Endless Opportunities: Competitive Things/Reminders Edition

March 31, 2013 · Print This Article

First things first kiddos, have y’all gotten in your Ox-Bow and ACRE applications? It was sixty degrees today! The summer is pending. Get in on that dreamy Michigan/Wisconsin landscape. (My apologies to the jury committee.)

Also, The Art Institute of Chicago is looking for a new Associate Photography Curator.


That being said, they will probably hire within… but regardless, join the masses and apply!

Details for all below. As always, good luck!


Ox-Bow residency for MFA/Arts Faculty application time is coming to a close as April 5th keeps creeping up. Info Here

(psssst, if you’re a normal human who isn’t all up in that institutional drama, consider their Fall Artist Residency, which I will talk about a little later)


Acre Residency, featured here, there, and everywhere, is accepting applications until April 15th.


Associate Curator, Photography /// Art Institute of Chicago


At the direction of the Department Chair, is responsible for conceiving permanent collection and loan exhibitions; researching and proposing acquisitions for the collection; researching the collection and contributing to scholarly publications; working closely with donors, scholars, dealers, and artists; supervising volunteers and special project staff; and contributing to fundraising activities.  Serves as coordinator or local curator for traveling exhibitions.  Develops relationships with artists and galleries that can guide future exhibition projects.  Conceives of appropriate programming and conducts gallery talks.  Takes an active role in conceiving and preparing the biannual Photography Gala.


Must have a Master of Arts in Art History, preferably with a concentration in a photographic subject.  Must have at least 3 years of experience with exhibition projects, preferably involving photographic objects and preferably living artists.  Strong writing skills are highly recommended.  Foreign language abilities are encouraged.

All info, including the online application submission, here via the AIC employee portal.

Spring Break Disneytime

March 29, 2013 · Print This Article


Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers has been quite the buzz of late. To quote SF filmaker/friend/artist, T. Siddle:

Did a double feature of Stoker and Spring Breakers yesterday. Stoker is very very good, I’m not convinced by Spring Breakers (though I liked all the neon and the hideous beach font it used for titles). My experience of the latter was somewhat hampered by the elderly man sitting behind me who made pornographic grunts whenever a semi-naked woman was on screen.

There are lots and lots and lots of half-naked women in this movie, so a grunt per visible breast would be distracting indeed. I also saw Spring Breakers recently, also during a double feature.  We went Spring Breakers first, then Olympus Has Fallen. Surprisingly, I liked the first. I thought I would hate it, because I tend to dislike excuses to show naked girls for the sake of showing naked girls. I read about how anti-feminist it was, how exploitative. How the female leads were shallow and hard to differentiate. And yet I was surprised. Korine’s movie is all of those things — however I would argue everyone in this movie is exploited and exploiting, everything is shallow and everything is a product of a corrupt, late capitalist culture. The leading ladies are not liberated in a positive way, necessarily, but they have learned to be so hard and material, so soulless in a way, that they fulfill the very requirements of their image and then go beyond that image to exploit and manipulate and murder. Korine uses so much nudity it becomes boring — yes! —  blending a vaccuous (and I’d say also American) desire to “find oneself” in pleasure and abundance, that offers this compelling, albeit gross, portrait of class (perhaps more than anything else) and gender.

It probably could have been shorter, and I think it’s a little too pretty for its own good — as a portrait of corruption, maybe there shouldn’t have been so many breathtaking moments (the Tiqqun-ish Young-Girls dancing in pink unicorn ski masks, pink bathings suits, dayglo sneakers and carrying artillery rifles as drug dealer James Franco plays a former-Mousekateer Brittany Spear’s song on a white piano) but. At least it exploits the rotten-ness of Vice Spring Break — drawing the narrative to an ethical nightmare that is almost lost in the mood of the moment. Blood is spilled in Tarantino proportions, feeling far more hopeless, more pathetic — if only because these main female protagonists (two of them as child stars, the third being Korine’s wife) seem to be on an unconcious gender-revenge mission: as though they are simply products (or surfaces) of a culture, not self-reflecting members. These girls have developed a steel-hearted strategy of care-less-ness. And maybe that’s a zeitgeist at the moment — consider Sofia Coppolo’s new movie about teenage girl robbers:


Spring Breakers felt like a kind of indictment against the American Dream that gave itself so that it’s youth could have any and all possibilities at its beer-guzzling feet, Olympus Has Fallen became such a freak show of propaganda (the White House is under siege and the President’s son is hiding in its halls as his father is held hostage by evil captors below ground). We walked out after 30 minutes of blood soaked not-ironic-enough patriotism. What I’d like to do is splice those two films together, to show the one myth on one side, (of priviledged youth in a commerically marketed Rumspringa excercising its American-ness), and on the other the myth of America’s need to defend itself from an evil Non-American.

