10x ARTRES: Minnesota
Night Owl Farm
The situated knowledges and shared practice produced at Night Owl Farm were specific to the feel, atmosphere, rhythms and practical methods already happening there; we became a part of that assemblage. In this way, our experience there was less about how the place affected each individual’s creative practice or “urgent idea”, and more about how we could learn from the place itself. The make-do ethos of its bare bones facility– shower end of a cold hose, propane gas hob, wooden wheelbarrow crop collector with attached umbrella for shade– we learned the Farm, how to effectively harvest certain crops, snapping beans, hacking cabbage with a hand scythe in one swinging arm motion, where to cut a dill stalk so that it will grow another full 12” harvest within several weeks; our shared practice came from occupying the farm. Our time there was limited, but the intensity of this immersive experience was powerful.
Everyone took something away with them from the Farm, but this situated experience specifically showed up later in Derek, Drew, and Steph’s work. Derek began his cabbage-as-prop idea through his cabbage cutting chore there. Steph was photographing arrangements of colorful vegetables, with a focus on their formal properties, which found their way into her final photographs and videos; both Derek and Steph re-purposed the Little House HQ living room as a photo/video studio on the two last late nights before the Open House, bringing light kits, C-stands, and actor/stand-ins into the space. Drew spent some time getting to know the landscape of the farm, began to photograph, and then brought those images, through screenprinting, later into the Little House in unique transformative ways.
Stephen taking the imprint in the sidewalk in Minneapolis, and making a rubber mould of it for future use.
Stephen went out and about every morning, exploring the neighborhood of N.E. Minneapolis, a multi-ethnic neighborhood of Polish, Ukrainian, and some Somali and also combined with contemporary local artists of all ages, it’s commonly known here as the Arts District. He’d walk a few blocks down 13th Ave towards the Matchbox Cafe every morning to get a coffee, this repetition in part creating a new habitus for himself. His daily sojourns directed his paths repeatedly over the textual imprints in the cement sidewalk, a mark from when they were made. This repeated act ignited his imagination to make a cast of it. He wasn’t quite sure what he would do with it, but with a means to capture it and bring it back to Scotland with him, he could then use it as a building block for something in the future. He sought advice from Derek, who was doing extensive mouldmaking at the same time in his own downtown studio, and they exchanged embodied knowledges of how they’ve found shortcuts and differences in mould-and-cast techniques, and Stephen borrowed some rubber from Derek to get started. After locating a Mpls distributor, he walked the two miles from HQ to the local resin company to pick up more rubber, and spent days figuring out how to successfully make sustainable rubber moulds that would withstand the travel back home.
Collette had already been studying micro-nationalists in her work, having completed a terrific piece months prior to residency which showed at the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh. The digital 3D animation re-imagines her experience trying to gain access by boat to the Principality of Sealand, a sovereign micronation in the North Sea, six nautical miles off the east coast of England. Initially constructed in 1943 for WWII naval guards and called ‘Roughs Tower’, the platform was moored on a sandbar after the war off the coast of Suffolk, in international waters, and remains surrounded by sea on all sides; then decommissioned, it has been occupied by the Bates family or their caretakers since 1967. Over the years, it has been a site for a pirate radio station, amongst other things; it has its own flag, currency and postage, and is now under the jurisdiction of Prince Michael Bates of Sealand. Collette’s re-enactment of her journey by boat to access it in 2013, which was in the event denied, is imagined through drone footage, using architectural model making and gaming technologies, and rides a slippery line between what is real and what is not.
Broadening her research on this subject to our current and new situation in Minneapolis, she began interviewing local micronationalists and taking field trips to model world displays. After being tipped off by Andy, she further researched artist and mayor Mike Haeg, or ‘Mayor Mike’ of Mt. Holly, the smallest registered town the size of one city lot. With a population of four, Mt. Holly is located actually inside of Shakopee, a suburb city just southwest of Minneapolis; Mayor Mike publishes a city newspaper, runs a free city library, and has launched “Mt. Holly Days”, a fall celebration with a film festival and pinewood derby. They agreed to meet halfway, and I drove her to their interview at Bob’s Java Hut on South Lyndale Ave near MCAD, Collette with her Zoom microphone in hand.
