Daniel McCarthy Clifford (MN) created a publication to correspond with his Leavenworth Project where he compiled the history of activism, organizing, and interracial solidarity for consumption inside and outside of US prisons. He created a faux cover for the book and interspersed the history of activism and organizing throughout other inconspicuous texts and chapters. He worked with a publishing house to mail these texts into hundreds of prisons across the country. A portion of his project was featured in HBO’s OG Experience in 2019 and later at MoMA PS1’s Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration in 2020.
The Leavenworth Project is a research-based art initiative exploring the histories of the institutions at Leavenworth, Kansas. This Midwestern city has been at the intersection of America’s most pertinent social narratives for the last two centuries. As the main hub for the westward expansion of “Young America,” the conquest of California was led from Fort Leavenworth. The 10th Cavalry Regiment, better known as Buffalo Soldiers, was formed at Leavenworth, where the Army’s graduate school provided the education of generals Eisenhower, MacArthur, and 19,000 other officers. The Federal Prison System was born at Leavenworth, home of both the US Disciplinary Barracks and the infamous Leavenworth Penitentiary. The list of individuals incarcerated at these prisons has included Communist Party USA leader Gus Hall, Nazi spy Fritz Duquesne, Al Capone, Leonard Peltier, and Chelsea Manning.
Memorial Trays is the first installment of The Leavenworth Project, focusing on the incarceration of anti-war activists under the Espionage Act of 1917. Thousands were charged criminally for organizing, speaking, publishing, or distributing material opposing US involvement in WWI. Among those convicted were journalists, newspaper editors, political candidates, labor organizers, and members of the clergy. Mass trials were held in Chicago, Omaha, Sacramento, and Wichita as the federal government crusaded against organized labor and the Socialist Party: threats to a war effort that promised colossal profits for American industrialists. Since Trump’s election in 2016, Republican lawmakers in 20 states have put forward legislation aimed at making it more difficult for people to engage in public protest and expanding the goverment’s ability to charge dissenters as criminals. The president has attacked organized labor with an executive order and has called the press “enemy of the American people” for its efforts to hold him and his administration to account. Memorial Trays engages with a time in US history that has taken on a sudden urgency, situating the narrative of Leavenworth within the current debate on monuments and memorials taking place across the country.
Memorial Trays have labels telling the stories of those dissidents who served at Leavenworth during WWI. These “fleeting monuments,” sincere yet radically subversive, are packaged individually in crates and shipped to the warden of Leavenworth Penitentiary along with a request that the trays be displayed inside the prison’s common area, so these stories can be read by inmates and staff.