Beyond Blind Mist: A Conversation with Brad Troemel and Jonathan Vingiano

December 20, 2011 · Print This Article

Over the past year Brad Troemel and Jonathan Vingiano have been steadily collaborating together to create platforms of digital exchange and dialog through their development of various browser-exclusive projects. These co-authored works have garnered a fair amount of praise and success lately, due in part by a 2011 Rhizome Commission awarded in early July. When initially approaching works like Blind Mist, a work which at first appears to be just a constant steady stream of randomly generated images, one cannot help but be curious how Troemel and Vingiano view the ease of digital distribution as a conceptual launching point for their shared interests. As one gets an opportunity to interact with this stream, however, audiences find that they can effect the content of these cascading images by submitting URLs into a database which then acts as a resource for an image scraping algorithm (a piece of code that goes to each inputted website and pulls images from that site to store in an accompanying database). This code later randomly pulls images from this stack and show those pictures within the visible queue. This reference list can also be seen on the site, as both a reference guide to what has already been submitted, but also to show where the content of the stream is being gathered. The images that are output to the feed are then linked back to their original location, and as a result provide browsers an opportunity to explore content that they usually might not be exposed to.

This project acts as a kind of critique of the ways in which social media publishing, and micro-blogging initiatives like tumblr, have created environments of very limited, and “heavily pruned” as Vingiano puts it, representations of online content. As a result, these network tools engender a somewhat dishonest perspective of the web due to the way they often get used as taste-making engine. This skepticism is a an acknowledgment of what Eli Pariser calls the filter bubbles: ways in which algorithms shape web content delivery based upon browsing history, cookies from other sites, our IP address, and various other information gathered by social networking sites. What Troemel and Vingiano propose is that image sharing on the web shouldn’t be so well curated or predetermined. Instead, systems of sharing and browsing should foster a more horizontal curiosity acting against the emerging hierarchical corporate web.

Blind Mist then operates as a step in providing a digital commons for artists, creatives, and everyday users to surf a stream that hasn’t already been predigested for some specific means to an end. The randomization of the site then combats the normally predetermined selection process that occurs online as a result of an algorithm based on “likes” and “notes” or a person aiming to depict a curated version of their online persona. Either way, Blind Mist – and similarly Echo Parade (which is currently on pause for maintenance) – abstract and partially remove the ways in which images can be distributed online and reallocates that decision-making to a computer script acting as a “fluxus injection” (paraphrasing Troemel from our conversation).

Early on in my initiation of this interview, the duo thought that this conversation could serve as a good launching date for their newest project, Surfcave. This chrome-extension project serves as a point of departure from previous works in that instead of a “truncated participation [that occur in previous work], there is now a real time participation.” Surfcave’s feed is more rapid than its predecessor, as the content is generated by the images pulled from participating users cache. Every time an image is loaded onto a users personal computer, that image data is then transferred to Surfcave for display. As a result, one can imagine that this feed then creates a voyeuristic/exhibitionist relationship between those watching the stream, and those using the plug-in. The agency on the part of participants – which can be both willing and unknowing (as this work can be downloaded and put onto public/shared computers) – relies not on an input that randomly effects the output of a project (as in previous works), but instead on the deliberate activation of the plug-in to display all images that load within your daily browsing. Troemel and Vingiano hope is that this process will enable a kind of transparency within the user-community, as well as show more “honest” glimpses at browsing behaviors.

A danger that I suggest is that users could just as easily use this tool as they would use a blogging engine. However, the duo asserts that either way, be it super conscientious or completely oblivious, all methods still speak to the ways they wish to address browsing habits and then the subsequent exhibition of that traversal of the web: “On Facebook, or at least especially on there, the idea is that your constantly having engagement with the content, both for yourself and for the public. So the lines between you viewing something and your friends being aware that you know about it have been cut really short, and with Surfcave the idea is to make that line non-existent.”

I suggest at one point later on in our discussion that these collaborative works offer a specific response to the current observable shift in the ways we browse and that that political gesture seems to be of significance. Both artists agree that this reaction to the work is not without grounding, and that borrowing from political/anarchic practices of sousveillance are certainly applicable to the development of these works. Vingiano continues along this strand near the end of our conversation:

We’re at this juncture where the tools for creating stuff online… have become much more available to people like Brad and I… I learned how to create stuff like this on the Internet from the Internet, and was all self taught… I think creating these systems that explore things like privacy are inherently political when we live in a web that is dictated by Google and Facebook and all these people who are owning their users and owning their privacy.

