Keiko Sono introducing the project at the monthly club meeting. Also pictured: Russell Oakes, the Club President (photo credit: Tracy Oakes)
Wittenberg Sportsmen’s Club accepted my request to introduce this project to their members, and on Wednesday November 7 at their monthly meeting, I was met with warm welcome. My introduction to the project quickly turned to a lively discussion, a beginning of hopefully long-lasting exchanges of ideas.
Many thanks to the Club President Russell Oakes and Secretary Tracy Oakes.
Below is a full transcript of my speech at the meeting.
Thank you so much for allowing me to come and speak to you today. My name is Keiko Sono, I live on Shale Drive next to the club house. I’m here to tell you about an art project about Yankeetown Pond.
Since my family and I moved here from New Paltz in 2004, Yankeetown Pond has been a part of our life. We skate, canoe, and kayak whenever we can, even just catching the glimpse of the pond through the trees from our house always gives us a sense of happiness.
Through the years, I realized that the pond seemed to be transforming from a pond to a bog, as the accumulation of organic matter increased and seemed to be creating little islands. This inspired me to create a long-term time lapse video, following the transformation from season to season and year to year. At first I was going to do it by myself, but I thought it would be more meaningful and interesting if I asked participation from the public.
I proposed to place a wooden platform at the parking lot on Pond Road, with a plaque that requested people to take a photo from that position and email it to me, so that I could incorporate it into a video. The first thing I did, of course, was to find out who owns this piece of land and ask for a permission.
The Assessors’ Office informed me that it belonged collectively to the owners of properties adjacent to the pond. I sent a letter to every single one of them, and received several letters of support and no objection. I got a grant from New York Council on the Arts, and had a platform built, and placed it on the spot in May.
Within several hours, the platform was turned upside down, with a memo demanding me to “Remove this eyesore.” This memo also included an address, so I went and knocked on the door. It was written by a long-time resident of Pond Road. He informed me that the land also belonged to every resident on Pond Road, which was not in the record of Assessor’s Office, but was a part of an old road agreement. As one of the collective owners, he objected to the platform being placed on his land.
But this was not a matter of who has the right to that piece of land. It revealed something far more complex and deep.
He lived most of his life by this pond. This pond IS a part of his life. It’s not that he wants the pond all to himself—he loves that other people enjoy the pond, like my family. He longs for the past when people were camping on the island and in the surrounding land. What he abhors is for this pond to become a public attraction, a place for a horde of visitors to casually come and trash.
At the time of our meeting, I thought he was exaggerating the risk, maybe even paranoid. But over the summer, I learned about what happened to Blue Hole, and realized his concern was real.
More importantly, our meeting gave me one of the most valuable lessons of my life. Here I was, convinced that my proposal was perfect, thinking that no one would oppose to such a good idea, and that I had done everything I had to do to make it happen. I had received endorsements from many people including the town supervisor Jeremy Wilbur and eco-artist Christy Rupp.
Then it was turned upside down, literally. It was absolutely traumatic for me. I’m not used to confrontation. I couldn’t understand why this person couldn’t just contact me (the info was on the plaque). But this violent reaction to the piece forced me to realize what an egregious violation my platform was to him. After our conversation I was able to put myself in his position, imagining, driving by that pond one day to find such a foreign object appearing out of nowhere. It must have been absolutely infuriating.
It was eye-opening and humbling. We artists tend to think we are always good guys, at least harmless, making the world a better, beautiful place. But what I thought was harmless, even beautiful (the platform was beautifully constructed with cedar), was an eyesore to this man. And I understood that.
So, I have decided to change this project from a visual chronicle of the pond to the chronicle of the human landscape. I am creating a video that is a hybrid between a visual art video and documentary, with stories of the pond, from the past, present, and future, intertwined with images and sound of the pond.
Artists and hunters don’t overlap in social circles very often. But I know that we both have deep connection and profound appreciation of nature. I know, because I get that from my father, who was an avid hunter and fisherman. It was the long walks and canoe rides we spent together in search of game birds and fish, (in Japan if you can imagine) that taught me the sacredness of time spent in nature. It would be a tremendous honor to include your voices and visions in this project, along with those from artists and naturalists.
There are three ways I am asking people to contribute: one: photos and videos, two: stories and memories, and three: thoughts and opinions about issues surrounding the pond, or about our relationship with land in general (talk about the land use).
A friend suggested that I interview some old members of the club who may have recollection of the pond from the past. I would love to interview them if they are available.
Some of the contributions will be incorporated into the video, but all will be presented and archived in the project website, with appropriate credits.