Accumulation and the precious object

I feel lucky and grateful to have participated in Accumulation a second time. During the first phase, which happened in 2009 at the MEME space, my participation was less than frequent. As I began rummaging through my studio for possible object participants in phase two, I reflected on my actions from Phase 1.  I quickly realized that I relied heavily (almost entirely) on interacting and performing with objects brought to the space by the other artists. As someone who uses mostly objects that have some sort of sentimental value or emotional connection, Accumulation had given me an ultimatum: risk having your important objects destroyed or use objects that have little or no emotional connection to your work. During Phase 1, I did not have the courage to accept that kind of challenge.

ACCUMULATION (Phase 2) Philip Fryer 02.07.14 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

What I didn’t realize was happening, was a parallel between my hesitance to bring meaningful objects to the table and the very reason many galleries had declined to show Accumulation over the years. The uncertainty of the performances, the preciousness of the physical materials caused hesitation. I simultaneously felt frustration and understanding about these things. Five years after the first phase, Accumulation found a home for Phase 2 in the 808 gallery at BU, thanks to Lynne Cooney. Lynne’s willingness to bring unpredictability into her space allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone and choose to bring objects to Phase 2 that I wouldn’t have brought to the first.


This is a single I came across in my dad’s record collection. It has the name “Hughes” written in messy black letters and has smudges of white paint on both sides. To anyone else, it might just look like a ruined Mary Hopkin single, but to me it holds the hallmark of my uncle Richard (Hughes). I grew up with Richard being around almost all the time, he was a house painter through the 80’s and 90’s and frequently came home covered with white primer paint which subsequently, covered many things within my home. This is the only thing I have left with that signature, a bittersweet momento of my favorite uncle who was more fun than anyone in the world, who is now legally blind and resides in a Quincy homeless shelter. I have few things in my possession that hold this much emotional value.

Shannon Cochrane during Phase 2

Needless to say, I felt neurotic about what would happen to it after my performance. My heart jumped when Shannon picked it up during her and Marcios second performance. A green apple, similar to the one pictured on the record, is cut in half and taped to it. I felt instant relief, but more than anything, instant gratude. Gratitude to Shannon and Marcio, who acknowledged and honored this object and brought it into a new light for me. And gratitude for a community that pushes its members into new territory. I can only hope that other artists included in Phase 2 shared similar experiences, and that Phase 3 won’t take another 5 years to come to light.

People In Space implements Surrogate Backscratching & Footprint Collecting

People in Space has been on site at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai for the past week implementing surrogate creative actions.  We have had an audience of several thousand people experiencing ephemeral art in a largely ephemeral space.

The expo as a whole is crawling with people; the majority are Chinese who are interested in experiencing the spectacle of the Expo. We have encountered several challenges through the language barrier, but also through cultural references that simply do not translate.

Surrogate Backscratching

James Ellis Coleman asked us to offer to scratch the backs of people waiting in line and to encourage them to pass this favor on to their neighbors. This solicitous and somewhat innocent gesture speaks to the idea of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”. This saying does not translate into Chinese culture. The closest is the phrase is “If you give me a peach, I can give you a plum in return.” Because of this loss in translation, our audience was fairly willing to receive scratching, but was hesitant to scratch our backs or the backs of others. Out of the approximate 70 backs that we scratched in the waiting line at the US Pavilion, only 2 people returned the favor, however this exchange was both playful and well received. Watch the video documentation from this piece HERE.

Another challenge has been the fact that we are enacting these pieces Guerilla style, requiring us to be inconspicuous amongst the heightened security present at the Expo.

This created a bit of creative maneuvering to implement Julia Wagner’s piece, “Urban Footprints”.  This action ideally involved creating a stop-motion film documenting the accumulation of a line’s footprints clouding up a bolt of grey silk.  Julia asked us to invite each person waiting in line to walk one-at-a-time across the cloth. This was also another impossibility, since many of the people waiting in line do not wait at all, pushing aggressively through to get closer to the Pavilion’s entrance. When people do wait in the queue it is rarely single-file. Upon our departure of the US Pavilion, we were filtered into a high traffic area that Expo goers were using for the perfect photo op.

Photo Op

Overflow from a fountain created puddles that endless people walked through, creating a series of footprints on the asphalt. This was an opportunity to adapt Wagner’s piece. We captured the accumulation of wet footsteps for over an hour through time-lapse video that can be viewed HERE.

James Ellis Coleman is a mixed-media artist working in Boston.  He received his MFA from Massachusetts College of Art.  He believes: “Every Artist is charged with the capacity to entertain, challenge, and enthrall one or all of our senses. No one can alter past deeds, but we can help change the regrettable consequences of those deeds. Our deeds today will shape the past we leave for the future.”

Julia Wagner has lived and worked in Boston since graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 2008.  She illustrates themes of anthropomorphism, post-modernism, and simple aesthetics with her sculpture and drawings.  Julia also builds performance into her studio practice by seeking out meditative yet socially engaging work, like that of interning with the Sol Lewitt Retrospective fabrication team.  In all of these efforts, she seeks to promote elementary school values in conjunction with the sophistication required for critical contemporary art.

A few more things about Accumulation

Too often, I find myself in situations where I am explaining how live art is different from theatre or dance and defending what I do as a visual art medium. This is a major motivation for The Present Tense’s commitment to educate visual art communities about live art. In 2006, I began curating Accumulation as a way to put this into practice. I proposed Accumulation to 10 spaces, all of them unwilling to show it due to it’s unpredictable nature. Just when the air started to leak out of my inner hope balloon, we joined forces with Homespun and Bradley Benedetti to start MEME. Accumulation is finally happening! Stop by MEME anytime between 6.7.09 and 6.27.09 to see the process of evolution. Prepare to have your feathers ruffled!

Announcement: MEME And Accumulation

Announcing a new show in a new space!


MEME & The Present Tense presents: 


(Phase I)  

June 7-27, 2009 


55 Norfolk Street 

Cambridge, MA 02139 



Accumulation (phase I) will provide an environment to witness the evolution of a space that has 

been activated by accumulated creative action. Over the duration of this exhibition the 6 Boston- 

based artists and curators of MEME will spontaneously create an evolving installation.  

All evidence from these actions will remain in the space and each artist will be challenged with 

how to interact with another’s remnants. Accumulation will challenge ideas about artist 

collaboration while creating an innovative exhibition of performance art documentation.  


Accumulation’s opening will be held on June 13th  from 12-6pm.  Because of the nature of this 

exhibition, a closing, complete with a screening of video documentation of all occurrences in the 

space will  also be held on June 26th from 7-10pm.  

Artists include: 


Alice Vogler 

Bradley Benedetti 

Dirk Adams 

Philip Fryer 

Sandrine Schaefer 

Vela Phelan 


Located in Central Square, Cambridge, MEME will provide space for ephemeral art to be
made and witnessed. A tireless schedule of exhibitions, screenings, residencies and workshops
will bring together local, national and international artists. MEME’s goal is to provide
support for ideas that typically have a difficult time finding a place in the world.

MEME’s debut will be the first installment of The Present Tense’s Accumulation.
Accumulation will be an evolving installation that will be continually transformed by the six
curators of MEME. These artists will create actions that add, remove, and work off of one
another’s presence and remnants.  The life of this process will be on display from
June 7-June 27.

For more information, check out