Leaving a Trace
An Artist Intervention
Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine
November 8, 2013
(2013) ·



How are our present choices affected by those who came before us? How do our actions influence those who come after us? To explore these questions, dozens of museum visitors joined me in leaving marks in pencil on a large sheet of paper during one of the Portland Museum of Art's Friday night artist interventions.

The intervention began when I "seeded" the drawing by slowly marking a few lines back and forth across the page. Visitors were then invited to take turns, one by one, responding to the line immediately above theirs by trying to copy it, offset slightly down the page. The goal was not to make a perfect copy of the line, but to make an earnest attempt to "follow in the footsteps" of the person who came before, without resisting the unintended and unconscious wiggles and unique variations that our own hands naturally and inevitably contribute to the lines. After awhile, pattern and structure begins to emerge: after being repeatedly copied, a slight bump in a line that was introduced by a visitor an hour ago gradually builds up and drifts across the page, forcing everyone who follows to adjust their own lines accordingly. It's a simple yet dramatic visualization of a fundamental truth: the effects of all our actions — large or small, intentional, unconscious, or accidental — cast their ripples long into the future.

This intervention stimulated some wonderful conversation with visitors about choice, intention, time, and chance. I thank all who participated!

I'd like to offer a special "thank you" to Julia Einstein (Assistant Director of Family and Studio Learning, Portland Museum of Art) and the PMA staff for organizing this event and helping it all go so smoothly.