Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sculpture and the Studio of the Street

Jennifer Geigel Mikulay
Ph.D. in Visual Culture
Professor at Alverno College,
Milwaukee, WI

How do the streets of Chicago function as a studio? What may spring immediately to mind is the city’s fantastic heritage of public murals, architectural ornament, monumental sculpture, seasonal festivals, and frequent displays of what curator Mary Jane Jacob calls “culture in action.” Yet, most of these works arrive on the street only after prolonged periods of trial and error, incubation, dreaming, and planning, activities associated with the studio. Chicago’s most beloved works of public art—such as the downtown sculptures of Abakanowicz, Calder, Kapoor, Picasso, or Plensa, for example—were imagined in studios far from their ultimate siting. 

The relationship between public art and the studio seems somewhat unidirectional: artists envision and make their work away from public view and then present it as a final production.  Though work may be inspired by the activity of the street, most public art is not actually planned, refined, or made there. In fact, many artists do not find a need to engage local publics directly in the creation of public artworks.

Reception of public art is a different story. Response—a creative and critical process in its own right—begins on the street in the direct encounter between artwork and viewer. Could there be value in conceptualizing this space of openness and response itself as a studio? In the shadow of an outdoor sculpture, how do viewers imagine the range of possibilities for that work? How do these ideas emerge, find expression, change, and develop over time? Is the street an extension of the studio, rather than its opposite? If so, what does it mean to extend the domain of the studio to non-artists?

I recognized public art’s ability to convert the street to a studio in 2005 when Chicago photographers organized a protest of restrictive policies in Millennium Park by encouraging anyone and everyone to post images of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate on Flickr. The sculpture’s reflective surface and highly accessible location instantly made it an appealing subject for photographers, but civic powers initially tried to control representation of the work. Within a matter of weeks, many thousands of images were shared on the web creating sufficient popular pressure to relax restrictions on photographing the work. Another key moment of recognition occurred when I participated in Milwaukee artist Paul Druecke’s 2006 project, A Public Space. Druecke challenged two dozen people from all walks of life to produce an image of Daley Plaza, and then he arranged an exhibition in the tunnel running beneath the plaza. Participating photographers looked at the monumental Picasso that is the plaza’s focal point, but they also looked away from it to turn attention on myriad activities also animating the site. Dan Wang’s catalog essay for the exhibition notes, “When viewing these images we must ask ourselves, What, exactly, is this space?”

Across any sculpture’s lifespan, public interaction stages surprising, unanticipated events. But, until recently, these responsive interactions were largely ephemeral or only recognized in private. The proliferation of mobile web-enabled devices in an increasingly digital culture facilitates greater awareness of what people actually make from their encounters with public art. The ubiquity of cell phones turns everyone into a photographer. Add Wi-Fi, and everyone is a publisher. Everyday life becomes a studio where anyone may produce images and texts expressing their experiences and observations. The production of these images and texts is creative activity, and the products themselves are artifacts of a sort of studio of the street.  

Public art can be a locus for experimentation and meaning-making activity. Response to public art is ongoing, and this response often takes visual forms produced by ordinary publics themselves. Artifacts of this response are a register for the quotidian contributions publics make toward understanding public art. The changing, constantly renewing, circulating responses to public art multiply the meanings that may be attributed to it—and reveal that claims to own and represent the work of public art are never final.

Jennifer Geigel Mikulay is a Milwaukee-based public art researcher. She holds a Ph.D. in visual culture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She recently joined the faculty at Alverno College. For more information visit 

Photo Captions/Credits:
Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. Cloud Gate on a Cloudy Day photo by Anca Mosoiu. Accessed via (ancawonka’s photostream).

A Public Space: Daley Plaza 2006, a project by Paul Druecke. Installation view, Pedestrian Tunnel connecting Daley Center, Subway, and City Hall. Photo courtesy of artist.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Studio--What Studio?

Maggie Leininger
Collaborator/founder of

Working in a studio space always seemed clinical, sacred and self-righteous all at the same time.  As an undergrad, I had the opportunity to visit and work in a fair number of established artists’ studios.  Although each studio was very different from each other, I never felt that it was a space that I could envision producing meaningful work.  Then, once out in the real world, I attempted to designate a space in which I could work first as a room in my living space then in a converted garage/artist studio. But no matter how many hours I worked in that space the studio seemed a façade. I felt that the space between me and the place that I work was too separate, so I began working wherever I was comfortable. Eventually, this space expanded to everywhere I was…totally uncontainable.  Once I realized that the studio wasn’t or didn’t have to be this prescribed space, I took off making art in all sorts of spaces such as on the train as I went to and from work (the reality being that this was often the only time I had to make art) or in a tiny studio apartment balcony shared by three people while living in Japan.  I am, therefore I create was and is my motto to sustaining a dedicated practice to my visual and conceptual explorations.

