Blogs Field Guide Colin Kloecker

Field Office Fellowship: Reading Room MPLS, an Experiment In Intention

This Friday you’ll find Field Office Fellow Chris Fischbach in the FlatPak House reading a book. You’re welcome to join him if you like, in fact he’s highly encouraging it. For a couple of hours at a time between August 12th and 17th, Chris will be converting the FlatPak House into a public experiment in […]

Reader's Card, Reading Room MPLS

This Friday you’ll find Field Office Fellow Chris Fischbach in the FlatPak House reading a book. You’re welcome to join him if you like, in fact he’s highly encouraging it. For a couple of hours at a time between August 12th and 17th, Chris will be converting the FlatPak House into a public experiment in intentional reading.

When we first met Chris, Publisher at Coffee House Press, he told us that he was having trouble making time for personal, pleasurable, non-work related reading. In the same way that people are willing to pay for for an application that blocks their access to the internet for up to 8 hours at a time, Chris said that he’d actually pay to go somewhere, unplug, and just read. Remarkably, that place doesn’t exist. (And don’t say libraries! They’re full of computers, wifi signals, and people doing all kinds of things in addition to reading.) And with that, Reading Room MPLS was born.

Some questions that Chris hopes to answer through this experiment:

  • In our busy lives, will book lovers actually make time, intentionally, to go to a designated place solely to read a book, for an extended period of time, unplugged?
  • Does reading (a solitary act) somehow become more attractive, more meaningful when surrounded by others (a crowd) who also have taken time to intentionally read?
  • By putting a frame around the act of reading, will participants somehow gain a new appreciation for their time, and take Reading Room on the road?

As noted on the Reading Room MPLS bookmark (that you’ll receive if you attend), Kurt Vonnegut said that “Literature is the only art form in which the audience performs the score.” Starting this Friday, Chris Fischbach is setting out to see what will happen when a room full of people start performing, with intention, together.

Reading Room MPLS hours:

  • Friday, August 12th – 6 to 8 pm
  • Saturday, August 13th – 2 to 4 pm
  • Sunday, August 14th – 2 to 4 pm
  • Tuesday, August 16th – 12 to 2 pm
  • Wednesday, August 17th – 3 to 5 pm

Reading Room MPLS is taking place at the Walker Art Center’s FlatPak House in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Some links to learn more: Reading Room MPLS blogReading Room MPLS on Facebook, and Reading Room MPLS on Twitter. Hope to see you and your book at the Reading Room!

Field Office Fellowship: Interview with Rachel Breen

This Monday we’ll hold the first of 6 public conversations with this summers Field Office Fellows, starting with Rachel Breen (see below for more details!). In anticipation of each discussion, we’ll be posting short interviews with the fellows. Here is what Rachel had to say: You’re an associate at On the Commons, can you tell us […]

Rachel Breen's The Bank of Our Common Wealth. Photo: Ashle Briggs Horton

This Monday we’ll hold the first of 6 public conversations with this summers Field Office Fellows, starting with Rachel Breen (see below for more details!). In anticipation of each discussion, we’ll be posting short interviews with the fellows. Here is what Rachel had to say:

You’re an associate at On the Commons, can you tell us about when and why you first started thinking about the commons very seriously? How did that lead to On the Commons? 

Julie Ristau, a friend I had done a lot of organizing work with, gave me the opportunity to get involved in On the Commons. It was appealing to me because it was political but in a very non-traditional way. I was attracted to the concept of the commons because its’ basic premise is a different way of understanding our economy and it steps outside the left/right political paradigm. It also gets outside the issue “silos” that progressive politics gets stuck in. So I see it as viable way of looking at the world that can contribute to progressive/sustainable social change.

How does your understanding of the commons play out in your art practice?

This project is giving me the chance to think about this more specifically. Social engagement has always been an underpinning of my artwork. But I’m also skeptical of artwork that is very literal or dogmatic. So – on the surface my work tends to look pretty abstract. The use of the sewing machine in the making of my work is one way that I convey the imperative to “repair” things that are broken – a metaphor for social change. Stitching makes connections visible and possible – so in a sense the work is always about the commons – but not in a very obvious way.