Jeffrey Sconce wrote a great review about the film on his blog, Ludicdespair:

In a fair world, or at least one less crippled by stupidity and mediocrity, James Franco’s “Look at my shit” speech from Spring Breakers (2013) would be one of the scenes featured in the Academy’s “Best Picture” clip-reel at next year’s Oscars.  Just imagine how amazing it would be to see Ron Howard, Ryan Gosling, or some other safely bankable Hollywood functionary forced to take the stage and read an Academy staff writer’s impression of what Spring Breakers is about:

“In a chilling performance, James Franco captures the essence of evil as he seduces four young girls into a life of crime…”
“James Franco is terrifying as the local crime kingpin who turns an innocent rite of passage into a nightmarish ordeal.”

All of this would be bullshit, of course, but probably as close as Hollywood could come to getting a moralistic bead on this movie’s unapologetic nihilism.  But it would all be worth it to see the lights in the Kodak theater go dark so that TV America could witness the corn-rowed, grill-bedazzled “Alien” (James Franco) inventorying the contents of his sick St. Pete bedroom:

This is the fuckin’ American dream. This is my fuckin’ dream, y’all!
All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit!
I got … I got SHORTS! Every fuckin’ color.
I got designer T-shirts!
I got gold bullets. Motherfuckin’ VAM-pires.
I got Scarface. On repeat. SCARFACE ON REPEAT. Constant, y’all! 
…This will never happen, of course, because Hollywood will be too busy auto-fellating itself with the historical import, social relevance, and quality competence of another Lincoln or Argo.  Meanwhile,  Harmony Korine’s sublimely ugly and mean-spirited takedown of American awesomeness will likely go unnoticed, a film that in its own way says, “yeah, Lincoln was a great guy for passing the 13th Amendment and Argo is the story of some very heroic patriots, but in the end, nothing could stop America’s manifestly obscene destiny to become a nightmare of beer funnels, breast implants, blow, and Skrillex. (read more)

Top 5 Weekend Picks! (3/29)

March 28, 2013 · Print This Article

1. Black Venus is on Fire! at Gagosian’t

Ally Front_600

Work by Alexandria Eregbu.

Gagosian’t is located at 60 E. Monroe St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

2. THE CHURCH of CONTEMPORARY ART (CoCA) at Defibrillator Gallery


Work by Jessica Allee, Stephanie Jardin, Wago Kreider, Jay Needham, Angela Watters, Nico Wood, Andrea Baldwin, and Cole Robertson.

Defibrillator Gallery is located at 1136 N. Milwaukee Ave. Performance Friday at 8pm. $10.

3. Johnny at Heaven Gallery


Work by Claire Valdez, Charles Fogarty, and Ilene Godofsky.

Heaven Gallery is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. 2nd Fl. Reception Friday, 7-11pm.

4. HERZOGOUDREAULT at Lloyd Dobler Gallery


Work by Jacob Goudreault and Alexander Herzog.

Lloyd Dobler Gallery is located at 1545 W. Division, 2nd Fl. Reception Friday, 6-10pm.

5. Surrounded at Roman Susan


Work by AMTK, Rine Boyer, Michael Burmeister, Stephanie Del Carpio, Inah Choe, Melanie Deal, Predrag Djordjevic, Mary Flack, Gabriel Garcia, Anna Goraczko, Kim Guare, Jennifer Hines, Cynthia Hsieh, Joanne Jongsma, Brandy Kraft, Amy Kuttab, Tulika Ladsariya, Jessica Lucas, Lorette Luzajic, Deanna Mance, John McLaughlin, Gülşah Mursaloğlu, Klaus Pinter, Rhett Gérard Poché, Clare Rosean, Jake Saunders, Ashley Allen Short, Wade Thompson, Ruby Thorkelson, Polly Yates, and Christopher Zanoni.

Roman Susan is located at 1224 W. Loyola Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

“documenting” NO MEDIA

March 28, 2013 · Print This Article

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“NO MEDIA is an open [sign up] improvisational realtime/performance media art event. Participating artists are randomly matched in sets of 3 && given 10mins to perform w/&& in re:to each other. Poets + experimental dancers + free jazzers +

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No Media At The End!