Along with this understanding of my creative practice, something wonderful happened when I made art in public places.  People would come up and either stare at me trying to comprehend what on earth I was doing and what mental asylum I escaped from, or they would engage with me questioning my process and intent.  While at first these encounters were uncomfortable, I soon became addicted to these interactions.  I was getting direct feedback from real people, ones not often well versed in post-modern contemporary lingo.  Sometimes they understood what I was making or trying to say with a piece, other times they would just shrug, offer a “hmm” and walk away.  Simultaneous to this experience, I began teaching an intro to art class that attempted to explain why art is made, what function it serves and why it is valuable to approximately 240 students (all non-art majors) in one year.  This opportunity, as with many teaching opportunities, demanded a full understanding of subject matter.  For me, this meant finally answering a question that lurked around inside my head, “What is art and why is it important?” I was afraid to answer this question in fear that the whole house of cards, or purpose for my existence, would come tumbling down.  But these combined experiences of making art in public and teaching to non-art majors made me explore, delve deeper and find not only the answers I needed to educate students but also transform, sustain and enrich my work.

So, who is the audience?

By engaging with my students about their art experiences, I learned that while some do frequent museums and galleries, many do not.  Some students lived in Chicago their whole life and had never been to the Art Institute until I made it a mandatory field trip.  Other students who lived adjacent to Hyde Park had never heard of the Hyde Park Art Center, the Smart Museum or Little Black Pearl.  In another administrative position, I learned that one in four public schools in our city provide art education and many of them only partially through the year.  The last time that many adults had any interaction with art was as a pre-schooler when crayons and maybe watercolors were available.  The same students who I knew came from public schools with very little art instruction were the ones who grew up to be adults that only traveled within their immediate communities, not even aware of cultural resources on their campus let alone in the broader neighborhood.  It was during this time that the Stockyard Institute had a summer long exhibition/community dialogue at Hyde Park Art Center and I brought my students to experience something within relative proximity to them.  One of the exercises available was for viewers to fill in an outlined map of Chicago of where they situate themselves in proximity to the rest of the city.  All of the students lived within a 2 mile radius of 95th St., and all of them placed themselves in the center of the city—a place many had not even seen. 

Profoundly impacted by this experience, I knew then that while I still loved the precious moments of internal discoveries of playing in a private space, that a portion of my work must become dialogical and directly engage with people outside the art system of academia, curators, gallerists, collectors, colleagues, etc. If people are not exposed to art, then why would they vote for higher taxes to increase government funded programs that go into schools to enrich children’s artistic education and discoveries? Or seek out artistic explorations at the local arts center? Why pay money to see art in a museum? And how many people who visit larger institutions even understand what they are viewing?

Launching ARTivention

On a perfectly cool sunny mid-October day in 2008 I was sitting in a diner on the upper West side in Manhattan, and it hit me that what I needed to do was to start a movement—like the ones I always read about and drooled with envy that history placed me in this time and not in a prior one. While reading an article about Guantanamo refugees for the millionth time, I became so full of rage over the abuse of human rights, and the audacity of our government to presume that we had the right to overlook conventions that had been in place since World War II all in the name of terrorism.  I also felt very helpless.  After all, I was just an artist, what could I possibly do to make an impact?  But it was a time of great optimism as I headed off to work at a campaign booth and it was there that I knew that one person collectively could make a difference.  Out of this experience came ARTivention, a true collaboration between artist and public.  I say artist, because I want this to be about something larger than myself and invite others to take the lead as artist.  The goal of ARTivention is to connect to all community members and to not only gain insight to an artistic process or concept but to also provide a simple action to solving large problems such as human rights abuses, poverty, homelessness, environmental concerns, etc.  

The first project initiated by ARTivention was Care Packages.  Throughout November, December of 2008 and January 2009, I organized several workshops throughout the city inviting the public to help me construct 17 prayer mats for the Uighur refugees at Guantanamo Bay.  In addition to helping construct the mats, participants also were able to send a letter of protest via a link posted by the Human Rights Watch in opposition to the current practices of our government.  The mats were then packaged and shipped on the last day of the Bush administration.

The second project coalesced through ARTivention is Commune-ique.  This project began with the symbolism of wool for the three Abrahamic faiths and embodies communal diversity, individuality and awareness. Chicago maintains a diverse population, however, there is not a lot of crossover from one community into another.  Take for example the neighborhoods around California and Devon.  On one side it is a Hasidic Jewish population and on the other it is the closest proximity to India and Pakistan that many people will encounter.  Yet, these two worlds never seem to interact.  In response, Commune-ique is a portable structure made from hand-felted wool that is the site for durational art making experiences. 

The wool has been hand-felted by many individuals including transitional housing residents from Lincoln Park Community Services to visitors of the Arizona State University Art Museum.  The project also is an embodiment of collaboration between students from the School of the Art Institute and Roosevelt University.  On the days that the structure is placed in public, students from both schools will lead an interactive studio experience where the public will stitch individualized designs and marks onto cloth. What will happen to that cloth? It is hard to say, as this project is forever evolving and changing.  Will this structure and the resulting embellished fabric make it into the art system of galleries and educational museums? Probably.  But it will be in these direct public “non-art” locations that will sustain my interest as a maker, educator and member of society. As I write this one week prior to the installation of this structure, there are still many unanswered questions—all of which will only come throughout the actual experience itself.  And that is the best part about projects that leave the confines of the studio, gallery, museum or what ever establishment that they originate from.  They take on a life of their own.