Gaining this kind of situated knowledge gave her a different frame of reference for how micro-nationalists work within and against the specific hegemonic structures in which they find themselves transnationally, specifically utopic and geopolitical counter-culture desires. She later took a trip with Andy to the Hennepin Overland Railway Society which is a non-profit 1,000 square foot model train display in South Minneapolis, completely run by volunteers and enthusiasts. This interactive exhibition, in place for decades, renders an entire fictional world that remains set up 24/7 in a nondescript detached storefront. Collette’s research in Minneapolis then engendered speculative written work that, once back in Scotland, would in later months form a script for a new video piece.
Derek and Steph
The communal work spaces of the little house were in full swing in the evenings, housing several late night photo and video shoots; Derek had dozens of cabbages stuffed in the fridge and in coolers, the first of which he’d harvested with a scythe at Rosie’s Farm. His work imagines a vignette with multiple objects, for example, 15 soccer balls, scattered about or stacked along with several figures in the scene that are all, on closer inspection, him.
He achieves this by casting various heads and faces of himself from moulds he has made of his head, and then has stand-ins wear them in situ for the photograph. In this way, there’s are five Dereks running around the set at one time. He created and shot one of these set-ups here in the HQ, and Steph and Stephen were each stand-ins for him; the sight of Steph wearing Derek’s head mask was a powerful one for everybody.
Steph herself had developed a dreamy colorful ethereal video piece that involved a necklace strung with bright orange Cheetos and a cobalt blue background and was shot, in part, using the props and furniture in the little house. These nights were filled with residents helping each other, acting in each other’s works, photo and set assisting, and holding space for trust and failure.
Steph conducted an artist talk for college students at MCAD, for which she got paid a small stipend; this was something Andy and I had brainstormed as an entry point for her into the art college scene here and also a way for her to make a bit more than the $200USD stipend I could give her and the others. This proved to be a prescient moment of gaining situated knowledge for her, as she left that situation feeling as though teaching might be something in her career path. The Minneapolis week did not see much autonomous practice from Andy, as opposed to his prolific Scotland weeks, as he was too busy hosting Steph, driving people around, preparing his house for a new baby, and also teaching several college art classes. As he reflects, “It was a crazy week!”
Derek’s practice involves making real life scenes look like a photoshopped JPG, turning the visual language of the digital construction into a sculptural form. He’d cut out script-like letterforms that were present in different locations in the little house with us, that, when read from certain angles, “tagged” the scene with social media script or felt like a text layer “on top” of the everyday activity going on in the room or outside on the lawn. These interventions gave our situation a new frame within which we were self-reflexively living.
Common Field convening
I’d prearranged an outing of our resident group to intersect with something already happening in the City that last weekend; a convening of over 350 people called Hand-In-Glove (HiG), an event created by and for practitioners in the field of alternative art spaces, projects and orgs across the country. The HiG event was also the first convening of the newly-formed Common Field network, a consortium of independent and alternative art space runners, originally spearheaded by ThreeWalls in Chicago. Common Field now convenes every year in a different city, and in 2015, only its second meeting, was really in the early stages of formation but still brought 350 arts organizers together under one roof.
Auspiciously, It was convening towards the end of our time in residence (17-20 Sept) and was sited at the Soap Factory, an internationally renowned art space that I’d worked with for a decade comprising 40,000 square feet of raw warehouse exhibition space. The Soap was the premiere art space in town, and accessible for locals to exhibit and curate, with one whole floor of studios made available to its broad team of ragtag artist volunteers. Since I knew the principal coordinators of Common Field– locals Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker who’d two years earlier formed Works Progress, I tried to barter from Scotland back in August to get the seven of us in to experience the conversations and practicuums without my having to pay the $100 fee per person. Working with boots-on-the-ground coordinator, Kate Arford, who I didn’t know, I tried to broker a deal for us all to serve a two-hour shift as volunteers at the check-in table in exchange for the fee. We ran out of time as the residency kicked off to get this fully ironed out; now she was at least aware of us coming, and so we punted.