As Troemel and Vingiano continue to probe this territory of the web with a somewhat prolific inquisitiveness, combined with a tinge of mischievousness, users and participants might be able to see new opportunities and channels to work around (or at the very least, just outside of) the territories of an otherwise corporate-dominated web. When our actions online are already hefted with the burden of an opted-into system of personal-piracy, Troemel and Vingiano create opportunities to redirect that compromise into platforms of creativity and candor.




Episode 329: The 2011 Holiday Spectacular!

December 19, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week: Put on your footie pajamas, get a cup of hot coco, and eavesdrop on Max’s bedtime story. There is enough hamming it up here to make a vegetarian squirm.

This episode is squeaky clean and safe for the kiddies.




Matt Hanner 1971-2011

December 16, 2011 · Print This Article

It is our sad duty to report the premature passing of Matt Hanner, an artist, a husband and father, and a truly wonderful person. I met Matt while a student at Columbia College and he was one of those rare people that you immediately take a liking to, his charm and intelligence were a delight to be around. The stories about his generosity, kindness, good humor, and friendship are far too many in number to address here. If you didn’t know him, someone you know did, they can tell you.

I contacted a mutual friend to see if he wanted to write this post. He expressed concern about what to say and was worried that he wouldn’t be able to transcend “Matt was awesome, one of the happiest, sweetest people I have ever met. If you knew him then you know that, if you didn’t know him it is sad that you will never have a chance to.” His concern was needless, that is beautiful and exactly what should be written about Matt.  I can’t possibly improve upon that.

Check out Matt’s work:

http://matthanner.tumblr.com/

Please donate generously to the scholarship fund started in his memory:

The Matt Hanner Artistic Excellence Scholarship
Columbia College Chicago
Institutional Advancement
600 S. Michigan
Chicago, IL 60605

There is a visitation and service Monday.

Monday, Dec 19
3-6 visitation
6PM service
Dykes Funeral Home
2305 N Campbell
Valparaiso, Indiana

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Update: Corrected Matt’s year of Birth. Also I received this published obituary.

MATTHEW ROWLAND HANNER PORTER, IN Matthew Rowland Hanner, age 40, passed away on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at his home. He was born on April 13, 1971 in Columbus, OH to Patricia A. and the late Joseph A. Hanner. Matt was a resident of Porter, IN, formerly of Chicago, IL and Valparaiso, IN, an artist and stay-at-home dad. He was a 1989 Valparaiso High School graduate where he played on the Varsity basketball team, and graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, IL with honors. Matt is survived by his wife, Erika (nee Varricchio) Hanner of Porter, IN; children: Gigi Hanner and Josie Hanner; mother, Patricia A. Hanner of Valparaiso, IN; sister, Kathryn (Charles) Randolph of Seattle, WA; brother Mark (John Obligato) of Chicago IL; nieces, Laurel Mazar and Kelsey Randolph; nephews: Jack and Chase Krueger; mother-in-law and father-in-law: Frederick and Claudette Varricchio. He was preceded in death by his father in 2009. Friends may call at the Dykes Funeral Home, 2305 N. Campbell St., Valparaiso, IN on Monday, December 19, 2011 from 3:00-6:00 p.m. with a funeral service immediately following at 6:00 p.m. Cremation, Calvary Crematory, Portage, IN. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Matt Hanner Artistic Excellence Scholarship at Columbia College, Chicago, IL. Arrangements by Dykes Funeral Home, Inc. (219) 462-3125

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two second walk

 




ON MOVES: On Vacation

December 16, 2011 · Print This Article

we miss you

 

As the year ends and I prepare to take a long vacation in Los Angeles, a veritable cornucopia of factors contributed to the incomplete state of “Framing, pt. 2,” the continuation of my last column. So, expect that on the 30th of the month and for now I give you the transcript of a lecture I recently gave (following Bryce Dwyer, another B@S columnist) this past Wednesday at The (New) Corpse Space here in Chicago. One of my favorite spaces in Chicago, it is also home to my friend and fellow Bad At Sports contributor, Caroline Picard. Have some swell holidays, and without further ado…

