Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Do you feel worried about the future? Do you experience depression, insomnia, exhaustion, or anxiety? No – this is not an advertisement for a new drug, but an art project that explores "Americanitis." "Americanitis" is a condition that was first diagnosed in 1869 as a nervous condition resulting from rapid modernization. This condition was later exploited by medicine shows that peddled "Americanitis Elixirs" that claimed that they would relieve stress and calm the nerves.
Artist Alison Pebworth is bringing awareness to Americanitis with her cross-country tour of her project Beautiful Possibility. The show is a traveling exhibition in the form of the 19th century American Traveling Show. The project's goal is to engage people about what it means to be American. For each tour stop, Pebworth creates a display of hand-painted posters that are in the style of Side Show/Wild West posters to re-tell American history. She also is interviewing people across America on their thoughts about "Americanitis."
For the Elixir Social event, Pebworth partnered with some local farms in Cleveland including farmers from City Rising Farm, Erie's Edge Farm, Gather 'Round Farm, Let It Bee Gardens and the Possibilitarian Garden Project. Each farm made a special "Cleveland Elixir." The elixirs were being served from 10 am until 6 at the West Side Market, with different farms serving their elixirs throughout the day.
I stopped by the Beautiful Possibility Elixir Social event in the afternoon and found the show and Elixir social setup in a stall at the end of the produce section of the market.
At the outside of the market, I was greeted by the first Possibilitarian garden and puppet theater, which had setup a full sensory elixir. There was a cardboard structure, shaped kind of like an old-school phone booth, which you were invited to enter once you drank their elixir.
I was given a tiny handmade ceramic cup, which was filled with a pinkish drink that looked like juice. I was directed to try it with a rose petal and to enter the booth. The elixir tasted kind of like and herb flavored cherry juice, and it was slightly sweet. I entered the booth to find some pictures and dried herbs attached to the walls. I could hear some music that sounded like a piano that was far away. I have to say – I felt different when I exited.
I talked to Diana and Daniel, the farmers from Possibilitairan garden, who had made the full sensory elixir. Diana said in making it, they were thinking about the Americanitis project and wanted to use some calming herbs such as sweet woodruff in the drink. The elixir was made of many ingredients, which included kombucha, mulberry juice, lemon balm, sweet woodruff, clover, nettles, spinach, strawberries catnip, thyme, and other herbs. She told me that eating the rose petal and drinking the elixir made a thick cinnamon flavor.
Diana and Daniel have a farm and puppet theatre in the Buckeye neighborhood in Cleveland. I really liked the booth that they made, and I learned that the music I heard was from a small music box that someone cranked and made work while I was inside. Lots of people at the market were interested in trying the elixir, and many would talk with the farmers about the elixir and project.
After experiencing this elixir, I entered the vegetable market area, where there were some of the posters hanging from the Americanitis project. Some of the full color tour posters were hanging, and there was pleated red, white, and blue fabric on the tables. One of the posters that I liked featured a cowgirl trying to balance two baskets. One basket held Dick Cheney, and the other held an Indian. Over the image "Dangling Man, the American Challenge. CLAIM YOUR DEMONS" was written. The posters and setup gave it a world fair/ sideshow look and feel.
There was another farm serving elixirs, and I met members from Let It Bee Garden who had made a Community Service Berry Potent Potion, and also had several other elixirs. I was given another small ceramic cup, and tried the Community Service Berry Potent Potion, which tasted like berries and tea. The label on the elixir said that it was made with passion and love, and was made for patient possibilities. Julia, who is one of the farmers, was wearing a great hat that had various flower petals that covered the hat.
There were lots of people that stopped by to look at the posters, try the elixirs, and talk to the farmers and the artist who was there with the Americanitis surveys. These opinion surveys were available for people to fill out. Some of the questions include, " Although the term has fallen out of use, do you think Americanitis still exists today? Are there new causes that may contribute to contemporary Americanitis? Who in American society do you think suffers most and least from Americanitis?" There also were sections where you could circle the causes that you believe may still contribute to Americanitis, and what symptoms might still stem from the condition, which listed anxiety, poor digestion, exhaustion, insomnia, and others.
I talked to Pebworth for a few minutes, and she told me about the other elixirs that had been served earlier in the day. Earlier in the day, young people from City Rising farm had created a Mulberry Thyme" elixir, which was a thyme and mint sun tea. They added fresh mulberries as they served it, which made for a lively (and messy) elixir event.
To start the elixir social, Erie's Edge Farm had served a Stretch Your Roots Sunrise Elixir from 8-9 am that was made from roots. They had been weeding their gardens, and had found lots of roots from carrots, beet, and other veggies. They pulled these out, dried them, roasted them, and then ground this into a fine powder. The hot elixir that they served had a chicory/ coffee like taste
Do I feel any different from the elixir event? I think so. It was really great to meet the farmers and to see so many people trying the elixirs and interacting with each other, with the artist, and with the farmers. It is also nice to know that others are thinking about the stresses of life, and our pace of life today.
Alison Pebworth is in town through June 23, 2012. Check out SPACES gallery website to learn more about the project, and the times that you can see the exhibition.