In the event, the residents themselves crashed the conference; unbeknownst to me, Andy already knew Kate Arford fairly well, and so simply got everyone in the side door. It was the first day of the four-day HiG event, and the residents met loads of art runners and practitioners in town, and, from popping in and out of the panel talks, got a sense for what is actually happening in the grassroots strata of art spaces across the US. Initiatives represented in person on the panels that day included Rick Lowe from Project Rowhouses in Houston, Lane Relyea of Cranbrook Academy, sociologist Alison Gerber, DeAnna Cummings from Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis (where Drew works) among many others. In true Minneapolis fashion, it was a roll up your sleeves, everybody pack in, and get down to honest talk about influence and power; panels such as “Place, Race, Geography and Power” set the scene, and questioned how ‘independent’ and ‘alternative’ artists and art spaces are still implicated in capitalism and colonialism. The conversations worked to push each individual present to imagine and move beyond these normative terms. It was a lot for the residents to take in, in one afternoon, but at least gave them a glimpse of what the conversation looks like in this geopolitic.
Later that night, after the conference broke for dinner, Andy took the residents to meet up for drinks nearby at Nye’s Polonaise Room with Kate and other insiders who ran the show at the Soap. Nye’s is a classic two-room establishment: piano bar on one side and polka dancing with their house band, the World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band, on the other. As this was close to the end of our residency time, many local artists with whom the group had already intersected were there, such as red-bearded Andy Sturdevant. This after-hours happening really had an impact on the residents, as they later mentioned having met so-and-so and referenced different things they had learned about the Minneapolis art scene from this night, amongst themselves. Many convivial relationships formed that night, between resident and local artists, and these strengthened later as quite a few of them then came along for our Open House in the HQ at the end of the weekend, billed somewhat as a small under-the-radar event happening in the city for HiG conveners to experience.
We had together decided to hold an Open House on the next to last evening of our residency. We had done this in July in Edinburgh, to great success, and so the three involved with that– Andy, Steph, and Collette– were eager to do so again. This Open House event had always been an important part of the 10X iterations in Minneapolis in years past, and so the community here was familiar and supportive. Meant to be more like an “open studio” event, where the art-going public is invited to come in and get a sense of the works-in-progress and chat with the residents, we opened up the little house HQ for the first and only time to the public. With snacks and libations to hand, we welcomed several dozen folks, many of whom the resident group had met in earlier times throughout the two weeks– farm hosts Rosie and Brent, chatter-ups Andy Sturdevant and Sarah Petersen, Kate Arford and other Common Field folks, and 10X alumns Emily Stover and Daniel Dean (both ‘12) among them. It was a warm, idyllic, sunset evening, and the low-key slow-paced atmosphere created a soft, positive, and easy to engage vibe.
On this night, several residents had their laptops set up for viewing video or photographic works-in-progress, such as Steph’s dreamlike results of her influx late night videoshoots in the HQ living room, and Collette had made available texts she’d begun to write based on the research she’d been doing with Mayor Mike and the train display. Stephen had some mould-making in progress and was actively making plaster casts from his rubber moulds throughout the evening, and also displayed stop-motion video experiments on his tablet. Andy showcased some small animations he’d been creating from drawings he had been doing in situ.
Derek and Drew performed the most physical interventions in and onto the little house. Derek’s tall gangly script text sculptures were mounted about the living room and yard, reading LESS ROOM FOR THE LIVING, making the whole scene feel like it was in the act of being transformed into an Instagram post, in real time. Drew had screenprinted images of landscape photos he’d earlier taken while wandering about at Night Owl Farm actually directly onto the interior walls of the little house, effectively bringing the memory trace of our lived experience of the initial site into this site’s lived experience.