Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After 2010-2012
The experienced contrast of city and nature calls forth the articulated response of our somatic being. This response, in the first place, is wonder—wonder about nature, wonder about our human powers of construction, wonder about place itself. To wonder about place through fleshly thought is to seek our home. In the end city and nature is a question in the most radical sense. When we ask this question, we begin to quest towards home. This is as it should be, for to examine place is to ask for the roots of our being.
—Joseph Grange from ”Place, body and situation”
Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After is a three-part public art project centered at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA. The project's title is taken from the entrance to Children’s Fairyland (a popular amusement park near the lake) and points to the use of narrative to explore the complexity of relationships that comprise this unique urban landscape. Needless to say the story of Lake Merritt is not one story, but many stories. While Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After does not (couldn’t possibly) capture all of them, it does hopefully reflect the multifaceted nature of Lake Merritt as a place and underscore its significance as one of Oakland’s most vibrant and vital centers of public life.
My interest in Lake Merritt began with walking around it. How did it come to be that we had a lake in the middle of our city? What had it meant historically—how had it been used and what role did it play in the development of Oakland? And how is it understood today? What are its current uses and meanings? What forces and debates will shape its future? Through my research I discovered a richly layered but porous place that opened onto new stories and prompted further investigation. Many of my presumptions about Lake Merritt were unfounded and its complexity resisted easy reductions. The result was a project that grew increasingly complex.
An audio walking tour that guides listeners around the perimeter of Lake Merritt is at the heart of Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After. Through a mixture of interviews, ambient recordings, and music it explores the natural, social, and economic forces that have shaped (and continue to shape) the lake and its surroundings. I also produced four interpretive signs that present a variety of visual information about Lake Merritt and its environs—focusing on the watershed, architecture, and natural phenomena. Additionally, markers locating each of the 63 storm drain outfalls to the lake were installed along the sea wall. The third component is a series of idiosyncratic Lake Merritt souvenirs developed in collaboration with local students and artists. These extend the project and visual representation of the lake beyond the project site, but rather than creating a brand identity or marketing the lake to would-be visitors the souvenirs are meant to elicit conversation between individuals.
To learn more about the project, listen to the audio tour, or purchase souvenirs please visit the project website.