The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies

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Socially engaged artwork and portable ritual space constructed of oiled marine canvas, recycled clothing, ink on canvas, cotton batting, wood, and steel
20 minute Tarot readings inside tent; 9' diameter footprint

The Tent Tour

Between 2015 and 2017, this portable ritual space traveled to 44 different locations throughout the Northeastern, Midwestern, and Mid-Atlantic United States. During this time, James Leonard gave 1,000 Tarot card readings to strangers, addressing participants’ questions and anxieties surrounding our current climate crisis.

Smithsonian Magazine
Brooklyn Magazine

Hand painted sign detailing The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies project and divinatory tarot process
James Leonard preparing for tarot card reading

An in-depth perspective of this project and its lessons can be found in Leonard’s essay Tempting Fate. First published in Dark Mountain, Issue 15. Available here as a .pdf.

"My initial rationale was, when it comes to climate change, if we are unable to collectively heed the measured advice of our most meticulous, trained scientists, we might as well speak with diviners....I now believe the structured, narrative practice of divination can, when wielded responsibly and with reverence, foster a deep cultural relationship to the passage of time and our place within these currents."

The tent’s title derives from a series of delicate, earthy watercolors pinned to the exterior, raw canvas. Each painting depicts a different species—whose phenologies, or seasonal rhythms, have been observed by everyday people as having been recently disrupted.

Detail of the Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies' oculus. Photo by Wendy Whitesell.
Detail, looking upwards through the tent's sky oculus.

The tent itself has an open floor and a 24” oculus framing the sky. It takes approximately three hours to set up, one hour to strike. Readings were offered free to the general public, for approximately eight hours each day the tent was up. Sites included contemporary art museums, town squares, nature spaces, spiritual centers, and university campuses.


The tent tour was made possible in part by support from the following:
The University of Michigan and the Roman V. Witt Residency Program, Harvard University’s PredictionX program, Cornell University, American University, the Devoss Museum of Art at Northern Michigan University, the Jersey City Parks Coalition, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, the Delaware Art Museum, Arlington Arts Center, Wasserman Projects, Sustainable Tompkins, and Marcellus Outreach Butler.

Fabrication made possible in part by artist residencies at the Boston Center for the Arts and MASS MoCA, and with the sewing assistance of nearly two dozen activists and witches.

The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies installed within a protected reservoir, Jersey City. Photo by Wendy Whitesell.