Values

Facebook, Surveillance, and Unhappiness

If you’re still not sure if Facebook is evil, read John Lanchester’s “You Are the Product” (London Review of Books, August 17, 2017). TL;DR? Here are my favorite excerpts:

“No human enterprise, no new technology or utility or service, has ever been adopted so widely so quickly [as Facebook]. The speed of uptake far exceeds that of the internet itself, let alone ancient technologies such as television or cinema or radio.

“… the company is the fifth most valuable in the world, with a market capitalisation of $445 billion. …

[An internet entrepreneur on ethical problems:] “Facebook just doesn’t care. When you’re in a room with them you can tell. They’re’ – he took a moment to find the right word – ‘scuzzy’. …”

 

On fake news:

“Facebook has no financial interest in telling the truth. No company better exemplifies the internet-age dictum that if the product is free, you are the product. Facebook’s customers aren’t the people who are on the site: its customers are the advertisers who use its network and who relish its ability to direct ads to receptive audiences. Why would Facebook care if the news streaming over the site is fake? Its interest is in the targeting, not in the content. …

“Facebook works hard at avoiding responsibility for the content on its site – except for sexual content, about which it is super-stringent. Nary a nipple on show. It’s a bizarre set of priorities, which only makes sense in an American context. …

“Jonathan Taplin points to an analysis on Buzzfeed: ‘In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York TimesWashington PostHuffington Post, NBC News and others.’ This doesn’t sound like a problem Facebook will be in any hurry to fix. …”

Why artists and makers should care:

“The fact is that fraudulent content, and stolen content, are rife on Facebook, and the company doesn’t really mind, because it isn’t in its interest to mind. Much of the video content on the site is stolen from the people who created it. … in 2015, 725 of Facebook’s top one thousand most viewed videos were stolen. This is another area where Facebook’s interests contradict society’s. We may collectively have an interest in sustaining creative and imaginative work in many different forms and on many platforms. Facebook doesn’t.

…[FB] isn’t too keen on anyone apart from Facebook making any money from that content. Over time, that attitude is profoundly destructive to the creative and media industries. … If the content providers all eventually go broke, well, that might not be too much of a problem. There are, for now, lots of willing providers: anyone on Facebook is in a sense working for Facebook, adding value to the company. In 2014, the New York Times did the arithmetic and found that humanity was spending 39,757 collective years on the site, every single day. …

Lanchester follows this by citing the hollowing out of the music and journalism industries.

This goes to the heart of the question of what Facebook is and what it does. For all the talk about connecting people, building community, and believing in people, Facebook is an advertising company.

Taking Tim Wu’s lead, Lanchester explains a shift from growth (increasing the number of users) to monetization (how to make money off us). The first was spurred by its IPO. The second relates to how users are now mostly on mobile devices, and how to connect multiple identities and Experian and other bureaus to track you in an unprecedented manner:

So Facebook knows your phone ID and can add it to your Facebook ID. It puts that together with the rest of your online activity: not just every site you’ve ever visited, but every click you’ve ever made – the Facebook button tracks every Facebook user, whether they click on it or not. Since the Facebook button is pretty much ubiquitous on the net, this means that Facebook sees you, everywhere. Now, thanks to its partnerships with the old-school credit firms, Facebook knew who everybody was, where they lived, and everything they’d ever bought with plastic in a real-world offline shop. All this information is used for a purpose which is, in the final analysis, profoundly bathetic. It is to sell you things via online ads.

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

Lanchester also mentions a shocking habit of price-gouging based on users’ class status. See the article to read it.

What can be done?

Perhaps the biggest potential threat to Facebook is that its users might go off it. … as we’ve seen in the disappearance of Myspace, the onetime leader in social media, when people change their minds about a service, they can go off it hard and fast.

The other thing that could happen at the level of individual users is that people stop using Facebook because it makes them unhappy. … The researchers found quite simply that the more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are. A 1 per cent increase in ‘likes’ and clicks and status updates was correlated with a 5 to 8 per cent decrease in mental health. In addition, they found that the positive effect of real-world interactions, which enhance well-being, was accurately paralleled by the ‘negative associations of Facebook use’. … To sum up: there is a lot of research showing that Facebook makes people feel like shit.

This article provided much-needed perspective and a reconnection to media studies and cultural criticism, which was hugely influential on me in the 1990’s and aughts. I loved that Lanchester mentioned Neil Postman. The 90’s anti-corporate and anti-advertising ethos seems anachronistic against today’s influencers and sponsored content. The landscape of what media is, how our daily experiences and culture are influenced by corporations and capitalism, has shifted so much in the past decade. I’m interested in further reading, especially Tim Wu’s “The Attention Merchants.”

