Our latest Centerfield column is up on Art:21 blog. This week, Abigail Satinsky talks to Chicago artist and organizer Daniel Tucker about his platforming project “Visions for Chicago.” A brief excerpt follows; click on through to read the full post on Art:21.
Iâ€™ve known Daniel Tucker for about five years now and Iâ€™ve always thought of him as a true Chicago artist, somewhere in between artist, organizer, writer, and administrator and always interested in collaboration and bringing in multiple perspectives to any given situation. For anyone thatâ€™s worked with him, they know that Danielâ€™s candor can be both disarming and challenging. When one gets involved in Danielâ€™s projects, like I have in the past, heâ€™s straightforward and conscientious in his process. Is that a Chicago thing? Iâ€™ve come to think of it that way, probably because of him.
Heâ€™s done a lot of amazing work, like founding AREA Chicago six years ago and then, when he wanted to move on, gracefully stepping back from the project to be taken on by new energetic group of organizers. What I love about AREA (which stands for Art Research Education Activism and is a publication about culture and politics in Chicago) is that it gives voice to what people are actually doing to transform their city, not a theoretical discourse about what might be possible. And thereâ€™s big changes happening on the ground here, with Rahm Emanuel handily winning the mayoral election after Daley decided he was done. Iâ€™m new to Chicago but I know that this is a really, really big deal.
And so Daniel is using this opportunity to create a platforming project called â€œVisions for Chicagoâ€ for Chicagoans to articulate what they want to happen next. Starting in November 2010 and lasting through the beginning of the mayoral term in May 2011, Daniel is giving out hundreds of handmade election-style yard signs to politically-engaged Chicagoans throughout the city to tell their own vision for the future. Photographs of the signs and their makers will be published in a book by Green Lantern Press to be released May 16, 2011 at 6pm at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum. We talked about how the project started for him and where itâ€™s going.
Abigail Satinsky: Letâ€™s start out with a bit of a background question. You have a lot of experience making work in public space and an interest in graffiti. How does this all fit together for you?
Daniel Tucker: Since I was a teenager, Iâ€™ve been interested in the political conflicts surrounding peopleâ€™s access to and definition of public space. That drew me to be a graffiti writer, which was really my introduction to art making and all of the considerations of concept, audience, context, and formal design that come along with art making. And that stuff is really particular and important when you think about graffiti, street art, or more antagonistic forms of public art. Pretty soon after my initial interest in graffiti and its sub-cultural (think hip-hop and punk rock youth culture) as well as aesthetic traditions (bubble letters, characters, and â€œwild stylesâ€ as well as the more recent â€œartschoolâ€ graffiti that involves putting lots of objects and forms not traditionally associated with hip-hop graffiti into public space), I began to get bored with the general questions associated with making work in public and wanted to deal more with content. (Read more).
Just read that Poly Styrene, born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, died yesterday of breast cancer. She was 53. Such a huge influence on so many “girl singers” that came after her….she was awesome. She wore braces onstage–because she still needed them.Â “Little girls should be seen and not heard….Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” Yes. Spend some time today revisiting X-Ray Spex in honor of Ms. Styrene….below, a couple of videos to get you going.
The MDW Fair has come and gone, and unlike most art fairs I actually had a pretty good time at this one, despite the frakkin’ chilliness of Bad at Sports’ area (note to self: next time bring space heater) and the general lack of hot liquid nourishment available. Thank god for Eric May’s hot dog stand and that Tiki bar (which I think had drinks??) at The Hills Esthetic Center area downstairs – the hot dogs rocked, but regrettably I did not have time to partake in any drinks. We were on the 3rd floor, where the panel discussions were held, and which gave me great access to the public conversations but felt a little, I don’t know, cold? in comparison to what was happening on the 2nd floor, which in general felt livelier and brighter and — for God’s sakes!! — so much warmer!! — than upstairs. We got some really nice recordings during MDW’s run; as long as we didn’t eff up the sound, look out for excerpts on Episode 300 of the Podcast. Thank you to everyone who stopped by Bad at Sports’ booth to hang out and/or record an interview! You were all awesome.