You’ve said that The Bank of Our Common Wealth is a new kind of creative project for you. Can you tell us how this is different?

The Bank of Our Common Wealth is huge departure for me in that it is a very public project – and also using money is pretty literal! I think it animates the idea of the commons in a fun and provocative way – which is also really new for me. I don’t think of myself as a very funny person and I greatly admire artists who use humor in their work – something I think is really difficult to do well.

Its interesting that so many people want to know what will happen with the train of dollar bills that is being amassed – for me the most important part of the project is the transaction that happens with people – the investment of the dollar bill in the bank and the act of sewing it together with the other dollar bills – not whether it is exhibited at some later date. The conversations that the project sparks and hopefully the thinking that might be jostled from public participation are “rich” (pardon the pun) and what the project is mainly about.

I’m asking people to make an investment – actually trust me by handing over something of value to them (a dollar bill) – that they won’t get back. For me, this is a huge request and I am truly humbled that so many people I have never met have been willing to participate in the project in this way.

I think people’s willingness – indeed – their great satisfaction in depositing a dollar bill into the bank signals their deep desire to change the debate about wealth in our society from being only about the individual to being about the community and the commons.

You’ve been setting up The Bank of Our Common Wealth at different public spaces around Minneapolis. Can you share some of the reactions you’ve received so far? How many people have contributed to the bank?

I’ve had about 125 dollars deposited into the bank so far. The biggest challenge is getting people to want to engage with me and find out what the project is about. When people take the time to hear about the project, it seems to really resonate and they almost always make an investment.

People also love seeing me work an old fashioned treadle sewing machine – it’s a beautiful old machine and many people, especially children have never seen one working before.

Last week at the Midtown Farmers Market some Somali women who did not speak English looked at me and burst into laughter when they realized I was sewing dollar bills together. A young girl who was with them asked me in English what I was doing and when she translated for the elder women they all nodded their heads in agreement. That was probably one of the nicest interactions I’ve had.

Some people have come up to me and given me dollar bills without hearing about the project – they just like that I am sewing dollar bills together. A lot of people want to know what I’m going to do with the dollars – and when I say I am hoping to exhibit them – they want to know what comes after that. I explain that the dollars will forever stay connected – that their “value” has been permanently altered to create something of a different kind of value and that sparks some really interesting conversations especially for people who don’t think about art very often. It raises questions about the value and importance of and role of art in society, about the value of money and about what the purpose of money is. I think it also raises some interesting questions about the art market as well. I could go one for a long time about this – if you want to talk more about this – come to the bank!

Is there another Field Office project that you’re especially excited about?

I’m excited about all of them. I’m excited about the project as a whole – I really like how diverse the projects are – we are approaching the question from such different vantage points. I’m most excited about the conversations we can have once we’ve tried our projects and can see what kind of collective knowledge emerges. I want to know what comes next?

Where can we find out more information about The Bank of Our Common Wealth and your other work? Where and when can we next find the bank to make a deposit?

The bank will be at the Midtown Farmers Market on Saturday, August 6th from 9-12. I’ve found that farmers markets are a great place to be – people are thinking about commerce since they are going to shop and also not usually in a huge hurry so tend to have a moment to stop and find out what I’m doing. I’m going to make a Facebook page today! I’ve been a little hesitant to dive full force into social media with this project – it seems like a lot of work to manage it but people who invest in the bank really want to follow it so I think I need to do it! So – look for The Bank of Our Common Wealth on Facebook!

Thank you Rachel!

Read more about The Bank of Our Common Wealth here. You’re invited to join Works Progress and Walker ECP staff for an open conversation with Rachel Breen on Monday, August 8th from 6 to 7PM at the FlakPak House in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. There will be refreshments!

