Online Multimedia Exhibit
This website is the online multimedia exhibit of 'earth.sky' — an audio/visual interpretation of a unique burial ground, arboretum, birding area and outdoor sculpture museum. Roberto Mighty is America's first cemetery Artist-in-Residence and the inaugural resident artist at Mount Auburn Cemetery, America’s first garden cemetery and a National Historic Landmark.
Inspired by and filmed at Mount Auburn, earth.sky is Roberto's site-specific, immersive multimedia meditation on life, death, ritual, history, landscape, nature and culture. Recurring motifs in this work include the five elements of earth, air, fire, water and sky.
Using historically based storytelling, cinematography, photography, audio recording, sound design, digital editing, music and mobile interactive, the online and traveling multi-screen exhibit evoke American history and the contemporaneous life force of diverse individuals interred at Mount Auburn from its consecration in 1831 to the present. Artist Bio
Mount Auburn’s grounds and archives contain significant historical artifacts and touchstones from the early 19th century to the present -- including funerary iconography; religious, personal and secular text carved into stone; and statuary representing diverse cultural traditions relative to death, bereavement, and afterlife. My exhibit, “earth.sky”, alludes to these objects, ideas and traditions.
earth.sky is replete with literary references, rendered visually by close focus on stone carvings and voice recordings of excerpts from several types of documents: published (novels, poems) personal (wills, letters) and public (gravestones and monuments). These excerpts include the mid-20th century Iranian dissident woman poet Forough Farrokzhad; Bernard Malamud, a Pulitzer Prize winning American chronicler of stories about Russian Jews; and the 19th century slave narrative novelist Harriet Jacobs.
I have chosen to interpret graves representing diverse spiritual traditions. These include a towering Buddhist Stupa of Nirvana; Persian calligraphy on a flush headstone; Christian references on a monument to an escaped slave; and philosophical-humanist text that memorializes one of America’s first legally married Gay men.
Mount Auburn's interments represent families of many kinds from all over the world. Among the 98,000 graves, I sought out diverse subjects for interpretation of American history. I felt, deeply, that it was important for this inaugural body of work to reflect an inclusive view of America.
earth.sky's visual and sound imagery is largely based on Mount Auburn Cemetery's present-day landscape. Since the cemetery's founding in the early 19th century, that countryside has undergone significant human interventions via grading, plantings, fill, and other means. To some degree, these alterations bear contemporaneous witness to changing notions of what is appropriate for visitors and the interred to experience as they regard Mount Auburn's many vistas.
In addition, Mount Auburn is an arboretum of national significance, with roughly 700 species of trees on the premises. It is also an important site for native and migratory birds. My previous artist residency at Harvard Forest, a 3,500 acre long term ecological research institute in Central Massachusetts (2011-2012), helped give me a frame of reference and a base of solid information for appreciating Mount Auburn’s extraordinary landscape.
The earth.sky exhibit centers on original filmmaking, photography and sound recordings. This mostly involves imaging the Mount Auburn land mass, monuments, headstones and plot markers. The exhibit also includes a handful of interviews with relatives of the deceased. My visual practices start with the oldest tools of cinematography -- first, a firm sense of the stories; followed by considerations of season and physical location; orientation in terms of elevation and compass; position of the sun, moon, stars and clouds; time of day and moisture content in the air. Taking all of the above into account, each outdoor or indoor cinematography session involves choosing from the equipment I own to create an idiosyncratic artistic impression. These tools include a variety of cameras, lenses, filters, tripods, cranes, dollies, sliders and other gear.
I spent months researching, editing and sequencing pre-recorded music for earth.sky. The chosen music tracks include recordings of compositions by composers as diverse as 19th century German Early Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn; transcendentalist, abolitionist and lyricist Julia Ward Howe; 20th century jazz composer Charlie Mingus; and 21st century electronic ambient composer Chris Zabriskie.
Where appropriate, I chose to let the Dead speak for themselves by researching their letters, books, articles, legal documents, favorite authors, writings on headstones and other sources. I carefully selected and tried to maintain the context of their remarks. Many thanks to the professional and amateur historians who assisted in this research. Please look for their names in the credits after each film. Over the two years of the project, I was fortunate to find talented voice actors to read these quotes in my recording studio. Their names are also in the film credits.
Sound design is a critical component of the earth.sky visitor and online experience. I spent over two years recording and cataloging ambient sounds at Mount Auburn cemetery, including the calls, cries and activities of animals such as Red-Tailed Hawks, tree frogs, Eastern Grey Squirrels, Coyotes, Great Blue Herons, Great Horned Owls, Robins, wild Turkeys, Bumblebees, and domesticated dogs of various kinds.
These aurally dense environmental recordings also encompass snatches of visitors’ conversations; wind and leaf noises; aircraft overflights; automobile traffic within the cemetery and on nearby roads; police sirens; car alarms; lawn mowers; leaf blowers; and other evidences of human animals. To build the immersive audio tracks for earth.sky, these various sounds are intermixed with each other and with voiceover readings and music selections.
The photos, motion pictures, sounds and interviews are starting points for months of work to create the ‘building blocks’ of the exhibit. All of the multimedia elements for the earth.sky exhibit are combined in my digital nonlinear editing studio.
The interactive multi-screen, surround-sound touring exhibit of earth.sky is now available to museums, galleries, institutions and cultural organizations. The presentation comes complete with projectors, sound system, computers and multimedia files. Installation is supervised by the Artist.
Depending on the venue, audience members for earth.sky may experience simultaneous projections with surround-sound audio; digital random-access interactivity; or a single-screen theatrical presentation of a select series of the films.