Sam Durant
Scenes from the Pilgrim Story: Natural History
March 16–April 14, 2007

The exhibition Scenes from the Pilgrim Story: Natural History by Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant, marked the final phase of Durant’s "Merry Mount" project.

Works by Sam Durant frequently amplify the social and political resonance of protest movements and charismatic figures in contemporary American historical consciousness. Durant’s methodology of entropic logic, derived from Robert Smithson, approaches history as a dialectical process which continually distorts our lenses of past, present and future. Very often his photographs, sculptures, drawings and installations evoke this instability between stasis and flux. By selecting out and colliding certain culturally loaded objects and icons, Durant's works test the volume of these figures' current social and political reverberations.

The exhibition at Catriona Jeffries brought together a series of photographs and sculptural platforms based on a scene that Durant acquired from the now-defunct Plymouth National Wax Museum. The museum purported to tell the story of the English Pilgrims’ journey to Massachusetts and the establishment of their Plymouth colony. Entitled “Merry Mount,” the particular display that Durant obtained depicts a dissident community led by social reformer Thomas Morton. In 1626, Morton learned that indentured servant-colonists were being sold into slavery on Virginian tobacco plantations and encouraged the remaining servants to become the free consociates of a community he renamed Mount Ma-re (or simply Merrymount). The Merrymount colony treated Indians as equals, sought a degree of integration with the local Algonquin culture, and practiced rural folk traditions which outraged the Puritans who viewed such practices as pagan. Following the erection of an 80 ft high antler-topped Maypole as part of Morton’s 1628 Mayday ‘Revels of New Canaan’, the Plymouth Militia invaded Merrymount, cut down the Maypole, destroyed the colony and marooned Morton on the deserted Isles of Shoals until he was able to escape to England.

Durant’s Scenes from the Pilgrim Story: Natural History investigates the objects, equipment and mannequins that serve to frame and iconicize the story of Merrymount through this American colonial history museum display.

Documentation by SITE Photography.