10x ARTRES: Minnesota
Night Owl Farm and Minneapolis HQ
The new resident group first dwelled together in the small midwestern farming town of North Branch, located 45 miles north of Minneapolis, for an immersive first four days and then moved into studio HQ in the urban Northeast Arts District neighborhood of Minneapolis City for the remaining 11 days. This movement followed the same design flow as the Gifford > Edinburgh residency event in Scotland in June, and I was looking to see would it procure the same results: individual surrender to the group and bonding through living together in an isolated rural location, which then leads to a sense of trust, accountability and support once relocated in the striated city.
In this particular residency event, I aimed for the hosting strategy to be a bit more hands-off than in Scotland. I wanted to see how guest residents from another country would fare if left somewhat to their own devices, and to the trust and support of the whole group structure, instead of being handheld by me. Importantly, in this group, four of the six residents already knew each other, and three had just bonded in the Scotland residency together two months before, so I felt comfortable letting go somewhat. Using Jacques Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster as an approach1, I embedded several details into the design. First, I was the only administrator, as opposed to Scotland where admin hosting services were doubled by James, my co-runner; this halved the hand-holding. Secondly, once in Minneapolis City, I was not always to hand, as I myself slept as an itinerant couch surfer with family and friends in an effort to free up adequate sleeping space for all guest residents. This unravelled in messy and unexpected ways, and forced the paths of hosting to become entangled.
Rural: Night Owl Farm
On the first morning, we all met up from our disparate households in the city at the storefront that would later be our studio HQ at Cameron Gainer’s residence and grounds in NE Mpls. Steph and Colette had just arrived from Scotland the previous day and had stayed the night with Andy, their old comrade from the June residency, and his family in South. This meeting point served as a homing device for later days. We did fast introductions, and then piled into cars for the freeway drive through countryside up to North Branch. We arrived at our live/work site, Night Owl Farm, situated amongst rural farms and tall wheatgrass, and it was 95F (35C) that day in early September. Derek and Collette were hair-tousled and dusty from riding in Drew’s old convertible, and we were greeted by a smiling woman with red hair piled high on her head in a top bun, wearing a dirty tank top, tall mud boots, and visibly slathered with sunscreen and dirt. She toured the group through the barns and fields while I unloaded the tents and gathered gear by the dormant campfire pit close to the barns and amongst trees.
This is a very rough-and-ready site – pitched tents, no working toilets, and one propane-fueled hob in the main kitchen barn– though it did have some cell signal capacity, and thus the Internet (for some), a water pump, and electricity. Our smiling red-headed host was artist-farmer Rosemary Kimball who co-runs the hardworking farm with printmaker Susan Andre, both of whom I had known since grad school in 2004; they ran this farm as a CSA (community supported agriculture, selling farm-to-city shares) while living in the city.
Behind the barn is a common area, usually used for mass washing veggies, handwashing, hanging out and a campfire. Here, slightly set back in the trees, is a bothy-type structure, called a ‘shanty’ after the Art Shanty project which takes place on frozen ice here every year and is a month-long village of artist-built icehouses; this particular shanty/bothy had been built in the form of a one-room schoolhouse in 2011 by an artists’ team of which I and Derek were both a part. Rosie and I slept here, and we’d procured tents for everyone else- the Scottish girls in one tent, locals Drew and Derek brought their own, and Andy, who was only with us for two nights, slung a tent resembling a waterproof hammock between two trees.
Stephen, the last to arrive, was flying in from another residency in Sicily the next day. At Night Owl, we spent our time doing chores and taking walks by day, around the campfire in conversation at night, and learning about each other’s work through show-and-tell on a laptop in the bothy/shanty.
Here, we were all guests to Rosie, who stayed with us overnight on the first night but then not again; she left us to ourselves often to conduct the business of getting to know each other. On the first day, we had four cars– hers, Andy’s, my mom’s Subaru, and Drew’s soft-top. That first night we all carpooled, dirt clouds rooster-tailing behind us, on Rosie’s guidance to dinner at the nearby roadhouse called Stabby’s. It’s deep fried cheese, chicken-fried steak, Tim McGraw playing, and meat raffle set the scene for the jet-lagged Scots.
I’d aimed to give the Scottish residents a taste of rural Minnesota living, with its tall grass prairies, big sky sunsets, homesteading work, and slow talk by the campfire, and Rosie and Night Owl Farm did not disappoint.
On the first night, at sunset, Rosie asked us to join her on one of her habitual meandering evening walks, with a blanket roll and a backpack of bug spray and flashlights, from our encampment through her tall grass and partially wooded acreage to the farthest northeast corner, much to our amazement, to try to see the Northern Lights. In this location, the aurora borealis is only visible at certain times of the year, and then only certain hours. Time slowed down while we were waiting and watching; we laid out our blanket, amongst fireflies and cricket sounds. While we were waiting, Rosie, Andy and I shared how further North in Minnesota you can see them often and they are strong, but here in the middle part of the state, it’s a confluence of factors that have to align so that you can see them. When they came, we were all awestruck; even though Scotland also sees the Northern Lights, it’s only visible from the Northern part of the country, and many Scots don’t travel there. Eventually, the mosquitos got to us and we started the hike back to camp, flashlights popping through the tall grass like the fireflies had been. This unplanned and special activity Rosie had led affected all of us equally, not just the visiting Scots.
