‘Fort Words’ combines art, history, discovery into interactive installation

Luciano Marano
Posted 9/14/20

If these walls could talk, they might tell you to read.

This, however, is not your average graffiti.

Several historic structures at Ford Worden have received a new splash of paint …

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‘Fort Words’ combines art, history, discovery into interactive installation


If these walls could talk, they might tell you to read.

This, however, is not your average graffiti.

Several historic structures at Ford Worden have received a new splash of paint — in the form of stenciled messages, dispatches from the past — as part of Centrum artist-in-residence Aaron Asis’ latest project “Ford Words,” a temporary interactive installation that displays selected snippets of the area’s oral history.

Twenty-three such missives will be on display for the next two months as part of the installation, presented in collaboration by Centrum, the Fort Worden Public Development Authority, and a permitting partnership with Washington State Parks.

The project, officials said, “explores experimenting with new ways to engage visitors with the histories and architectures of the park.”

Each historical excerpt was chosen, Asis said, from local oral history to be “thematically different.”

“They should each tickle a different part of everyone’s own personal interests,” he said, “and draw you through some of the battery sites that are a little less trafficked.”

The artist said he chose quotes from historical materials provided primarily by the Jefferson County Historical Society and Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

“Really,” he said, “it’s just supposed to show you there’s so much richness here.”

“Real people lived here. Real people worked here. Real people have something to say about this place.”

Asis was born and raised in New York City, exploring its neighborhoods, people, and streets. Over the years, these explorations evolved from personal curiosities to a creative mission committed to promoting access and awareness of underappreciated environments throughout American cities. Those experiences have become the foundation for his body of work, focused on sharing the visible and invisible details of spaces and stories — and the ways art can highlight the importance of these phenomenon in everyday lives.

This project, he said, “gives a voice to the voiceless” — the walls themselves.

“It’s easy to look at them as something that used to be here, or something that’s a little bit defunct in one way,” he said. “But there’s a richness in the walls that we’ve all benefited from.”

The installation is meant to be explored at one’s own pace and in small groups, ideal for the current health situation.

Asis said he hopes the project will get locals, who have perhaps “walked the path 100 times before,” to see their familiar surroundings differently.

“It’s for discovery’s sake,” he said.

The installations are rendered in a stencil-style text and placed so as to leave a “historically inspired trail of breadcrumbs throughout the battery sites for people to discover, contemplate, and photograph,” the artist explained.

Asis first learned of the fort when he was artist-in-residence last year, and returned to the position and Ford Worden this summer. His work has sparked another return as well, that of the “Art Salon” series.

Northwind Arts Center and Port Townsend School of the Arts will present an online discussion with Asis, “The Value of Public Spaces in Our Community,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16.

The artist will be joined by panelists Nina Elder, Shelly Leavens, Gloria Lamson and Marlin Holden.

The Art Salon series is a partnership between the Port Townsend School of the Arts  and Northwind, bringing artists, art teachers, and other art professionals together for occasional talks, panel discussions and lectures.

These events are free, and now happening live via Zoom. 

“The popular series has been on pause since the pandemic, but this online version is an exciting return,” explained PtSA spokeswoman Meg Kaczyk.

Visit the PtSA Facebook page for an event link.

Donations will be accepted.

More information about “Fort Words” can be found at www.aaronasis.com/projects/fort-words.


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