9-hour durational performance, sound & video installation
for the centennial of the Torpedo Factory building
The site of the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria has a long and complex story. This performance reflects on Alexandria’s intersecting histories of slavery and the manufacturing of weapons, both of which are arguably unified by the objectives of capitalism.
During the Civil War, thousands of slaves made their way to Union-occupied Alexandria for sanctuary. To avoid violation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and to safe keep against their concern that slaves would be used militarily against them, the Union Army held them as “contraband.” This defined these refugees as a supply gained through war and therefore rightful to withhold from use, while also emphasizing their status as property.
In 1918, along the same banks of the Potomac River where the escaped slaves had camped in shanty towns riddled with disease, the Torpedo Factory was built to sell armaments to the allies fighting in World War I. The torpedoes were designed to span a range of 4500 yards. It is estimated that 10,000 torpedoes were manufactured, for both World Wars, and sunk an estimated 1500 ships.
The lives lost as a result of slavery, and those who were killed at sea by the torpedoes made here, are inestimable and ultimately the casualties of man’s insatiable desire for dominance and resources. To mark a memorium, for a total of 4500 yards the artist drags a crate of rock and detritus -- suggestive of the scuttled ships and “fill in” (wooden crates filled with debris) that make the framework of banked out land where the factory sits.
The sound element includes the seismic recordings from submarines, in sync with projections of historic photos from Alexandria’s public archives. The artist’s performance co-recognizes the relationship between war and capitalism and, in its simplicity and duration, pays tribute to their casualties and celebrates the transformation of the factory into a center for art in 1970.
Erin Devine @erindevine.performanceartist is in the 6th hour of her performance Contrab(r)and. Come check out her project and find out more at our Late Shift! Tonight until 10pm. #artsalx