[NO documentation allowed. It happens once && in realtime.]

NO MEDIA happened March 16, 2013 at TRITRIANGLE, the art space that formerly held Enemy Sound, in Chicago, IL. Developed out of a GLI.TC/H Working Group, the first NO MEDIA happened at GLI.TC/H 2112 on Friday, December 7, 2012 at TRITRIANGLE. Described in the schedule as “Proposed by Jason Soliday on the Working Groups: NO_MEDIA is a performance framework that goes from zero to zero! Participating performers will start with blank slates, build sets from scratch. No preparation allowed. Zeroed out knobs. No strings on your guitar. No presets. Everything done in realtime from beginning to end. Everything that happens exists only in and during the performance :: “Raw Real Time.” After ~ 10 minutes you will delete all assets. It happens … and … then it’s gone …”

On March 16, 2013, I participated in it, but that’s the only detail of the night I’ll give. For, there is no documentation allowed. After the event, I sat down with [dis]organizers Jason Soliday, Nick Briz, and Jeff Kolar via electronic-mail. I wanted to ask them: Why a NO MEDIA new media performance event? What is considered documentation? What does it all mean??

And then, here I am, writing for the “media” about NO MEDIA.


MEREDITH KOOI: And, of course, no documentation of the night, though as Jason brought up on Saturday, is this [the writing of the article] considered documentation too? Discuss.

JASON SOLIDAY: I think questions are allowed.. I would say that if were going to stick to this no documentation thing, that we can talk about what could happen, or impressions of how the night went as a whole,  just not specifics of what actually happened… so no “———————————————————————————.”

The whole First-rule-of-NO-MEDIA-is-no-one-talks-about-NO-MEDIA-thing is something we could maybe talk about too. I think Nick and I at least have somewhat overlapping, but different interpretations of the why of that…

JEFF KOLAR: I’m right on with Jason on this one. Particularly from the perspective of us [dis]organizers, it might be best for us to specifically address the format of the event instead of the specific performances. Plus, I am personally less interested in which performances were good or bad, and more interested in the arc of the evening; the organism it creates.

That said, I think talking about NO MEDIA is okay. It’s interesting how flexible and relative the “no documentation” rule ends up being, particularly from an audience perspective. It places an interesting constraint on the attendees of the event and activates their participation to a certain extent.

NICK BRIZ: echo above sentiments

xcited for chatz 🙂

MK: Well, first of all, I’m wondering what you all consider to be actual documentation. First-person accounts? A photo of the —————————————- from the evening? Dreams? Collaborative work that grew out of the session? And, what was the motivation behind choosing to not document the sessions?

NB: Great place to start 🙂

Quick disclaimer, as Jason mentioned before, I think the three of us have overlapping (but not identical) motivations going into this, so I’m speaking for myself here (and only partially for Jason && Jeff ^_^)

The day before the show someone posted on TRITRIANGLE’s page asking if it would be broadcast online, to which I responded:

“Hey ———, it won’t be broadcast online. Myself && Jason && Jeff are all involved in organizing different events/initiatives which we broadcast online + generally prefer to stream stuff, but the impetus behind NO MEDIA is a bit different/specific. We want to create a localized space for experimentation which is low-pressure. For this reason we purposefully don’t broadcast, in fact one of the ‘rules’ (listed above) is no documentation of any kind.

We’ve noticed sometimes the pressure of documentation can compromise some of the risk taking involved in improvisational performances. We’ve also noticed that (sometimes) folks perform specifically for the documentation and not so much the live setting. This isn’t specifically good or bad, we just want NO MEDIA to be a space specifically for in-the-moment happenings where folks can take risks without worrying about the comments it’ll get on Facebook the next day.”

So this is more or less where I’m coming from w/re:to the ‘no documentation’ rule, [1] remove the pressure/distraction that often comes with documentation [2] emphasis in-the-moment focus: w/your collaborators in that space/time.

I’m also very interested (romantically) in community + most of the events/organizing I do is motivated by this, so I’d actually be very xcited if collaborative work grew out of one of these sessions. So no, I wouldn’t really consider that documentation 🙂 Nor would I really consider bruises, first person accounts, etc. To be honest, for me the rules are similar to the Dogma95 rules, in that I’ll try my best to enforce it (for the reasons stated above) but in the end I’m less interested in being dogmatic about it. There’s something fun about the idea of a photo that sneaked out or a shady vine vid (again, so long as the in-the-moment ethos isn’t compromised).