I want to tell you about my favorite preface, the preface to El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha, published with the first edition of its first book in 1605. It begins with Miguel de Cervantes, recently liberated from a five-year stint as a prisoner and slave in Algeria, paralyzed by his own inability to supply his book with a preface. By the time he’s established this premise, the first page of the preface is over, so, in spite of his histrionics, he’s actually doing pretty well. Soon, he’s visited by a friend who he describes as being “a pleasant gentleman, and of very good understanding. This friend, who, upon seeing our author in a state so pensive, inquires as to the cause of his musing. Cervantes responds by briefly describing the state of literature and book-hood at the beginning of the 17th century and expresses his own feelings of inadequacy as a participant therein. He claims to be “so much at a stand” about this preface, that he may simply make, and I quote, “none at all, nor publish the achievements of that noble knight.” His lament continues:

 

“I have nothing to quote in the margin, nor to make notes on at the end; nor do I know what authors I have followed in it, to put them at the beginning, as all others do, by the letters A,B,C, beginning with Aristotle and ending with Xenophon, Zoilus, or Zeuxis…My book will also want sonnets at the beginning, at least such sonnets whose authors are dukes, marquesses, earls, bishops, ladies, or celebrated poets.”

“In short, it is resolved that Senor Don Quixote remain buried in the records of La Mancha, until heaven sends someone to supply him with such ornaments as he wants; for I find myself incapable of helping him, through my own insufficiency and want of learning; and because I am naturally too idle and lazy to say what I can say without them.”

 

By this point, he’s two pages into a preface which is only five-and-a-half pages long, so you can sort of see where this is going. The anonymous friend laughs, slaps his forehead, and offers to, as Cervantes describes, “fill up the vacuity made by my fear and reduce the chaos of my confusion to clearness.”

 

If he can, in fact, “say what he wants to say without them,” the inclusion of these textual ornaments certainly needn’t be any source of incapacitating stress. “Concerning the sonnets, epigrams, and eulogies,” his friend says, the author ought to just write them himself and attribute them to figures so obscure, that “pedants” and “bachelors,” should they “backbite” him for it, will have no way to prove or disprove authorship. For the margins of the book, he suggests that really any Latin quote will do, given the language’s inherent and time honored gravitas, and that as a result, he says, “people will take you for a great grammarian, which is a matter of no small honour and advantage these days.”

 

“Then,” he continues, “to show yourself a great humanist, and skilled in cosmography,” and most importantly to get in some foot and end-notes, Cervantes ought to just surrender any act of naming within the book to work already done for him, scattered infinitely throughout history and literature. That is to say, if he is to have a giant, name it Goliath and add a footnote reading: “The giant Golias, or Goliat, was a Philistine, whom the shepherd David slew with a great blow of a stone from a sling, in the valley of Terebinthus, as it is related in the book of Kings, in the chapter wherein you shall find it.” Furthermore, if Cervantes intends to have a river, name it Tagus, a cruel woman, Medea, and if, his friend says, “enchanters and witches are your subject, Homer has a Calypso, and Virgil a Circe.” So invested is this friend, in fact, that he claims “there is no more to be done but naming these names, or hinting these stories in your book, and let me alone to settle the annotations and quotations; for I will warrant to fill the margins for you, and enrich the end of your book with half a dozen leaves into the bargain.” What a bargain, indeed!

 

Finally, with regard to Cervantes’s index or bibliography or, as his friend describes, “the catalogue of authors set down in other books, that is wanting in yours,” he needs only to find a book that has all of them – authors that is – and copy the list into the back of his own. “But though it served for nothing else,” he says, “that long catalogue of authors will, however, at the first blush, give some authority to the book. And who will go about to disprove, whether you followed them or no, seeing they can get nothing by it?”

 

Cervantes’ friend concludes that not only is the type of novel Cervantes has written of the sort that “Aristotle never dreamed of, Saint Basil never mentioned, nor Cicero ever heard of,” but additionally has nothing to do with astronomy, geometry, rhetorical arguments of logic, preaching, or any other discursive flourishes often found within the works of his contemporaries. Cervantes is of course totally blown away, thanks his friend profusely, and, all of a sudden the preface is over and the novel begins. Very convenient.

