson Was Here- a public art project by Kathleen Bitetti
Kathleen Bitetti is a U.S. artist based in Boston, Massachusetts and from her research, she discovered that the influential American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson took a trip to Europe. This trip was taken by Emerson at age 29 and it was during a critical time in his life as he had recently decided to leave preaching as his vocation in 1832. Emerson was one of five passengers that set sail on the cargo Brig, the Jasper. The ship left Boston on December 25th, 1832 and arrived in the port of St. Paul Bay, Malta on February 2nd 1833. On his return back to Massachusetts, Emerson visited London. He arrived in the city on the morning of July 20th and departed on August 9th in order to travel to Liverpool to catch his ship back to the States.
Research, unassuming and often undetectable autobiographical references, historical references, contemporary sociopolitical issues, and sewing are very important to Bitetti and comprise the foundation she builds on for all of her artworks. This work, Crossings: Emerson Was Here, is no exception. Sometime during the time period of May 13-15, 2010, Bitetti left objects at several sites in London that were mentioned by Emerson in his 1833 Journal. Each of the pieces consisted of a large clear plastic bag that holds a white envelope that contains historical information and a white canvas cloth “bag” that Bitetti has sewn. This inside of the cloth “bag” had fabric that had images of U.S. President Obama and the American flag. The white canvas was chosen to reference the sails on the ships Emerson would have traveled on. The images of the current U.S. President not only highlight the historic importance of the U.S.’s first African American President, but they also directly referenced Emerson’s abolitionist activist work and his support of civil and women’s rights.
Several smaller white bags were also placed inside the canvas “bag” and they contained tea, charms and a small plastic container of water. Bitetti chose to include a packet of the brand of tea that was thrown into the sea for the 1773 Boston Tea Party to not only call attention that important historical event, but to also call attention to the current “U.S. Tea Party” movement. One can not help to think that Bitetti wants people to compare and assess the two movements on their merits. The history of tea is one worthy of further investigation as it is woven with wars, uprisings and corporate espionage.* The small plastic container helds water from the Old Harbor of Boston. This further underscored Emerson’s travels and the Boston Tea Party. It also references Bitetti’s love of the ocean. She has always lived in walking distance to the sea. The charms also have layered references: The ship charms once again referenced travel and trade, but also referenced Bitetti’s immigrant past as both sides of her family immigrated from Europe to the U.S. in the early 1900’s via ship; and symbolically the dragonfly in “the west” has negative connotations, while in “the east” it has positive connotations. This particular charm was also a homage to Bitetti’s long standing patron: Sophia Solar Michalski.
This work was part of The London Biennale which was founded in 1998 by David Medalla. The London Biennale has evolved into an artist community loosely based around London and the biennale events that take place there. The Biennale organization is not restricted to London. For more information: www.londonbiennale.org
For more information on Kathleen and/or let her know you found one of the works, visit: www.KathleenBitetti.com
*For the record Bitetti is an avid tea drinker and not a coffee drinker like so many Americans are. She recommends the book on Tea: For all the Tea in China- How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History” by Sarah Rose