JK: Echo that disclaimer…

And jumping off Nick’s statement:

>[1] remove the pressure/distraction that often comes with documentation [2] emphasis in-the-moment focus: w/your collaborators in that space/time. 

I would like to add: [3] give agency to the audience.

One of my motivating interests behind the “No Documentation” rule is also to think about roles the audience plays in concerts/performances/events. I’m with Nick on this one, very interested in a rule that is clear yet flexible enough for performers and audience members to follow/break in [un]expected ways. If we were really strict about the “No Documentation” rule, we could ban use of all media (i.e. collect cell phones pre-entrance, radio-wave body scanner, destroy writing utensils, etc.). Jason, Nick, and I often take these “what ifs” to extreme/absurd levels; perhaps that’s how we came up with some of the rules for NO MEDIA in the first place. How far is too far? Why is it too far? I’m more interested in what audience folks consider “Documentation” of an event in this digital-device era, as it seems to get slipperier and slipperier as more [media] tools become available.

Also, one thing that seems special with NO MEDIA is that the audience/community really helps shape the performances. Laughter certainly seems to impact the performers. Audience chitchat often becomes the “intro” for group’s sets. I view the audience an active agent in NO MEDIA events.

And also interested in how the “No Documentation” rule/constraint actually creates awareness rather than preventing it.

JS: >And, what was the motivation behind choosing to not document the sessions?

A while back I remember my friend Witch Beam posting something along the lines of why does everyone feel the need to post everything to the internet? Why can’t somethings just happen and then be over, stay secret? So, it was partly in response to that, and a reaction against New Media/Internet/Noise culture’s common tendency to release ever last thing it creates out into the world, that glut of stuff we all keep making and posting to Tumblr, Vimeo, Soundcloud, and the rest.. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much a part of it as every other “new media” artist, but I really wanted NO MEDIA to be about the moment, be here right now, it’s happening, then it’s gone. Telling everyone to put their phones away and stop recording and taking pictures was just one way to make that explicit.

I think what people do with that experience afterwards will be the interesting part.. Hopefully new, unexpected ongoing collaborations that wouldn’t have happened if people had not been thrown together during a NO MEDIA event will start appearing! Or perhaps someone sets off on some new direction with their work because of something at one of these events. I hope we’re setting up a space with NO MEDIA that provokes that sort of thing. That’s a thousand times more interesting to me than yet another cell phone video on YouTube.

That being said, I’m guilty of thinking “I wish someone was recording this, I’d like to hear it again” a few times during the two NO MEDIA events we’ve done so far.. but then that just means it was good, right? Hopefully the people that were performing at those points were thinking the same thing too, and are now hard at work on something new inspired by it!

MK: In thinking further about documentation and the space/site/time of performance, does NO MEDIA have any particular kind of performance it’s focusing on? Is it geared towards particular ways of working or does what you all are saying about the site of performance apply to all different ways and mediums of performance? I know Jeff has mentioned interest in hosting NO MEDIA in different venues thus drawing different artists and crowds – is this ideal for the interests of NO MEDIA? Do you foresee particular audiences and artists working in various other mediums responding to the rules in vastly different ways? If so, why do you think that might be? Would that signal some sort of success (I guess if that’s an appropriate word here at all) of what the rules are doing? Does this at all matter? Is there any particular goal that the rules are trying to achieve for art-making as a whole? Is this particular to Chicago?

(That’s a lot, I know, so, run with what ya like.)

JS: I would hope so. At its core, NO MEDIA  is just an improv lotto, which really isn’t anything terribly new in the sound world. One of my early introductions to playing, well… free, weird, experimental, you know,  the “hated” music as some will joke… was performing at the Myopic Books Improvised Music Series where the rule is that you are required to play with some one you’ve never played with before, and that series has been going on for something like 15-20 years now. With NO MEDIA one of the things I wanted to accomplish was to bring that to a New Media context, and add in artists that work in mediums and genres that might not normally approach their work that way, hence opening it up to video, performance, and everything else..

The site of the performance, I think that plays into the whole NO MEDIA being about the now, being in the moment.. and how one deals with that in making art. That would certainly include the space one is in at that moment… Rotating venues… that’s always been in the plan for NO MEDIA, at least since we decided to turn it into an ongoing series. Having it happen at the same place every time would I think impose unwritten rules that I’d like to avoid… nobody should expect anything really to be a given at a NO MEDIA event except for the couple of basic rules for the events that we’ve posted. What happens if there’s no PA next time? Or if the next one happens outside and the only thing to project video on is the bushes? [aside to Jeff and Nick here… I think I just came up with a new “rule”.. cue nefarious laughter]

I think a “success” for me with NO MEDIA would be seeing interesting new work inspired by something that happened at one of the Events, something that wouldn’t have come together otherwise..

