Flag of Wichita
We’ve all heard the phrase “You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.” However, maybe you just need an outside perspective to appreciate them. Harvester Arts (an organization I am Co-founder of) brought visiting artist George Ferrandi to Wichita for a two-week residency. Like any time someone visits your city for the first time you take them around, show them your city’s history, and share stories of why your “home” is relevant. As a native Wichitan who moved away for 15 years and came home, I’m full of fun facts for visitors such as what companies were founded here, where historic moments took place, the evolution of Wichita neighborhoods from a brothel-laden cow town to an art district, and what a Knork is. After a year of being recognized by outsiders as being from a place where the Wichita State Shockers basketball team plays…it was great to be reminded of Wichita’s vast history and find comfort in calling it my “home.”
George Ferrandi is a performance artist (among other art forms such as sculpture) who came to Wichita to create a performance piece in our newly founded Harvester Arts 5,000 square foot work space and gallery. The show itself was one of the most moving experiences of my life that changed the way I view performance art, let alone myself and my relationship with my wife. Yeah…it was that good. However, my experience of the performance is heavily influenced because I got to spend two weeks with George before her Final Friday show. I got to drive her along the Arkansas River, I got to show her what a Kansas sky looks like, I got to walk through long prairie grass in a gale force wind on a sunny day, I got to huddle next to her by the bonfire with a lunar eclipse and unveiled stars overhead, I got to share whiskey from the bottle with her, I got to share time with her, and most of all…I got to share stories with her.
Wichita was a trading post long ago and last week, in Wichita’s modern evolution, I got to trade stories with George Ferrandi…the commodities people like us treasure most. We shared stories of how we met our significant others and the parallels of the experiences. We shared stories of near death and dying of laughter. We shared stories of, as she might say, our tribes. So when I sat down in the gallery last Friday night, put the head phones on my head, looked across the table at my lovely wife, and began hearing George’s soothing voice in my ears spinning stories…it had a very profound effect on me…and I couldn’t hold the emotions back.
Tears ran down my face as I looked into my wife’s eyes. Tears ran down hers as well. George’s piece had successfully explored the relationships of friends as she had set out to do…but the experience was life changing. I’m not going to critique the piece or speak heavily about it (that’s for the art critics and patrons to express), but I will tell you that I personally was deeply moved. What I will tell you is that George speaks about “your tribe” in this piece. Your people. Your home. In some cases we move away from our tribe as we go to college, pursue a career, and so on. In other cases we stay with our tribe and form strong bonds that can only come from small-town living. In my case I got both. I left my tribe in the pursuit of knowledge, education, and happiness. Then, I brought what I learned home and expanded my tribe. As George’s voice wrapped up in the headphones she told us that we got to “decide when the piece was over”…so my wife Kate and I just sat there staring at each other in wonder. Neither one of us wanted it to end. We both were overwhelmed by what we had brought to our home, the journey George had then taken us on, the joy and sadness of her stories, and the realization that George’s residency was done…and she would be going home.
We had brought George into our tribe. She had invited us to be part of hers. We were each other’s people…and now she had to leave and go back to New York.
The same weekend another performance group called The Bridge Club was in town for the Ulrich Museum. Among the many things they do, they collect stories from local areas and build performances from them. I donated the story of how Kate and I were on the road as digital nomads for 3 years and lived out of a 22″ camper for a period of time. We documented our lives on video and constantly asked ourselves, “What makes a home?” This was the very question The Bridge Club was asking of Wichita. In a hotel in L.A.’s Koreatown in 2008 we answered that question. “Home is where the cat is.” Following The Bridge Club’s performance I spoke to them and they told me that they found the inspiration for their drawings in Wichita from a painting in my living room they had seen the week prior when we hosted a party for them. I almost broke down in tears again. It was my wife’s painting from when we first met. It was a piece I stared at every time I visited Kate when we were dating and she framed it and gave it to me long before she knew she’d marry me, travel the country with me, move to Wichita with me, and start a family with me. It has deep sentimental value. The knowledge that a major portion of their performance was formed from its visual affirmed that I had learned a new life lesson and the world was trying to shake me into understanding a portion of the meaning of life: Human connection.
That is why George’s piece brought me to tears. That is why the past two weeks have been amazing. That is why Wichita is my home. Five years ago, figuring out that “home is where the cat is” was the last straw in abandoning my ties to a place and instead attaching myself to a being. I had always called Wichita “home” because I was born here. I always called New York City “home” because I came of age there. I always called Bolton Landing “home” because it was where my family is from (going back to the 1700′s). While these places speak to me, this weekend showed me that they are actually rooted in person, not place. My tribe…my people. I’ve learned you can move somewhere new and make it your home by joining a tribe and creating new stories. I’ve learned that when you leave a place you never leave the tribe. You can’t! Its your people! I learned that the cat was never “home.” The cat lived in the domicile I called home but the connections to living beings, places, and stories are what make a home. For me that is my wife Kate and my boys Max and Dodge. My tribe. My people. My home. That this revelation came from a performance piece by George is why she’ll forever be part of my tribe. We’ve traded stories, shared experiences, and caused each other to look at our homes and love them more.
I love Kansas. I love that this is my home. I love that I get to go to sleep at night to the sound of long trains rumbling through the outskirts of town shooing off cows with a distant and forlorn “Woo woo!” I love how much sky there is to look at, and every chance I can I place my bare feet on grass to look up at it. I love that there are places you can’t get to with a car. I love that on George’s last day in Kansas she got to see a bald eagle’s nest and the bald eagle flew over to see if we were friend or foe. I love that my kids get to grow up here like I did. I love that the people I know have very different opinions and politics than mine…but they agree to disagree. I love the people Wichita attracts and how this city is growing. I love that Wichita opened its arms to George Ferrandi. I love that I found my tribe. I love my tribe. They, their stories, and all the decisions they and I have made have led to this point and are why I am in this place. This is why I live in Wichita…my tribe. My home. “Ad Astra per Aspera.” “To the Stars Through Difficulties.” Kansas. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone…but sometimes you realize what you’ve got while its there and all it took was an outside perspective. Welcome to my home.
Dodge, Dodge on the range.
George Ferrandi out on the windy prairie of her last day in Kansas.
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