In line for a 3:15 p.m. ferry ride to Peaks Island on Oct. 23, an unusual throng of pilgrims awaited for the minute they could set foot on a floating transport. I was among them, and perhaps like some of them, I was confused and curious, wondering what was waiting for me 20 minutes across the bay.
I’ve never been to Peaks Island, so the mystery surrounding the “Sacred and Profane,” an avant-garde arts festival of sorts, dug deeper inside me than it normally would for the seasoned veteran.
After crossing the bay into Peaks, the group of strangers and I walked a mile to a place enshrouded in wild creativity, removed from the norms of society.
Started in 1995 by a small group of USM students, the “Sacred and Profane” is an arts event that displays experimental artwork in the interior and exterior of Battery Steele, a WWII-era battery. The kind of art ranges from installation and performance art to musical performance and dance.
Rob Lieber, a co-founder and organizer of the event, and also a USM alumnus with a bachelor in fine arts, says that overtime the event has become a lab for artists to experiment.
The art is “mostly a reaction to the space,” Lieber said, referring to the interrelation between the space and the artwork.
This was immediately evident when I approached Battery Steele with many others.
As I entered into the center of the battery, I was immediately taken by the dark, cavernous hallway to my left. It was only lit by small wax candles every few feet, and as I walked in, I witnessed stoic-faced women, completely covered in white, marching in a ceremonious manner while holding glowing paper orbs. They held the orbs with reverence, and without even blinking, they walked past me to the outside.
Deeper inside the abyss, there were small openings into rooms where more art was on display, though “display” wouldn’t be the best word here. The art was alive.
In one rather large room, a women completely dressed in white was lying down in a center surrounded by candles. I could barely see her face, but the little glow I could see revealed a longing for the moon and stars that were literally hanging above her. In the background, a ghostly feminine howl could barely be heard. I didn’t know if it went along with what I was seeing, but it certainly added to the ethereal feeling to the room.
Back outside of the tunnel, a band of men with beaks surrounded what appeared to be a nest made with twigs, drum mallets, and thin yellow paper. As they began to play a tribal song with a mix of traditional and rudimentary instruments and drums, beaked women began to surround them, and they danced with arms flapping outward, almost like a bird.
As someone on the mainland tried to describe to me, the “Sacred and Profane” event is about art without bureaucracy. The organization is loose, but it’s intentional, returning us to our roots of chaos and anarchy.