Realigning our Sight: An Interview with MK Guth

December 19, 2012 · Print This Article

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Midway through our studio visit, MK Guth told me about a compass—her father’s compass to be precise—that, throughout her childhood, was contained in the tackle box on her family’s boat. After countless summers of relying on this particular compass to navigate the waterways of the Canadian Great Lakes, it became a talisman of sorts, and it was this heirloom that sent the artist running to Midwest following the sale of the entire rig a few years ago. Out of this experience, Guth began to reconsider objects: how they transition between function and fetish; how they shift and shape social interaction; and how their relation to us and to each other organizes our surroundings and appropriates our actions.

Despite her attachment to the compass, Guth never learned to read it. It wasn’t until she was the sole owner of the object that she fulfilled its agency as a wayfinder, using it to navigate hikes through the Cascades. This notion of object lying in wait, anticipating the grasp of the human hand to become activated as an extension and mediation of human experience in the world, is a theme resonant throughout Guth’s art practice. Her most recent project, When Nothing Else Subsists, Smell and Taste Remain, (2012), is a multi-sensory exploration of the meaning that can evolve from the intersection of subject, object, and context. The exhibition is composed of a series of vignettes—or still lives as the artist calls them—composed of everyday readymades interspersed with one-of-a-kind handcraft and modified found objects. Guth meticulously curated a range of texture in each display. The all too appealing interplay of lustrous forged bronze, hand-blown glass, and polished woodgrain cannot help being touched. Guth intentionally solicits this interaction from her audience, tempting visitors to sit at her handcrafted table, thumb through original artist books, and take various tools for dining in hand.

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As a secondary, perhaps richer engagement, viewers are invited to enact dinners— elaborate rituals explicitly outlined in Guth’s one-of-a-kind books: Dinner for John Cage, Dinner for Crying, Dinner for the Woods, Dinner for a Funeral, Dinner for Getting Lost, and others. In this iteration of When Nothing Else Subsists, the social becomes both medium and content of the project. Setting the stage upon familiar platform of table, flatware, and food, Guth subverts the everydayness of dining, directing attention to the ritual itself—its structure, its narrative, and its social interplay—as a subtle reminder of the small, ephemeral gestures that contribute to grand, long-lasting accumulations.

Guth’s previous work similarly embraced participation as fodder for art practice. Her recent series of braid projects including: Best Wishes, (2011); This Fable is Intended for You: A Work-Energy Principle, (2010); Ties of Protection and Safe Keeping, (2008); solicited physical material—swatches of fiber—as well as text commenting on issues ranging from desire to security. The material was then woven into yards upon yards of braids to create a generative social work that, in the gallery, was translated into an equally compelling sculpture, installation, or lens-based project, that visitors uninvolved with the initial performance could engage and appreciate. Braids from these previous projects festoon the artist’s studio currently. They are in the process of being woven into vessels—clever plays on the idea of a repository— where hopes and wishes are bound-up in the objectness of the container itself.

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Guth is the maestra of the send-off. At the root of her work is a central line of inquiry—a rhizome-like thread that binds individual, to object, to universe—generating meaning from what is unacknowledged, unarticulated, or unknown. I spoke to Guth in her southeast Portland studio.

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: I’d love to start with a quote that came up in a previous conversation with you: “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.” (Robert Filliou, n.d.) Why did that statement resonate?

MK Guth: What I find important about that quote is that it reminds us that art has a job to do. In the case of my work, I tend to use the concept of the everyday—reflecting on the everyday in the content, materials, and processes of art making—to refocus attention on analyzing and addressing everyday acts, rituals, and processes with new appreciation and understanding. My recent work at Marylhurst [University’s Art Gym], When Nothing Else Subsists, Smell and Taste Remain, the project places the ritual of dining within the context of art to attune the viewer to an act that is so familiar that we take it for granted. For example, in the case of the Dinner for John Cage, you perform a composition at the dinner, but you are also enacting a ritual that we do all the time: eating. It’s this combination of producing something collectively as part of a mundane action within the context of an art experience that forces us to reexamine what we already know.

SMP: So, you’re making the familiar strange, or the ordinary extraordinary…

MKG: It’s more about bringing our attention back to the ordinary so we look at it again. For example, when you walk the few blocks to work every day, you notice certain things, but then you take that walk with someone else and they point out a different building or some detail or whatever, all of a sudden, the walk becomes new again—you see it in a different way. So, I’m not even sure it’s about making it special as much as it is about realigning our sight.

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SMP: Food has become such an enormous part of contemporary art and exhibition practice, but in viewing your work, I was brought back to those seminal figures in food and performance, Gordon Matta Clark, Alison Knowles, and to some extent, Rikert Tiravanija. Do you have a relationship to these artists, and how did the contemporary context—cultural and social life—set the stage for this project?

MKG: I’m a bit of a researcher bug. I roll that way anyway. My undergraduate degree is in sociology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and that department is very research oriented and it really influenced the way that I work. In the process of developing [When Nothing Else Subsists], sure, I was looking at all of these different people who engaged food in one way or another; that being said, I don’t want to make the assumption that everyone who works with food shares some sort of similarity. Tiravanija’s way of engaging food and the meaning behind it is very different than somebody like Daniel Spoerri, even though both of these artists are cooking. Both are very different than Gordon Matta Clark and the project Food, or Alison Knowles, who, in a very Fluxus-Happening spirit, highlights our relationship with tools and implements. But sure, I became interested in how art addressed food and eating beginning with very early artworks as a material of life itself that is essential to existence. No matter the moment or context, food makes its way into the artistic realm, from pre-antiquity to present… food is part of what we need and often part of significant rituals that imbue out lives, for example, weddings, births and birthdays all have particular food and food rituals.  It doesn’t surprise me that artists are interested in using it to create meaning.

Install view

SMP: Many of your previous projects including Best Wishes and This Fable is Intended for You are about engagement through the accumulation of matter—generating fiber and text—whereas your more recent work around food and dining is more about ritual—generative through discursive and performative engagement. What drew you away from one form of participation to another?

MKG: In the 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark coined the term “food theater.” I actually began conceiving [When Nothing Else Subsists] several years ago when I was in the process of doing all the weaving and braiding projects, and that term—food theater—helped develop my most recent work by focusing my attention on what it meant when I was eating with friends and how it is this theatrical event. Everybody is a performer at the table and there are always expectations as the guest, as the server, as the person who’s cooking the meal, or as the person who is directing the conversation. That notion of performance in relation to something that we do together everyday started to inform where I wanted this work, When Nothing Else Subsists, to go.

I suppose this project is the absolute opposite of my previous work in terms of process. These last several years, perhaps starting with Red Shoe Delivery Service, (2002-2006), and continuing through the woven works, the interaction with the public played out in one field, and the accumulated ephemera then went on to form works of art that could be then reflected on in an institutional setting—a gallery, museum, or what have you. In essence, the interactivity was one experience and the viewing of the object that came out of it was a different experience. What was important to me is that residual work wasn’t functioning as a direct document; meaning, that the secondary object was created to offer up a wholly new viewing experience that has different meaning attached.

