My Wichita residency wrap-up notes.
WHAT: I just completed a 2.5-week residency at Harvester Arts in Wichita, KS.
Harvester is a two-year-old arts organization whose residency program encourages artists to experiment and share their process with the community. The results are exhibited, and then two local artists create and present work in response.
I came up with All the Steps in the Process: a research project on collaboration. I did six interviews with eight artists from the SF Bay Area, New York, and Wichita: Kevin B. Chen, Amanda Curreri, Leeza Meksin and Eleana Anagnos, Armando Minjarez, Elizabeth Travelslight, and Linnebur & Miller. Quotes from these interviews are realized in a series of hand-lettered drawings that line the walls in an exhibition design inspired by publication layouts. I also conducted a survey whose data, along with excerpts of the interviews, comprise CO-LABORATION, a 28-page ‘zine. I designed and built two reading desks and stools especially for reading the ‘zine. I also made a bench for visitors to view a video with examples of collaborative works by local artists: Amanda Pfister & Manda Remmen; Jennifer Koe & Nathan Filbert; Ann Resnick with Bethel Kidrun retirement community residents; Kevin Mullins in response to the work of Anne Schaefer; and Jessica Wasson, Patrick Calvillo, Alex Thomas, Ian Blume, Gray Brand, Bernardo Trevizo, Drew Davis, Jordan Kirtley, Peter James, and Tim Maggard.
All the Steps in the Process will be on view through May 17 at Harvester Arts. Wichita-based artists Darren Jones and Anne Resnick will create work in response.
WHERE: This was my first visit to Wichita, and to the state of Kansas.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised with how friendly everyone is. I found it so nice to just let my guard down and feel at ease, away from hyper-competitive places like New York or even San Francisco. It’s a fairly safe city to travel in. Sometimes I have to force myself to be social, and it was a lot easier in Kansas because people are just generally more inclined to respond in kind.
Wichita really grew on me—within a few days I felt like it’s normal for me to going about my day at a relatively chill pace, riding a cruiser on the flat, windy streets (or sidewalks, because there’s so few bicyclists and pedestrians). The art scene seems small but cool, with really strong mutual support and interest. I constantly witnessed examples of generosity, from the plenitude of the potluck—Ann Resnick and Kevin Mullins’ Crock Pot of chili and a still-warm pan of cornbread, and Meghan Miller’s triple-decker black velvet cake—Mike Miller’s lending super cool, vintage bucket-phones for the opening after-party, and Marta McKim of Atomic Elbow Massage, who gives Harvester resident artists free massages!
I enjoyed the vernacular architecture around Wichita. Even ICT airport has quirky engraved signage. This terminal will be replaced next month and eventually torn down. I loved visiting the main library; it reminded me of places I’d been as a child. This, too, is moving to a new building, though it’s yet to be determined how the existing building will be re-purposed.
Harvester Arts just relocated to a new, dedicated storefront space in Old Town, an entertainment district with lots of bars and restaurants. (It’s right next to B. Young, a hair salon run by Ben Young and Trace Wilson, an exceptionally neighborly couple who are very supportive of Harvester and its artists. And highly recommended!) A few blocks southeast is City Blueprint, an art store/surveyor’s supplier (waterproof notebooks!), and print center. They printed the ‘zine at fantastic prices and great quality. I didn’t get a chance to go to the Yard, a random parts store that artists love, but knowing my weakness for potentially useful things even if I don’t really need them, it’s probably for the best. Commerce Street, a hub of galleries, is a short bike ride away. (I especially enjoyed Yoonmi Nam’s work currently on view in XX7 at Fishhaus Gallery.)
Harvester Arts’ title sponsor is the Hotel at Waterwalk, where I stayed for my entire visit. Other residents have stayed at the sister hotel, Hotel at Old Town, which is only a block away from Harvester. Being further away made me see more of the city and gave me a chance to shake a leg everyday. But towards the end, when I was pulling long days and late nights, I could see the advantage of proximity (such as when I had an SD card—at the studio—and wasn’t sure if it’d work in my laptop—at the hotel). It’s my first time staying in a hotel for an artist’s residency, and though it was a little odd to make such a transitory space feel like “home,” it was quite conducive—there’s WIFI, laundry, a few cardio machines, free passes to a real gym, and a free shuttle available upon request (though I often walked or biked to operate on my own schedule, or hitched a ride with Kate or Kristin).
Harvester’s space is a two-story storefront: the lower level is the resident’s studio and gallery, and the upper level is the office. The unit is set back from the street and felt private enough. I also enjoyed working in the back patio area, which is shaded from the sun by trees inhabited by vociferous birds.
WHEN: My residency was from April 8–26.
Harvester’s residencies are usually two weeks long, but I wanted more time, and those few extra days were helpful: I got jetlagged! There’s officially only an hour’s time difference from the east coast, but it felt like more.
My residency coincided with lots of art events. The opening fell on the Final Fridays gallery crawl and a big day of giving to the arts. I also judged the WSU spectacle, Project RunAway, a student wearable art runway competition and fundraiser. The weather was pretty great most of the time—in the 50s to 70s, with a few thunderstorms. There was a tornado warning my first night in town, but no actual twister (whew!).
