Connected \\ August 7, 2019

Guiding meditation

I moved to the North Shore about a year ago, and learned about PEM while doing research on arts organizations in the greater Boston area. That’s when I discovered that PEM was looking for people to help guide visitors through their new interactive contemporary exhibition.


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum, Photography by Kathy Tarantola


The job of Interactive Exhibition Attendant in the exhibition Kimsooja: Archive of Mind has served as a great stepping stone for a recent career change. Growing up, my goal was always to be a part of the art world. I worked toward that goal while attending The High School of Art and Design in New York City, and by later becoming an Art Teacher in East Harlem. Later, I decided that I would venture into the academic route, and I chose to earn a graduate degree in Clinical Social Work, specializing in trauma. But somewhere along the line, I realized that the arts is where I belonged. This job is providing me with the opportunity to dive back into my passion for the arts, and utilize the skills and knowledge that had become dormant. This exhibition beautifully ties together my background in trauma and healing, with my deep appreciation for the arts as a therapeutic tool and expressive outlet.


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum, Photography by Kathy Tarantola


When I was first learning about Kimsooja and the exhibition, Archive of Mind, I was excited to see that I would be a part of an interactive piece that encourages the practice of mindfulness and grounding meditation. As a trauma therapist, I often worked with clients on practicing these exercises, in order to manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress. I felt that being part of this exhibition, I would be able to witness the practice of these exercises in a different setting, one that is more inviting and less intimidating to guests. I began to see the thread that ran through the evolution of Kimsooja’s work and how she uses her platform to highlight the collective human experience. The various ways in which she has done this, while still keeping to a simple concept, has moved me.

One of the things I have come to learn while working for PEM, is how important each person’s role in the museum is to its success. I have come to understand how important my role as a museum attendant is for an interactive contemporary space. My job has been to provide education about the artist, her work, her art career and her intentions behind the exhibition. Without the team of museum attendants working this space, there would be a gap in precious information missed by the museum guest.


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


I have the opportunity and responsibility, to provide guests with this new experience and guide them through it. Guests are invited to participate by grabbing a handful of clay directly off the clay brick, they are encouraged to take a seat, and instructed to roll this smooth ball of clay in their hands. We tell guests that this process can be meditative, relaxing, and calming. Once they have finished making their clay sphere, they can place it down on the table, and by doing so, they are taking part in this constantly evolving, communal, art installation. The goal, is that they later walk out of the museum feeling excited about this contemporary style of art, and how they were able to contribute and participate in it. The unique experience about an interactive art space, is that the attendants, are able to witness the reactions that our guests have to the artwork and concept. I have come to really enjoy the curiosity that radiates from both children and adults, as they enter the exhibition space. Their eyes grow wide, their mouths open in astonishment and surprise, and their bodies gravitate toward the display.

There is something magical that happens when guests truly do their best to understand the concept behind the exhibition. A young woman once walked in, and allowed herself to become completely vulnerable while participating in the meditative process. She sat at the table for an hour in silence, rolling her ball of clay, and came to us with tears building up in her eyes. She had done what the artist, Kimsooja, often strives for in her own personal emotional work; To practice mindfulness and become grounded amongst the internal struggles we often battle. This guest thanked us for allowing her to participate, and as a witness, I thanked her, for truly diving into the intention and purpose of this interactive art piece.


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer


With this kind of collective communal piece, some of the special moments take place during interactions between two people or a group. We once had a Special Education group visit, and after going through our introduction, the teachers shared their excitement about how well this exhibit fit with their “Mindfulness” theme for the summer. Some of the students engaged immediately, while others showed apprehensiveness toward the activity. The hesitations stemmed from sensory/tactile sensitivities and as teachers explained to me, the difficulty the students sometimes have in regulating their emotions. I stood there witnessing this young boy sitting, facing away from the table and the clay balls. He had his arms crossed in front of him, with a large frown going across his face. One of the teachers approached him, spoke to him softly, and as she walked away, the student slowly turned toward the table, and began to poke at his ball of clay. His frown lifted, and he was now intrigued and interested. It was a simple moment, a short moment, but a truly powerful exchange had just taken place between teacher and student.

Although not all experiences in the exhibition are profound, we are seeing that many people are fulfilled by contributing to the piece. Some thank us for providing them an opportunity and a place for them to unwind, de-stress and sit in silence. Others enjoy the collective experience of sitting at a table amongst strangers, working on the same task. Parents express their gratitude for a space in the museum to truly engage with their child. Regardless of the guest, the feedback is most often that this is an experience they would like to have again.

Kimsooja believes that each clay sphere acts as a container. The artist states, “...as the clay dries, it keeps the shape, intention, and energy of each participant.” Every person that has sat at the table has added their unique mark, while also taking part in a greater whole. Guests engage with the installation through curiosity, excitement, and an appreciation for the concept.

So many guests are taking part in this project, scheduled until January 2020, so we have to clear clay balls from the table in order to make room for continuous participation. Guests are reminded that the artist is video recording and seeing everyone’s contribution, as well as the evolution of the table over time. We are in the process of connecting with other art organizations that want donations of clay and are willing and able to breathe new life into it.


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer


A new PEM is launching this September -- a new wing, new installations and a whole new museum experience. PEM Members get to see it all first. Join or renew on our Membership page to ensure you don't miss out! Follow along and share in the excitement using #newPEM.

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