About

A collaboration between Candy Chang and James A. Reeves, Ritual Fields is a collection of public installations, stories, artwork, and research that explores the possibilities of ritual in an age of distraction and flux.

Ritual. Unlike a habit or routine, a ritual seeks communion with something greater than ourselves. For some of us, the only worthwhile ritual is one that cultivates a relationship with the otherworldly. For others, it might be a means of reckoning with the past or future, a way of communicating with the ones we’ve lost or figuring out who we might become. A ritual can be a private act, a collective ceremony, or a cultural rite—it is a gesture which craves connection.

Fields. The field is the first canvas of civilization, marking the transition from nomadic life to permanent settlements. “The city of the dead,” wrote the historian Lewis Mumford, “is the forerunner, almost the core, of every living city.” As our burial fields led to crops, the field transformed us into citizens. It is the deliberate cultivation of nature. The field is a source of sustenance and it is a threshold, a boundary for play and sport. It is a zone which shapes our behavior.

Mission

Candy Chang and James A. Reeves both grew up without religion or any kind of spiritual practice. After the sudden death of someone they loved, they felt unmoored and unequipped to deal with the emotional wreckage that followed. Drawing upon her background in urban planning, Candy began injecting introspective experiments into public space as a way to explore how our shared spaces might better serve our psychological needs. After losing his parents, James began researching and writing about mourning, myth, and aesthetics.

Through this work, they became increasingly sensitive to the ways our visual culture damages our psyches in the service of commerce. There is no acknowledgement of the grief-stricken. No reassurance for the anxious. No mention of the fact that we are all walking wounded. The theologian Paul Tillich said the greatest sin of modernism is “the barren triviality that preoccupies us.” No wonder loneliness and social isolation are becoming a public health crisis. How do we make sense of this? How can our shared spaces better address our emotional health?

Candy and James began to channel these questions into their collaborative projects, believing that ritual can be a valuable balm against individual distraction, as well as a feature of our streets and plazas that allows us to contemplate the desires and fears which unite us. Inspired by a range of classical and contemporary practices which have provided solace, from the devotional images of Catholicism to the ancient I Ching to the speculative worlds of cyberpunk, Candy and James are working to facilitate conversations about the role of ritual through artwork, writing, and public experiments. They hope these projects might play a part in helping us find common ground in an increasingly fragmented world. Here are some beliefs they’ve developed along the way:

  1. Surrealism is the best approach for surviving the digital age.
  2. Waking up early does not make you a better person.
  3. Beware of fictional nostalgia. There is no lost golden age. The poet Ovid mourned the loss of the days when humankind was "good and true," fearing that "every kind of wickedness" marked his age. He wrote this in the year 8.
  4. Good projects are good questions.
  5. The world is getting more chaotic and exciting by the hour, making our personal rituals more vital than ever if we hope to remain tethered and sane. As William James observed, our habits will allow us to “stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.”
  6. Don't kill your strange ideas until you’ve given them a minute or two to run around and play.
  7. Acknowledging your irrational impulses is the foundation of good habits.
  8. Outrage has become a marketing tool. Resist the day’s two-minute hate. Nobody will be persuaded. Nobody walks away feeling ennobled.
  9. A man should not wear shorts unless he is within a five-minute walk of a recreational body of water.
  10. The word ‘spirituality’ has been stripped of all meaning by faith-dealers, soothsayers, and thought-leaders. Speak instead of ethics and devotion, of aesthetics and metaphysics.
  11. Rituals are vital directions when the lazy, doubtful, confused, brooding, or anxious part of yourself takes center stage.
  12. When in doubt, refer to the words of a grand old man we once knew named Cajun Eddie: “Opinions kill motherfuckers. Experience saves lives.”

About Us

Trained as an architect, urban planner, and designer, Candy Chang has spent twelve years creating socially engaged art which examines the dynamics between society and the psyche, the threshold between isolation and community, and the role of the commons in contemporary wellbeing. James A. Reeves is a writer, educator, and interactive designer whose work addresses philosophy and ritual in the digital age; his first book, The Road to Somewhere: An American Memoir, was published by W. W. Norton. Together Chang and Reeves have collaborated on interdisciplinary art projects in cities including New Orleans, New York, and Lisbon.

Influences

Who Are We?

Candy Chang is an artist, TED Fellow, and public speaker. She is represented by The Lavin Agency.

James A. Reeves is a writer, designer, and educator. He teaches at Parsons School of Design.

“Before I Die is merely one of the most creative community projects ever.”

The Atlantic

“The Atlas of Tomorrow taps into the spiritual and encourages pedestrians to take a philosophical pause, as each fable’s archetypes highlight our common humanity.”

Public Art Review