Having 19 days to develop and install a project for a three-week exhibition makes for a very condensed experience. I could have used more time, but I appreciate how the short period forced me to try new things. Working as an art handler helps, as I can more or less plan and execute an installation, but it also makes me extra picky about small details. In the last few days, as I was feeling stretched thin by what I set out to do, I came up with a mantra: Simply. Prioritize. And ask for help. The hardest part was realizing that the flip side of prioritizing is letting go of what’s not important.
WHO: Harvester Arts was co-founded by Kristin Beal, Kate Van Steenhuyse, and Ryan Gates.
I met Kate in grad school; it was a fabulous surprise to receive Kate’s invitation last year. I believe the program is currently by invitation only. They are currently run with their own donated labor, with the help of interns and friends like Calie Shivers and Bernardo Trevizo.
Harvester organized three events in conjunction with my residency: an artist’s talk/slide presentation, the aforementioned potluck, and the opening reception (followed by an after-party). My visit was brimming with productivity as well as socializing. It’s helpful to have an artist’s talk early on to introduce and contextualize my practice, and help artists with similar interests self-identify. It meant the potluck and opening were chances to continue conversations.
The communities at Harvester and the art department at Wichita State University—where Kate teaches—overlaps. You could say I began and ended my visit at WSU, attending visiting artist Judy Rushin’s lecture and closing on my second day in town, and the faculty exhibition at the Ulrich on my penultimate day (I really enjoyed Jennifer Ray’s large format photographs of places, and it was great to see examples of Kate’s paintings and Levente Solyuk’s conceptually-oriented practice).
HOW: Shooting for self-sufficiency and relying heavily on interdependence.
Initially, I’d wondered how to make a project responsive to the site: Should I look into Wichita’s history of aeronautics or at Coleman camping gear? But in the end, interviewing and featuring the work of local artists and collaborators is specific to the site—or rather, a specific slice of a community of artists at this particular moment.
For this trip, I shipped out what’s becoming a basic residency kit: a 14 x 14 x 14” box that I’ve lined with Styrofoam and then shock-absorbing foam and filled with drawing and installation tools; a 36” long tube with a roll of drawing paper and a straight-edge/ruler; and a flat box with two 18 x 24” cutting mats. These three cost about $50 to ship via FedEx Ground each way (I made a minor innovation by printing return labels, and layering them under the shipping labels). It’s really helpful for me to hit the ground running with my own supplies. Being at a residency is an odd mix of empowerment and being somewhat helpless—you’re in an unfamiliar place and given new resources, but cut off from most of your own.
For example, Mark lent Kristin the van so we could get lumber. Kate’s kid was sick, so she would be around, so I could use Ryan’s saws. Home Depot offers the promise of consistency without actual consistency. (Unless you mean that the sheet saw is out of order again… I’m starting to think of their wood selections as a produce store—you can’t assume anything will be in stock, you just have to see what’s there. Fine, I’ll rip-cut my own 1x2s, and buy quarter-sheets at a 150% mark-up, then spend another 10 minutes getting a refund). But in the end, everything worked out. It was a gorgeous, sunny day for doing woodwork in an open garage. I fired up the unfamiliar table saw, and the board sailed through, straight and smooth.
WHY: an intensive, condensed experience of encountering a place and an art community, and being experimental and productive.
Two and a half weeks ago, I had a vague vision of some hand-lettered drawings on the walls, and the rough ideas of a ‘zine and some wood furniture. I knew it would be about collaboration, but I didn’t know what I would find out. What I learned from the process is specific, useful, and optimistic. I would not have done these interviews and surveys, nor met particular Wichita-based artist-subjects and artist-collaborators, were it not for Harvester Arts. All the Steps in the Process directly comes out of Harvester’s particular opportunity to experiment and focus on process.
My practice involves the study of psychology, but I’m human, flawed and inattentive. For a few weeks, I got to be the center of attention as the visiting artist at Harvester. It’s an ego tightrope—receiving attention makes me want to be deserving of it all, and to work doubly hard. I still get surprised about how my personality manifests. This time, I realized that I’m an overachiever, and I need to work hard to balance the desire for external validation with intrinsic self-worth. When I nerd out on certain details, it can be an imposition of my own values on others helping me.
I’m proud of the exhibition, and in particular, the ‘zine. The interview subjects offered so much advice, experience, and reflexivity. Editing it down to fit the small format was challenging—there were just so many interesting perspectives to consider. I also think the survey worked out really well—huge thanks to all the respondents, and especially to KVS and Calie, who meticulously compiled the data so that I could compare multiple dimensions of the responses. Tacitly, Michael Yap is always an influence in my graphic design development.
Completing a residency and exhibition is bittersweet—I’m filled with gratitude for the opportunity and many people who have supported me and given me their resources, labor, time, attention, kindness, and hospitality. And I’m sad to see the end of a magical period of productivity, chances to see the exhibition in this space again, and, most of all, the particular time and space of many blossoming friendships and a sense of community. Thank you to everyone who made my stay so welcoming. Immense gratitude to Kristin, Kate, and Ryan for making Harvester—and thus, All the Steps in the Process—a reality.