I deactivated my Facebook account a few years ago. I realized that using Facebook lowered the quality of my life: it made my days feel worse. The level of discourse is low. I didn’t want to participate in a platform that single-handedly launched an industry of click-bait. The experience is highly mediated and manipulated. (Facebook’s tinkering with user’s emotions was a nadir.) It is addictive. It’s too easy to use FB to substitute for IRL interactions. I couldn’t allow such a counterproductive corporate product to undermine what I’d learned about positive psychology for maintaining psychological wellbeing.

It took some time to break the habit, but the longer I’m off Facebook, the easier it is. I have zero regrets about my decision.

I have only temporarily re-activated my account to engage art audiences in smaller cities. In Albuquerque and Wichita, locals told me that Facebook is the primary platform for connecting with art audiences online. Often they’d acknowledge that Facebook sucks, but there’s no alternative. I would encourage small art organizations (including artist-run collectives on the coasts) to post events on their websites, and not only on FB. I know FB is easy, but updating a website has never been easier.

I’m on Instagram and Twitter. As Instagram becomes more like Facebook (I’ve noticed the feed seems increasingly manipulated), I’ll look to disengage.

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Citizenship

We All Belong Here

A freely downloadable graphic to defend DACA and immigrant rights.

Christine Wong Yap, We All Belong Here, 2017, calligraphy. Available as a downloadable graphic (JPG, 313kb) for resistance under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

Christine Wong Yap, We All Belong Here, 2017, calligraphy. Available as a downloadable graphic (JPG, 313kb) for resistance under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

Tomorrow, Trump will act on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), in response to 9 state attorney generals who are threatening to sue if he doesn’t repeal the law created by Obama.

Let’s fight to preserve DACA! Five easy ways are listed in this thread. If you’re in NYC, you can join the action at Trump Tower tomorrow, Tuesday, September 5, 10am–7pm.

Not sure why we should preserve DACA? Read these perspectives on Time. You’ll hear from DACA participants on how DACA has changed their lives, as well as how its potential repeal is affecting them. You’ll hear from undocumented people who didn’t qualify for DACA, and what their options and lack of options are. There are Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans. There is tragedy, hope, small things like being able to drive your mom to the hospital, and big things like winning the legal battle to become the first undocumented lawyer in NY.

Here’s why I want to preserve DACA, and fight for immigrant and refugee rights in the age of Trump:

  • My parents fled war in Vietnam and persecution in Communist China. They had limited economic and educational means and had to opportunistically use the pathways available to them. Most Americans’ migration stories are full of wiles. We have all been subject to laws shaped by racism and politics—some benefitting, others hobbled.
  • Immigration laws tear families apart. Someone close to me was separated from his mother as a baby. When he was able to reunite with her as a toddler, he didn’t recognize her. Heartbreaks and awful family decisions like this are created by immigration laws every day.
  • Lastly, fighting for DACA and immigrant rights is a tangible way to counter the increase in white supremacist activity in the US. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by racism. It’s deflating that we are still not seen as fully equal. But there is a simple way to fight despair: taking concrete action. Fighting for DACA is urgent, timely, and actionable.

Above, you can download my hand lettering, “We All Belong Here,” for non-commercial, personal use in fighting for immigrant and refugee rights. It is the back cover of the Belonging zine (freely downloadable here).

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Citizenship

Donate to an Anti-Racist Organization, Receive a Print

Today through August 25, donate $75 to Race ForwardShowing Up for Racial JusticeSouthern Poverty Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Asian Law Caucus)Life After Hate, or United We Dream and show me the receipt, and I’ll mail you a letterpress print.

Pick from any of the Working Together prints. There are 15 total; see them all here.

All prints are letterpress-printed and carved from linoleum by hand, by me. Each one is 7 x 8.5 inches, and signed and numbered in a limited edition of 15. They were printed with the support of a Workspace Grant at the Center for Book Arts in NYC.

I made these prints because I’d rather work together than let ourselves be torn apart by hate.

 

Working Together (cover)

 

Equal Empowerment

 

Warmed By the Same Fire

 

Creative Sparks

 

Here’s another artist-fundraiser from Huong Ngo, where I learned about Life After Hate.

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Citizenship

Notes on Monuments

I am fascinated by the debate around Confederate monuments. (Anti-racist, anti-white supremacist action is, of course, paramount. I’ll return to that in a follow-up post.) Here are some reasons I’m fascinated with the dialogue around monuments.

Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee being in New Orleans last May. Photo: Scott Threlkeld/AP

We are having a national conversation about public art.

Usually, art and artists are on the margins of society. It’s rare when art or issues around art are widely discussed by the mainstream.

Most Americans have never studied visual criticism, art history, or public art. They may have never made art, cast sculpture, or considered the role of public art. Some people even think they hate art and talking about it (“I like art that speaks for itself”). It’s very interesting to see so many Americans having strong opinions about monuments right now.

 

Monuments are an unlikely lightning rod.

I probably pass a dozen historical statues every week and rarely take notice of them. I take it for granted that they valorize dead white men. They don’t relate to me and they don’t appeal to me; I often find realism and portraiture visually boring. These statues mimic classical Greco-Roman style; they’re elevated on high plinths. This creates hierarchical assertions of power. I’d rather see democratic spaces that are flexible and responsive to local communities and contemporary concerns.

Statues of historical figures mostly convey significance. As didactic tools, their efficacy is limited. They lack the multiplicity of voices and perspectives that makes history compelling and relevant.

For white supremacists and anti-racists/anti-facists/Black Lives Matter activists (activists for racial justice), Confederate monuments are a battleground for a dialogue about race in America. It’s interesting that much larger, and more intangible cultural and political forces—ongoing systemic and institutional racism, of which police brutality has become increasingly visible and publicized due to digital technologies, and Trump’s fear-mongering nostalgia and xenophobia inflaming a base precarious due to neoliberalism and deindustrialization—are manifesting in a dialogue about relatively boring public art.

It is also fascinating how these sculptures have existed for decades, but their meanings have become heightened via political climate, political will, and people’s organizing.

 

What I learned in art school

It’s easy to ridicule the impracticality of art school. But ideas and skills I learned in art school inform how I understand monuments, which I find especially helpful right now.

  • Monuments are subjective. Via critical visual studies, one may deconstruct what is shown (i.e., a depiction of an idealized general, emphasizing honor and bravery, in a neoclassical style that lends prestige and timelessness) and what is not shown (i.e., the horrors of war, the people affected by war, slavery, and racial injustice).
  • Monuments serve agendas. Monuments are very expensive, heavy, space-taking tools for memory. That memory is crafted by the powerful. Many of the contested monuments were created in the Jim Crow era. They depict Robert E. Lee, but the contexts of their creations suggest that they memorialize a past when white power and privilege were legally and violently enforced.
  • Monuments are contestable. Everything is up for debate. Meaning relies on context, and context is variable. In fact, one of the most indisputable arguments for removing a Confederate statue is bad context to begin with (e.g., Lee’s connection to NOLA was insignificant, thus the statue was out of place anyway). And nothing is permanent. Only a small proportion of art is preserved. Museums regularly acquire and de-accession artworks. Preservation is subject to re-evaluation. (Though monuments aspire to look like they have stood since time-immemorial, societies decide if they’re going to maintain them, power-wash the pigeon poop, fix or ignore oxidation, patch erosion of the plinths, etc.) Monuments are parts of cities, and cities are layers—palimpsests that are constantly rewritten. Displaced monuments tell stories too.

 

Artists helped spark this debate.

Wynton Marsalis played a pivotal role in the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in New Orleans. Artists can have political power. This is an important example of how artists make change by writing an op-ed and speaking to public officials.

 

What makes good public art?

Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local is a fantastic book for thinking about place and place-related art. She actually says that little public art is actually public—much is private because of whose interests it serves. She defines public art as

“accessible art of any species that cares about, challenges, involves, consults the audience for or with whom it is made, respecting the community and environment.”

Furthermore,

“a public art exists in the hearts, minds, ideologies, and educations of its audience, as well as in their physical, sensuous experiences.”

She also poses these questions:

Who defines public?
What defines a public space?
What kind of art occupies it best?
How does and can an art in the public realm communicate these ideas about place?
What are the responsibilities of a public artwork to the place, and to those who live there?

I like how this resonates with Marsalis’ proposal:

We should transform the current Lee Circle into an inviting space that celebrates the communal intentions of the international community that helped us survive Katrina. This place would fill the heart of our city with something uplifting for us all and for all times.

The removal of Confederate statues provides some opportunities to be more creative and generative.

Where should the sculptures go?

  • We could create a space like Memento Park in Budapest, a Communist statue graveyard for contemplation on dictatorship.
  • A museum of slavery or about the legacy of slavery. The presence there of displaced monuments would add dimension to how memorialization is ongoing.
  • Perhaps the bronze could be recycled into a sculpture that is more interesting, compelling, modern, and progressive. It could become a public park element like a fountain, bench, or shade that welcomes all.
  • Perhaps the statues can be chopped up into small pieces that are distributed as mementos of a successful anti-racist people’s movement. (I am aware of the gruesome resonances of this.)