Maggie Leininger is currently a visiting professor at Arizona State University in fibers and founder of ARTivention.  Previous experiences that have contributed to her outlook on art and the public include being manager of outreach and educator at Marwen Foundation, an artist in residence at Snow City Arts, and an adjunct faculty member at Chicago State University and Roosevelt University.  In addition to Commune-ique, ARTivention is also producing Found Objects that ask collectors/finders of miniature hand knit sweaters that are placed in public sites every day for a year to donate the value of the found object to the National Coalition for the Homeless. 

Link to ARTivention Blog:
Link to website:
Link to  ARTivention Face Book Page:!/pages/ARTivention/53594511312

Stuff and the Studio

Jessica Cochran
Curator of Exhibitions and Programs
Center for Book and Paper Arts
Columbia College Chicago

In my room, No. 13 on the fifth floor of the Hotel Carcassonne at 24 Rue Mouffetard, to the right of the entrance door, between the stove and the sink, stands a table that VERA painted blue one day to surprise me.  I have set out here to see what the objects on a section of this table (…) might suggest to me, what they might spontaneously awaken in me in describing them: the way SHERLOCK HOLMES, starting out with a single object, could solve a crime….

-Daniel Spoerri, in An Anectocted Topography of Chance

I recently began working at the Center for Book and Paper Arts as Curator of Exhibitions and Programs, and so I have been spending ample time thinking about artists’ books as they relate to just about everything- contemporary art production, discourse, literature, me, curatorial practice, Chicago, and, of course, the studio.  The following blog post is about an artist’s book project that relates to the studio in a big and fantastic way.  A big thanks to Steve Woodall, director of The Center for introducing me to this project.   

In 1961, Fluxus artist
Daniel Spoerri initiated the project An Anecdoted Topography of Chance, for which he pieced together a written history for 80 objects found on a blue table in his Paris hotel room, where he lived with his wife Vera.  His and the reflections of several friends, including artist Dieter Roth, and anecdotes for each object were compiled into an artist’s book- a choppy and extensive text that relayed the discursive nature of his table and its “chance” constellation of material objects.

The list of objects is long, and it certainly made for a crowded table.  Candles, screws, coffee, tubes, corks, nails, knives, wine, jars, pens, paper clips, crumbs, stains, matches and jars are just a few of the items chronicled, and, though I am not sure if he had a different studio, they suggest that this residence certainly functioned productively.  Page after page, the objects are points of departure for stories, memories, exchanges (between Spoerri and the other contributors), inside jokes and definitions.  Some entries are merely a sentence, and others go on for pages.

For example, the entry for ‘chunk of white bread’ looks like this:

Why does Spoerri’s artist’s book, a self-reflexive and ambitious undertaking, provide a useful framework for thinking about the studio today?  In short, because studios are places where stuff matters.  They will always be places where stuff matters. To that end, in the introduction to The Social Life of Things, Arjun Appadurai discusses things and how they gain meaning by way of human transaction and interaction. 

Even if our own approach to things is conditioned necessarily by the view that things have no meanings apart from those human transactions, attributions, and motivations endow them with, the anthropological problem is that this formal truth does not illuminate the concrete, historical circulation of things.  For that, we have to follow the things themselves, for their meanings are inscribed in their forms, their uses, their trajectories.  It is only through the analysis of these trajectories that we can interpret the human transactions and calculations that enliven things.  (Appadurai, 5)

In other words, embedded within the exchange of objects is the “flow of social relations”(Appadurai, 11). As an artwork Spoerri’s book carefully tells his history of social relations as they are held in certain objects.  The loaf of bread that had a slice cut out from is the starting point for the beginning of a narrative-- a visit by someone named Renate Steiger.  Futher investigation might tell us who Steiger was, and why he was there.  To that end, the term ‘chance’ in his book title only partially explains the objects on the table.  They really are a deliberate practice made visible: an ongoing series of decisions that result in works of art, and an artist’s life lived. 

That Spoerri presents this project as an artist’s book is significant.  According to Johanna Drucker
, the artist’s book throughout the 20th century has often served as document.

As a document, the book becomes a space of information. (…) This use of the book seems almost obvious, something one can take for granted.  In fact, the forms by which their presentation is realized ranges from banal to the extraordinary… (Drucker, 335)

Spoerri’s project is inherently relational, but its discursive nature is manifest in an ‘extraordinary’ book form much more effectively than if he had created a painting, series of photographs or sculpture.  It allows for typographic liberties, and myriad narratives- both layered and broken.   The book is bound by two covers, which physically contain a beginning and an end. And finally, the reception of his work is amplified for that the act of reading a book is at once investigative and intimate, making it easy to fully engage in the text’s stops, starts, twists and turns.  From concept to form, the work is resolved, and we can really explore the objects on Spoerri’s table. 