I know that my work could easily be defined as “social practice,” but in part because I choose not to show direct documentation of the interactive elements of the work in a gallery context and because my work does not exist as documentation of an experience but instead as an object produced from that experience, I feel that my work is set apart. Honestly, I understand why social practice, or any sort of event-oriented project, relies on documentation—there’s an art economy there, and a manner of communicating something that would be otherwise lost.  However, I also feel that showing ephemera can be a fuck you to the audience. It’s like saying: “here’s the event that you all were not involved with. It was great, but you weren’t there.” Also, a photograph or video can never accomplish translating what the original experience was—the related discomforts, smells, sounds, and all the many other things are absent from documentation. An important part of what I do is creating something else that might connect to that initial experience but it isn’t trying to document it in a direct way. I am interested in creating work that offers up multiple experiences and, as a result, the whole project becomes generative.

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When Nothing Else Subsists turns my earlier process on its side. The object is similarly the agent of activation, but the activity occurs through an inverse process: object precipitates event.

Certain things cause us to act in specific ways: a book tells us to read it; a table tells us to sit and use it as a surface. We understand that code and structural system, regardless of where the objects are located. It’s universal. You can put something into a gallery—it doesn’t matter what it is—it could be a clothespin and voila, and it’s art. The thing that I like about the table is that people will go to sit at it because its meaning—its system and code—is stronger than that of the art context. For example, people are still willing to go sit at a table and eat despite its location in a university art gallery.

As far as the little vignettes that hold these one-of-a-kind dinners, those still lives have materials that I had hoped would encourage people to take materials off the shelves and engage with them; in particular, the books. For example, the Dinner for Getting Lost has a copy of Aristotle’s “On Man in the Universe” and a book of Rebecca Solnit as well as the one-of-a-kind book that encompasses the dinner. I made the books to be hardcover sturdy objects that tell the viewer: “I’m not fragile, pick me up.” I wanted these still lives to announce that they are meant to be engaged and, in this way, that body of work starts with the sculpture as a way to promote an action. Really, each piece has three different potential experiences that can be engaged: the initial entry to the project is through the still life and contemplative viewing, the second experience is through engaging with the material of the still life, and the third level is to activate the dinner itself.

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SMP: I’m interested in your ability to engage with the unique properties and etiquette for participation within different spaces, fluctuating seemingly easily between white cube and more public venues, as with your recent work in Las Vegas. How do you leverage the different qualities of different spaces for your projects?

MKG: All spaces have a context—including galleries—and often, it can be difficult to fight against the associations brought on by site. For the Whitney Biennial, my piece, [Ties of Protection and Safe Keeping, (2008)], was installed in the library of the Park Avenue Armory, a space that has very specific meaning and embedded history. In my mind, simply putting an artwork in that space without considering the relationship to site means that both elements—the history of the space and the meaning of the artwork—are in this constant battle. In my work, it makes more sense for me to use history and meaning in the construction of the artwork so that the two could come together and create a unique, mutually supported experience for the audience. At Marylhurst, the Art Gym has a very particular feel with its exposed wooden beams and a huge expanse of windows—a very hallowed hall kind of feel that adds to the sense of ritual. And, of course, you can’t fight Vegas, so it made sense to do a work that connected some of the aspects of the reasons people visit Vegas: the dream, desire, etc. To me, it seems to be a more successful strategy somehow to engage the site, leveraging it to create meaning for the rest of the work.

SMP: The research-based element of your practice is so intensive. I’m wondering if you could continue this thread and speak to blending more empirical truth—particularly history—with mythmaking, which strikes me as being very present in many of your projects?

MKG: I start often with mythic narratives and use them as a way to bring people in. Often with interactive work, people do not like to engage, (including me!), so there has to be another way to invite people into the piece. There are narratives that we all recognize, and these provide a way for people to come to the work that’s familiar. It’s the shifting that happens in that space—engaging audience with familiar narrative—that creates a new mythic site.

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SMP: How did you begin to do participatory work and how do you negotiate the unknowns that come with choreographing this type of performance?

MKG: Late-summer 2002, Red Shoe Delivery Service made its debut in New York. This was a project with Molly Dilworth and, one year later, with Cris Moss. I had been working on a series of photos that were combining mythic representations into everyday scenarios, and one of them was Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. I had been doing this kind of work for three years and, at that point, I was frustrated with it. In my mind, I was redesigning these representations to make room for ordinary people in the way that you may not be a superhero but you could still have some sort of remarkable power. That series of work just kind of collapsed into the photograph, object, or video, and never really became an experience outside the realm of image or object; Red Shoe developed out of this point of frustration. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my then roommate Molly Dilworth, and I said: “What if I just rented a van, filled it with glittery shoes, and drove around giving people free rides? What would happen then?” And Molly said: “If you do that, I’ll drive.” That’s how Red Shoe was born. We did our first three days in New York with a rented minivan and a bunch of red glittery shoes that I had made, and we literally gave rides to people to wherever they wanted to go. In exchange, they had to give us their shoes for the duration of the ride, and they had to choose a pair of red glittery shoes and click their heels saying: “there’s no place like…” the Post Office, work, the neighborhood bar, or wherever they were going. We took video of our passengers at the beginning and end of each ride, and later edited those two moments together to create a video of people magically transported in a spiral of glitter and heart music to their desired location. As the project went on, we became more sophisticated. Molly started curating the van, so the ride itself became this entirely other experience for the riders. Then Chris Moss became involved when we realized we needed a third person. Chris began working on these interactive DVDs that involved recording the stories of our riders and partnering with writers and illustrators to translate them into texts and images. We began creating this multi-layered, almost rhizomatic project that spoked in all these different ways. We began doing virtual travel agencies, dispatch centers, shoe stores, so something that started out as a mobile project—which we always kept—became all these different ways of communicating notions of risk taking, desire, transformation, and different ideas of home.

When Red Shoe was first developed, it took time for the three of us to understand and evolve the work in such a way that the loss of autonomy that comes with participation was not a problem to be resolved, but rather, something that offered up a range of new possibilities both for the viewers and for us as the artists that made the work more exciting. As time went on, and with the braid projects, I began to weave-in this loss of autonomy into the design of the work. When Sol Lewitt spoke about his instructions-based works, he had an understanding that no one person draws a line the same. So, those works, no matter how well the instructions are composed, will always vary a little bit, and that becomes part of the work. I think that if you pursue a practice that is exchange-based or participatory without that understanding that concept, you are going to be constantly frustrated. Understanding that active audience members will come in and shift the outcome of the work has to be taken into consideration in the design of the piece. This different system of meaning making doesn’t change the authorship of the work however, because the design of that experience is still coming from me.