 

So, what or why is a preface and who is it for, what does it do? There are, I think, far too many answers, even within the preface I just described. One of the main things I think a preface, afterword, or index does, especially within Don Quixote is delineate. Within Cervantes’s novel, usually cited as the penultimate pícaro or picaresque, these formal ornaments become a pragmatic convenience, defining the edges of a wandering that might otherwise go on forever. Cervantes expresses as much in a description of Quixote as “quieting his mind [and] following no other road than what his horse pleased to take, believing that therein consisted the life and spirit of adventures.” Our own interface with this wandering is in part enabled by these exterior pragmatics, allowing us a point of entry, corralling the flâneur within the phase-space so that we may join him.

 

What Cervantes seems to be arguing for, however, is that a preface, and other formal ornaments of literature, constitute a sort of structural etiquette, certainly more so in his day than ours, though I can’t remember the last time I read an academic text without at very least an introduction. These structures of etiquette, these signifiers Cervantes has deemed empty and taken it upon himself to repopulate with his own hilarious jokes, are by no means always superfluous or always empty or even always merely etiquette, as proven by both the revelatory quality of his own preface and the wonderful parodic sonnets which close the book. In many ways, Cervantes’ preface is an argument against the empty signifier or the notion that any thing can be purely formal, purely structural, or purely ornamental. By dismissing their popular or polite uses, Cervantes identifies these trappings as containing potential. Although he mocks them, he is nonetheless still using them to serve his own purposes. By inserting his own polemic into the text, he latches his own agency to the wild persistence of meaning, a creature whose craftiness and hysterical insistence guarantees occupation wherever an entryway is left unguarded.

 

Structures of etiquette like these are usually only guarded by word and ritual, and our own power as forces of variability is, in even its most quantum instance, enough to break or at least restructure the contract. Take for example, Vladimir Propp, the Russian literary critic, who, in his 1928 book Morphology of The Folktale defined narrative as a structure of containment for the occupation of variable. The way in which he plugs variation into the 31 functions that make-up his narrative model may seem, at first glance, reductive or even oppressive, but the ways in which the narrative as a total-object is affected actually by the different combination, expansion, and contraction of these variables attests to the plasticity of the formal signifier and its potential as a medium in itself.

 

For Cervantes, who saw the unguarded structural etiquette of literary ornament as overflowing with Classicism for Classicism’s sake – a fitting partner for its decorative airs of erudition – the references which acted as the variables filling these formal structures were invoked by him with almost complete disregard, sarcastically co-opted to prove his own points and to play with the notions of the grave inheritance that they and their containers implicate. And yet, the use of these references is not, by any means, totally disrespectful. It’s much harder to make a joke about a subject you’re unfamiliar with, and through the voice of his friend in the preface, Cervantes establishes his own critical erudition while simultaneously poking fun at the authorial desire to flaunt that sort of knowledge. I guess in that way, it’s kind of like a Friar’s Club Roast and, actually, is even more like “Bohemian Rahpsody,” Queen’s multi-platinum 1975 single from A Night At The Opera, and, the UK’s third best selling single of all time. (After Elton John’s 1997 version of “Candle in The Wind” and that Band Aid song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”)

 

“Bohemian Rhapsody” occupies a fairly straightforward symphonic structure. It adheres to the recognizable and vaguely narrative progression of classical sonata principles in favor of the traditional verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-coda principle, which defines much of popular music and that Queen themselves were no strangers to. In the manner of the Friar’s Club and Cervantes, Freddie Mercury, an unabashed disciple of classical affect, appropriates the severity and bombast of structural symphonism for its use as a container, occupying and organically restructuring its hallowed and reverberant halls with the pummel of a group I think are the 1970’s most underrated metal band. (As a brief aside, I’d like to point out that it’s no coincidence Brian May, Professor of astrophysics at Liverpool John Moores University and also Queen’s guitarist, has had as one of his longest and best friends, Tony Iommi, guitarist for Black Sabbath.)