It seems to me, that Spoerri’s project reflects how an artist’s personal objects can be granted truly dynamic agency by an artist, as opposed to a curator, critic or historian.  But even more remarkably, as an artist’s book it expansively makes visible the dialogic process by which that stuff in the studio begins to gain meaning in relation to artwork and vice versa. As Kirsten Swenson points out in her essay, Potraits of the artist with work: Eva Hesse, the studio “emerges as not so much a place for work, but as a place for displaying, staging and acting, while also functioning as a compendium of external sources (…) (the) studio is anything but cloistered; it is a crossroads of diverse practices and source as much as  it is a private space of production.”  In other words, the studio is where objects gain symbolic value and narrative currency, and this happens by way of studio visits, talking, people visiting, artists hanging out.

In a deeper reading, his project is an art object—and from start (his first written anecdote about a piece of white bread) to finish (an artist’s book that was also the exhibition catalog for a related commercial gallery show)—it is kind of a double agent.  It maps out for us both actively (in its text, which describes its coming into being) and passively (through its own life as an artwork) how art objects gain momentum as art.   After all, the legitimization of any art in the field of production is nothing if not a social project. 

Or, maybe in the end it’s just about the life of his stuff; his stuff, and our stuff- the things that clutter our creative spaces.  And what’s great about that?  I’ll tell you.  All the while-- in our studios, administrative offices, writers’ lofts, junk drawers, bedrooms, “rooms of our own,” and kitchens alike-- the objects we keep around us continue to shift and change-- from handwritten letters to printed out emails, record players to iPods, and Wonder Bread to Whole Foods baguettes.  At the end of the day, though, they are just our lovely vessels, and the stories stay pretty much same. 

A view of my father’s home library/exercise room/storage room in Minnesota- he is a scientist, a keeper of stuff.  Each time I visit, I check to see what new objects have moved or been added, or what might be missing. 

How can everyday life be defined?  It surrounds us, it besieges us, on all sides and from all directions.  We are inside it and outside it. 
-Henri Le Febvre, in Clearing the Ground (1961)

Works Cited:
Spoerri, David. An Anecdoted History of Chance. London: Atlas Arkhive Four, 1966.

Appadurai, Arjun. The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists' Books. New York City: Granary Books, 1994.

Swenson, Kirsten. "Portraits of the artist with work: Eva Hesse.” The Fall of the Studio: Artists at Work. Ed. Wouter Davidts and Kim Paice.
Valiz, 2009. 

Jessica Cochran is currently Curator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Center for Book and Paper Arts (Columbia College Chicago), and Director of Exhibitions at the O'Connor Art Gallery (Dominican University).  She has previously worked for Art Chicago/NEXT as Director of Marketing and Programs and Around the Coyote as Visual Art Coordinator.  Her writing has appeared in Proximity, Newcity, CS and Curating Now.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Strange and Funny Bedfellows: Studio Visits 101 by way of Steven Colbert

Jessica Cochran
Curator of Exhibitions and Programs 
Center for Book and Paper Arts
Columbia College

Studio visits.  Most curators would agree that the opportunity to engage with artists in their studios is a core reason we do what we do.  I tend to arrive at them after a long day at work—I am a little bit tired, hungry and thinking a little too much about getting home and catching up with the Real Housewives.  In those weak moments, I am fueled by a comment made by Matthew Higgs as guest lecturer in one of my graduate courses. It went something like this: “Studio visits, studio visits, studio visits- you’ve got to do hundreds of studio visits.”

More often than not, I leave the studio visit transformed, feeling something akin to exhilaration: my interest is piqued, and I am fascinated by the work I just saw.  My brain is cycling with ideas and possibilities. In other words, I am not thinking about a trashy television fix anymore, because spending time in a studio is awesome.

Every studio visit is a little bit different, and I have occasionally wondered if I am doing the right things.  You know-- asking the right questions, offering adequate insights, maintaining a “proper” level of critique.  This was on my mind when I recently saw Steven Colbert on his show performing a studio visit of sorts.  He interviewed Alan Bean, artist and former NASA astronaut about his paintings—large and moody depictions of astronauts on the moon.

“May I suggest another title? The most awesome painting in the history of anything.“ 

-Steven Colbert to artist and former astronaut Alan Bean, June 10, 2010 on The Colbert Report.   

Colbert maintained a tenor that was typically sarcastic; staying as always in “Colbert character”, he made no attempts at satirizing jargon-laced art world banter.  Bean’s own verbal offerings were nothing if not sweet, as, beaming from ear to ear, he described using moon boots (yes, moon boots) to create texture on a painting’s surface. 

Colbert asked obvious questions, but he let Bean talk. And in front of millions, Bean described his materials, his process and his way into painting.  Colbert, though chasing punch lines, was oddly refreshing, and it was fun to watch.

My own studio visits with artists are nothing like Colbert’s interview, but rather (I hope) serious and productive discussions of intent, influence, decisions and materials. But there is something to be said for re-considering one’s strategies by way of new, or maybe even irreverent approaches to such a dialogue.

So it was in the spirit of Alan Bean’s approach to painting, “Study, practice, make mistakes, study, practice, make mistakes ” that I asked many of my own colleagues, former instructors, and favorite artists to share their best advice and thoughts on the studio visit.
Each contributor was asked the following question, and the resulting comments are pasted below:

"Based on your experience, what is your advice for a good studio visit?

