The Cloud of Unknowing
For the last three years, artist/designer Dan Borelli has been working on a research-based, collaborative, multidisciplinary project titled, The Cloud of Unknowing: Our Future is Our History. His project looks at the various cultures within a contaminated community, and the unknowing refers directly to the metanarratives that shape identity, often only known to "insiders". Borelli, is an "insider;" Ashland is his hometown, and The Cloud of Unknowing tells the story of the severe effects water and soil contamination from the Nyanza colorant plant had on the him and the community of Ashland.
The Cloud Of Unknowing is an experiential multimedia exhibit depicting the environmental, psychological, and cultural impact of the Nyanza Colorant Plant in Ashland, MA. The subject choice is not random; in fact, it’s deeply personal. "Ashland is my hometown, and the Superfund site is directly responsible for contaminating my community, resulting in the death of some close friends."
Artist/designer and Ashland, MA, native Dan Borelli has been working for the last several years on a collaborative, multidisciplinary project titled The Cloud of Unknowing: Our Future Is Our History. Ashland is where the Nyanza Superfund site is located, and Dan’s project is aimed at helping the townspeople come to grips with the severe effects water and soil contamination from the Nyanza colorant plant and its predecessors at the site have had on public health in the area. As Dan has worked on The Cloud of Unknowing over time, he has been able to establish a network of creative partners and supportive local institutions that has allowed him to expand it from a one-person project commemorating friends who died from cancer caused by the contamination to a much larger “distributed institution” that is producing an exhibition at the Ashland Public Library, a teaching unit for a course at the Harvard School of Public Health and, potentially, other related entities. For his Prospectus contribution, Dan has written a first-person “travelogue” of The Cloud of Unknowing from inception to current status and well as the video “introduction” that appears directly below.
For the last three years I have been working on a research-based art project about Ashland, MA, and its Superfund site, the Nyanza Colorant Plant. The subject choice is not random; in fact, it’s deeply personal as Ashland is my hometown, and the Superfund site is directly responsible for contaminating my community. Some friends of mine even contracted a rare, fatal form of cancer, and Nyanza was posthumously verified as the source. My project, titled The Cloud of Unknowing: Our Future is Our History, looks at the various cultures within a contaminated community, and the unknowing refers directly to the meta-narratives that shape identity, often only known to “insiders” as their patrimony.
In forming our identities, we rely as much on these internal stories as we do on external facts. As narrative is one axis along this formational process of identity, how is the perpendicular axis of knowledge shaped? What are the various constructs of knowledge and their methodologies for establishing facts? A more specific inquiry in the case of a contaminated community asks the following: what are the systems for how “public knowledge” is made public and for the processes of disseminating “public knowledge”—both physical and digital—back into the very publics that are impacted? My project is situated within this state of cognitive dissonance between subjective forms of knowing and quantitative representations of place.
For the Artists’ Prospectus for the Nation, I have composed a first-person “travelogue” of my project from inception to its current status. This is an account of an artist’s return to his hometown and trespassing across suppressed subjects and interrogating identity shapers that lie embedded within a place to show that contamination occurs across strata and scales in physical and psychological realms. The final form is produced here as a digital “booklet, downloadable below, and as printed matter, which will be available in the future at the Ashland Public Library.
For a look at work in progress on Dan Borelli's most recent project on this subject see the