JK: >I know Jeff has mentioned interest in hosting NO MEDIA in different venues thus drawing different artists and crowds – is this ideal for the interests of NO MEDIA? 

Yes, absolutely. Our goal is to host each NO MEDIA event at a different venue with the hope that the change of location will increase diversity in participants. We are really pushing for different media[ums] to sign up for the events in order to keep the events fresh. My hope is that NO MEDIA has the possibility of providing collaborations with folks outside of an artist’s normal social/art circle. To that extent, anyone can sign up for NO MEDIA: it’s open sign up, low pressure, and the format openly accepts failure. Plus, diversity in performers usually creates more unexpected realtime results, which is really fun to watch/listen/experience.

>Do you foresee particular audiences and artists working in various other mediums responding to the rules in vastly different ways? If so, why do you think that might be? 

I would certainly hope so. When drafting the rules for NO MEDIA, we certainly were aware of the multi-media flexibility. Particularly the first rule:

NO preparation is allowed. Bring your tools, devices, instruments, props, etc., but you’ve got to start with a blank slate. NO time will be allotted for ‘setup’.] 

We are definitely interested in overlapping the rules with performance practices that may not have thought about these types of constraints in their practice before. How does one approach the same rule using different media? What if you’ve never considered your practice media-based? Then, how would one approach these generalized rules? Part of what makes the NO MEDIA event so indeterminate is that performers from different disciplines have to react to these questions in realtime with three other artists without (hopefully) any prior consideration. NO MEDIA builds this exploration of “finding something” in realtime with other artists you’ve potentially never met before. It’s a really exciting moment.

MK: In re-reading some of the questions and answers from this past week, I wanted to revisit something:

>Jeff: And also interested in how the “No Documentation” rule/constraint actually creates awareness rather than preventing it.

Is there any way that the rules are a response to a perceived lack of awareness that many in the media and artworld talk/comment on? There seems to be a new article everyday either proving/disproving the use of media in the classroom or the breakdown of American literacy because of the 140-character tweet. Since NO MEDIA also focuses on the audience and the audience’s experience, do any of you have any thoughts on watching/engaging in performance and its greater/broader relationship to our experience of the world? Is this a consideration you’ve had?

Also, do you see any affinities between the series you’ve created and the goals you’ve set for it and early performance work and happenings? There are major differences obviously in the types of constraints from those early days, but it seems that the principle is rather similar – it’s about being there and witnessing what could happen in the space. Is NO MEDIA trying to recapture in some way this emphasis on first-hand experience? Does this is some way react against a lot of work that is made about the unnecessity of actually experiencing work in person (I’m thinking particularly of Brad Troemel here)

NB: echo’n && reiterate’n on this…

>I know Jeff has mentioned interest in hosting NO MEDIA in different venues thus drawing different artists and crowds – is this ideal for the interests of NO MEDIA? Do you foresee particular audiences and artists working in various other mediums responding to the rules in vastly different ways?

+ connecting that with this:

>Is there any way that the rules are a response to a perceived lack of awareness that many in the media and artworld talk/comment on?

re:lack of awareness and/or lack of perspective,  >> its tuff to gain perspective on your context when you’re on the inside looking out. Once in a conversation with Jason, he mentioned that he notices how at improvisational noise shows the artists often fall back on the same tropes/conventions. This doesn’t mean the artists aren’t being spontaneous, but rather that they’re doing so within a set of conventions. This isn’t inherently a problem, after all it’s these conventions that define the context (i.e. there are particular rhythms bossa nova musicians improvise on, these structures can be seen as limits/restrains but also help identify what’s happening as bossa nova). For me this only becomes a problem when the artist doesn’t realize they’re restraining their work to fit w/in these conventions (because it’s become such an invisible norm). I think this is where mashing up improvisational performers from different disciplines becomes interesting, when different sets of tropes/conventions are forced to reconcile w/each other in realtime… you can’t ignore ’em.

>Also, do you see any affinities between the series you’ve created and the goals you’ve set for it and early performance work and happenings? 