Enjoy, and please consider dispensing your own advice in the comments section below. 

-Jessica Cochran


Advice to artists

Susanna Coffey, artist:

Do not show too much work, hang that work so that it can be clearly seen.

Allow your visitor to look at the work in silence.

Remember that your relationship with your work is always at the center. A studio visit can inform your working process but cannot make or break the art itself.

The Franks, artists:

Be respectful of other people's time. One way to do that is by being well prepared and organized - present your work in a way that makes it easily viewed and talked about.   

Listen carefully to the questions you are being asked and answer them to the best of your ability. It's important to be clear and honest about your work. The curator or collector might be trying to suss out who you are as an artist, how you think, and how that translates into the work you're presenting.  

Don't pretend they're standing there in their underwear - depending on who they are, this may only distract you.

Mary Jane Jacob, director of exhibitions, School of the Art Institute of Chicago:

To an artist:
Have stuff to look at, but it doesn't need to be art and the art doesn't need to be finished.
Have ideas, not to present but to kick around.
Be open to wherever the conversation may go, but don't plan it out beforehand.
Think about what advice you have been given or taught to prepare for a studio visit; then be prepared to ignore it or let it go the opposite way.

Jason Foumberg, critic and curator:

Be open, honest, and chatty. It’s okay if the conversation isn’t fully intellectual. If you’re uncomfortable talking informally about your art, buy a couple of beers and we’ll drink them together.

Don’t clean up the studio before a visit (except for old take-out cartons). I want to see your source materials, sketchbooks, stops and starts, the layers of your process, some failures and experiments. It’s only later, in a gallery exhibition that I’ll be focusing solely on the finished product.

I like a studio visit without an agenda. If you’ve just made a bunch of new stuff, and you want people to see it, then invite us over. Likewise, I might ask to visit your studio if I saw your last show and I want to see what else you make.

Follow up a few months after the studio visit. Keep in touch and keep me informed about new projects, even if you don’t have an upcoming show.

Nicholas Frank, curator, Institute of Visual Arts (Inova):

Food! A studio visit is a human activity: studio visitors should be treated humanely. A nice cup of tea, coffee, or a lemonade, and a light snack, can take the edge off of the travel, scheduling and stress of making a professional studio visit. Chicago artists are tops in this category, I find -- at least the mature ones -- and never fail to offer homemade and thought varieties on the above: fresh espresso, homemade pastries, toasted almonds, fine cheeses. No need to be fancy or try to impress, just have a good sense of hospitality. Younger artists in Milwaukee are just beginning to catch on. Fact: advice given to a pair of artists here before a studio visit for a major fellowship resulted in them winning an award! Fact #2: they passed along this advice to a candidate the following year, who also won. I’m sure the art was much more important than the food in juror deliberations, but real human connection is important.

Jefferson Goddard, collector:

A good studio visit involves planning, patience and pelligrino. The artist must be on time and organized but not too methodical. A studio visit must flow with a free exchange of ideas, critical questions and pregnant pauses. Also, sometimes theatre can afford a more comfortable environment: leave the windows open, have other studio mates work nearby, borrow a laptop and play a short (silent) loop in the background. In all, be positive and prepared but open.

Catherine Howe, artist:

The Studio Visit.
How lovely that we still bother to share our work in the intimate setting of the studio. Nothing, esp. the"Virtual" world can replace it.
It is a reciprocal transaction where both parties participate equally, though in different ways. Here are a few suggestions.

For the emerging artist:
Unlike your grad school professors, curators and dealers are not at your service and are not required to give you a critique, or massage you with platitudes.
Do not put people on the spot or act "needy" (kiss of death). Do not start talking about yourself the minute your visitor walks through the door, in fact, disappear for a moment to fetch  a beverage for your guest, to allow them to adjust at peace.
Do not show everything you have ever made- be very selective.
Pay attention and be open, as this is a rare opportunity to learn more about yourself and your practice.
Do not allow yourself to be crushed by a bad visit- these are bound to happen.
Smile. Relax.

Advice to Curators:

Stephanie Smith, director of collections and exhibitions and curator of contemporary art, Smart Museum of Art:

Only go on a studio visit if you’re truly curious about the artist and the work—apathy wastes everyone’s time. Look closely—not just at the art, but also the space, the setup, the light, the books, the sketches, the website open on the laptop, the bits and pieces pinned to the wall, the piles in the corners. Question intensely. Listen well. And enjoy it—access to artists’ private spaces and working processes is one of the great privileges of working in this field.

Paul Morris, founder, The Armory Show:

Look at the work and listen to what the artist has to say and then think about what they chose not to talk about. And remember to look at what else is in the studio - what books are they reading, what images are pinned up. Do they have other artist's works hanging in their studio? As artists have millions of choices to makes it's important to ask what they chose not to do. It's also necessary to place the work in the context of the artist's generation and you should also be aware of your own personal bias. You may be partial to works on paper for example don't let this color your reading of a painter's work. Think of where they studied--who was their teacher and did they find their own voice?