Opening the Field: Jon Ippolito & Tools for a Healthy Commons

To help kick-off Walker Open Field,  five guests from across the spectrum of art and ideas have been invited to share thoughts and pose questions on the cultural commons, framing a conversation that will continue throughout the summer. We’ll be posting our notes on each of these presenters over the next two weeks, and encouraging […]

To help kick-off Walker Open Field,  five guests from across the spectrum of art and ideas have been invited to share thoughts and pose questions on the cultural commons, framing a conversation that will continue throughout the summer. We’ll be posting our notes on each of these presenters over the next two weeks, and encouraging them to drop by Walker Blogs to recommend readings and other resources. The event kicks-off at 7pm on Thursday, June 3rd. Save the date!

A disastrous attempt to connect via video chat led us to a good old fashioned phone call with Jon Ippolito, who lives and works in Maine. Jon is an artist, writer and curator who speaks broadly about the commons, but also has deep experience in creating digital tools that facilitate collaboration across the web, and a networked approach to collective creativity and knowledge-sharing.

Working out of Still Water, a New Media lab at the University of Maine at Orono that he founded in 2002 with Joline Blais, Jon has had his hands in numerous projects that often  work to promote network art and culture. Two of the projects he is conceptual architect behind are The Pool and ThoughtMesh.

The Pool

The Pool is a “collaborative online environment for creating art, code, and texts.” Diving right into The Pool can be a bit confusing at first, but with the aid of this walkthrough, you’ll quickly learn your way around.

Projects are visualized on a chart with an X and Y axis. The vertical position of a project signifies its current approval within The Pool community. Once added, projects literally sink or swim depending on how they are rated. The horizontal position of a project tells you how many times it’s been reviewed. A project in the upper right of The Pool has been rated highly by a comparatively large amount of people. As you scroll over titles in The Pool, a short blurb about each will pop up, telling you the intent. Clicking a project brings up a dashboard where you can interact with the project’s authors and others in the community in a number of ways.

Jon has found that The Pool is most successful when there is a built-in community making use of it. At the moment, students from both the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Southern California are using The Pool to track class projects. Students from different schools have the opportunity to collaborate, review each others projects, and participate in the community as a whole.

“It’s interesting when you see these two different communities co-existing in the same virtual space. It became clear that students from the two coasts had some concerns in common, like Maine’s and California’s mixed records on same-sex marriage. At the same time, they had very different cultures; for example, the Californians misread satirical projects from Maine as serious proposals. Letting both student bodies interact in The Pool brought those differences and similarities into relief.”

ThoughtMesh

ThoughtMesh is a tool for publishing online that began to materialize when Jon and Craig Dietrich started thinking about what their ideal publishing software would look like, if they could build it from the ground up. What they came up with is a tool that allows published articles to live socially on the web, articles can be distributed and published on any website online. At the same time, every essay, article, and document are connected to each other. And of course, it’s easy to use, easy to share, and works as a non-linear presentation tool to boot!

We thought it appropriate to take some of Jon’s work for a spin and create a ThoughtMesh document for this event. I’ve aggregated the five blog posts that introduce the five presenters for Thursday’s event here:

Opening the Field: A ThoughtMesh Introduction

Once you click the link you’ll see document navigation on the left, the ThoughtMesh tag cloud on top of the main column, and below that an abstract of the event. You can click through the navigation and read any of the introduction posts in their entirety, or you can use the tag cloud to search all 5 posts by keyword. Click on one of the keywords in the tag cloud to see which blog posts have been tagged similarly. If you click on “excerpts out,” you’re still searching with the same keywords, but now you’re searching through every single document in the ThoughtMesh database. This is a great way to connect to other articles and essays you might be interested in. Jon thought this might prove a fun way to get acquainted with ThoughtMesh, so check it out and leave us a comment with your thoughts – he might even call out for feedback at the event!

A healthy commons needs tools that facilitate, connect, and nurture its inhabitants. Jon will be presenting these ideas, and more, on Thursday evening.

