COUNTDOWN TO MEMORY #3: Stories in a Mill Floor

Maine Mill - Pyragraph
Photo courtesy of Amy Stacey Curtis.

T-Minus 3! This post is part of an 18-post countdown to Amy Stacey Curtis’ next and final solo biennial in Maine mill space. After MEMORY, her upcoming biennial, she will have completed nine solo biennials over 18 years, with 81 massive interactive works, all told. She’s been unloading her process on Pyragraph as we count down to MEMORYRead the series here.

Part of my 22-month process for each solo biennial, is that I prepare its respective mill floor by hand.

Each floor is the ground for my installations, and I get this surface ready, much like a painter would prepare a canvas before beginning to paint.

I touch and see every square inch of the walls, windows, columns, and floor.

I start by clearing all objects that can’t be swept, carrying wood, metal, glass, things, dead things to parts of the mill I won’t be using or that I can hide from view. This takes days (although with one mill this took two months).

Next, I complete a first sweep—of the walls, windows, columns (working my way down), and the floor—removing all I can see except the wood, metal, glass, and brick of the mill itself, eliminating all but the oil collected over decades upon these vast surfaces. This takes weeks.

Next, I scrub the walls, windows, columns, and floor to its texture, to its material. This takes months.

And, after my installations are built, lastly, I do a final sweep of the floor, removing all I can see, so that all anyone sees is the installations (less is more). This I do until my exhibit opens, in however much time I have left.

The smallest mill floor I’ve cleared, swept, scrubbed, and swept was 16,000 square feet, the largest, will have been the 30,000-square-foot floor I’m using for my 9th and final solo biennial.

I touch and see every square inch of the walls, windows, columns, and floor. My hands dip and bump into every scrape, gouge, and footfall, each a story of a past mill worker, scraping something dragged, or walking back and forth.

When I’m gone, and these mill floors shine after years of dull and void, I like to think that the workers who have passed are glad to see the marks they made once again.

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