SMP: So, given that transdiciplinary is the buzzword du jour, I’m curious if you can articulate a bit more about your approach to art making that draws from research, object making, image making, performance, and choreography. Moreover, artists today function in various roles ranging from sociologist, to journalist, to cabdriver. Given the expansion of the field, how would you define the role of an artist in this context and how do you address the anxiety that comes with pushing and crossing traditional boundaries?

MKG: I’m not going to define the role of an artist—each artist is going to define that role differently. But I do feel that art has a job to do and, for me now, my job as an artist involves wearing a lot of different hats: choreography, directing, facilitating.

I come from an object making background, and I still believe in the power of the object to make people act or to change their understanding of an image or event. That being said, I would like to approach my practice as one that offers up a multi-level of experiences including more viewer activated experiences. At the end of the day, I feel that in order to communicate, I need to make use of many different skills: some that are very common and everyday ways of making; others are more cerebral, mining my education and research skills; and some that engage new technology, which in many ways is redefining the role of the artist today. What is an artist? Tough question! I guess I choose the job of cultivating an experience for an audience that communicates something about them back to them.  This is the role I choose.

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MK Guth is a multidisciplinary artist residing in Portland, Oregon. Her most recent project, When Nothing Else Subsists, Smell and Taste Remain, was on view at Marylhurst University’s Art Gym, Oct. 7 – Dec. 9, 2012. She received her MFA from New York University in 2002, and her work has been featured internationally at numerous museums, galleries, and festivals including: The Whitney Museum of American Art; The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; The Melbourne International Arts Festival; Portland Institute for Contemporary Art; Swiss Institute; White Box Annex; White Columns; Frye Museum; Henry Art Gallery; and others. Guth is currently Chair of the MFA Program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, (PNCA), and is represented by Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland.

Do you remember the 90s?

December 12, 2012 · Print This Article

Oh, Detroit. Has it been two years already?! It seems but a day since I took my first Michigan left and brought my Subaru to a stop in the center of your simultaneously horrifying and humbling splendor. From those early moments, I knew our relationship would be as tenuous as your gloriously rusted patina. I came equipped with my New York Times-fueled expectations and, to my 21st century grand narrative, you countered with the arresting reality of day-to-day life in an urban center lacking in infrastructure, population, and amenities. From you, I experienced the creativity that emerges from near lawlessness; I witnessed the ingenuity required to survive and, indeed, thrive in urban wilderness; and I was charmed by the entrepreneurial spirit that nurtured makers, doers, and hackers alongside BYO basement strip clubs and speakeasy-style soul food joints. What resonates with me still is the unwavering commitment to a locality where life is a unique brand of struggle but, even so, there is palpable energy created around cumulative gestures of grassroots transformation. Detroit is a truly contemporary American city—engaged with the potential of the present—sending up smoke signals to the future while building on the recently razed past.

Jay Thunderbolt, Detroit. Photo: Dave Jordano, Design Observer

Jay Thunderbolt, Detroit. Photo: Dave Jordano, Design Observer

So Detroit, it’s been real, but a working girl has got to eat, (specifically, she’s got to eat fresh produce other than the lemons and limes purchased at liquor stores), so this B@S blogger is moving on!

In September, I accepted a position in Portland and, beginning next Wednesday, I will be continuing my correspondence from the Pacific Northwest’s veritable hipster haven notorious for crafting, composting, and pre-retirement. Despite its bicycle riding, NPR listening, backyard chicken tending demographic, not all of Portland is steeped in cliché. Surprisingly, this city holds remarkable likeness to the Dirty D. There are hardcore, ambidextrous makers here—creative entrepreneurs who have eschewed the traditional a-list urban locale to continue canning, woodworking, and weaving from the comfort of a spacious home studio. A spirit of resourcefulness and resilience abounds. Like Detroit, the stability of full-time employment is hard to come by, but within this piece-meal existence, comes a freedom that facilitates forging alternative ways of living, working, and remaining creatively and culturally fulfilled. Portland’s got some hustle too, B@S!

ADX makerspace, Portland

ADX makerspace, Portland

Thanks largely to Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, Portland has become the subject of popular myth and, I’ll admit, there is something about this city beyond the grunge and facial hair that begs the question: “Do you remember the 90s?” From what I’ve seen so far, much of the cultural work produced in Portland does bear the vague glimmer of an outstretched Clinton-thumb. Far from the 90s articulated by Jeff Koons and new genre public art, the Portlandia version is defined by expressions of optimism and imagination that often leverage the space of art and exhibitions as sites to launch fantastical alternatives.

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Consider the work of Wayne Bund, Portland-based photographer recently featured at Cock Gallery, whose riveting portraiture explores sexual identity through the incarnation of fantasy—a veritable feast of cinematic unconscious that is as compelling as it is uncanny.

Jeffry Mitchell

Jeffry Mitchell

On view at the Henry Gallery is Like a Valentine, a solo-exhibition of Seattle-based ceramist Jeffry Mitchell, that features an other world of playful flora and fauna whose irresistible sweetness is perforated by gilded glory holes.

Patrick Rock, Requiem

Patrick Rock, Requiem

And just last weekend, I had the opportunity to experience an installation by Patrick Rock, visual artist and director of rocksbox, whose practice in studio and art space is notorious for combining blithe humor with biting art world irreverence.  Requiem combined a room-scale bouncy playground with light effects, Mozart, and Dumbo, in a space resembling a church-y community center that would be hosting a pancake breakfast the next morning. The experience was cacophonous and disorienting… But I liked it.

MK Guth, Bar

MK Guth, Bar

Conversations with these three folks forthcoming, but first, an interview with MK Guth, an artist whose multifaceted practice includes sculpture, performance, image making, and Fluxus-style game playing. Not to reveal too much, but our conversation explored the logistics of participatory art: engaging various publics, embracing the unknown, and looping the experience back by transforming a collective process into a compelling art object. Stay tuned: MK Guth, next Wednesday 12/19, B@S blog!

An Interview with Gabriel Craig, Ethical Metalsmith and Pro Bono Jeweler

August 16, 2012 · Print This Article

There’s a certain amount of romanticism in the idea of mining your own gold, mused metalsmith Gabriel Craig on his recent adventure through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Romantic, indeed. Compound the gold mining expedition with two soon-to-be newlyweds who have commissioned locally sourced, handcrafted wedding bands, and you have the makings of a Hollywood epic. Before you cast Craig as a roguish Matthew McConaughey, reconfigure his character to resemble more Michael Heizer with a touch of Henry David Thoreau. Beyond their mutual love of Stetsons, (see Craig pictured above on the far left), both Heizer and Craig have expressed their ecological concern through the displacement and destruction of landscape. The mining of precious metals is, in essence, an ecological disaster involving deforestation, mile-long trenches, and terrifying amounts of cyanide. As a jeweler and metalsmith, Craig has sought to bring attention to ethical craft practices, citing that his process begins with the harvesting of materials—the formation of deposits in the earth—long before they are cultivated by the human hand.