Later, on our last day, Rosie’s partner Brent joined us. He shared a unique experience he’d discovered one day, and guided us through a small hobbit-sized door from the main kitchen barn through to the tall cavernous silo. Here, he led us in a collective sonic experiment; he demonstrated how to ‘open throat’ or ‘overtone’ sing, using open vowel sounds only. It took us a few minutes to get it, but then, after a few minutes, we could really belt it out. The silo veritably hummed and felt like a Quaker meeting house, a deeply meditative and immersive experience that lasted what seemed like several hours. The magic of these hosted moments organically worked to create an experiential bond between us all.
Whilst the dusty gravel road idyll sounds like a retreat, it was in many ways a confrontation.2 It was excruciatingly hot, and rained quite hard at least half of the days and one night, which created a soppy mess inside the Scottish women’s tent and also kept each of us separated from each other in the deluge of wind and lightning storms. Though I’d warned them beforehand this was a rough-and-ready site, much like rough camping in Scotland, it became evident which lines were not easily crossed here, such as sopping tents, having to make use of either the newly arrived Port-a-Potty or the shovel for latrine digging, not showering for four days or even having a sink and mirror. These three conditions quickly became red lines in the sand, and only tolerated because they were temporary. These unacceptable circumstances set some international residents into an unspoken but felt dialectic with me as I clearly hadn’t met their expectations of a host provider on residency. The local residents, however, just chalked it up to a stormy Minnesota night whilst camping, an experience they’d had before. Though I tabled the disgruntled complaints, I still felt as though this unexpectedly make-do approach worked to push them to act on their own devices and also began to challenge their preconceptions about host provider expectations.
Rural > Urban: One-Night Transition
We left the farm on the last day, saying goodbye to the squawking chickens and the cavernous silo and Rosie, and made our way back down into the City. I had arranged an overnight at my sister Jen’s three-story lake house, on Bald Eagle Lake, as a way to transition us from the rough-and-ready farm into the striated city. I also wanted to give the Scots a taste of Minnesota lake culture, something that’s a part of most Minnesotans’ lived experience to varying extents. Called the Land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota actually has more shoreline than Florida. At mid-day, we pulled up to the garage of the Goudreau property in our cars, packed with gear and stinky people, a dirty caravan having not showered for four days. Walking through the blossoming yard and up the front stairs, this appears like an ordinary house. On entering, though, and walking through the large open-plan kitchen, the eight floor-to-ceiling windows in front of you reveal the splendor of the wide lake expanse which that side of the house faces. Jen and Jeff had arranged for us to have the entire basement floor to ourselves, an ‘in-laws quarters’ complete with its own kitchen, bathroom, three TV monitors, and separate glass door entrance to the lake. They grilled a full dinner for us as we showered and relaxed, residents easily checking in with family using their strong wi-fi, and then, after a dinner on the wraparound deck, we retired to the downstairs apartment to drink wine and beers and continued to show-and-tell the last resident’s work, thus ending our getting-to-know-you phase. We all had a rejuvenating night’s sleep and allowed ourselves to sleep in, clean, dry and warm.
The next day before leaving, my 15-year-old nephew Jace took us for a thrilling speedboat ride, to the delight of the Scots. While Scotland has it’s own ubiquitous loch culture, water sports are not also among it. Perhaps it’s because Scotland does not experience as hot weather as the American Midwest, and especially not for two full months. We tore across the lake as fast as possible, and then slowly circled the lone island in the middle of the lake. Legend has it that the large mansion on the island has its own recording studio and racquetball court, and of course, is only accessible by boat. About 300 yards from the Goudreau dock, the boat suddenly died and we had to take turns paddling with emergency oars the rest of the way in.
Urban: The Carriage House
Stephen, Collette, Derek, Drew and I then caravanned back to our beginning point in the City, arriving at the small carriage house beside Cameron Gainer’s home which would serve as our studio HQ in the City. Andy and Steph separately meandered from Bald Eagle Lake directly to his house for dinner with his family and to sleep; we would all meet up at the studio HQ the next day for our first full-on day together.
The little house is on 13th Ave, a busy strip of galleries, bars, and eateries in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, mostly Ukrainian, Polish Czech and Latino. As Cam’s wife Olga was the Director of the Walker Art Center at that time, they kept up the carriage house for visiting artists; notoriously two summers prior it housed a traveling Brasilian band who played horns at our 10XRes Open House in 2013. Cameron, a supporter and patron of my 10X projects, had generously offered it to us earlier as a site for our Studio HQ to occupy this summer. The small bungalow was at first meant to be a work site only, utilising each of five rooms as studio space for residents to spread out. However, due to pragmatic conditions identified three weeks before kick-off in which Drew and Derek didn’t have room to host a guest in their homes, two Scots residents also had to sleep in HQ. Cameron was totally flexible to accommodate this request. Now, this situation had never occurred in a residency project design for me before, and while at first it wasn’t ideal, I was eager to test its limits. As I myself was no longer an embedded host in Minneapolis, having transitioned my life fully to Edinburgh the year prior, I was not able to effectively secure another place for the other two guest residents to stay.