My personal take on MDW was skewed by the fact that I was sitting at a booth and took only periodic spins around the other floors, often in search of food and/or coffee. For what it’s worth, Floor 2 seemed like the most convivial and fun place to be; Floor 1, which housed the indoor Sculpture Garden, was expansive and lofty and a tad empty-ish in feel but showcased a number of terrific sculptures and installations that really needed all that elbow room; and Floor 3 was a tad quiet, which was necessary given that the public talks were taking place there.Â Floor 3 did have Steve Ruiz’s Chicago Art Review booth showcasing a really nice project by Philip Von Zweck. Von Zweck asked a number of artists to produce drawings that could be photocopied on demand and distributed for free – the result was a lovely little exhibition of the original drawings, each of which could also be “taken away” gratis, albeit in editioned, xeroxed form. Reminiscent of Stephanie Syjuco’s Copy Stand: An Autonomous Manufacturing Zone at 2009’s Freize Art Fair, Von Zweck’s project reversed many of the terms laid out by Syjuco’s endeavor (appropriately so, as the fair contexts in which each project was shown are polar opposite in nature). The results of Von Zweck’s collaboration were more homespun and less cynical in feel than Syjuco’s (though I love her concept equally, for different reasons).Â I especially liked the anticipatory aspects of translating an original artwork to xerox multiple — the speculation of how well the drawing you chose would come out in pure black and white tones, seeing the results slide out of the machine….plus I am a sucker for this kind of freebie art giveaway. I like stuff, and since I could not afford a piece by Melissa Oresky otherwise, this’ll have to do me.
I only had time to attend the full duration of one panel discussion: the conversation on New Chicago Visual Arts Advocacy moderated by independent curator Britton Bertran. Panelists included Abraham Ritchie, Chicago editor of ArtSlant and Chicago Art Blog blogger; Elizabeth Chodos, Associate Director of Ox-Bow; Laura Fox, a marketing specialist and board member of Intuit; Steve Ruiz of the aforementioned Chicago Art Review; and Barbara Koenen, an artist and the Director of Chicago Artists Resource. The panel explored the types of visual arts advocacy that will be necessary — and feasible — under Rahm’s reign. Their discussion was certainly more raw than cooked, which is appropriate, given the advocacy group they are planning to build is still in its early stages. As all of the panelists stressed, any advocacy group’s ability to move forward depends upon obtaining a larger community consensus about the critical issues to push, and the panelists laid out a basic framework for a discussion of issues that would be ongoing. Some key issues on the table–but certainly not yet finalized– include advocating for more live/work and exhibition spaces in Chicago’s industrial areas through changes or adaptations to the city’s current zoning ordinances; the need to articulate the importance of street artists and street art to the creative revitalization of communities (and to distinguish their activities from those of taggers); and the overall need for visual artists to better articulate how their activities benefit the city/neighborhood communities as a whole–true dat on the last point, though shouldn’t it be obvious? The rest is still on the table and ripe for hashing-out; this is a group to watch, and to ally yourselves with now if you want to change the landscape of creative production in Chicago for the better.
Enough with the half-baked notes; the following are a few snapshots taken by a decidedly un-professional photographer over the course of the two-day event.
GUEST POST BY SARAH MARGOLIS-PINEO
Iâ€™ve had the past two weeks to ruminate on the phrase: creative supply chain. The idea was introduced at the Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference in Detroit on April 6-7 as an iteration of the creative economy in post-industrial cities. Taking cues from traditional cycles of production, as well as from the information systems of digital technology, the creative supply chain was presented as model to revitalize the 21st century economy through the stimulation of local and well-integrated creative practices.
Following the two, very full days of conference conversation, I was eager to discuss the event with a maker who is already contributing to this notion of the creative supply chain. I made a date to interview Veronika Scott, Detroit wunderkinder and creator of the Empowerment Plan, a project that combines social activism with good design through the production of self-heated and waterproof coats that transform into sleeping bags. I first encountered the Empowerment Plan at a Detroit Soup micro-grant supper back in October, where Veronika spoke about her project over bowls of vegan butternut squash. In the five short months since, the 21-year old designer has been featured on CNN and NPR, sponsored by Carhartt, and taken meetings with the Japanese embassy as well as the Red Cross.