What to do with an empty plinth?

I really like the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. Originally meant to house a sculpture that was never made due to lack of funding, the empty plinth became a city-run platform for rotating public art commissions.

Of these, my favorite is Antony Gormley’s “One and Other.” The empty plinth became a stage for 2,400 UK residents to occupy as they liked, one at a time, for one hour at a time, for 100 days and nights. It’s a breath of fresh air to see living, diverse, wacky, everyday citizens use a place of prestige in a public space. Here’s a great video.

Antony Gormley, One and Other, 2009. Photo: Peter Maciarmid/Getty.

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Community, Travelogue

Little Paper Planes’ LPP+ Residency Wrap-Up

Notes on a two-week residency: what, who, where, when, how, why, and my experience of the LPP Residency in the 1240 Minnesota Street studio building. 

What

I just wrapped up Little Paper Planes’ LPP+ residency in San Francisco.

The residency offers access for two to four weeks to:

  • A private studio in 1240 Minnesota Street, Minnesota Street Project‘s Artist Studio Program.
  • Support and promotion for a public event (artist’s talk or reading).
  • Access to the resources at 1240: a kiln, woodshop, digital media lab, and Adobe resources.

In return, artists-in-residence are asked to present at the public event, and make a ‘zine or print multiple (usually a small edition of 20-25) related to their residency for sale in the shop to help offset the cost.

Little Paper Planes’ residency studio at 1240 Minnesota Street. I added (and removed) the drying and tool racks.

STUDIO. The studio is probably about 8’-9’ wide by about 16’ deep. It is located in 1240’s second story, off the digital media lab. The second floor also has a small kitchenette and a restroom. It gets a little bit of natural light from a nearby skylight, and there is a large worktable (4×8’ sheet on sawhorses), a drafting table, and a folding chair.

PUBLIC EVENT. I had a talk inside a white cube studio/gallery in the middle of the complex. It was pretty low-key and DIY. Kelly lent a projector and I set up stools and got cups and snacks.

RESOURCES.

Electric Kiln. The kiln is huge and programmable. My ceramics knowledge is limited, and that’s all I can say confidently about the kiln. AIRs should bring their own (cone 5) clay, (cone 5) glazes, and clay tools. Note that while I was able to purchase clay at Douglas and Sturgess in SF, I had to go to Clay People in Richmond for glazes. Thinking ahead and ordering your supplies to be delivered is advisable. Note that there’s no wheel; I hand-built all my ceramic objects. Kelly helped me load and program the kiln for both of my firings.

Woodshop.

The woodshop is beautifully organized and maintained by Jesse Schlesinger. There’s a fancy saw-stop-outfitted table saw with a 48”+ outfeed table, a sheet saw, and sliding compound miter saw with a lot of possible angles. These are all attached to dust collection systems or vacuums, and there’s air filtration system too! There’s also a planer, an orbital sanders (and a handheld belt sander if I remember correctly?), a jigsaw, and a reciprocating saw. There are a variety of hand tools including two sets of Makita drills and impact drivers. There is also an impressive clamp cart. Minor expendables like sandpaper and personal protective equipment like goggles and ear protection are also available. It was easy to schedule an orientation early in my residency with Jesse, who is very meticulous about safety and cleanliness. He was flexible in letting people get approved to use some machines and not others according to their comfort level.

There’s a digital media lab with a large (44 or 48”?) inkjet printer. Residents should get an orientation from Sean McFarland and bring their own paper. You pay for ink by self-reporting on a clipboard. There are also two scanners—one flatbed ~12×18”, one smaller flatbed for film. There are at least three iMacs too. There’s also a color laser printer that accepts up to 11×17” paper (75¢ per US Letter per side). I used that to print my postcards, which had really vibrant colors. I got my paper at Kelly Paper, one of the great weird chain stores of the Bay Area, where you can purchase papers by the sheet. I cut the postcards down on a really nice rotary trimmer that studio member Miguel Arzabe made available for shared use.

There’s also an Adobe studio, as in Adobe the software company, on premises. I had my clay work cut out for me so I declined learning more about those resources. During my stint they had a screen-printing workshop, though you have to have screens burned by an offsite service provider.