At the heart of Craig’s multifaceted practice, which includes metalsmithing, writing, urban farming, and performance, is a desire for transparency. His performative works in particular—the public demonstrations, participatory constructed situations, and documented expeditions—are conceived as a way to unveil narratives of production from material source to mercantile object. Craig is perhaps best known for Pro Bono Jeweler, a craft-performance that brings metalsmithing to the street via mobile jeweler’s bench. In essence, the piece functions as a public forum for dialogue inspired by the visible production and free distribution of metalwork. More recently, Craig has refocused his tactics towards hands-on participation. Raising Awareness brings spectators into the fold by soliciting gallery-goers to experience the process of “raising” a vessel from a flat sheet of metal. Ultimately, both Pro Bono Jeweler and Raising Awareness fulfill one of the crucial tenants of craft: to humanize the production of objects—all objects—whether manufactured or handcrafted. Further, like many of Craig’s projects, these performances tend to unpack propositions rather than polemics. Criticality emerges through opening-up systems, providing a venue for public discourse, and posing the question: how can craft—as a process and product, legacy and ideology—inspire shifts in human behavior that improve the world around us?

I spoke to Gabriel Craig in his new studio and production facility, Smith Shop, based out of Ponyride, a cooperative space for creative entrepreneurship in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: I first encountered your practice in Hand+Made at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2010), an exhibition that featured the work of Theaster Gates, Ann Wilson, and other artists who, likewise, have interwoven craft practice and public performance. I’m curious: as a studio-based crafts person, how did performance began to eke its way into your practice?

Gabriel Craig: My first performance—that I would actually call a performance—was in graduate school, and more than anything, the piece came out of expressing frustration rather than any sort of intentional performative impulse. At the time—as an angsty twenty-three-year-old—I perceived a very insular conversation happening in jewelry. I thought that a way to engage a general audience, or an audience outside of that insular conversation, was to go and make jewelry on the street. I began by performing the Collegiate Jeweler (2007), which ended up turning into the Pro Bono Jeweler (2008, ongoing). During this same time, I was also doing working on a piece where I wrote a series of monologues about being a jeweler and performed them in a theater context, Narcissist: Eight Confessions of an Academic Jeweler (2008). Early in my career, I think I had a lot to say that I felt compelled to share with people in a more direct way than by making objects. For me, performance has always been a way to engage people and directly give them my opinion rather than mediating it through an object. I think that’s the same reason that I started writing, because I had the same burning desire to tell people what I thought.

SMP: Can you speak a bit more to the process by which you went from the impulse of disseminating your frustrations with academia to really crafting a performance?

GC: I was certainly aware of performance practices before then but, after I started doing performance, I started being more conscious of the framework that I fit into and how I wanted to situate my own practice. I always wanted my interactions with the general public to be honest and authentic. It really seemed to me that going out, making jewelry, and sharing that with people was the ultimate goal; essentially, sharing what I do because I love it. The system that I set up—giving away rings as I was making them—emerged from this very altruistic sensibility, but giving away rings really wasn’t the most important part. For me, the most important aspect was interacting with people and having an opportunity to talk to them about using their hands.

GC: There are a whole set of issues that surround handwork including supply chain, manufacturing, consumption, etc. Depending on the individual participant and where they’re at—the context of place—there a whole number of directions that the conversation could go. So many of the conversations I’ve had are about seeing something being made and, all of a sudden, having a window into where things come from. In a way, I’m demystifying manufacturing, but also, I think that showing someone even just one thing being made is an opportunity to start that conversation about how all things are made and get at that disconnect between production and consumption. It was from these genuine, meaningful interactions with people that the performance really developed.

When I was still in school, I got a lot of criticism for not using the traditional performance art language—my performances are essentially demonstrations—but that misses the point. Craft performance is different than art performance. Yes, my performances have the language of a demonstration, but my performances never sell anything. My goal is to share craft with people, and performing craft has different standards than performance art, but that’s my own opinion.

SMP: I find it interesting that you entered into a field that, because of the individuality of the Studio Craft movement, is not viewed as the most social of art forms. I’m thinking of the idea of the monastic craftsperson throwing a pot in a barn or crafting metal broach. Yet, out of this tradition, you were able to develop a social practice…

GC: Really?! Historically, I think of craft as having a really social bent to it in a vernacular sense. You’re thinking of making as in objects that are made in a very monastic way; however, the objects themselves are made to enter into a cultural vernacular of social use. If a potter makes a jug, the making process might be solitary, but the using process is always about some sort of social interaction or utilitarian function. I think that there is that dichotomy in craft—this balance of opposites—which I really enjoy.

“Sacré-Coeur,” made in collaboration with Amy Weiks

SMP: Your work seems indicative of this shift in the field of contemporary craft from the production of products to the processes of making. What’s your relationship to handmade objects versus the practices of handmaking?

GC: I find tremendous enjoyment in using handmade objects, but I find very little engaging intellectual value in them; meaning, the objects themselves don’t have the cultural relevance that the making can have in terms of what the process can mean and cause people to think about.

SMP: Continuing this thread, can you tell me a bit about your most recent project, Raising Awareness (2012, ongoing)?

GC: Raising Awareness takes the process of “raising,” which is taking a flat sheet of metal and forming it into a vessel shape by hammering it with repeated blows over a forming stake. This is a really meditative, highly skilled activity, but it is a process that is really simple when you think about it. All you’re doing is using a lever and fulcrum, essentially, to change the shape of a sheet of metal. It’s really basic—anyone can do it—but not a lot of people are good at it. Also, it’s a really traditional way to make metal objects and most people are totally unaware of this process.

GC: I had always wanted to do a project that was a little more hands-on than the Pro Bono Jeweler. The Pro Bono Jeweler was about showing, and I think there’s an opportunity to make a deeper, more intimate connection than through just conversation. The Pro Bono Jeweler started to get problematic because, often, I was having conversations about making things with an informed, museum-going audience and it stopped being a rich conversation. With Raising Awareness, even if you are already oriented to craft or to metalsmithing, the opportunity to pick something up and start making something—for it to be participatory—means this project facilitates a different level of interaction.

I’m doing a marathon Raising Awareness performance with another metalsmith, David Huang, at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids in September. We’re going to be raising every day for two plus weeks with metalsmith volunteers from around the country for a crowd of 200,000 people over the course of two-and-a-half weeks. That’s going to be something that’s really about sharing widely, and we’ll see how many people we can actually get to do some hands-on work. To contrast that project, I have a show next year at the National Ornamental Metals Museum in Memphis where the project is to work with the public to replicate an object—an accessioned historic metal vessel—that once replicated, will be accessioned by the museum. The idea of recreating a historic masterpiece gives the general public a window into a collection that they couldn’t get any other way. I think that that makes the museum environment such a rich place to execute this project. The intent of both iterations—Art Prize and the Ornamental Metals Museum—is to give the public a stake in making something in an active way and empower them to use their hands.