The majority of the attention that the Empowerment Plan has received surrounds the coat itself, which beyond being a potentially life-saving tool for homeless and displaced communities, is a stunning design object made from everyday materials. To create her coats, Veronika has implemented a unique production cycle that relies on the employment of homeless women, usually mothers, who are taught the skills to create and distribute the coats to â€œunreachableâ€ individuals who are most in need. Integral to this project is the notion of empowerment, which to Veronika, exists in tandem with education and employment. What interests me about this project is how the coat becomes a model for the cycle that produces itâ€”both are fully sustainable systems that promote independence, wellbeing, and inherently, empowerment of both user and maker.
Veronika is first and foremost a designer, who operates at that curious intersection of culture and social activism. Her praxis has swung a wide arc between fine art and manufacturing, but in essence, her process is to locate a problem, and creatively work to produce a solution. To achieve this, she utilizes tools from the business world as well as the creative sector, and will unabashedly network for material or intellectual gain. She has an uncontrollable passion for issues relating to homelessness. At first, I mistook her zeal for youthful exuberance, but through our conversation, I realized that this almost-college-graduate is well on her way to becoming a predominant voice in humanitarian design.
This conversation was recorded in a bougie coffee shop in Royal Oak, a suburb north of Detroit, which struck me as an ironic venue, until our conversation was interrupted by an older man who decided to clip his fingernails at an adjacent table. We werenâ€™t so far from the city after all. Discussed in this interview is that illusive creative supply chain, big, pink band-aids, the collaborative creative processes, and Detroit as a city of makers.
Sarah Margolis-Pineo: Beginning with the Empowerment Plan, how did that project start?
Veronika Scott: It started first as a school project. At that point, it was literally product design, so I focused on the coat, and the design. I thought: itâ€™s cold, they need something to wear, something to sleep in, something waterproof and self heated, and it started off pretty small.
I spent three days a week, every week, for five months with a group of people at neighborhood service organization, which is also known as Viet Nam on the streets. Itâ€™s hands down the roughest, most aggressive, most displacedâ€¦ Itâ€™s not even a shelterâ€”itâ€™s a warming station in Detroit! I didnâ€™t know that at the time. I was very naive, and very stupid to go there for the first time.
SMP: Warming station?
VS: Itâ€™s somewhere you can go and just sit for 8-hours, and then you get booted out for the next group. So I went there at 8pm, three nights a week, every week of the semester, and continued on to the beginning of the summer. It was through that time that the project did not die. Instead of going: okay guys, semesterâ€™s done and Iâ€™ve got my grade, I continued to do prototypes with them, and they still continued to test them. Even when I didnâ€™t have anything to show them, I would still go and talk at the same scheduled day, at the same scheduled time every week, just to say that I was there.
SMP: And out of this process emerged a beautiful, as well as a functional, design object. This axis of art and social activism is becoming more prominent, especially here in Detroit through discussions relating to the creative economy. Iâ€™m wondering how you see your work fitting into that conversation?
VS: I donâ€™ t see [The Empowerment Plan] as being fine arts. In no way is it fine arts. When the coat idea was lumped in to the project, [a college administrator] wanted me to do gallery shows and this fine art ideation, and I thought: this doesnâ€™t need gallery shows, this needs funding and larger warehouse space. This doesnâ€™t need to show itself off anymore, and it doesnâ€™t need to think about itselfâ€”it needs to act. I felt like what I was being asked to do was read through a document and highlight spelling mistakes and errors. I feel like that is fine art: you highlight, you make awareness in the world to a problem. I feel like what my project is, is going in and retyping it. I have a very strong issue with highlighting something, Iâ€™ m one of those people who needs to act and do something.
SMP: What did you take from this idea of â€œcreative supply chainâ€ at the Rust Belt conference? Do you feel that business practices should be a more integral part of creative practices?
VS: Thatâ€™s what I think is really lacking. Yes, there are a lot of great things that come out of fine art in this city. The pink wall, for example, the big pink band-aid, thatâ€™s greatâ€”itâ€™s highlighting or covering a bruise. But, one: itâ€™s not doing anything; and two: the big issues that those artists arenâ€™t willing or need to be pushed to join up with that sort of commercial, business oriented world that theyâ€™re trying to stay away from. There needs to be something lasting, because right now, were in this state of anti-structure in Detroit. I described it as the Wild West of creativity, because you can almost do anything you want if youâ€™re driven enough to get it or do it, which is great. But if thereâ€™s not any structure applied to it soon, if thereâ€™ s no heavy manufacturers coming in and trying to tie themselves to somethingâ€¦ This needs to happen, otherwise it will start to collapse. The pink wall will fade or crumble and disappear. And what are we left with?
