Threshold is a site-specific video installation originally commissioned for the opening of the American Writers Museum in Chicago.

The video mimics the movement of an eye in meditation.

The 14-minute video loop is situated within a room used for meditation by the poet W.S. Merwin.  The meditation room is situated in the middle of a vast palm garden that Merwin grew, along with his late wife Paula, over the course of 30 years. They grew many different kinds of palm out of soil that was considered a wasteland due to poor farming practices of colonial plantations. Merwin described his work with these palms as a garden that aspires to be a forest.

The eye of the video moves around the screened-in room, fixing for long periods of time on one thing and then another.  The eye fixes on the breath-like movements of one palm outside the room and then another and then back inside.  The sound moves from the sound of the garden to the sound of Merwin’s voice reading a poem and then back to the garden again. The installation elements—sound design, controlled humidity and heat, wind simulation, low lighting, and live mature palms—mimic the environment in the video, adding a layer of simulacrum.

Threshold. In a poem by the same title, Merwin writes, “what did I have to do with anything I could remember / all that I did not know went on beginning all around me.”  In another poem he writes, “On the last day of the world / I would want to plant a tree / what for...”

The first installation of Threshold for the American Writers Museum contained other elements and was designed in collaboration with Ian Boyden and with sound design by Matthew Patterson Curry.



Funding: The Poetry Foundation
Installation design and fabrication:  Ian Boyden and Sayler / Morris
Sound design: Matthew Patterson Curry and Sayler / Morris
Guidance: Harvey Bernstein, Hal Crimmel Julie Gawendo, Mary Lock , Steve Meyer, Stefan Schaefer, John Burnham Schwartz, Michael Wiegers, , Michael Wutz and Stephen Young,
Assistants: Alexandra Batorsky, Stephen Fraser, Courtney Asztalos, Maizy Ludden, Cait Foley, and Lauren Harper
With special thanks to The Merwin Conservancy

This project is part of Sayler / Morris’ ongoing engagement with the poetry and life of W.S. Merwin. Sayler / Morris are also associate producers of a full-length documentary about Merwin, Even Though the Whole World is Burning, directed by Stefan Schaefer.  See also: On the Last Day of the World, a project included in Palm and produced by Sayler/Morris’ collective The Canary Project. [LINK WHEN PROJECT IS ON CANARY PROJECT SITE].