“Soundforge,” a multimedia collaboration with Michael Remson

SMP: Having read a bit of your writing, I gather you’re insanely knowledgeable about the history of craft practice and I feel as though you imbue quite a bit of your work with an early-twentieth century Arts and Crafts mentality that brings together concepts relating to mastery, skill, education, preservation, etc. I’m wondering if you consider yourself within a certain legacy and do you consider that legacy when conceiving, particularly, of these participatory projects?

GC: I’m glad that you picked up on that because the utopian aspect of craft is something I really geek-out on! I’m shamelessly romantic about it. I wish that craft was this model of production that could be perfect and anyone could make a living from it, but in reality, it’s so deeply flawed. I’m really interested in the Arts and Crafts Movement and the idea that turn of the twentieth century crafters were looking back romantically to the Medieval era and what it was to be a maker during that period. It’s funny because life was horrible for Medieval crafters—they were serfs!—yet the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was completely trying to emulate that lifestyle. I think there’s a certain optimism in the idea of making things and deriving enjoyment from it, but simultaneously, grounding these practices in a social context; meaning, really being aware of where things come from, questioning the status quo and labor practices, and having a respect for the environment. If you go back and you read some of the Arts and Crafts practitioners, they were writing about factories polluting the rivers and destroying the land of the English countryside. All of this is still completely applicable now. Right now, I’m finishing this biography of C.R. Ashbee by Alan Crawford, and Crawford is meticulous—the detail to which he writes about the workmen in theses handcraft studios! Anyway, he describes how Ashbee pulled kids off the streets in the East End of London at the end of the nineteenth century, which at the time was really impoverished, and gives them jobs as jewelers: training them, employing them, watching them grow, and really creating an entire lifestyle and an intentional community. Thinking about that and looking at what I’m doing here, I can’t help but project a parallel pursuit. Even if it’s not exactly the same, there’s a certain amount of intentional social engagement that now exists here—out of necessity! The East End of London was a really tough place and Detroit is a really tough place too. But the idea of recruiting on the streets of Corktown is problematic—imperialism and colonialism weren’t a problem for Ashbee. Here you need to meet people on their own terms; but regardless, craft does have something to offer.

Recycled gold ready to be melted in an ingot

SMP: I’m interested in the notion of an “ethical jeweler.” Can you elaborate on the ethical considerations within your practice?

GC: I have a real penchant towards talking about material sourcing, and it’s a conversation that I feel often falls on deaf ears. The issue first came to my attention through Ethical Metalsmiths, which is a nonprofit organization that advocates for mining reform and ethical material sourcing for jewelry. Metal mining is such an environmentally devastating industry. If you’re mining metal now, the practice is “open pit mining.” The basic premise of open pit mining is to find a gold rich area, locate a vein, and then dig an enormous hole in the ground, which can be miles wide and miles deep in some cases. Then, you take all the ore that contains the gold, crush it, put it on a huge tarp, and spray it with cyanide, (it’s the cyanide that leaches the gold out of the rock matrix). The gold and cyanide runs off, and the compounds are separated, using electrolytic deposition, and what you’re left with is waste cyanide and all this crushed rock. All the chemicals that are naturally occurring in rock ore – like sulfides and phosphides – begin to leech out through their exposure to air and rain. Even if this is done in a really responsible fashion, there’s no way to avoid destroying a significant portion of landscape in addition to all the other contamination concerns. Containing cyanide and these chemicals in sludge ponds is hugely imperative because even just a small spill can poison a watershed. The regulation of this in the US and Canada is fairly good, but in other parts of the world—countries that aren’t able to enforce mining laws—there’s real potential for disaster there.

Newlyweds to be Jenna Wainwright and Rajiv Jaswa prospecting for gold with metalsmiths Todd Pownell and Gabriel Craig, (left); Craig and Jaswa mid-dig, (center); and Craig examining the dregs of his gold pan, (right).

SMP: And what was it that led you on your gold mining expedition?

GC: The idea was to create a narrative piece that illustrated the difficulty of extracting gold and demonstrated what it actually takes to extract a ubiquitous metal from the earth. I had written a more technical/academic article in 2008, “Seeing Green,” for Metalsmithing Magazine about sustainable jewelry making as it existed at that time, but writing facts and figures on paper is wholly different from constructing a narrative that readers can really relate to. There’s a certain amount of romanticism in the idea of mining your own gold. I thought that putting a personal face on the process would be an interesting approach to advocate for better practices. So, I connected with another jeweler and a couple who wanted to have wedding rings made, and the idea was to go and obtain the gold to create the wedding rings in South Dakota. We prospected on a week-long expedition, and in the end, we didn’t find nearly enough gold for the rings to be made. We did manage to document the pursuit of gold—what we were all experiencing—throughout the process. (View videos of the expedition on Vimeo.) The prospecting took place in the middle of this pristine wilderness in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is such beautiful country, and what did we do? We dug a ten-foot hole in the ground to try to find gold and, in the process, we ruined the landscape—basically trying to avoid knocking over trees and displacing the order of things. Even on the very small scale which we were doing this, we were still really conscious of the fact that we were spoiling the landscape.

The wedding bands inscribed with the Black Hills river bed, in process (left) and finished (right)

GC: I think it’s important to tell stories about material sourcing. We need to expose the narratives of where things come from, not starting from when it arrives as raw material for a craftsperson to use, but starting where the material itself is sourced—things start before a maker even touches them. Even if a maker’s studio is really environmentally conscious and there’s the imperative to make by hand versus through industrial means, if the materials are obtained in a really irresponsible way, I think that taint isn’t erased by making by hand. And so often, that is the case! I had a conversation in Washington, D.C. last week with Daniel Michalik, who is a furniture maker. Almost all of his furniture incorporates cork and he did this wonderful project for Core77 where he went to Portugal and documented the cork harvest. He had hundreds of photos documenting his total immersion in the cork industry from tree to factory. I think that that’s the sort of education that needs to be available for all craft products especially if we’re going to talk about craft as having an ethical imperative. I don’t understand how it’s not a completely holistic conversation!

SMP: How has your practice changed since your first exposure to ethical sourcing?

GC: The first time I saw an Ethical Metalsmiths presentation at a conference I was shocked. My first thought was: What do I do now? Do I quit? I think it’s that tension between something that you’re in love with but at the same time is horrible. How do you resolve or else deal with that tension? I don’t think the world will be a better place if I quit making jewelry, but maybe if I work from within the existing system, there’s the potential that I can do my small part to change it. Craft being a force for good is essential to my worldview and how I approach my practice. I think I’m just compelled to do positive things.