SMP: So what advice would you give to the creative community in Detroit to cultivate something lastingâ€”to creatively problem solve and see tangible results?
VS: Start figuring out names. I think it has everything to do with networking. I wouldnâ€™t know anything about what Iâ€™m doing if it wasnâ€™t for the brilliant people I surround myself with, and the brilliant people willing to put up with me and my questions. And these are some amazing CEOs, lawyersâ€”some amazing people in all senses of the word. I know artists think they donâ€™t want to reach out to that type of person or that they canâ€™t. Youâ€™d be surprised, that even if itâ€™s just googling until you find a name of someone that does clothing manufacturing or kids toysâ€” someone who works for Hasbro. You think you canâ€™t contact them, but you need to try. Iâ€™ve emailed hundreds of people to help me with this. Communication is huge. And I think thatâ€™s how you apply that structure. You canâ€™t know everything about what youâ€™re doing. There were so many aspects of my project that I didnâ€™t understand, and I still really donâ€™t, but I have people beside me who do.
SMP: Collaboration seems to be integral aspect of your practiceâ€”you seem to have cultivated all these micro-communities through the process of the Empowerment Plan. Tell me a bit about your involvement with the new project in Corktown, which I understand is based in the idea of collectivity, and bringing together a network of creatives from a range of fields.
VS: [Phil Cooley and collaborators] are bringing together quite an amazing group of people. Everybody from chefs to architects, to engineers, and heads of foundations. Businesspeople! I think this is the typical structure that everyone should haveâ€”as eclectic as this. When you build a community you need to have it be eclectic. You canâ€™t just hunt down all your artist friends and call it a day and just make pottery. You need to branch out to people you may be uncomfortable with, and you fully acknowledge are more intelligent than you, and possibly more creative than you. Those are the best people to surround yourself with, and thatâ€™s what I see this new warehouse/structure being. It blew my mind that they approached me! These are established artists, designers, chefs. People within the city and outside the city coming in specifically to have a space in this warehouse.
SMP: And this is studio space?
VS: Studio-production space. To pay for the space, weâ€™ll be teaching kids at least 4-hours a month. So thatâ€™s like paying rentâ€”weâ€™re expected to teach! Kids are a huge part of this space. Studio space is great, but Iâ€™ m not one of those people, anymore or right now anyway, who will use a studio to paint for 10-hours a day. My studio is about producingâ€”getting ideas out, and communicating with others. And my contribution was saying to Phil: Youâ€™re talking about kids in the public schools, and we need to branch out to kids who are not in schools at all. Iâ€™m bringing this back to homelessness, but thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m closest to, thereâ€™s a huge problem with homeless youth, and theyâ€™ re trapped in this deep cycle just like anyone else.
SMP: Do you think the specific conditions here in Detroit have enabled this type of collective, socially conscious, cultural iteration?
VS: Yes. This wouldnâ€™t have been able to happen anywhere else. Perhaps Russiaâ€¦
SMP: The climate is similar!
VS: The climate is similar, as is the socio-economic status of most of the people who live in Russia. But, Iâ€™m not from Russia, and I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s anywhere else in the US that I could do this. It has the space. It has the creative community. It has the media attentionâ€¦ Itâ€™s a weird place right nowâ€”thereâ€™s little structure, decaying buildings all over the place, thereâ€™s skyrocketing joblessness. So, itâ€™s a weird combination.
SMP: At the conference, I often heard Detroit referred to as a city of makers.
VS: As a city, weâ€™ve been a maker culture since the beginning. When the city was still flourishing, we were a part of makingâ€”the hands on production of automobiles, clothing, shoes, and leather goods. We were so tangible. Some of the best goods came out of Michigan, and Detroit in particular, and I think thatâ€™s so deeply ingrained in all the generations. The grandfather did cars, and from there, the sons and daughters made products that other places in the country didnâ€™t have the skills to do. Detroit was raised by, and into it. Itâ€™s part of everyoneâ€™s beingâ€”we are a community and city based on producing things. Thatâ€™s something that is very hard to kill, especially now with the new digital world that is so intangible, a lot of Detroiters didnâ€™t know what to do. When the economy fell and we lost all those production jobsâ€¦ To this day, people still donâ€™t know what to do without hands-on making.Â There are so many skilled people in this city, itâ€™s insane! I think thatâ€™s where it has to go againâ€”return to the culture of making, but differently this time. Yes, it did fail, but it did in the rest of the world as well economy-wise. You canâ€™t blame the city, but weâ€™ve been doing it for 20-or so years now, which is longer than the crash. We need to apply new structures and new systems to it, because right now, the old one does not work. The old paradigm for making and producing no longer applies. In order to succeed, we need to think of new ways. This is where the idea of the artist comes in. Looking at something in a different way.
