have Mice": The Backstory
"We Have Mice" was about how artists work like foragers around
the margins of the economy. Despite the centrality, or respectability,
of the Institution of Art, the artist works from the edges of the society,
scavenging and improvising.
I chose mice as the metaphorical center of this piece because they are
the consummate foragers, and thought of as mainly harmless. They live
in walls, and if you've ever watched them, they never run through the
middle of the space. They always follow the wall around, tracking the
The walls are the metaphorical periphery in which the marginalized, and
particularly the artists, live and work. A number of my projects have
had a live-and-work-within-a-grotesque-architecture formula, and this
continuity seemed to be a strength.
Thus situated, I intended the show to be a meditation on the functioning
of an artist, separated from the object of his interest, sniping at the
audience from his hole, trying to communicate through the walls- the interpretive
possibilities seemed rich. As a mid-career artist, having given my life
to the "trade", I felt I had a lot to say about it. It was a
lot about "this is what I wanted, and this is what I got," and
revisiting the unstated bargain I made, accepting this marginal status
in return for having my sense of self-determination and purposefulness.
Everyday my work was thinking, distilling, and taking action. I made a
daily t-shirt slogan which I wore as a kind of psychological weather report
(you could see me on TV monitors). The shirts were stored in a closet
viewers could access. I cut holes, inserted works into the room, such
as signs, dolls, drawings. I made some active interventions: through a
hole I shot an arrow across the room with a clothes-line attached, for
sending messages. Saw blades might penetrate the walls suddenly, for some
purpose. I sent messages with tiny signs in front of hidden video cameras.
But one interpretation
of the piece dominated all others. My bad. I wrote the press release.
Have Mice": The Press Release
New York City had
been illustrating center/periphery dichotomy in a very graphic way, as
the rents became exorbitant and the artists, among others, were being
pushed to the outer boroughs and beyond. I decided to offer this story
as a point of entry to the "Mice" show and began the press release
Prosperity and development have made things harder for Williamsburg’s
hand-to-mouth residents. In need of a new, reliable strategy for survival,
Ward Shelley has chosen the mouse for his mentor:
Shelley is living inside the walls of Pierogi Gallery for the length of
Using the mouse as a model, he be will become an unseen full time resident
of the gallery architecture, working, sleeping, and eating inside the
walls; in effect saying, “I’m here but, I won’t eat
much.” The artist will be visible on video camera but will evade
direct contact with the gallery staff and the public, only coming out
for occasional nocturnal expeditions to forage for food, materials, and
mating opportunities. In order to ease his financial burdens, Shelley
will sublet his studio.
His daily activity will be to make and add pieces to the exhibition from
within the wall hollows and continue to improve his living conditions.
On view in the gallery will be multiple channel video, a growing flat
file of work made during the show, and episodes of sculptural interventions
from within the walls. Other “mouse droppings” will appear
around the neighborhood.
This angle turned out to be too catchy and dominated most interpretations
of the show.