Oh yea absolutely, I think this is obvious ^_^ while it may not have been a direct reference at first I think there are lots of parallels, namely the interdisciplinary nature and the interest in (the alternative) value of ephemeral/uncommodifiable art situations.

MK: Thank you Jason, Nick, and Jeff for taking the time to talk with me about NO MEDIA!

JK: NO MEDIA is in the works for May, so keep an eye out on our tumblr for event and date specifics!


In Conversation: Community Glue Workshop and Fixers Collective

March 27, 2013 · Print This Article

With certain currents in the contemporary art world pulling out of the gallery and museum box and into the spaces of everyday life, social relationships have come into focus as the site of many artistic projects. Increasingly, self-organized creative types pick up with simple materials, a group of friends, and an idea to enact change in their various communities by participating in and with them. Between Chicago (Bad at Sports’ hometown) and New York City (my hometown) there are two similar projects – with varying regard to an art world dialog – that center on a waste-not-want-not brand of idealism. Encouraging inventive approaches to everyday repair problems, Community Glue Workshop (Chicago, IL) and Fixers Collective (Brooklyn, NY) have each been building community by tinkering with and fixing things. All kinds of things. I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with Ally Brisbin and Carla Bruni of Community Glue Workshop, and Vincent Lai of Fixers Collective to discuss their respective work.

2013_0321 Fixing Session 22

Fixers Collective at Proteus Gowanus, 2013. Photo by: Vincent Lai

Juliana Driever: Can you describe, generally, what you do and how you each got started?

Ally Brisbin: I think it was probably in May or June of 2012, when Carla posted a link to a New York Times article about the repair café movement in the Netherlands on Facebook, wanting to start something similar. I saw it and responded immediately. I own a coffee shop, called Kitchen Sink – which is how I know Carla, she comes into the shop. It seemed like Community Glue Workshop would be a natural thing that we could start, so we began reaching out to folks in our network who could help us.  We found a designer, found people who could donate their time and tinkering abilities, made a WordPress site and a Facebook page and launched it within two months. It took off and got a great response right away. We have a crew of about six fixers who have been with us since the beginning. We have been doing one fix per month at my cafe in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. But next month, in April, we’ll be doing our first fix at a new location, StoryStudio Chicago, so we can reach a new audience and hopefully get new faces in the door.


Community Glue Workshop organizers Ally Brisbin (left) and Carla Bruni (right) at a repair clinic on November 18, 2012 at Brisbin’s coffee shop Kitchen Sink.

Vincent Lai: Fixers Collective started in the 2008-09 season when Proteus Gowanus, the gallery in Brooklyn that hosts us, organized its annual thematic exhibition schedule around the idea of “mend.” I started up with Fixers Collective in 2010, after a friend of mine who was interested in fixing umbrella fabric told me about it. I came on board because I wanted to fix. Period. I do it for the sake of being very hand-sy, working with my hands, and to repair things that probably would go in a landfill, or would be shredded. There’s a lot of value that can be re-captured with a little tinkering. I’ve been active with the Facebook page, outreach to the community, we’ve been at the Maker Faire the past few years in New York, and there are a lot of other things that are developing on the horizon, too.

JD: Was Fixers Collective something that came together because of the show at Proteus Gowanus? Or was it something that was starting up already?

VL: During that season, there were workshops, and people would come and sit around and fix things. And actually, part of the exhibit was not only the things they were fixing, but also the tools used. At the end of the night, when you put your things down, a large Plexiglas shield would be placed over the table, so the next day you saw the work in progress.

Carla Bruni: So, it’s like a performance.

VL: Yes, exactly. It’s part performance. So, after the season ended, People still wanted to fix, and we’ve been getting together on a regular basis since then.

JD: So, would you say that you started fixing things from an art context?

VL: Yes, we did start from an art/gallery context, and we would still like to keep the art context as much as possible. I think without it, we would just become just a repair shop. We try to discourage that concept, where people may come in and ask, “Can I just drop this off?” We tell people that they really need to be there to participate in a performance.

CB: We don’t come from a performance perspective – it’s more of an environmental perspective – and the community focus is just as important. Just to do repair is not enough. We do get people like that, but most of the time we get a lot of people coming back to participate again – because we figure things out together. For us, it’s not really an art angle, it’s a community angle. But we are also intuitively aware that to do it just as a straight-on repair shop would not be as rich of an experience.

2013_0321 Fixing Session 16

Fixers Collective at Proteus Gowanus, 2013. Photo by: Vincent Lai

JD: What’s a popular fix?

VL: Lamps!