Yes, we are makers, but we canâ€™t rely entirely on that anymore. We need to join forcesâ€”business practices are everything. We are a maker community, but we canâ€™t be afraid to let other non-makers in.
Sarah Margolis-Pineo is a curator and writer. She is currently the Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow at the Cranbrook Art Museum.
I first met Rebecca on Milwaukee Ave. I think we were at a gallery opening. I had been talking to a friend about The North Georgia Gazette, an Arctic newspaper originally published in 1821; I wanted to reprint it somehow. At the timeÂ the project was a pipe dream and when my friend saw Rebecca, she ushered her over and said, “You should talk to Rebecca. She’s all about Arctic exploration.” At the time, I think I stuttered through the introduction. Like many encounters, the virtue of our handshake was not in what was said but a recognition of friendliness. Since then I’ve followed Rebecca’s work pretty closely. We put the Gazette together and even travelled to Philly at one point to put up an art show. We share a number of interests in book making and comics; her work has inspired my own in different ways. I’ve always appreciated its tactile honesty. There is something defiant about the unslick-ness of her tone, the efficiency of her energy. If she wants to illustrate a relationship with the ocean, she literally draws with it, or swims in it, or writes it a letter. She makes illustrated chapbooks connecting geographical exploration with a romantic biography. Or, upon recognizing weakness creates a ritual of exercise-as-performance. In everything there is a direct connection between the gut of her impulse and the resulting aesthetic experience. The distilled object–a photograph, a sculpture or video–is the result. Given her interest in exploration, it makes sense she would approach her practice so efficiently–it is as though she must employ economy in order to anticipate unknown distances ahead, in order to conserve energy and resources. Each piece is evidence of Â a new discovery within an interior landscape–a place that could be a country or a poem.
Caroline Picard: What does it mean to explore something? What is your relationship to the iceberg?
Rebecca Mir: When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time scrambling over seaweed covered rocks and investigating tide pools by the beach, or building fairy houses in the roots of spruce trees on Monhegan Island. I channel some of that excitement when I’m walking through a new place, or building something in my studio. Exploration is partly about the physical space of exploring, and then it’s all the pieces of the story surrounding the exploration. Some of my projects rely more heavily on the actual journey, to the water, or mountain, or the preparations for this journey. Getting directions from a deck of tarot cards for instance. Or the journey takes place entirely on paper. In a comic about exploring the sea floor and bumping into perished explorers.
Icebergs are explorers too. They break off of a glacier and set out a trip through the ocean. Sometimes they stop in shallow water and become an island. They are beautiful, but sometimes dangerous, to us. I am attracted to cold places and large bodies of water. It’s only fitting really that I think icebergs are sexy and fun to draw.
CP: How do you relate to the mediums you employ? How do you chose, for instance, whether something is made out of paper, or bound in a book, or constructed with plywood?
RM: When I first decided to be an artist, (somewhere around fourteen?)Â I was very old fashioned. I wanted to carve women in stone. I think this might be directly related to watching a film on Camille Claudel. I had a very romantic sense of the artist studio. Romantic and dramatic and devastating. I quickly gave up on figure drawing and sculpture for less figurative sculpture projects in fiber and ceramics. But I’ve returned to working with the figure and stone. I started drawing again, about five years ago, with comics. And I’ve been working with rocks again, in sculptures and drawings. It’s sort of tying up the loose ends of my roots.Â Choosing materials is sometimes a game. Figuring out how to build/draw/capture this idea with what is directly around me. Similar to the fairy house building in the woods. And sometimes this is just where it starts, and then I realize that I have to go seek the right paper, or wood, or rock. Or that I need to go make a photograph. Or find a video camera.