Davis/Langlois, artists:

Our best studio visits happen when our visitors come into the studio prepared to spend some real time with us. It's difficult to get an idea of what our work is about in less than an hour. We have been working together for thirteen years and there is a lot of dialogue to catch up on if someone is truly interested in knowing our work. It's like they jump in midstream and it takes a minute to get used to the flow. A few hours of conversation and consumption of dubious origins never hurt anyone.  If they give us helpful criticism, buy a piece, or offer us a show, everyone wins. It's not  always about what they can do for us, but how they can contribute to our ongoing conversation.

Advice to both Artists and Curators:

Kay Rosen, artist:

I would suggest focus as an important reminder for both artists and curators, especially if time is limited: it helps if the curator says what exactly he/she is interested in seeing and talking about (new work, old work, specific media, themed, etc.) and if the artist makes a coherent presentation. If they have time to see more work and have more discussion, great.

Christian Viveros-Fauné, independent curator and contributor to the Village Voice and ArtReview:

Whatever the professional goals and power dynamics involved, studio visits are about establishing a dynamic conversation. Both the artist and the visitor (presumably a critic or curator, though he/she could just as well be another artist) need to respect a few basic rules of exchange. Listen, talk in good faith, don't bullshit people, leave saying something constructive, however much you may not agree with your interlocutor (if, in fact, you disagree at all). I am always shocked at stories of colleagues being dismissive or outright rude on studio visits (have yet to hear of an artist being rude to someone he/she invited into the studio, but, like everything else, it is certainly a possibility). That kind of crap should be checked at the door.

Jessica Cochran is currently Curator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Center for Book and Paper Arts (Columbia College Chicago), and Director of Exhibitions at the O'Connor Art Gallery (Dominican University).  She has previously worked for Art Chicago/NEXT as Director of Marketing and Programs and Around the Coyote as Visual Art Coordinator.  Her writing has appeared in Proximity, Newcity, CS and Curating Now.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Angee Lennard

Printmaker/Founder of Spudnik Press

In establishing Spudnik Press, I aimed to create a community that allows artists all the benefits of working among peers without the compromising their own studio practice. Another main concern was to create a space that was sustainable. I had seen too many interesting projects deteriorate because of unstable economics or administrative support.

I aim to share a few stages of Spudnik’s development that led me to the current “business model” we are using. Instead of focusing on particular problems that could arise, I will address thematically my approach to developing Spudnik Press Cooperative. I have outlined the core principals that guide the choices made at the studio. Returning to these fundamental goals of the studio has helped me through tough decisions regarding how the space should be funded, how exactly we should provided accessibility, and how to allocate use of the studio.

Building the Foundation

Planning a new project is one of my favorite things to do. Envisioning what something can be and creating a plan to achieve those visions is rewarding and fun. However, I found the period immediately following this, to be the most daunting and lonely…

In the initial stages of any project, there is a lack of evidence that the project will be successful. This causes skepticism. I continually asked for favors and quickly became indebt to most people I was close with.

Growing the Studio
Once Spudnik was officially open, it gained momentum very gradually. Although our early Open Studio sessions were often quiet, I was able to effectively use this time to research the next stage of the press. We gradually added materials and tools as well as classes, portfolio exchanges, additional hours, memberships, and a residency program. Increased programming was matched with increased volunteering and income. Gradually there was a welcoming shift from me asking for help to help being offered to Spudnik.

Reflection and compression

At this point, I decided it was time to move Spudnik Press out of my apartment. Spudnik went through a period in which printers did not feel ownership over the studio. Printers felt that the space was my own, and that they could not (and should not!) partake in decision-making. The press had recently moved from my apartment space to a dedicated commercial space. Printers overly respected that I had built the studio from the ground up, and didn’t want to infringe upon my goals and aspirations. As respectful as this was, it was also problematic because I wasn’t entering the role of Director with prior experience. I needed help determining our direction. Additionally, we started to outgrow the systems that I had created when we were a fledgling print shop. I was eager to keep growing and expanding, but need to pause and readdress what roles Spudnik could and should serve in a more thorough way than was possible when I was in the planning stage.

Some of the projects I spent time on were pragmatic like website development and streamlined accounting through improved excel formulas. I also extensively researched how other studios provide access and establish fees for use of the space.  I created surveys and held meetings. Eventually, I was able to come to some conclusions about how Spudnik should move forward. I increased transparency and was very open about Spudnik’s need for a participatory community. I streamlined more of the day-to-day administration of the shop and made a distinct plan for the next year, allowing me to enter a second period of growth.

Growing the Capacity of the Space
Many of the earlier difficulties have been replaced with new ones. For example, we no longer have to plead for volunteers. Instead, we are struggling to find the best ways to effectively utilize multiple volunteers. We are working to maintain balance among the various uses of the space, and working on long-term goals like applying for tax-exemption and seeking outside funding. Instead of expanding the programs offered, we are working to maximize the capacity and the impact of the programs.

