HANCOCK, Mass. — Each year, Hancock Shaker Village invites artists to make new work that responds to this historic site as a means of seeing the Shakers through a new lens. A Spirit of Gift, A Place of Sharing features three artists — Yusuke Asai of Japan, Kimsooja of South Korea and Pinaree Sanpitak of Thailand — who connect the forms rooted in various Asian sensibilities and aesthetics with the simplicity and spirituality emanating from everything the Shakers made. Like the Shakers, these contemporary artists share an intense concentration of minds, handcrafted intimacy and unique use of space with their visual language. A Spirit of Gift, A Place of Sharing is currently open and will continue until November 14.
During the course of the past year, the artists were invited to respond to the natural and architectural setting of the village, the museum’s collection of Shaker material culture and the work of the people who diligently care for and activate the historic property, including the blacksmith, farmer, gardener and chef. Considering key qualities of Shaker living, philosophy and spiritualism, the artists then made site-specific or site-responsive works, with new commissions from each.
Pinaree Sanpitak’s beautifully shaped sculptures in varying scales are placed throughout the heart of Hancock’s Shaker kitchen and surrounding gardens. Yusuke Asai’s sprawling mural painting fills the Poultry House with mythical creatures born of his imagination, similar to the creative and mystical processes Shaker sisters expressed in the visual language of what has been called their “gift” drawings. Kimsooja’s video work brings light into the cellar of the iconic Round Stone Barn, honoring the physical labor of human hands in a universal way. Her architectural intervention continues to the Laundry & Machine Shop, where Shaker textiles are installed in an ethereal light, highlighting the sacredness of work to the Shakers, and the Meetinghouse, where visitors are invited to interact with her installation of colorful yarns.
“The Shakers said that every force evolves a form, which seems to reflect an awareness that a ‘function’ can be more complex than the simple accomplishment of a task,” said Director Jennifer Trainer Thompson, adding, “The Shakers integrated the physical with the spiritual in profound ways, and this is where the crucial affinity lies between the Shakers and the works you see by Asai, Kimsooja and Sanpitak.”
Although the artists come from cultures that are distinct from each other and the Shakers, they all share an integration of the spiritual and physical in their work, as well as communal ideals. Their interpretations of the Shaker spirit encourage us to emerge with a new understanding of this utopian sect, and perhaps of ourselves. The exhibition is guest-curated by Dr. Miwako Tezuka in collaboration with Hancock Shaker Village curator Dr. Linda Johnson.