Plywood is great for making rigid things like ice floes and mountains. Paper is great for making water. I like the way crinkled paper makes me think of water stopped in motion; the light hits the crinkles in a similar way to it reflecting on the wavy surface of water. Paper is also great for writing on. When I want to tell a more linear story, I always go back to pen on paper. I turn them into books when there seems to be a group of stories, or a longer one. Books are easier travel companions. I can send them easily in the mail. They take up less space, but require more time.
CP: Do you feel your work is contingent on others? I suppose I am thinking of the photograph you took, where you are swimming in the ocean in the winter. It looks like you are utterly alone, but of course the photograph was taken by someone. I ask because I feel like there is an idea about exploration that it demands a kind of alone-nessâ€”i.e. you are going into unknown territories without being positive that you can returnâ€”yet in the action of performing that exploration, or making an art object, or taking a photograph, it seems to me there is an implied â€˜youâ€™ or witnessâ€¦?
RM: Explorations aren’t always alone. Often there are expedition teams. People who help you get to the cave entrance, or carry supplies up the mountain.
I have always been interested in solo adventures. I’ve read a lot of books of solo sailing trips around the world, solo flights etc. I am always curious about some of the worst moments. They seem small on the page, and in the past, but I’m sure they were huge in the moment.
My particular brand of exploration is about being alone. The photograph that you mention, was taken during a walk that I took with my sister, mother and aunt in Maine. We passed a rocky point with a stone church, that I’ve driven by a thousand times. It’s a popular spot to get married. There was a small rocky beach nearby, that I’d never been on before. We walked down and I decided to get in the water. I passed the camera to my sister with some instructions. I was most definitely alone in the water. But I was there to be with the water. So I was alone with the water. And now I’m sharing a racy photograph with you.
CP: All this talk of exploration and solo journeys, and of course, the devastating romanticism of the artist–are you into Bas Jan Ader at all? What do you think of his final boat trip, In Search of the Miraculous?
RM: Yes, totally have a soft spot for Bas Jan Ader. A friend told me to look at his work when I was an undergrad. There weren’t as many books in print of his work then, but I found a description of his boat trip and thought it was the coolest and most poetically self destructive art project I’d ever heard of. Still, I didn’t really think about the size of his boat much til last year. It was only 12 or 13 feet long. That is like paddling a canoe across the Atlantic. I just finished reading Susan Casey’s book about rogue waves (100+ foot waves, more common than you think…..and an awesome read), so I’d prefer a much bigger boat if I sail across the Atlantic.
I also really like his piece I’m too sad to tell you.
CP: What about Buffy? She seems like another hero in your work. I was thinking of the project you did where you did pilates while watching all the episodes. How did you come up with that as a project? How do you feel (if you do) like she fits into your artistic mythology?
RM: Yes Buffy is a hero. Super strong girl kicking lots of supernatural ass with total lesbo best friend â€“ what is not to love? During the last episode of the show, Willow (Buffy’s best friend, conveniently a witch) casts a spell that gives all the potential slayers the super strength that Buffy has. And then they head into battle. There are lots of portals in the Buffyverse (as it’s sometimes refered to). So I started thinking about the TV as a portal to the Buffyverse. And if I had a ritual to do while watching the show on TV, then I might be able to access it/enter the portal via this repetition. So I had a pilates routine that I would every day in front of an episode of Buffy. The fight scenes were usually at the end of each episode, so I would also fight along with my punching bag at the end. For five months I had slayer training with Buffy every day, in my apartment/the Buffyverse. At the end I was indeed stronger. I also immediately noticed that my dreams were less insanely violent. And I stopped getting a cold every other week. The spell/ritual worked.
CP: How would you characterize your relationship to Chicago?
RM: Well, if the ocean is my lover, then Chicago is a great housemate. We get along really well.
I really like the city, and the people here. I’ve been here for almost ten years though, and I still get homesick for a rocky coast. But I realized a while back that if I left town every couple of months, and visited the ocean at least twice a year, that I could really be happy living in the Midwest.
CP: What is the handmade book for?
RM: Handmade books are friends. If you take care of them, and they stick with you and make you feel better.
CP: Will you talk a bit about the project/video where you walked around the lake with a homemade telephone?
RM: I have this thing for long distances. I think about them often.
