2009 marked a historic year for Zelený Les with the erasure of deteriorating farming homestead buildings from its landscape, a condition imposed by the State of New York for establishing permanent conservation land. For 20+ summers I dwelled in the farmhouse with my family and spent countless hours in the barn napping on sweet bailed hay and tending our horse. After witnessing the demolition event and thinking about absence as a palpable presence, I wanted to honor the history of this place, its people, and my parents, Antonín and Adele Tutter, who reshaped our land as Zelený Les. During my family’s summer vacation in August 2011, I created Measure of Memory, a durational performance in response to the milestone event of 2009 and to share with artists the possibilities of the land as a site for creative inquiry and expression.
Measure of Memory (2011) / Durational performance for camera and temporary installation / Artist: Catherine Tutter, Photos: Catherine Tutter and Dennis Friedler
Starting out at the former homestead site, I began my walk to the town of Bloomville, descending the mountain and counting my steps until reaching the grave site where my parents Antonín and Adele Tutter are buried in Riverside Cemetery. Several yards down in the very same row stands the Campbell plot, the original homesteading family of Zelený Les. I sought to bind our two families in real time through movement and gesture, attending to the respective plots. My ascent back up the mountain and continued counting of footsteps took me full circle to the former homestead, concluding a round-trip traversal of a psychogeographic space where my parents and the Campbells occupied my constructed terrain of memory. This action was repeated on 3 separate occasions.
A parallel action was to re-create the footprints of the farmhouse and barn by the calculated laying of mason line using my feet as units of measurement. My source material for seeking the corners of the foundation included a series of sensitive portraits of the farmhouse – interior and exterior images – captured by photographer Dennis Friedler just prior to the demolition and stored on a laptop computer. Identifying points of reference from the “virtual interior” looking outwards, I revisited memories of my summers in this humble house (now vanished). I scrutinized the stark evidence of its deterioration and collapse – an abandoned dwelling rightfully reclaimed by the earth. When the lines had been drawn, my daughter and I outlined the perimeter with 150 candles in foil pots. We lit them at sunset, ready to witness a re-kindling of the foundations as darkness fell. I watched a full moon rise between the century-old maple and pine trees, living reminders of generations past. I remained seated within the space of the former farmhouse, thinking about the transformation of matter, how absence becomes present, and asked the question: what endures? ♦ ♦