Photo by Mary Jane Ward

Amery Kessler and Mary Jane Ward, artists and partners living in Ridgewood, Queens, will embark on a 26 city U.S. tour with Drum Casket in tow. Coined as “social artwork,” audiences across the nation will have the chance to experience Drum Casket, an interactive art and sound sculpture, from August – September 2013. But what is it exactly?

It takes a small tribe to bring Drum Casket to life. The experience is this: a volunteer climbs into Drum Casket (which gives the phrase “lying in your own grave” a whole new meaning) and the top is closed. You lie in this enclosed, wooden and beautifully carved space while a group of people drums on the lid. The vibrations connect to your body and swallows you with sound, trance-like. You can feel the heaviness and rhythms of people’s hands echoing throughout the tiny space you inhabit at that moment in time. The drummers above, unified through sound, get to shape the users experience. Que cool.

Picture of Buffalo hide Drum Casket at Bushwick Open Studios by Matt Sweeney

Kessler designed and built the first Drum Casket in 2005. Since then, he has built four versions and shared this interactive artwork in Ohio, Rhode Island, New York and Bamako, Mali, West Africa, as well as Bushwick Open Studios 2012. Much of Kessler’s work is dedicated to the ephemeral interactions and exchanges that pass between people. By providing an object as interaction point, the artist calls attention to the place where one person ends and another begins.

Drum Casket is at the same time a barrier and a connection point, and is designed for interaction to occur between a group and an individual. Partly inspired by Western funeral traditions that brings a group together to commemorate one person, Drum Casket celebrates life and community. Each person in the group gets the chance to be singled out, and everyone is being commemorated in the present, instead of after death.

Kessler and Ward come from diverse artistic backgrounds. Kessler’s work references and recontextualizes complex and vast themes of human interconnection with an aesthetic of essentiality. Ward, a former ballerina who danced with notable companies Gleich Dances and Ballet West (of the reality television fame, Breaking Pointe), now studies classical realism at the Grand Central Academy of Art. She served as photographer, videographer and French translator for Drum Casket in Bamako.

Mary Jane Ward and Amery Kessler with exhibition of Drum Casket photo documentation in Linzhou, China. Photo by John Romeri.

Kessler and Ward will be cruising across country in style via a 1968 Cadillac hearse. They are working with their hosts to find spaces that will comfortably hold 10-15 people for each gathering. The locations are expected to vary; backyards, beaches, galleries and corn fields are all possibilities. Their website features an informative tour map with all of the cities and host stats – a great tool for locals to find and access the events once Kessler and Ward’s launch date draws near.

The events on this tour will be a bit different than Drum Casket events in the past. The entire tour will be documented with videos, photos and writing, however no video or photography will be present during the 2 hour event – only before and after. “All that connects the dots of event to event,” Kessler says. The tour will be exclusively documented by audio recording only. “For me, this allows a focus in the moment as an interaction more than a performance,” Kessler says. The evolution of this project is compelling to note, as just last year, photographers on the streets of Bushwick stopped to take pictures during their entire Bushwick Open Studios run.

Artspire, a program of NYFA, is a fiscal sponsor of Drum Casket that enables Kessler and Ward to accept tax-deductible donations. To donate, click here. And be sure to drop by their benefit pop-up show at English Kills on May 24th.

Picture of Buffalo hide Drum Casket at Bushwick Open Studios 2012 by Ella Anderson.
Picture of Hadja Maiga in Cowhide Drum Casket in Bamako, Mali West Africa by Rachel Nguyen .
Picture of Cowhide Drum Casket in Bamako, Mali West Africa by Mary Jane Ward.