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Re-Site 2024 | James Allister Sprang – Listening Sessions

James Allister Sprang

May 4, 2024 – May 13, 2024
3 pm & 5 pm
  • May 4 – Listening Session #1; 3-4:15, Aquifer of the Ducts. Register here, space is limited 
  • May 4 – Listening Session #1; 5-6:15, Aquifer of the Weave. Register here, space is limited 
  • May 13 – Listening Session #2; 6-7:15, Rest Within the Wake. Register here, space is limited 

James Allister Sprang will be presenting two Listening Sessions as an opportunity to turn away from the frantic pace of the modern world. Sprang welcomes audiences to join him at the Abyssinian Meeting House for three sessions of communal somatic listening. By taking shape within the history and architecture of the Abyssinian Meeting House, the third oldest standing African American meeting house in the United States, this site was the center of Portland’s African American community throughout the 19th century and has been in the process of restoration since 1998 to preserve the original character and intention of the building for community use. He invites you to bring something comfortable to lie on/with to tune in to your bodies, your ancestors, your traumas, your pain, your longings, visions, and dreams. Yoga mats will be provided.

Rest Within the Wake, Aquifer of the Weave and Aquifer of the Ducts are three vastly different original compositions recorded and produced between 2020-23. All within the realm of multi-instrumental, experimental, through composed spiritual “vibes.” Each anchoring 60-minute sessions of somatic listening. 

The son of Caribbean immigrants, James Allister Sprang considers his relationship to Diasporic timelines while weaving together his multimedia work, to create sensory poems for the spirit. This work is informed by the Black interior as well as radical and experimental traditions. Sprang’s work lives in gallery spaces, theater spaces and the space between the ears. In 2022, Sprang was awarded both the Pew Fellowship and the Knight Foundation Art + Tech Fellowship for his work with the only 4DSound system in America. 

A graduate of the Cooper Union (BFA) and the University of Pennsylvania (MFA), Sprang has completed numerous residencies domestically and internationally including MONOM, Shandaken, YoungArts, Baryshnikov Arts Center, The Public Theater, BHQFU, Fountainhead, FringeArts and The Kitchen. Sprang has shown and/or performed at The Brooklyn Museum, TATE Museum, PAFA Museum, The Aldrich Museum, The Kitchen, Storm King Art Center, The Public Theater, Baryshnikov Arts Center, The Margulies Collection, David Nolan Gallery, The Apollo Theater, Pioneer Works, On The Boards, Northwest Film Forum, Knockdown Center and The Painted Bride Art Center. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, Art in America and Art Papers. 

SPACE is pleased to present Re-Site 2024, the second iteration of the site-specific, temporary public art and Portland history-telling initiative we first launched in 2020. This year’s series features artwork by James Allister Sprang, Maya Tihtiyas Attean, Ashley Page, Rachel Alexandrou, and Ling-Wen Tsai, in collaboration with historians Seth Goldstein and Libby Bischof.

Each of these 5 artists were nominated by the previous group (Asha Tamirisa, Shane Charles, Heather Flor Cron, Veronica A. Pèrez, and Asata Radcliffe) and selected a site within the Greater Portland area to propose a temporary public installation or performance in response to its history. 

During the first iteration in 2020, the idea of Re-Site stemmed from the Maine Bicentennial, quickly becoming more urgent and relevant due to the growing call for change across the intersections of civil rights, climate change, public health, and political process. In the four years since these first activations, we are thrilled to bring these new projects and histories to light in order to broaden our knowledge and awareness of these local histories and understand how their impact has brought us to where we are today, through various artistic lenses. Our hope for Re-Site 2024 is to further expand and engage upon what we first started, and broaden the artistic possibilities to demonstrate “and generate dialogue about what we want to carry with us into the future.” 


Re-Site locations, schedules, and details:

Please take note that each site has specific days and interpretations it will be viewable to the public. All sites will feature a Re-Site lawn sign, which will include information to see the full artist statement, site history, photo and video documentation, and a bibliography with further research on key related objects viewable in public collections. Documentation will be regularly updated and archived on the individual project web pages linked below. 

The histories that ground the Re-Site have been cultivated from primary and secondary sources, accessible with thanks to the on-going efforts of collecting organizations and libraries, community members, and historians. The stories that define people and place shift in the currents that pull our socio-cultural priorities: they ebb and flow. Our knowing is reliant on those who have preserved records and have previously woven those pieces together, but we must always be mindful of the records not archived, the voices obscured and silenced, and the perspectives we have neglected and forgotten. History is happening right now.

Re-Site 2024 is made possible with the generous support of the Mellon Foundation’s Humanities in Place initiative.

Site History: Abyssinian Meeting House

The Abyssinian Meeting House was built in 1828. The building served as a church and was the heart of Portland’s Black community. Temperance meetings, (the temperance, suffrage, and abolition moments were closely tied in the nineteenth century) sewing circles, concerts and lectures were all held here. The Meeting House also served as a school for the city’s Black children who were segregated from their White counterparts.

The meeting house closed in 1917, in part due to competition for parishioners from the nearby Green Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. The building was remodeled as tenement apartments in 1924. Eventually the building fell into disrepair and was seized by the city for unpaid taxes. The building was sold to the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian in 1998. Since that time the Committee has worked to restore the building to its original 1828 layout. In 2022 the Committee received $1.7 million in federal funding to help complete the restoration. The Abyssinian Meeting House is on the national Register of Historic Places and is the United State’s third-oldest surviving African American Meeting House.

The Underground Railroad
The Meeting House served as the center of Portland’s Underground Railroad. Portland became an increasingly important stop on the Underground Railroad following the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act that allowed Southern deputies to pursue self-emancipating enslaved Africans into Northern states. The activities of Portland’s Underground Railroad were organized by the African Diaspora Community with the assistance of White allies. The network included hack men, individuals employed as horse-drawn taxi drivers, to transport the self-emancipating individuals around the city, safe houses, barber shops, where individuals could change their appearance with wigs and fake beards, and second-hand clothing dealers where an individual could disguise themselves with new clothes. There were several routes from Portland to Canada including the overnight boats to the Canadian Maritimes and a land route that went around Sebago Lake before heading to the Canadian border.

Munjoy Hill’s African Diaspora Community
In the wake of emancipation in Massachusetts’ province of Maine in 1783 a community of free Black people congregated along the base of Munjoy Hill, close to the waterfront and the jobs related to it. The 1850 Maine census reflects the importance of maritime industries for Blacks in Portland. The occupations of stevedore, fishermen, stewards and shipwrights are listed as the employment for over half of the city’s Black population. Black Mainers also found livelihoods in related maritime industries such as sailmakers, ship caulkers, blacksmiths, hackmen, restauranteurs and boardinghouse owners. The money generated by Black maritime workers allowed them to purchase homes in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood. This wealth also allowed individuals to fund community institutions such as sailors benevolent societies which cared for elderly and injured sailors and to fund houses of worship like the Abyssinian Meeting House.

Munjoy Hill’s Other Communities
As a result of the Irish potato famine the community of African Heritage individuals living on Munjoy Hill were joined by large numbers of Irish immigrants starting in the 1840s. The Irish were followed by Italian, Greek, Albanian, Polish, Russian, Northern European, Armenian and Eastern European Jews as the nineteenth century progressed. The areas two Catholic Churches, where Irish and Italians worshipped, synagogue, and Italian shops and restaurants remain today as a testament to the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood.


James Allister Sprang
Instagram @jamesallistersprang