 

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” which, as most people on earth these days know, begins with a lilting acoustic piano and a harmony of infinitely multitracked voices lamenting the mysteries of life’s reality in a tense B-flat. Soon we’re whisked away by John Deacon’s bass, shuffled along by Roger Taylor’s drums and Mercury relays to us, his mama, the story of his putting a gun to the head of a man, his subsequent pulling of the trigger, therein killing said man. Next, we’re carried by May’s absolutely impeccable guitar solo and find ourselves, all of a sudden dropped in the sparse middle of the symphony, and perhaps what is its most ubiquitous movement; the operatic, or, Galileo Scaramouche part. It is here where we see most clearly the sort of structural playfulness and its relationship to classicism as Cervantes establishes through his own literary ornaments.

 

When Mercury asks 17th century Italian clown Scaramouche if he can do the fandango, we can consider this question rhetorical. Similarly, the invocations of Galileo, and Figaro, the barber of Seville, would seem to have little ability to actually participate in the world of killing a man with a gun or the world of shredding guitar solos. Nevertheless, our captive narrator summons them with shouts of “Bismillah,” an Arabic prayer invocation, no doubt picked up during Mercury’s days as a Zanzabari youth living in India and going by the name Farokh Bulsara. The band, treating the song and its structure like one of Propp’s open narrative models, play with a classical structure in resonance with a classical variable-subject by using names that sound right and make sense according to their structural context, detaching those references from their original conditions, and engendering an even more dramatic variability by way of their operatic cohabitation. In short, and once again, the repopulation of the classical signifier left empty. And, like Cervantes, it feels both critical and celebratory.

 

For the most part, these structural fixtures live at the edges of a text, defining our ability to perceive these edges and interface with them, adjusting and decorating their home-text’s larger meanings. Whether pragmatic or subversive, there is, implicit in their inclusion and variation, a potential for flux affecting the total object of the text, a game of pick-up sticks viewed in reverse, each stick put down affecting the fundamental structure of the whole. It is in this sense that any engagement with these structures is best done intentionally and with no small amount of celebration, because formal beauty is worth celebrating. I should hope that no one became a writer, artist, or mustachio’d rock and roll singer to adhere to obligations and to acquiesce to the polite etiquette of others, regardless of any inspiration this etiquette might have supplied. As Propp accidentally illuminated, even the most rigorous formal structures are only structures of tenuous meaning and their most monolithic shadows cast are still only shadows. And, though this meaning has the potential to grow huge and unwieldy, giving the illusion of rigidity or inaccessibility, we can be like Cervantes, Queen, or Paul Muad’Dib from Frank Herbert’s Dune, latching our grappling hook into the pockmarked shell of meaning’s lumbering sandworm and directing it towards a point of our own choosing. As Freddie Mercury says, or rather sings quite succinctly in the polite formal bookend to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” (and maybe we can even imagine it’s in reference to his own intrastructural agency)…

 

If I can to ask you to sing along with me:

 

Nothing really matters, anyone can see…
Nothing really matters…
Nothing really matters…
To meeeeeee




Protectors of the Handmade: Craft Mystery Cult convenes in Chicago

December 15, 2011 · Print This Article

Entering the studio of Craft Mystery Cult, I was greeted by a plywood table festooned with ambiguous objects varying from crudely handcrafted clay bowls to scorched specimens seemingly pirated from the vault of a natural history museum. All three CMC members, Sonja Dahl, Jovencio de la Paz, and Stacy Jo Scott, were seated around this collection, which I soon discovered to be ephemera from their collaborative rites and rituals. Removed from the context of performance, the reliquary expressed an internal coherence— the vernacular of the objects linking hand, to material, to detritus, suggesting a connection between everyday practices of making and the more mystical aspects of ritualistic activity. The tableau was presided over by the sanctified portraits of William Morris and Johannes Itten—the patron saints of craft and color, whose workshop-based practices inform the social and conceptual underpinnings of CMC’s activities.

The members of Michigan-based Craft Mystery Cult are all in their final year of their MFAs in fiber, (Dahl and de la Paz), and ceramics, (Scott), at Cranbrook Academy of Art. They established the CMC collective as a platform to explore issues relating to the history, economy, and conceptual framework of contemporary craft. On Saturday, CMC will orchestrate a performance at Roots and Culture that draws from their sacred text, The Hapticon. I interviewed Dahl, de la Paz, and Scott in their studio as they were making preparations for this event.