I currently don’t have the luxury of being able to step aside to reflect and compress, but need to do these things while growing and expanding. I also am reaching a point where the things I need to learn to stay a step ahead of the game are larger and more daunting topics.  Without a background in law, accounting, real estate, art administration, or experience as a press technician or manager, I am reaching out to a larger network of people. I am utilizing other organizations like Lawyers for the Creative Arts, other print shops like Anchor Graphics, individuals serving on our board of directors, and members of Spudnik Press.


While researching ways to structure our studio, I looked to many other established print shops. I borrowed heavily from some of the philosophies and structures of the following places: AS220 Printshop, Chicago Printmaker’s Collaborative, Flight 64, Lill Street, The Post Family, and All Along Press.

In the end, I settled upon the following principals to guide decisions regarding use of the studio:

Allowing Self-Determination: Through maintaining independence from any institution and not depending on restricted funding, such as grants, we are able to determine our own priorities and allot funding appropriately. We aim to support the studio through earned income. We will seek grants to improve and expand what we are able to provide the community, but not rely on grants to make ends meet.

Creating a Culture of Learning: When conceptualizing new classes, determining pricing structures, and developing new programming, we focus on creating multiple avenues for members to grow their artistic practice. Offering classes creates the opportunity for people to learn. However, if we intentionally foster particular types of interactions, learning (and teaching) becomes practically unavoidable for those using the studio.

Supporting Varied Studio Practices: By providing multiple ways an artist can use a space, we can enhance their artistic production and output instead of hinder it. Allowing the artist to determine how they wish to function in the space allows printmaking to be fluidly integrated into their studio practices. Artists are welcomed in whenever a print project presents itself.

Support the Artist beyond the Project: By working with artists beyond the print process alone, we are able to help them realize their artistic goals. For example, by providing artwork documentation and representation at shows and sales such as NEXT and Renegade, we are able to help artists have the tools they need to increase their exposure, apply for grants and residencies, and supplement their income through their art.

Maintaining Relevancy to our Community: The studio is a place for diverse people to interact, engage with each other, and be affected by each other. The studio is also a place where content is made to take out to the community and create the visual culture of a city. By working with artists from multiple disciplines, varying age groups, diverse backgrounds, we are able to bridge communities. By partnering with organizations that work in fields beyond our own such as Homeroom Chicago and Marwen we preserve relevancy beyond exclusively printmakers and printed matter. 

Incorporating Evolution into our Structure: Recognizing that the particular people and projects that support our community will change over time allows for the studio to progress. We often reprioritize based on what resources we have on hand and what skill sets our volunteers and interns are bringing to the studio. We are constantly revisiting and altering studio availability as we become more or less reliant on particular sources of income. We have diversified our sources of income such that one area can decline without the studio loosing our stability. Our flexibility allows us to find alternative means to supplement our income, such as private lessons and consignment printing.

Angee Lennard is the founder of Spudnik Press Cooperative, and currently serves as the Executive Director. She has participated in group shows at Green Lantern, Heaven Gallery, Butcher Show, Beverly Art Center, and Marwen and been an Artist in Residence at AS220 in Providence, RI. She has been a panelist at Zygote Press’ Collective INK and The Chicago Cultural Center’s Collaborative Studios Discussion. She is currently the secretary of the Chicago Printers Guild and a member of Southern Graphics Council. She received her BFA with an emphasis is Print Media from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The benefits of a shared studio space

Angee Lennard
Spudnik Press

We all know that sharing space can be hard:

Through directing a print shop, I have been able to work with many artists in their studio. This studio happens to also be my studio, and for that matter, the studio of about 200 artists: Spudnik Press Cooperative. I have been able to observe that the advantage of sharing a studio go far beyond economic benefits.

A little background about Spudnik Press Cooperative:

Spudnik Press Cooperative is a community printshop in West Town. We are now celebrating our three-year anniversary.  Our mission is to provide facilities and services available to artists who need a place to create or exhibit their original artwork, especially those who cannot obtain access to traditional printmaking facilities and exhibition spaces because of financial or other limitations. We provide education in printmaking practices though uniting professional artists with a diverse community of emerging artists, established artists, youth, and adults.

Sharing things saves money:

The most obvious reasons for artists to share studio space are financial reasons. We all know that when we convince our friend to move into the “office” not only does rent go down, but utilities are also split two ways.

But it doesn’t stop there:

By sharing materials such as ink and screens, printers are able to freely experiment with color and technique. At times it is as literal as one artist using surplus ink from another artist’s print run. Not necessarily because this is resourceful, but because they were witness to that color being used, and would like to investigate using it in their own work. Not only is this saving time and money, but also it is allowing artists to experience a material being used in a way that they previously hadn’t seen. They are making discoveries through their peers’ studio practice as well as their own.

Learning through others:

Members of Spudnik Press receive 15% off classes as a way to encourage continuing education. This is merely a gesture representing our philosophy that one should continually be honing their craft and expanding possibilities in their art. One day I came to the studio and found Pablo, one of our most frequent intaglio printers, explaining to Tom, one of our most frequent screen printers, how to properly apply a hard ground to a sheet of copper. This summer, Tom will be showing Pablo how to screen print. Observing this interaction was much more than a gesture. I was able to physically see two artists from very different backgrounds working together, trading knowledge for knowledge. This interaction was only able to happen because both artists signed on to work in a community space.

