project image
Vela Phelan

first performed on August 22, 2015
Spectacle Island, Boston Harbor, Boston, MA
performed once in 2015


Sue Murad

Boston, MA & Nashville, TN / York, England & Los Angeles, CA


“The Sirens, says one, are the charms of the Gulf of Naples. No, says another; they were chaste priestesses. They were neither chaste nor priestesses, but exactly the reverse. They were sunbeams. They were perilous cliffs. They were a race of peaceful shepherds. They were symbols of persuasion. They were cannibals. They were planetary spirits. They were prophets. They were a species of Oriental owl. They were the harmonious facilities of the soul. They were penguins.”

—Siren Land by Norman Douglas

Spec- ta- cle (n): a visually striking performance or public display / a central notion in situationist theory, the mass media in its most glaring and superficial manifestation / (pl) objects resembling eyeglasses.

Spectacle Island, named for its resemblance to a pair of glasses, was initially composed of two small drumlins connected by a spit. For hundreds of years Native Americans came to the island to fish and gather clams. Since the 18th Century the island has served as a smallpox quarantine, a horse-rendering facility, and Boston’s primary garbage dump. Two technological earth mounds, created using spoil from the Big Dig, filled out the island’s figure. It now resembles an ear. Terraced with spiral-shaped walking paths, roads and vegetation, it is home to a pair of coyotes, one wild turkey, and a healthy population of red-winged blackbirds.

Molteni and Spriggs invite visitors to arrive on Spectacle Island willing to participate in a day of way-finding and sensory reorientation. Conducting both dizzying and remedial movements of the body, they re-trace the island’s history and topography via a navigation of the inner ear’s cochlea. Addressing relationships to collective sea-sickness, vertigo and alarm-reception, the duo adopt the nebulous identity of archetypal Sirens. Masked as Red-Winged Blackbirds, in response to the theory of the Bird Termination by which mythological Sirens are considered distasteful commoners and transformed into fledglings, the artists provoke the public to join in ritual protests of disruption, awakening and healing.

Prompted by Alice Vogler and Vela Phelan’s performance series Time, Body, Space, Objects, the eight-hour performance begins with the early morning ferry out to the Island and concludes upon the last ferry’s return to Boston’s wharf. The event is accompanied by a self-published island guide and dictionary of applied terms: Bird Termination, Canal, Cochlea, Conch, Geotropism, Inner Ear, Nausea, Nystagmus, Orientation, Otolith, Red-Winged Blackbird, Resonance, Siren, Spectacle, Stereocilia, Sound, Supine, Synesthesia, Vertigo, Vestibule.