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: It’s my understanding that Craft Mystery Cult was officially formed over the summer in residence at Ox-Bow, but I’m wondering if you can elaborate on the CMC origin story. What strange and mysterious forces conspired to bring this collaboration together?

Jovencio de la Paz: I don’t know that I’d say we formed at Ox-Bow, I think it was prior to that through discussion and writing.

Sonja Dahl: I’d say we began casually working on this project about a year ago now. It really evolved out of issues that originated within each of our individual studio practices.

Stacy Jo Scott: Through a number of conversations, we realized that we had similar concerns in terms of how we approach work. It seemed like we had this shared desire to create a conversation that we weren’t getting otherwise—in other venues or in other forms. It was really from this desire to create a narrative to work from… By narrative, I don’t mean the Craft Mystery Cult narrative, I mean more of a framework for understanding our art historical lineage.

SMP: All three of you come from disciplines focused on object making, and historically, discrete object making through ceramics and fiber. Do you feel like academia, as well as the larger cultural framework surrounding craft-based practices of making, are perpetuating discourses that in some ways are no longer relevant; for example, the Modernist tradition of autonomy, or the postmodern tradition of critique? In what sense were you breaking free?

SJS: I think for me and my experience with ceramics, it’s almost coming from a different direction than what you’re describing. As artists making work at this time, the conversation is so steeped in the dematerialization of the object. The desire to make and have hands-on material, and the desire to see objects manifest from work is something that’s disappearing from the larger conversation. It’s difficult to have a position to work from that seems relevant when everything is becoming more ephemeral. In a way, we’re trying to consider what position objects and materiality still have; specifically, the hand’s relationship to material as a different source of knowledge that we aren’t taught to access.

JdlP: Much of CMC’s work deals with the creation of language; specifically, the kind of language that might be able to house what Stacy Jo is describing, which we refer to as haptic knowledge—the knowledge beyond language. In order to present that or to create a bridge between that and the viewer, we work to create an environment that utilizes strategies that may be familiar from other forms such as text, performance, ritual, music, things to serve as access points to that non-verbal space. We’re really using the notion of the craft workshop as a model for collaborative art practice, which is a reference that is very different compared to other collaborative art practices in that it deals with a very craft-specific mode of production. There are interpersonal hierarchies that are very different than other collaborative groups.

SMP: Going back to your practice that draws from text, music, and performance, I’m curious what you think can be gleaned from the interstice of ritual and craft? Did you approach the project with a preconceived relationship between mysticism and making, and how have your thoughts evolved throughout the past few months?

JdlP: I think a very simple way to describe it is that it’s sort of like a logic puzzle. We’ve created a framework that has a very specific language related to the occult and mysticism through rites and rituals. Craft serves as a parallel structure that is based on skill. Take the Masons for example: as you progress in skill, you gain knowledge in a more profound, spiritual sense. So there’s this parallel, and we were always sort of guided by both. We were interested in the work of Johannes Itten, and his spiritualistic approach to making and teaching.

SJS: One of our earliest references was William Morris, who is complicated, but one thing that he championed was this idea of human dignity—the worker and the maker have a sense of dignity that is lost in certain forms of industrial production. For me, mysticism related in part to humanism and highlighting individual agency rather than obeying the types of beliefs and laws that are passed down by mastery.

SMP: Can you describe some components to the larger Craft Mystery Cult project and articulate the relationship between ritual and performance to object?

SD: One of our performances at Ox-Bow: “In Commemoration of the Death of the Prophet William Morris” really brought together many aspects of our collaborative work at the residency. It brought together the component of collecting—we would visit each of the studios and collect material remnants of their processes, so we had the slag pile from the iron pour, fragments of glass and things like that. Those objects were collected throughout the course of the project, and we were also creating other objects both through the playful re-authoring of, for example, William Morris textile prints, as well as through various different ways of employing the symbology that we had created. We generated all these objects through various modes of making and collecting, and we funneled them all into this final ritual that involved a processional, the building of this pyre in the fire pit, creating a musical, auditory experience, which all happened at twilight. In the end, it really became this performed ritual for a number of individuals that brought together history and research, object making, collecting, the spiritual, bodies moving in space, music—all of these elements that we had been working on for the duration of the project. There’s a real spirit of play that we’re getting at with improvisation. Spontaneity can occur because of embedded knowledge and experience to some degree. We brought to this collective much of our own thinking and making, and because we come without own histories, the spontaneous and inventive moments can occur.

