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The Isles Arts Initiative

Middle Kingdom, Melody Mill

By James Foritano

Boston, MA – I enjoy sun, but as we ferried from Boston to George’s Island on a sunny Saturday afternoon, on July 11, even with a broad-brimmed hat, I felt like I had over-stayed my welcome on the top deck despite stunning views of Boston’s cityscape. I was onboard for this nautical adventure to take in the Isles Arts Initiative intended to call attention to the Boston Harbor Islands through its summer long public art series on George’s and Spectacle islands.

(A counterpart exhibition at the Boston Sculptors Gallery from July 22 through August 14 will capture the intrinsic beauty of the 34 harbor islands.)

In a mere 45 minutes, I was back on land to look at art outside on green parade grounds of George’s Island and inside a fort that was state-of-the-art when it was completed in 1863. The insides of Fort Warren are, in peace-time, blessedly dark and deep. One of my favorite exhibits was in the powder house. Instead of exploding, as they are wont to do, this massively walled building sparked only with dulcet sounds.

The Middle Kingdom Collective engineered a wood and steel instrument that came alive when the wind wafted over the roof and moved what looked like a toothed wheel inside. I was told that when the wind blows more strongly, these plucked notes form a melody. But even, intermittent, they were my speed.

My imagination filled this dark and somewhat sinister space with all the powder that never exploded by accident. And, thankfully, powder never exploded even outside the powder house, since, as far as my reading of history takes me, this fort never had to fire in defense of our city from the Civil War through the Spanish-American War and on through the Second World War.

More art installations deeper into the dark innards of Fort Warren are similarly provocative. The vaulted spaces inside are womb-like and harboring, but sinister also, since this womb was built to spew death at death-dealing interlopers.

How right and hopeful that these ominous spaces expand with lively video installations that percolate with sound and sights — and expand further with stable sculptures mobile with imagination. The audience lingers, casting glances at each other either to give or extract information of what lies just around the next corner, through the next tunnel.

It’s a treasure hunt for the mind and senses that goes on in spaces, here on George’s Island, in Fort Warren, purposed for darker times. That awareness made the art even more poignant, and sent us rambling onto the parapets of this mostly subterranean structure to look outside onto a sparkling ocean filled with sails and inside towards the once night-mare architecture of war and, now, of art with edge and depth.

(The Isles Arts Initiative is a summer-long public arts series on both Georges and Spectacle Island and in venues across Boston that celebrate the intrinsic beauty of the 34 Boston Harbor islands. Learn more at