Problem Solving:

Printmaking is a process-oriented craft. If one variable is out of line, an entire project can quickly deteriorate. And as anyone with printing experience knows, printing is about 75% problem solving. Online forums are very helpful but nothing beats a room full of printers working together to conquer one of the many mysterious jams we often find ourselves in.

Exchange Projects:

Collaboration is second-nature for the printmaker. An age-old printing practice is to have “clean hands” and “dirty hands”, with the artist inking and printing their plate or screen, and a friend (with freshly washed hands) handling the paper.

Printers are also often drawn to the medium precisely due to printmaking’s democratic capacities. From this ideal has grown a tradition of hosting print exchanges. A pool of artists is created, all contribute one edition of a print, and everyone trades with everyone. Exchanges can range in scope, but usually there is a size requirement and a theme. This allows the end product to be a sizable body of cohesive artwork. It functions as an entire group show in a highly transportable envelope or folder or box. Exchanges also are a departure point for building a collection of artwork.

We have hosted three exchanges at Spudnik Press: The 3-D Print Exchange (comes with red and blue glasses), Tender Twenties (20 artists in the 20’s making work about their 20’s), and MEAT!.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration:

One of our more structured collaborations has been with the literary magazine Artifice. We teamed up with the editors to pair up the work of ten writers with ten printers. During the planning stages, we saw that this project could become a logistical mess due to the quantity of prints needed and the amount of materials we would use creating the work. So we decided to make some restrictions.  All ten printers shared the same colors of ink, and we all printed each others' work. Printers gained experience printing a variety of types of illustrations. The resulting body of work demonstrated ten approaches to the same color palette. Writers were able to see their work illustrated for the first time, reveal insights to their own work. At the release of the magazine, writers and visual arts were able to meet each other, opening up possibilities of future collaboration.

Artists in Residence:

The residency program at Spudnik Press funds one print-based project per season. We have worked with two collaborative groups, to date. Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger in the fall of 2008. Last spring, we were able to work with Onsmith and Paul Nudd. Miller and Shellabarger have a history of working collaboratively, and it was enlightening to see them work so fluidly in a collaborative situations. Nudd and Onsmith have long been supportive of each others work, but prior to the residency had not collaborated in this way. While both artists do create their own work from independent studios, utilizing Spudnik Press gave them a meeting point in which they could both contribute equally. They created a dedicated schedule in which they were able to balance working individually on their own contributions, and working as a team. It was rewarding to see these two artists evolve as they became more influenced by the process, and more fluid in navigating a collaborative print.

In conclusion:

A primary motivation at Spudnik Press is to cultivate engagement among different sectors of society and to establish community by creating a common cultural heritage. We aim to create a platform for members of the artistic community to communicate with individuals without artistic training. We hope to empower people without artistic training to see themselves as part of a larger community; as individuals capable of creative endeavors that can have a lasting (positive) contribution to the community.

I began this post exclaiming that sharing space is hard. I thought that my writing would investigate how we can best navigate community space to minimize the difficulties of sharing personal space. But in truth, the difficulties amount to nothing more interesting than what we all experience in any public space. Some times two people need to use the sink at the same time. Some times one person would like to listen to a podcast while another would like Reggae. I am more interested in the possibilities of a space that is simultaneously the studio of individual artists as well as a group space. I am interested in creating an environment that does not hinder personal visions for the visions of the group, but that enables personal visions to swell and proliferate and mingle with each other to create yet more visions.

Where to go from here:
This Thursday, June 10, Spudnik Press is hosting a panel discussion, The Local Residency to continue the conversation about the affects of working in a community studio. Past Artists in Residence will speak about their experiences at Spudnik Press and address how a local residency can function in an artist’s career.

My next post will focus on the trials and tribulations of building Spudnik to be a collaborative studio space that allows each artist to maintain a sense of ownership. I will share a variety of business models that I have come across in my research to create a shared studio that is sustainable.

1. Spudnik Press Cooperative, 2009
2. Surplus Ink, 2008
3. Students; Intro to Screenprinting Class, 2009
4. Untitled, Brian Stuparyk, 2008
5. Police Procedural, 2010, Tom Wilder
6. Apples, Crosses, 2010, Jeremy Lundquist
7. And This Would Happen Too in Other Homes, 2010, Colin Palombi
8. Onsmith Dog Stew and Monkey Nudd Wine, 2009, Nudd and Onsmith

Angee Lennard is the founder of Spudnik Press Cooperative, and currently serves as the Executive Director. She has participated in group shows at Green Lantern, Heaven Gallery, Butcher Show, Beverly Art Center, and Marwen and been an Artist in Residence at AS220 in Providence, RI. She has been a panelist at Zygote Press’ Collective INK and The Chicago Cultural Center’s Collaborative Studios Discussion. She is currently the secretary of the Chicago Printers Guild and a member of Southern Graphics Council. She received her BFA with an emphasis is Print Media from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005.