Gabriel Craig is a Detroit-based metalsmith, writer and craft activist. His studio and workshop – Smith Shop – is currently being launched from Ponyride, a cooperative space for art, craft, design and education, in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Craig’s work is included in 40 under 40: Craft Futures, at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum until February 2013. Craig will be speaking at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s symposium, “Nation Building: Craft and Contemporary American Culture,” Nov 8-9, 2012. Craig will perform Raising Awareness daily with David Huang, September 19 through October 7 at the B.O.B. in Grand Rapids, Michigan as part of ArtPrize 2012. For more visit: www.gabrielcraigmetalsmith.com

An Accumulation of Small Gestures: An Interview with Richard Haley

June 7, 2012 · Print This Article

There is a bit of the Hopeless Romantic in the art of Richard Haley, as well as humor, depth, and boundless curiosity. His projects initially amuse and then confound, like a dose of sarcasm hiding within utter sincerity, or the strange experience of playing chess against yourself.  Minimalism, land art, conceptual art, and performance all play a role in his practice, but his work stays fresh through his completely heartfelt approach. Whether trying to sink in a row boat at the same rate as the setting sun, moving nothingness from one part of the country to the other, or warming a decaying and forgotten slab of concrete with his own body, Haley’s games evoke a magic circle bound by the quirky dictations of a childlike sense of wonder.

Though he currently lives in metro Detroit, Haley hails from Northern California, and his practice is undeniably rooted in the West coast spirit—the uniquely Bay Area and LA awareness of the land as the frontier’s end. In Haley’s work, the frontier becomes personal. Mundane everyday actions—accumulated small gestures—place him, and often his audience, in the world at a particular moment. These moments are constructed to simultaneously acknowledge humanity while coming to grips with mortality. The deciduous nature of these poetic gestures means they are often missed and must be experienced through concise documentation; otherwise, they could drop off into nothingness.

Recently-recruited B@S Detroit correspondent Tom Friel and I spoke to Haley in his garage-basement-office-home-studio. We began our conversation in front of a work in process: a hole.

Thanks to Tom for collaborating on this interview and crafting this superb introduction!

25 YEAR PROPOSAL TO TRAIN A TREE TO GROW A HOLE

Richard Haley: I made a mold of a hole within Detroit. For this upcoming exhibition [at ANOTHER YEAR IN LA], the mold will be shipped to Los Angeles and cast using matter foraged locally. Essentially, I’m shipping nothing from one contested place to some other strange place—two strange cities. My work is usually an accumulation of small gestures, and this is a larger gesture. I don’t exactly know what a hole is, and I’m trying to figure that out. It’s a puncture in the land, but it’s not the land itself—it’s not the site. It’s surrounded by the site, but it can’t exist without the site. A hole is almost more like a photograph in that a photograph is not the thing, but it cannot exist without the thing the photograph is of. The hole is the space, it’s not the earth.

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: Will this be the first and only iteration this project?

RH: Oh, I hope I can have more holes. If I was to think bigger, and I usually tend to think in small bits, Birmingham would be my shipping center of nothingness. It would be nice to have nothingness on two opposite coasts. That would be exciting—to have replications of Detroit nothingness in these other places that are not here.

SATURATING A HILL WITH RAIN UNTIL IT SWELLS UP TO MEET THE BOTTOM OF THE SKY

Tom Friel: Does this project have any relationship to your previous work that addresses mounds and hills?

RH: I hadn’t intentionally made that connection; although, in some way, I suppose it does. To put it sculptural terms, one is a presence and one is an absence, and both with revolve around some type of action that uses futility as a measuring tool. I use acts to address primary ontological questions: doing something that isn’t going to work is an exercise in futility, but the act itself is a way to measure of the nature of being.

DEVICE TO PULL CLOUDS OUT OF THE SKY

SMP: Recently, the Bas Fischer Invitational in Miami described your work as an amalgam of California conceptual and monumental land art; meaning, that your gestures are often solitary, rule-based, and play out within a landscape. It seems to me that you’re very much a maker—of objects and images—as well as a performer. How do you reconcile conceptual and making in your practice?

RH: Well it gets me in trouble. Where I’m from in northern California, and all my teachers came out of the Bay Area figurative or funk movements. They were the students of people like William Wiley, Robert Arneson, Wayne Thiebaud, Joan Brown, so that was in the air when I was a student. Everything I did was figurative painting and figurative sculpture. One day, I was in my figurative painting class, and I turned it into a game painting as fast as I could and as quick as I could. Also, I made a great deal of noise and positioned myself next to the people doing the most labor intensive work, which didn’t work out too well. But anyway, I’ve never been a figurative artist—I like to make things, and I make very clumsy things. The way I think relates more to the *white men of the 60s*—the conceptual artists, and my thinking and my making often collide, which that gets me in trouble. I’ll make something that seems very clear and clinical and then I’ll make some strange chairs to sit on and watch the first thing, which completely distracts from the intent of the work. Here’s what it is: I like to make things with my hands, so my work doesn’t always fit into this dematerialized mode. I keep trying to rematerialize my dematerialization.

RUBBING THE GREASE FROM THE OILY SKIN ON MY FOREHEAD ONTO A DECORATIVE CONCRETE THING AND WAITING FOR THE SETTING SUNLIGHT TO TURN IT GLOWING ORANGE

TF: How do you use images? It’s interesting that when working with the ephemeral you can play with the way that performances and objects exist as objects and as documentation. For example, the piece where you rubbed the grease from your forehead on a particular spot, [RUBBING THE GREASE FROM THE OILY SKIN ON MY FOREHEAD ONTO A DECORATIVE CONCRETE THING AND WAITING FOR THE SETTING SUNLIGHT TO TURN IT GLOWING ORANGE], that piece wouldn’t exist without the photo because, without the documentation, that gesture would remain a minute moment invisible to most people.

RH: I go back and forth: is this an archive, or is this a photograph? I make things that are clearly intended to be one or the other, but then I intentionally confuse even myself… When I made that piece, I was fascinated with Turner and David Ireland. I came across these readings that Turner liked to stare at the sun, and it started getting me thinking about using the sun as a material. David Ireland was interested in these miniature moments like polishing walls or stripping paint, and this fleeting second when the light came through his house and changed everything into this glowing atmosphere. The gesture of rubbing the grease came from a different failed piece where I was trying to work with a reflection of the setting sun over a body of water—I was trying to create that orange stripe. The first piece didn’t go anywhere, so I ended up rubbing my grease to try to make that orange stripe on concrete; essentially, making my own orange glow.

SMP: Can you speak more about your use of landscape and natural phenomena? Do you consider these futile gestures interventions into landscape?

