The Spirit House is an interactive installation consisting of a painted wooden cabinet inside a portable tent. Its purpose is to invite people to recognize and acknowledge their sense of the spirit — whatever that is to them — in the secular spaces of life, places of communal everyday activity such as a school, a city street corner, a college campus, a prison, a hospital, a government building and a shopping mall — even cyberspace.
The inspiration for the Spirit House came from India, where shrines are found everywhere — by the sides of dusty rural roads, in the midst of bustling markets and in the shadows of 30-story office towers.
The cabinet is designed to evoke associations with altars, reliquaries, and 16th-century wonder cabinets. When closed up, it is a plain black box measuring 38 inches high by 29 inches wide by 14 inches deep. Open, it stands 62 inches high and 29 inches wide with “arms” that extend to a maximum of 28 inches on each side. It has five panels on which are painted images that are intended to suggest connections to ideas about the spirit, although they are not necessarily religious.
The body of the cabinet has 14 drawers, two lidded boxes, and three “reading boards” with verbal and visual images. The boxes and drawers contain a wide range of objects that have been chosen for their potential to evoke multiple layers of meaning, both secular and sacred. On the top of the cabinet is placed a fresh orange on a white china plate and a vessel containing water, rice, and dirt. Incense is burned to perfume the tent.
The free-standing dome tent is 10 feet in diameter and 6.5 feet tall at center. Inside, hanging from the center over the cabinet, is a canopy of white nylon on which are affixed pieces of mirror. Lanterns illuminate the cabinet. Music ranging from Hungarian folk tunes and Lakota songs to Gregorian and Buddhist chants emanate from a tape player concealed in the base of the cabinet.
The Spirit House is part of my creative synthesis project in completion of a master’s degree in liberal studies from Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota.