Collaboration with Bowie Zunino as Bowie + Eve. How the Wassaic Project seed was born. Kicking around ideas in the middle of the night while making weird candy and listening to pop music on repeat. More on that here. We met in college. Her senior year she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which would come back in the ensuing years. My mom had died of cancer and, while I wasn’t sick myself, we had a bond through that. Fuck Cancer. We fell out of touch after school — but were thrown back together at the funeral of one of our college friends in 2007. We started collaborating while Bowie was at RISD and I was living in LIC with Josh, just starting to make public murals. It was easy. Sometimes the best things are easy.
Our first project together. All consumed in one night in 2008. Candy thermometers, teeth, knives, and bones. We threw this party at Monkey Town and the four walls of the room has a four channel video of our drawings. It was very strange and really wonderful.
Another candy show. This time with blood vials. Extra creepy. Bowie had been getting a lot of blood work at this time related to her thyroid cancer and had been making sculptures with them as found objects. We made them into candy so you could actually consume this fear. My dad’s Mom was a candy striper in WWII outside Philly. She described just hanging out with these young soldiers who had gotten badly hurt — and often disfigured — and just spending time. This was powerful imagery in terms of comfort, women’s roles, and the medical industry. Comfort is critical — and doing something for someone else has shown to have a powerful healing effect on sick patients. An idea we have (that we haven’t made yet) is to have free postcards available to patients — say in dialysis or chemo infusion centers — for notes of gratitude or hellos to other people as an activity during (and distraction from or supplement to) treatment.
We were both living in Providence for a few months in the fall of 2008 after the first Wassaic Project Festival and we taught a class at the Steel Yard in candy casting. While we were there, there was an iron pour and we made a giant candy mold to pour iron into. The photos are better than anything we produced, but it was great fun — and probably why, in 2018, I was so into doing iron pours at Kearny Point!
Bowie has no thyroid and yet it is apparently a vital organ — it was removed because of her thyroid cancer. This isn’t wildly unusual — and thyroid cancer is on the rise in developed countries — though it felt totally out of place when we were 22. Ultimately this project was about raising awareness around thyroid cancer, but in a playful way. We did events where you could put a thyroid tattoo onto your thyroid, turning your organ inside out. As the project progressed we took more formal portraits of women who don’t have thyroids wearing the tattoos.
How we label ourselves in our times of greatest vulnerability has almost no humanity. We wanted to experiment with giving that moment some dignity and hope. The text was generated by asking people to describe others who were in the hospital. Some of it was beautiful and uplifting, some of it was just depressing.
We don’t have great photos of this project… c’est la vie. It was about 150 ceramic seed pods that were glazed with drawings from my mom’s brain scans. They were displayed on tables that Bowie and I built with wood salvaged from Wassaic and displayed at the Re-Institute along with a 15 foot tall mural of a rib cage.