Jack Tufts

Writ In Water

This thesis celebrates impermanence; that all things are transitory, in a perpetual state of flux. Yet the idea of place is a perception that endures; it is what we carry with us. 

Here lies this thesis, Writ In Water. On the surface, there is a layer of impermanence: fragments dispersed, dissolved memories, words washed away. Water is a medium for memory, carrying the ephemeral debris on the surface. I take what the water gives me, reaching in to pull out the remains to build a home, for wherever the water takes me. I gather fragments as a form of place making — rooting attachment. What coalesces becomes itself anew. This process of collecting and accenting allows me to understand and situate myself in the context of what remains. What arises are spaces for others to participate — to remember, to share stories, and to be a part of something larger. 

Fragments Wash Ashore

A fragment is defined as a part broken off, detached, or incomplete. To fragment is to fall to pieces. I find I am less interested in what has been fragmented, but rather in the fragments themselves, pieces of what was once whole. With a new perspective, a new purpose, the fragment itself becomes whole or becomes a piece of a new whole, and converging with other fragments, its state constantly evolving. In Ellie Ga’s Eureka, A Lighthouse Play, she quotes Jean-Yves Empereur: “For an archeologist, discoveries are never over, you can visit a site 10 years later and it's completely new, it changes every day, it’s living.”  I approach the site of my work much like an archeologist, finding pieces of what is there, not dwelling too long on what was, but more on what was not and what has evolved and become anew. In my work a fragment can be, well, anything: a discovery of forgotten history, a physical memory, a piece of a conversation. One such example of fragment-finding began while perusing a vintage shop in Providence, where I came across a few discarded film slides. First attracted to the aesthetic quality, a small image brought to life when held up to the light, a moment's capture of something that happened long ago. When really looking there was a visceral reaction to the image. A picture of a girl and her dog at the beach. In a flood of emotion and memories, I was transported to a similar beach with Tucker, who mirrored the dog in the picture. This initial fragment was the beginning of my work in Prompts for Memory. I began to find in fragments, like the film slide and others, that I am interested in how fragments become objects for engagement, and reuse. A fragment is not broken. 

Installation view of Prompts for Memory. A collection of found film photographs, dissolved prints, and enlarged typographic posters accumulate on a surface of light to reveal layers of memories. 

A Moment Is Meant To Pass

Fragments now flotsam flowing together, accumulating debris, taking on new shapes and sizes. If collecting fragments is the beginning of my process, where does this act of collecting and sifting lead? It’s not the fragment itself, but the idea of the fragment that I like; it is not that it’s a piece from a larger whole, but an element that on its own may acquire new meaning through an interaction with someone or something. It begins to accumulate meaning regardless of the finder’s particular perspective. There’s a sense that any fragment can join the collective imagination, allowing for inclusion and invitation to take place. Thinking about the Second Line, flowing through the streets of the city, is one version of fragment gathering — anyone can join in the excitement of the moment, to celebrate, to dance, and to follow along.

I sometimes use ‘experience’ and ‘moment’ interchangeably. But an experience often extends beyond a single moment in time. I first wonder what excites me, what will invite others to join in a moment? What is the initial point of entry to an experience? What sensations stimulate engagement in a particular moment? When the moment passes, how do you re-emerge? And finally, how do you make it so the moment can seemingly extend for a lifetime? An experience can be built of many moments created from accumulated fragments. I delve into these groupings to find those visible or invisible strings that tie them together. Once I’ve pulled those strings, the binding concept makes a moment a truly immersive experience. A moment becomes an enduring memory. In Wading Into Collapse, a collaboration with Ásta Þrastardóttir, we set out to build a world, we looked to what exists in the one around us. I can’t say how we ended up pondering our relationship to the ocean, but a connection was formed between two designers, one from Louisiana and one from Iceland. From polar opposite homelands experiencing the drastic and immediate effects of climate change, we set out to present our homes in this way, sharing personal memories so that together we can create a sense of place.

Wading Into Collapse features a shared publication, 24”x36” and three channel video projection on fabric.

I Write On Water

Carved on the tombstone of the poet John Keats is the inscription:

“Here lies One
Whose Name was writ in Water.”

Change underscores the nature of life leading to death. Though shrouded in mystery, I find clarity in Keats’ epitaph; his wisdom celebrates mortal impermanence. Change is not something tragic, rather a fluid fact of our reality, always in movement. You can’t step into the same river twice.

 In The Poetics of Space, philosopher Gaston Bachelard writes, “It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.” I’ve found myself immersed in the impermanent, seeking out what exists in and what attributes to a state of ephemerality. In fragments I find variability — the fluidity to change meaning. In the fleetingness of the moment, I find an everlasting appreciation for the experience. I still wonder if living in the remembrance of the impermanent will bring me to a place of reassurance – in the life lived, in the journey, in myself. 

Impermanence offers that uncertainty. Like others, I live with a feeling of transience, asking myself why am I here, and where am I going? Being somewhere temporarily leaves me not always seeking permanence, but remembering when things were so. The first time I moved away from my home, it was to come to Providence. Leaving my home was exciting and refreshing, and still is. But I had dismissed how much I would really miss it. It’s cheesy, but I understand when Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong sing, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” Though permanence of place is vulnerable, home stays with you. I imagined what it would be like to bring the Mississippi River to Providence, to share memories of times back home. I want to continue in this work to protect and preserve my home and others. 

I wanted to create a book that is the river. River Logic documents the final 150 miles of the roughly 2,350 miles of the Mississippi River, from just above New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. The book folds to the bends of the river, allowing the viewer to flow along the pages. The accordion-style book fully unfolded is measured at 160 ft — the saying goes that Louisiana is losing as much as a football field of its coast every hour due to sea level rise, increasing storms and subsidence, and reduced sediment flow because of an over-controlled river — the end zone of a football field is measured at 160 ft. And like the logic of a river, this book begins and arrives, and we follow to see where it will take us. 

Unfolding of River Logic, an accordion style book that folds to the river bend. Full book measuring at 160 ft. Installed at Sachuest Point, Rhode Island. 


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