As per the original design, Steph stayed at local resident Andy’s house in another part of town, the two of them forming my cross-Atlantic pair, or the ‘constant’. However, the other Scots, Collette and Stephen, had to also sleep at the Studio HQ, and this split up the cohort in messy ways, as the merry and convivial Andy/Steph/Collette trio from June were now divided logistically, leaving Collette out. As Andy’s house was 30 minutes drive across the city from Northeast, and Steph didn’t have reliable public transport or a car with which to cross town and thus relied on rides from Andy, it soon became clear that she could not be an autonomous commuter. Andy’s time in HQ was already limited because he was needed at home often and was also actively teaching at art college multiple times that week, and so they both couldn’t actually be present in HQ for great lengths most days. In the event, the hosting contract of having two residents dwelling in the work space, and two of them hardly ever there, changed all the social studio dynamics entirely.
First, it limited the designated spaces within the house for Studio HQ use; three of the 5 rooms were now cut off as living/sleeping spaces only, one for Stephen, one for Colette, and the other a kitchen. This resulted in only the small dining room (8’x10’) and living area (10’ x 12’) useful as common work spaces for six artists. Late night workers had to contend with those trying to sleep whilst those who worked during the day had to move around Steph and Collette’s toiletries and wet towels in the cramped bathroom. We tried to make the best of it and be respectful, but it created more difficult entanglements than we’d expected, and more than we had the capability to recognize and handle in real time.
We’d arranged with Cameron to house several bikes in his garage so that any resident, however they arrived at studio HQ, could then bike about the neighborhood. This worked to certain extents, as Minneapolitans are a bicycling culture; Derek and Drew used them or rode their own into HQ, and I used them often. They were supplied by extra bikes Derek had, and several friends of mine. Steph and Collette used them a bit, and Stephen walked everywhere. Cameron, with his reddish beard and crisp white shirt and black jeans with keys jingling off a carabiner, was a wonderful hands-off host; he gave us the keys and went about his business. His sweet and jovial demeanor really shined through in one late night where he came home from an event and then joined us in the tiny house for beers and some good chat, generously sharing his viewpoints on the US art scene in relation to Europe and Latin America, and current movements of grassroots art culture happening in upstate New York and Austin TX, among others. When we were building up to our Open Studio night, happening on the next-to-last day in residency, he generously said “You can do whatever you want to the house, we are going to demolish it in a few months and build something else there.” It was an offer several residents definitely took to heart in preparing work for the Open House.
The heart-breaking moment came when shortly after the residency was over, Cameron wrote me to say that a mid-century drybar cart that had been in the living room had been broken. A precious object from their wedding, it held high sentimental value to them. They had considered moving it out of the little house into storage whilst we were there, as they had done with a few other things, but then didn’t. Somehow, in the course of long last studio nights, involving photo shoots and Cheetos and a refrigerator crammed to the hilt with cabbages, a wheel had come off the cart and went missing. I was devasted, and tried to make reparations, but, to this day, years later, my relationship with this lovely host pair who have always supported my projects has perhaps suffered an irreparable rift that has not yet fully healed.
Drew and Derek, whilst they could not house guest residents at home, each gave us generous and lengthy open studio visits, and also invited us to use their studio spaces as we needed during the weeks. Drew had been working at the Highpoint Center for Printmaking, and gave us a tour of the whole facility and his work there. We spent a half day at Derek’s studio downtown in a warehouse district by the Twins baseball stadium, full of moulds and remnants of sculptural processes and tools, and offered any one of us a space to work there in the immediate days, even Drew and Andy, fellow Mpls locals. We all lingered there, as it had great paned warehouse windows facing the sunset and stadium, and he told easily-imagined stories about watching stadium fireworks on Friday nights from them, in dirty jeans and T-shirts and drinking Hamms tallboys.
In these ways, all of our hosts, both site hosts and resident hosts, opened up such pathways to the group, giving them an entry into the Greater Minneapolis art scene and a way to really graft a sense of what it must be like to be an artist here, the feel of it, the look of it, traveling some miles in those shoes. In turn, the hosts expanded their own networks with care, and in some small ways a sense of translocality occurred, or, a suture between ‘my’ locality and ‘your’ locality. However, this residency failed in some ways to secure the conditions for buy-in; there was less of a sense to which all of the residents really gave themselves over to the group and the residency assemblage as a whole. It never quite seemed to ‘gel’. On reflection, this was in large part due to hosting entanglements, unmet expectations, and unclear social contracts– some unexpected, some predictable and some by design.
- Ignorant Schoolmaster