SMP: I find it interesting that this project evolved from reaction— a simultaneous response to your individual practices within a larger academic framework. If I’m understanding this correctly, it’s the interaction of the collective—the coming together of individuals to create a new body and a new interstice from which you can cultivate an alternative framework for making and its related embodied processes.

SJS: Yeah, absolutely. And I think part of that is we have this desire to make together. I come in with a set of skills that Jovencio and Sonja don’t have, so the way I use my skill in collaboration is in a way that they can also use, which means that the work itself is often quite basic like the pinch pots. Similarly, Sonja will lead in dying indigo since she has experience with that and Jovencio and I do not, and it’s these simplified processes that guides the making of objects…

JdlP: …and thereby the aesthetic that they express.

SMP: Is it from the aesthetic that you make references to meaning in a symbolic sense?

JdlP: I think it’s the implied process more than the aesthetic of the object. Pinch pots and one-dip indigo dye are very foundational.

SJS: That speaks to our interest in skill. We’re interested in that moment of skill that is extremely foundational—not skill in terms of mastery, but skill in terms of someones first encounter with the material. In that way too, the aesthetic that we’re developing is based on the desire to speak about that primary moment of skill.

JdlP: So the aesthetic appears always untrained, or primitive, as problematic as these terms are. We are interested in this notion of prehistory, which really relates to the realm of craft in that a pinch pot made tens of thousands of years ago is strikingly similar to a pinch pot that a high school student in a public school might make. That high school student and prehistoric person are somehow linked through the object, the aesthetic of which comes from this moment of foundational, or primal creation.

SJS: A lot of work that one might consider deskilled comes from the idea that a lack of skill is a stand in for authenticity, and I don’t quite buy that. I feel like what we’re doing is somehow different from that—not that that moment of primary skill is more authentic than mastery, but it’s about creating some kind of framework around that moment—that moment has a depth of meaning that isn’t about authenticity. It’s not that the primitive person is somehow more authentic than the teenager.

JdlP: But what’s important is that they share the same moment through making that object. That moment can be opened up, and what exists there isn’t authenticity but some sort of experiential knowledge.

SMP: I often have the discussion across a range of art practices about the concept of the moment of discovery, and whether you’re working in paint or performance, it’s all about discovery on some level for the viewer, and I suppose for the maker as well. Does that concept relate to what you’re speaking to?

JdlP: But it’s a very particular kind of discovery because it’s always available through rediscovery—it’s never exhausted, and that’s where the idea of ritual is also important. That moment is always exciting for whatever reason, which is part of the mystery, and I think that’s speaks a lot to where the aesthetic of our objects comes from. It’s interesting because the show in Chicago has nothing to do with objects…

SD: Before we get into Chicago, I’ve been wanting to mention that something I think about a lot in relationship to the CMC project is the spirit of approaching things with a sense of wonder. When we talk about using basic skill and that primary moment of discovery between body and material, there’s a sense of wonder there. You can appreciate that depth of knowledge of a maker’s body to their materials and their process through a sense of wonder, and I feel that a lot of my experience at Ox-Bow visiting all the studios was a process of cultivating that sense of wonder. To stand in front of the glass studio or the iron pour, or to see them open the raku kiln—there’s a sense of wonder and appreciation that’s very important.

JdlP: And I think it’s very difficult not to feel a sense of optimism through craft…

SD: Dare we say it!

JdlP: …because you’re encountering a moment becoming—a moment of creation—it is a generative moment. It’s very integral to that sense of wonder that you are witnessing a generative process.

SJS: And it’s already essentially performative. We can go see an iron pour, we can go see someone blowing glass, someone throwing a pot—that’s performance, and that’s ritual.

Craft Mystery Cult is coordinating a performance involving the recitation of five devotional poems from the Hapticon at Roots and Culture in Chicago, Saturday December 17, 7-9pm.