AN ASIDE: LEARNING TO SHOW OUR UNDERWEAR

When we talked with Jon, we also did a fair bit of shop-talk, which we really appreciated but I’ll try not to bore you too much with here. Our conversation basically boiled down to Marshall McLuhan’s mantra: The medium is the message. To what extent should an event like Opening the Field embody the values and beliefs that inspired the project in the first place? If Open Field is about opening up an institution, sharing knowledge, and creating a reinvigorated cultural commons in the Twin Cities, what kinds of tools do we use to talk about these ideas?

“Don’t show your underwear” is a saying that I’ve picked up from local projection art group Minneapolis Art on Wheels. While this is generally pretty solid advice all around, it has a special meaning in the world of projection art: don’t let your audience see your desktop, dashboard, or software interface.

When Works Progress co-produces large scale events like Opening the Field or 2008‘s Solutions for the Other 90%, we try very hard not to let our underwear show. We go to great lengths to aggregate the media content of all of our presenters into one seamless master presentation. We set it all up and we hit “full screen” and we cross your fingers that it stays in full screen mode all night long. In talking with Jon, it became increasingly clear that this strategy was neither appropriate or advantageous for this situation. Providing panelists with interactive tools like a Web browser might help them better respond to participation from the audience, as befits a program on sharing and the commons.

On Thursday night, we’re going to show you our underwear and you have Jon Ippolito to thank for that!

Opening the Field: Caroline Woolard & Exchange in the Cultural Commons

To help kick-off Walker Open Field,  five guests from across the spectrum of art and ideas have been invited to share thoughts and pose questions on the cultural commons, framing a conversation that will continue throughout the summer. We’ll be posting our notes on each of these presenters over the next two weeks, and encouraging […]

To help kick-off Walker Open Field,  five guests from across the spectrum of art and ideas have been invited to share thoughts and pose questions on the cultural commons, framing a conversation that will continue throughout the summer. We’ll be posting our notes on each of these presenters over the next two weeks, and encouraging them to drop by Walker Blogs to recommend readings and other resources. The event kicks-off at 7pm on Thursday, June 3rd. Save the date!

“The law locks up the man or woman,
Who steals the goose from off the common.
But leaves the greater villain loose,
Who steals the common from off the goose.”

- An English protest chant, circa 1600, to object against the British Monarchy’s habit of building fences around and on common land.

The idea of the commons has long been tied to ideas of exchange and livelihood. Who has control over resources? How are these resources shared, maintained, and valued? In the 1600’s, talk about the commons generally referenced physical resources: open land for grazing livestock or the forest where firewood could be collected. Today, our definition of the commons has opened up considerably, but the ties to exchange and livelihood are still at the forefront of the discussion.

Caroline's Work Dress, an Ourgoods.org pilot project.

We asked Caroline Woolard to speak at Opening the Field because her work is a significant part of a movement advancing that discussion for makers, doers, and thinkers who have traditionally found it hard to monetize their skills and resources in our existing economy. Caroline is one of the founders of OurGoods.org, an online community of artists that facilitates barters of skills, space, labor, and art objects. The site matches barter partners, provides accountability tools, and tracks projects.

One morning a couple of weeks ago, Shanai and I spent about an hour Skyping with Caroline, who lives and works in Brooklyn, NYC. Before talking specifically about OurGoods, we talked about how she got to where she is today, about the nature of collaborative work, and about the difficulties and rewards of trying to keep an artist-run art space afloat (work we can certainly relate to).

Caroline really began thinking about exchange when she wanted to barter a dress she’d made for help designing and coding a website. The Work Dress is now an OurGoods pilot project, and a great example of the network in action. The garment is a hybrid tool belt/wrap dress, and is only available by bartering skills or resources with Caroline. To date, she has exchanged one for unlimited access to laundry facilities, a chapbook of poetry, lifestyle consultation, and expert help designing Work Dress 2.0.

Ultimately, OurGoods is an open-ended platform for the organization, support, and completion of creative projects. Beyond just facilitating person-to-person exchange, the site “offers a dynamic online environment in which artists can follow each other’s creative development; organize “under the radar” artistic activity of their community; develop mutually supportive relationships offline; and learn new skills to enable their own work and the work of others.” All without the need for cash funding from outside of the community.