RH: I don’t think of it as intervention, I actually use landscape and the body as a measuring device. In a way, this work relates to the body and performance art of the 60s and 70s. I use the body as a way to measure the landscape instead of using the vastness of the landscape as a way to measure the body. For example, with the piece where I sank the boat at the same rate as the sinking sun, [ATTEMPTING TO SINK WITH THE SETTING SUN], my thought was: how can I make myself as small as possible. Here’s this giant ball of fire in the sky that makes it so we can see, without it we’d have no electromagnetic spectrum. In the piece, I was comparing myself to that, but I don’t know if that actually comes across. It could be that I’ve looked at too many art history books and can’t shake the influence.

ATTEMPTING TO SINK WITH THE SETTING SUN

RH: In a recent piece, I tried to warm a piece of rubble that I found. I pressed my body against it—cuddling it—while the sun rose so the sun warmed the east side and I warmed the west side. The sun rose that day at 6:48am, so I started at 6:43 and stopped at 7:02 when I thought the sun had risen enough. For the piece, I created a sweatshirt that opens up so I could press my abdomen against the stone, and I cast the impression of my abdomen in latex against the rubble to create “a cuddling” of the thing. During the performance I just sat there still, going back to nothingness for 17-minutes. I didn’t do anything, but my body just happens to produce heat.

SMP: How did you choose that site?

RH: I was out looking for big piles of rubble and this just happened to be a pillar located in a place I wouldn’t be harassed. The site was an empty thing that looked lonely and needed warmth.

BLACK RAINBOW PIECE

SMP: How do you use humor in your practice?

RH: I don’t try to, but I’m often told that my work is funny. For example, when I was making the Black Rainbow piece, I wanted to refer to nothingness. I thought: here’s something you can’t see, that doesn’t exist, so I’ll make a physical object that refers to this non-thing.

TF: But in PORTABLE HOLE PROPOSALwhere you’re falling over and there’s a shovel laying there. There’s darkness, there’s bodily injury… And you didn’t intend for it to be funny?!

SMP: I definitely saw some classic Buster Keaton-era antics in that piece, but slapstick doesn’t preclude criticality…

RH: When I was making it, I wasn’t thinking that it was funny. The first incarnation was just me standing still and recording myself sinking. I realized that if I stood for an hour, I would sink ¼-inch, so I made up the odd logic that if I stood there for a year, I would sink 90-inches into the ground. Two years, 180-inches, and so on. So the piece came about that way and I wasn’t actually thinking about it being funny; although, I can see that the work can be taken as humorous. Even though that is not my intention, I don’t take offense to it. Again, where I grew up, there’s a lot of humor in art. It happens. It just exists. I’m not trying to cultivate it, not trying to deny it, but if I’m making a piece and I don’t show it to anyone for a while, I can be oblivious to it.

Here is one piece I intended to be funny: SMALL MOUNTAINS/LARGE HILLS I PLAN TO PUNCH

TF: I’m curious: with any conceptual work, is it enough to have the plan and the documentation of that plan—the idea to punch a mountain on paper—or do you really have to follow through with the act, or the punch, to fully actualize the piece?

RH: This project exists in three different ways: it exists as a text document; it exists as a cast of the side of the mountain; and it exists as a sequence of documentation of me punching the mountain. Of the three iterations, I settled on the text as the clearest and most concise representation of the piece. The other elements were functioning as an archive and this was more of a diary, an illustration of something that I’m thinking about. I often don’t know what’s right or wrong. Sometimes it’s better to think about it, sometimes it’s better to actually do it, sometimes it’s better to lie about it. Like Lawrence Weiner says: it doesn’t have to be made for the piece to exist. Sometimes they just have to be made in my head.

SMP: I have to ask: how has Detroit affected your practice?

RH: We, [Haley and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Anderson, who teaches in the Department of Theater and Dance at Wayne State University], came here in 2009, and we were planning to live in downtown Detroit but ended up here a bit further north. Yes, Detroit’s a consideration, it’s hard for it not to be a consideration. First, there’s always the shock. I had never even been to the Midwest, so first there’s the shock of the Midwest, then there’s the shock of Detroit, the shock of the suburbs, and the real tension between. I try to not deal with it, but then I keep making art that does deal with it. For example, I organized a show that only existed on line for a few months where I salvaged charcoal from burned houses and mailed the charred bits to friends around the country so they could make work with it—drawing with it or whatever. I don’t like to use the word “ruin porn,” (I really hate that term!), but at the same time, you can’t not look at it. The landscape of Detroit, it’s almost like it casts a spell on you—you begin to think of all these fantastic scenarios of what happened in these now blighted sites. You can’t escape it.

ATTEMPT TO DISAPPEAR WHERE THE BLUE OF THE SKY TOUCHES THE BLUE OF THE SEA

RH: Right now, I’ve been enamored by these places outside of Detroit where I keep having what my wife likes to call “Snow White moments,” where you’re out walking and suddenly you’re just surrounded by animals. We were in one of the parks the other day and within something like 100-ft we encountered deer, wild turkeys, these weird furry egret things that eat out of the sand, and then our favorite thing: groundhogs, which I refer to as fur pigs. They look like little fat things that wear sweat suits. You can have that, but Detroit exists at the same time, and they clearly inform each other—each makes the other more powerful. It’s a reciprocal relationship, and I couldn’t have the Snow White moments without certain parts of Detroit being what they are.

Richard Haley will be featured in an upcoming solo exhibition, Holes, Voids, and Other Descriptive Terms for Blankness, at ANOTHER YEAR IN LA, in the Pacific Design Center.

Tom Friel relocated from Philadelphia to Detroit in 2009 to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he earned an MFA in Sculpture in 2011. Tom can frequently be spotted playing restaurant slave and art museum admissions stooge, but ultimately, this artist-writer-educator is most comfortable in the lion costume that has become integral to his recent video and performance work. Tom will be taking over the Detroit B@S beat when I segue into retirement at the end of this month, so y’all can look forward to seeing more of his work as of July!

Detroit Hustles Harder: MakerSpace Roundup

May 3, 2012 · Print This Article

 

Detroit has always been a refuge to makers, hackers, tinkerers, and industrious do-ers. In many ways, the socio-cultural life of the city thrives on grassroots production, and increasingly, these micro-enterprises are beginning to enter into the economic conversation as well. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to tour three Detroit makerspaces: OmniCorpDetroit; Ponyride; and Tech Shop. All three are fairly recent additions to the city’s culturescape, and although they diverge in organizational structure and affiliation, each was created to cultivate making through access to space, tools, and a network of expertise.

My first visit was to OmniCorpDetroit, a member-driven organization of hackers and makers who have recently added Moped Mondays to their list of recurrent antics. Housed in a former spice factory in Detroit’s Eastern Market, OmniCorp is festooned with a chaotic array of materials and tools that have been finagled, bartered, and salvaged for all manners of mayhem and mischief. Next, I was on to Ponyride, a residency and shared studio space whose mission emphasizes social entrepreneurship, community development, and cultivating creative networks. Currently, the facility is occupied by videographers, choreographers, fencers, a letterpress shop, textile fabricators, and many other producers who manage to operate from a workspace that bridges private and communal to mine the productivity that exists in between. Lastly, I was able to have look inside the first Tech Shop established outside of California, built in Allen Park in partnership with Ford Motor Company. This workshop is able to offer hands-on teaching and access to an impressive and well-maintained suite of tools including wood and metal shops, laser cutters, 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, plastic and textile labs, and a mammoth water jet cutter.