In part because a lot of good friends live far away. And I had been in a series of relationships with people who lived elsewhere. (The romantic relationships didn’t survive the distance.)
I wanted to put a ridiculous amount of effort into talking to someone. I wanted to physically cover a fraction of the distance that we frequently communicate across. A tin can telephone seemed to be the right tool for this exercise. I needed a length that was both daunting (for this specific task) and nearly insignificant these days. I picked a mile. And began making the phone.
My friend Dan lives near the beach in Indiana, and I always remembered from visits that the beach was rather empty in the off season. The beach didn’t curve too much either, so it seemed like it would be ideal for unwinding a mile long tin can telephone. I drove out to Miller Beach with two friends, two video cameras, and some audio recording equipment. Andrea, Aay and I set everything up right in front of the path from Dan’s house. Andrea stayed with the two cameras at the starting point. Aay and I began walking away from her, and each other, unwinding the telephone as we walked.
The goal was to have a conversation with a mile of beach in between us. And if it worked, record it. It was a lovely walk for a while. A warm and windy and sunny April day. And then there were lots and lots of knots and tangles in the string. At first just a few. And then I got stuck and I couldn’t go any further. Apparently Aay had lots of knots in the beginning but then it was smooth unraveling. So Aay and I never got to talk on the tin can telephone. Which was okay. I was mostly interested in the experiment, and the walk. And the videos of Aay and I walking away from the camera (there were two cameras, one on Aay and one on me) and disappearing into the distance captured these sort of quiet adventurers off seeking a conversation.
CP: Another thing I notice is how you characterize dynamic and personal relationships with traditionally inanimate things (like books, for instance, or Chicago, or the Ocean)–I’m particularly struck by how that characterizations relates to your description of the failed conversation with Aay–the contraption of the phone seems as alive and integral as Aay, or Dan, or the beach. In other words, you seem to describe a deep feeling connection to your environment and the things that occupy that environment. I’m curious about what role you see your work playing in that equation?
I absolutely have a deep connection to environments. Partly because when I was growing up in Maine, the ocean was such a calming force for me. Environments have a strong effects on their inhabitants. And we effect our environments. (This is where I tell you that global warming is real. And I admit that I am a nerd.) I meant it before when I said icebergs are sexy. A lot of my work is about romantic relationships with the environment. The romantic sense of adventure and conquest, and also heartache (a.k.a. natural disasters, glaciers melting)
One of my ongoing projects is about my long distance relationship with the ocean (which is why I was in the ocean by myself for that photo, I was visiting her). I joked once in a love letter (sent by bottle via the Mississippi river) that if I waited long enough in the Midwest the ocean would make it to me. Seriously, global warming is real.
CP: Rubaccaquon! I can’t believe I forgot to ask about that–I just thought about it, because it also, as a project, seems to relate to the personal dynamism I mentioned before–in so far as you are defining a personal country, right? And then also how that reflect on the power and idea of naming something. Could you talk a little bit about that?
RM: I have a lot of nicknames. Rubaccaquon is one. (I believe Aay Preston-Myint is responsible) I started using it as a website name, an alter ego/placeholder name, since I had been toying with the idea of changing my last name. And when I decided to swap Grady for Mir, I started to think that maybe Rubaccaquon was really a place after all. I was thinking a little bit about Yvette Poorter’s backyard Canadian soil residency project. If she could bring Canada with her to the Netherlands, then I could certainly date the ocean and have my own country. So Rubaccaquon became a nation/notion.
Discovering things and places is fun. Naming them helps with the storytelling that comes after the discovery.
CP: What have you been working on lately?
RM: I’ve been thinking a lot about space recently. Thinking and reading and doodling about space. Both outer space and the space in my apartment. I am making some directional and time devices/sculptures out of wood, metal, paper and stones. I’ve also been looking at a lot of Victorian acrostic jewelry. I want my next love letter to the ocean to be in stones.Â A large scale series of stones set in sand instead of gold.
I’m making a mountain range for my apartment, out of plywood. And I’ve been making a lot of books. Some have been edits of things I’ve worked on in the past. I have an unpublished comic kicking around, that I’m finally going to print. And I made a new zine called SHE IS RESTLESS for the Chicago Zine Fest last month.
See more of Rebecca’s work by goingÂ here.