The website is currently in an invite-only testing phase that is focused on the NYC area. Caroline talked about how this initial prototyping phase has been formative for troubleshooting everything from the user-interface to the way that actual exchanges are facilitated through the network. When bartering skills and resources, it’s likely that at some point you’re going to actually have to meet somebody in real world.

“Barter can be a really awkward thing. How do you find someone who has what you need and also wants what you have to offer? OurGoods.org is a diverse network of people, so it can play barter match-maker. But will everyone trust the site without meeting in person? To build trust and mutual respect for each-other, the best things is to combine the barter tool we’ve created online with face-to-face time.”

A Portrait Drawing class at Trade School.

It was this face-to-face necessity that led to the creation of Trade School. From January 25th to February 28th, 2010, they hosted 35 days of co-working and classes for barter at a small storefront in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Trade School offered over 70 different classes with topics ranging from grant writing and feltmaking to a three-day workshop called “Baudrillard Camp” that offered students that opportunity to “review, clarify, and immerse ourselves in Baudrillard’s dystopian prognosis of the deterrence of the real by the virtual, information’s profound function of deception, and spectacle as the terminal condition of late capitalist society.” (Whew!)

Rather then collect a pay check, or even offer their knowledge for free, teachers asked students for skills and resources in return for class time. Volunteer hours, fresh produce, vegetarian recipes, and personal stories on the class topic to share with the group were some of the things commonly exchanged.

OurGoods itself is a collaboration. Caroline is working with Carl Tashian, a developer and engineer who was the senior site engineer at Zip Car; designers Louise Ma and Rich Watts to create the site’s user interface; and dancer/choreographer Jen Abrams is a long time member of WOW Cafe Theater (run by barter for nearly 3 decades) who is offering guidance and support.

Both OurGoods and Trade School are creating functioning models of exchange in the cultural commons. What lessons can be learned from these projects as we embark on the creation of a commons in our own backyard? How will conflicts be handled in the Open Field? What kinds of networks will we create to accomplish our new projects there?

These are all questions that Caroline will bring her insight to on Thursday evening at Opening the Field. But don’t expect her to have all the answers! Ultimately, we can’t help but think it’s all going to come back to putting in some good old fashioned time with each other, face-to-face. (Which you can do, over beers, before and after the program!)

Everybody is Open: Notes from Open Engagement in Portland, Oregon

“Open” is the key word this spring and summer. Shanai and I recently attended Open Engagement, a conference in Portland, Oregon about art and engagement. Hosted by Portland State University’s Art and Social Practice MFA and organized by Jen Delos Reyes, this four-day annual event has grown over the past three years into a national […]


Hit Factorie jumps rope with Amish children in Havre, Montana. | Photo by Kate Strathman

“Open” is the key word this spring and summer. Shanai and I recently attended Open Engagement, a conference in Portland, Oregon about art and engagement. Hosted by Portland State University’s Art and Social Practice MFA and organized by Jen Delos Reyes, this four-day annual event has grown over the past three years into a national gathering place for artists, arts administrators, and cultural programmers who share an interest in engaging their colleagues, audiences, and communities in cultural production. The parallels to the Walker Art Center’s summer-long experiment on the cultural commons here in Minneapolis were obvious and Sarah Schultz asked if we might report our experience at the conference back to the Walker blog.

“Art and life have finally merged. The only problem is… life sucks.” – Gregory Sholette (As quoted by Nato Thompson at Open Engagement)

The quote above, my favorite from the conference, has special relevance for Shanai and I. Allow me to explain: A couple of months ago, we began brainstorming travel plans  to Open Engagement with our friend Jeff Hnilicka. We already knew a handful of people across the East Coast and Midwest were making similar plans so we decided to consolidate our efforts and organize a group trip on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line. Call it a pre-conference conference on wheels.