This post includes excerpts from each tour along with photographs courtesy of John Lui and Achille Bianchi. Thanks to Aaron Blendowski for hacking B@S.

 

OmniCorpDetroit: Hack ‘n’ Cheese

Aaron Blendowski, (founding member): We don’t have a mission statement, and we’re going to keep it that way. We’ve all agreed that if we develop a mission statement then we’re done. It’s allowed us to work entirely free-form, and that’s why we have people who build mopeds, sell custom saddle bags, make gelato, bikes, air cannons, robots, and sound stuff. There’s really not a project that’s gone unconsidered. People often ask what happens when someone proposes a project that OmniCorp isn’t about, and I don’t think that’s possible. We haven’t had that happen yet. We’re kind of a group of yes people.

AB: OmniCorp is member-driven and without sponsorship. It’s been interesting to see a number of maker spaces popping-up in this area—Red Bull just invested in a bunch of property to convert into artist studios—and know that many of these well-funded projects tied to corporate sponsorship may fizzle out whereas we can guarantee that we’re going to be here because the organization is member driven. I was just looking in Frame Magazine the other day, and it seems like everywhere you look, there’s some sort of reference to Detroit and how the city is growing: what’s happening here, what isn’t happening here, what people think is happening here. The only way to really know is to come down, take a look, and contribute, and there are more and more people doing that.

AB: We’re doing Open Hack Nights every first and third Thursdays, 8pm-11pm. Most nights we have a DJ here during the event so that people feel more welcome to come in, just hang out, and learn about what we’re doing. They might get a project started or meet someone who has nothing to do with OmniCorp, but that’s the idea: it’s more a group-stop where people can go and be like minded without a bar setting. Open Hack makes it easy for someone to come in and say: hey, can you help me do this? Our members include hard and software engineers, programmers, graphic designers, sculptors, architects, community planners, who are interested and willing to invest their time and expertise in different creative projects.

AB: Jeff Sturges, “Uncle Jeff,” was affiliated with a similar space in New York called NYC Resistor. In cities like New York, people escape into the space in the evening after working full-time all day. In this region, people don’t just have one job and then come here to mess around. People are hustling constantly. It’s not a joke that Detroit hustles harder; I have two-and-a-half jobs, and then I’m here when I’m not working. OmniCorp members don’t just have their one job and come here to tinker during off-hours, they’re involved in community projects, teaching, working as active professionals and then coming here to work on a hobby, do a project, or just unwind. This space runs on individual or small group initiative. Whether you want to screen print or work on the loom that’s currently being set up, we have the space and often the resources, but it’s up to you to get it done.

OmniCorpDetroit is located at 1501 Division Street, Detroit.

 

Ponyride: Elbow Grease Economics

Peter Beaugard, (board member): One third of the building is traditional tenant space—apartments at market rate, and then we work with a leasing company to rent studio and work space at a very, heavily subsidized rate, essentially 10-cents per square foot. So space here is less expensive than other studio buildings, and along with that, we offer a community for makers to be a part of… As a board, we’ve been discussing strategic planning to turn Ponyride into a model that could be brought to other Rust Belt cities. They call it “elbow grease economics”. Essentially, we want to create a toolkit—not necessarily a distinct plan—but an outline of what went into the space and how someone could develop a Ponyride… Some of the questions that we’ve been asking are: is it a creative incubator, creative accelerator, or just a collection of studio spaces? I think it’s just fine to be considering these questions as you go—you don’t necessarily have to plan in Detroit. The good thing is there’s clear leadership: board members who are helping to frame these issues. Phil [Cooley] was smart in the way he set this up—it’s a low-risk proposition. He bought the building for $100k and retained one-third as housing for tenants in order to pay the mortgage. He knew if he rented studio spaces out at 10-cents a square foot, he wouldn’t be paying money at the end of the month.

Steve Coy, (board member, shared studio tenant, Swagon founder): The process has been really organic. We’ve been trying to define who we are based on who approaches us and how they want to use the space. Right now, we’re housing three Artists in Residence and a handful of Studio Tenants… Personally, I just knew I had to have my program with Lawrence Tech run out of this space because of all the unique resources available here. The project was to engage my students with youth from Detroit and identify unique, community needs. Based on their research, the students created a business related to art and design, and what emerged was an idea to purchase an old ice cream truck and use it to sell design objects out of the back. We bought the truck—it’s out back—and now, we’re prototyping design objects using the resources here at Ponyride.

Zak Meers, (artist in residence): I wouldn’t even call most of the residents here “artists.” For example, Veronika [Scott of the Empowerment Plan] is a business woman for the most part, Bryan [Baker of Stukenborg Studio] has his letterpress operation, and there are carpenters, craftsmen, videographers, and others who really expand the idea of the artist studio/residency. I’ve been here working on this project since August, but Ponyride has been in the works for about a year. The first step was tearing it apart. This used to be a letter-graphics facility and it was filled with obsolete machines and other crap, and there were drop ceilings and raised floors, so we’ve spent the last 8-9 months creating what you see here—restoring the material of the building itself.

PB: There aren’t really any models for Ponyride, and the project is not specific to Detroit—it’s specific to any post-industrial Rust Belt city, but with a different energy than other shared studio spaces. Many spaces are only focused on fine arts, and I think there’s something about this space being about creative and social entrepreneurship; SC: and community engagement;  PB: yeah, it sets this project apart.

Ponyride is located at 1401 Vermont Street, Detroit.

 

Tech Shop: Dream Consultants

Jason Burton (lab tech): This is a space that is geared towards making in a very fundamental way. We’re interested in hobbyists, dreamers, tinkerers, designers, engineers, product developers, entrepreneurs. The idea here is that you use your membership to access what I like to think of as a co-op of tools in order to make whatever you want. We have an education system here to help you use the facility regardless of your experience—we offer classes and constant support. My position here is the Education Events Coordinator, and my job is to work with the community to make our presence known—work with area organizations to incorporate our activities here into what they do—and to cultivate an environment where we can start getting things done and work out the details later.

JB: There’s a monthly membership ($100) that give access to the space and one-times class that gives you access to individual tools. Once you have access to the tools you can use them however you want. The techs in the shop are called “DCs,” which is short for “Dream Consultant.” They’re around all the time to help with the tools and serve as a project manager, so there’s constant assistance. Everyone who works here is a maker.

Tech Shop is located at 800 Republic Drive, Allen Park.