CB: Good Lord, are there a lot of lamps! People bring in three at a time. It’s outrageous.

VL: I know that we can count on having at least one lamp for each session, unless it’s specifically geared to something else. Other things we get on a regular basis are small kitchen appliances. We do see toasters, blenders, food processors, coffee grinders and a lot of issues with motors or switches.

AB: We get clothes a lot, too. We have a little rotating stable of seamstresses, so we always have one sewing machine. One time I had the shirt I was wearing repaired, my friend had the skirt she was wearing repaired, all during the the event …So you just go and hide in the bathroom while they’re stitching up the holes, and then throw it back on.  We get a lot of broken ceramics, too. I think because our name is Community Glue…

CB: Right, because some people think the fixes would be limited to that. At least one fix every workshop requires gluing things, and it’s usually me who ends up gluing things back together. Oh, and bikes, too. We have a guy who comes in and repairs bikes, and more so when the weather gets warmer. It’s huge because it’s so expensive.

VL: We don’t get a lot of bike repairs because there’s an organization in NYC that has done a lot with reuse and repair called Recycle-A-Bicycle. They do a lot of community outreach, so we may see a bike repair once a quarter.


 Community Glue Workshop fixer Paul Bassett (left) helps Jorge Sanchez get a floor lamp back into working order at a repair clinic.

JD: There is an aspect of folk pedagogy in what you each do – where learning is happening in more social, participatory and informal ways. I think of a gathering like quilting circles, where community knowledge was passed down through talking and interacting and the simple fact of being there and being hands-on. Have you observed this? What are the effects of this more personal exchange of knowledge?

CB: I think it’s been a really important part of what we’re doing. One thing that’s especially great is when kids come in and they’re blown away when they understand that you can “look under the hood,” so-to-speak, and actually see how things connect. I used to do this when I was a kid, but you don’t really see that anymore. In general, the issue of why we don’t use our hands is a big part of why, philosophically, this project is so interesting to us.

VL: I find myself using the phrase, “Project-Based Learning Initiative” partly because I heard that phrase used by Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari. I was attending the Games for Change conference, and he made a wonderful case for project-based learning for an educational model in schools. He listed a bunch of roles that teachers play right now – being an entertainer, a clerk, a disciplinarian. But, you can remove all of those roles if you’re engaged in a project-based learning model. So, I think it’s important to have people come over and hang around and idle. The more people around you, the more valuable the experience. Of particular interest are the slice-of-life observations that are made when all sorts of people come in with their stories. We’ll hear stories about manual fixes and what people would call “ghetto fixes,” and I think so much of this wouldn’t be possible if you were just doing it by yourself in your garage.

CB: You do get to hear a lot about the things other people are working on. There was a guy at the last workshop who works with a group that takes stuff out of alleys and makes franken-machines. It’s a bit different from our mission, but it’s obviously related, and we get to know a lot of people like that who are super handy and help out.

JD: Do you also think about how your work might take on outcomes that are less practical, perhaps in the way it might address larger social issues? What are the large-scale implications in working toward these smaller-scale “fixes?”

AB: For me, it’s to draw attention to the fact that our culture is so obsessed with the disposable.  We’re so far removed from nature and even from trades. Everybody’s job is digital – and it’s not real, it’s not tangible – so even objects become these things that you can just delete. But, you can’t really. It goes somewhere. Someone made it, and probably in a sweatshop. So, I think about how we need to stop feeding the beast, and reduce what we’re using.

CB: I come from a historic preservation background, where we re-use entire buildings. In terms of green building rating systems, you’re rewarded for replacing everything, not for keeping things and repairing them. Even in system that was designed to make us more environmentally friendly, it’s a totally throw-away culture, it’s all about consumption still…which is of course why were in this problem in the first place. I was feeling frustrated by this for years, so that’s a large part of the thrust for me. But, it also it makes me sad that kids, and people in general, don’t know how to fix anything anymore. We’re losing a lot of our ability to solve problems creatively. Plus, it’s fun! People don’t come here to be on an assembly line, they come for the challenge of problem solving.