Fast forward to last week and we’re hurdling west with a fifteen person posse from across the country. Amongst them are independent arts administrators Bryce, Abigail, and Matthew from InCUBATE in Chicago, artists Jeff, Jen, and Sarah from Hit Factorie in Brooklyn, George who helped found the Division Avenue Arts Collective in Grand Rapids, artist Kate Strathman, and many more. The two-day trip gave us plenty of time to connect about where we were coming from and where we were going, both literally and figuratively and usually over whiskey in the lounge car. Hit Factorie used infrequent smoke breaks to organize mini PE sessions and practice their dance chops (they performed “100 Dance Moves for Portland” on the last day of the conference).

If you haven’t been lucky enough to ride the Empire Builder, you can glean a bit of the the experience from a group blog chronicling our exploits (click here). Please note: our blurry phone pics don’t do the scenery justice. Impassioned conversations about collaborative work, social practice, and the difficulties of running DIY art spaces were punctuated by extended moments of silence. The enormity of the great plains and the striking beauty of Glacier National Park will quiet even the most social group.

On the last full day of travel we decided our Amtrak experience wouldn’t be complete without a meal in the dining car. Vegetarian lasagna seemed like the safest bet but within thirty-six hours, after having already arrived in Portland, seven of the ten that ate that fateful meal had become violently ill. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say, Shanai and I found ourselves unexpectedly preoccupied and ended up missing about 60% of the conference. Take note readers, your Amtrak experience will be just fine without a meal in the dining car. We were able to make the keynote panel discussion on the last night. Featured speakers were Nils Norman, Mark Dion, and Amy Franceschini (whose collective, Futurefarmers, is coordinating one of the Walker Open Field artist projects). Nato Thompson from Creative Time moderated the panel. The following is a summary of the Q&A portion of that event.

The keynote speaker panel discussion at Open Engagement. | Photo by Colin Kloecker

ON MAKING A LIVING : The age old question: How do you support yourself as an artist? Amy, Mark, and Nils all had similar answers: a mish-mash of things. Commonly in the mix: teaching, gallery work, public projects, graphic design, grants, and residencies. Everybody is keeping busy! Amy was once told “At the rate you’re going, you’re going to be sick and dead by the time you’re 65.” She stressed the importance of slowing down, drawing boundaries around your life and work, and learning to say no to projects that aren’t a good use of her time.

ON COMMUNITY : Mark talked about the importance of practicing your art within a small community of colleagues and that the only way to sustain this community is to share your successes with this community. Nils said that his work is often for a very small and trusted audience, sometimes just a handful of people.

ON ETHICS : Nils talked about honesty in authorship and talked about the difficulty of this when work is collaborative. His closing comment: “Don’t @!#$ each other over.” Mark stressed transparency and talked about how the economic and academic art worlds favor the “genius of the individual artist”.

ON MAKING AND ON OBJECTS : Amy talked about the trance-like state you can enter when making something that involves repetitive action. She talked about the positive social aspects of sharing this type of work with with friends and collaborators. Mark stressed that objects are inherently political and cautioned against taking them out of the equation completely.

ON SOCIAL PRACTICE : All three wanted to be very clear about one thing: they’ve never considered themselves social practice artists. Amy summed things up nicely: “When your whole life becomes a project, you lose something in the experience of it.”

A conference of this type offers opportunity to make new friends while connecting with old ones in a new context. Minneapolis had an especially strong presence in the Open Engagement audience. A list of artists and organizers from MPLS that Shanai and I ran into over our 4 days in PDX: Marcus Young, Christine BaeumlerPeter Haakon Thompson (the only Minneapolitan to be featured in the Open Engagement program), Andy Sturdevant, Sergio Vucci, and Broc Blegan. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there are some that we missed!

Though bedridden for much of it, Shanai and I return to Minneapolis inspired by all of the work being done around this country. If you’d like to hear more about the conference from other perspectives, we are hosting a brunch for conversation and reflections on Open Engagement at West Bank Social Center on Saturday, May 29 at 11AM. Email me at colin [at] worksprogress [dot] org for details.