VL: What I think about the most is computer electronic recycling. I was a first-hand witness to all of the stuff that got turned in for recycling – or the phrase that I would rather use: “wrapping and shredding.” People mistake certain recycling for reuse, and they think that when they turn it in for recycling, it’s going to get reused. However, a lot of what gets turned in gets wrapped up, and sent to a shredder and chopped up for scrap metal. I’ve seen MacBooks that didn’t need to go to recycling, they just needed to a $20 replacement chip. So, in this town, the throw-away culture is strongly evident with computers and electronics, and the people who recycle it don’t reuse enough. Recycling is a first line of defense instead of last resort. So, that’s where I want the fixers to intercede, to bring one more line of defense before the recyclable shredding happens. Also, there’s another term that iFixit is throwing around: “product as appliance.” It explains the idea that when something is broken, we can just get a new one. Apple will treat a broken iPad or iPhone in the same way another company will approach a broken blender or toaster: by throwing it away and replacing it. So, that’s what we try to fight, too.

CB: Even when something is being recycled as we are told it is going to be, is very energy intensive. Additionally, with downcycling, it’s really grating to me when someone wants to take an item – say a really nice guitar  — that is a bit warped and make it into a flowerpot. Anything can be a flowerpot! You’re taking a $500 guitar that needs a little TLC and a small part and downcylcing it. That drives me nuts — taking these really complex appliances that can last so much longer and essentially turning them into a concrete bowl. Give it another life! Instead of just downcycling everything that way, get as much as you can out of objects that are superior products or built for certain functions, that took a lot of energy to create. It’s hard to describe our mission to people because they think we’re tying to repurpose things since that’s what’s so hip now. I do that stuff too, but I’m also very mindful of that fact that this whole piece is missing: don’t repair things as they were. I think there needs to be that faction, too.


It was a full house at Kitchen Sink, host to Community Glue Workshop repair clinic, on November 18, 2012.

JD: When as a culture, we’re so taken with the disposable and the new, I’d imagine that you might have bumped up against the perception that your projects hold a kind of old-school, greatest generation mentality. Do you see the idea of re-use strike a chord again in recent years, during our economic downturn?

AB: I hope so, and it might be that I’m surrounded by more progressive folks, but I’m praying for a return to our roots. I like what’s happening with the recent return to community gardening projects, and how people want to produce their own food with a real interest and concern over where it comes from. It’s becoming hip to shun processed, terrible, chemical-laden food, and I think it goes hand-in-hand, with the idea that increasingly people want to get into their possessions and know how they work. I think that an interest in food can turn into a privileged passion, but the repair movement is certainly not a privileged endeavor. It’s extremely accessible and it makes sense for those who can’t afford to buy organic, or shop at Whole Foods. But, I think we’ve got a ways to go before we affect Middle America.

CB: I think people also miss working on things. Someone will pay a silly amount of money to go to a workshop, and put a couple of screws in a couple pieces of wood to make a bench, just because they want so badly to know they made a bench. So, they’ll pay $50 for someone to hand them a piece of wood and give them permission to make something. It’s great that this is happening, but I feel like it’s a sign of how removed people are from real things and how desperate we are to feel like we can make something again and be involved with our environment.

VL: The Mend exhibit, and in turn Fixers Collective, happened in part because of the financial collapse, so I would speculate that a lot of people came in on the defensive to just say, “Oh my God, I need this thing fixed.” So, then we just guided their hands through the process as they fixed it up. But, I’m hoping that these same people would come back later and want to sit down and fix things and be with others. We see that greatest generation mentality come in, and we have a fun time putting that up against a MacBook or an iPod that need fixing.

2013_0313 Patching Session 22

 Fixers Collective at Proteus Gowanus, 2013. Photo by: Vincent Lai

JD: How have you observed gender roles coming into play in these gatherings? Are the women doing sewing, and the men doing electrical work?

CB: It does kind of break out that way.

AB: We mostly have men as volunteers, the only women who volunteer are doing sewing, and it just so happens that the men do everything else.

VL: If you look at recent Facebook pictures of our one of our patching sessions,  you’ll see one of our Master Fixers, Tony, working the sewing machine to seam back up his jeans. Some of us make a really active effort to jump and cross those gender role gaps. It’s there, but we do also see instances where you would expect it, but then expectations are thwarted. There was a news article that surfaced recently about a bridge in Brooklyn that is going to be reconstructed, and the Department of Transportation is actively seeking women to work on the reconstruction. The organization working on this project is called Nontraditional Employment for Women, and we had one of their members to come in and fix our power saw. It’s there, we’re aware of it, and because we’re aware of it we make an effort to go outside of those expectations.

AB: What are we going to call a guy who brings in his sewing machine one day? A “seamster?”  A tailor? I tried to call them “sew-ers” one time in a Facebook update, and someone wrote in, “Hey, it looks like you wrote ‘sewers.’”