There are also other resources at 1240: a full kitchen, a patio area with picnic benches that are a great place to work on sunny days, bountiful carts for moving things, lots of brooms, dustpans and work sinks, and rolls of brown butcher paper available. One of the studio artists is also setting up a darkroom. I was really impressed with the amount of space and the quality of the resources. It’s clear that the vision for 1240 is to make it nice and keep it nice! Many artist studio buildings exhibit a scarcity mentality (I’m thinking of some warehouses in NYC; some don’t supply toilet paper, and others are just fluorescent-lit hallways of closed doors where you rarely meet neighbors.) 1240 feels very deliberately abundant and supportive.

There’s also a free area where I found useful wood for my slab rolling, and some great rulers and stencils. There’s another area with extra furniture, where I found two wire racks and a pair of sawhorses for drying my clay pieces. Being able to scrounge and find good stuff, and to leave behind stuff to share is so great for traveling AIRs.

In addition to these resources and staff support, the community at 1240 was really great.

Who

Little Paper Planes is a store featuring goods by artists. It was founded by artist Kelly Lynn Jones in 2004, and has had a storefront in the Mission District in San Francisco since 2013. Kelly and I were classmates in the MFA Fine Arts program at the California College of Arts in San Francisco. I was happy to be allied with an independent, woman-owned, artist-owned business in San Francisco, especially one with accessible price points.

Kelly is really chill. She was very easygoing about everything. She didn’t have any paperwork for me aside from 1240’s contract. I initially proposed to make ceramics for activity kits and games. Two weeks is quite short to make ceramics, so I switched to making pottery (which for me is more intuitive), and Kelly seemed totally cool with it. I also wasn’t sure what the outcomes from the residency would be, and how many objects she would want for the shop. She was really easygoing and didn’t want to take too many objects, which worked out great since my glaze technique can use improvement. She also mentioned making a ‘zine that reflects the residency, and was very open-ended about the format and the time line. I wanted to finish it before I left, so I made postcards (not a zine!) and she was totally cool with it.

1240 Minnesota Street has a healthy staff of artists. In addition to Jesse and Sean, there’s Brion Nuda Rosch, the director. Michael Rubel is in charge of facilities and is really friendly and helpful in receiving shipments.

Furthermore, the 30 or so studio artists at 1240 seem really dedicated to creating a friendly community. My residency happened to overlap with a BBQ/potluck, and it was really nice to meet folks. I am fortunate in that I lived and practiced in the Bay Area for a long time, so I already had met Jesse and Sean before, and was friendly with studio artists like Dana Hemenway and Richard T. Walker. I really got the feeling that studio artists have a sense of ownership in 1240 and feel responsible for contributing positively to the shared resources, whether with knowledge (such as helping to run the kiln), labor (helping set up the BBQ), or good will (sharing food and welcoming new artists). The value of being part of 1240 extends far beyond the square footage of a private studio.

Where

1240 Minnesota is across the street from the Minnesota Street Project, on—of course—Minnesota Street in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. A huge Philz Coffee is next door. There are more restaurants about two blocks away. Center Hardware is also nearby.

I have family in the area, I had access to a car and accommodations. By car, 1240 is really convenient off of the 280, though parking can be tough. I didn’t have to take public transportation but the Third Street light rail is two blocks away.

When

I opted for a two-week residency. Kelly gave me option of staying four weeks, but with no stipend, I would have been financially overstretched. Also, a shorter time frame was better back-to-back with another residency. I am new to clay, so I didn’t have to foresight to realize that two weeks is very short for ceramics. It took about four or five days for wet clay to get bone dry for bisque firing. Then each firing took about 36 hours. I really had to jam the first seven days to get the studio up and running, get all my supplies, and hand build my 50 pounds of clay. I was also able to get a three-day extension, as the next artist wasn’t moving in for another week.

How

I applied via the Open Call. [See the Art Competition Odds.]

Why

I can envision a wide variety of artists enjoying the resources at 1240: photographers, woodworkers, clay (hand-builders), and drawers/painters. Those resources are plenty of reasons to apply for the residency.

I was also really attracted to learning more about Minnesota Street. Minnesota Street Project opened a few years ago, when many SF galleries were closing. I think it has brought a lot of fresh energy and optimism to artists and gallerists in San Francisco. My residency overlapped with the San Francisco Art Book Fair at MSP. Kelly was kind enough to invite me to be a featured artist at her booth, so I contributed ‘zines and letterpress prints from my Working Together series. I enjoyed SFABF as a visitor, too—it was great to see so many local and out-of-town artists and publishers in one really buzzy, exciting place.

My Experience

I really had a great time being part of the 1240 community and accessing the resources there. When I realized I needed to make some molds, I scrounged in the free area, found some wood, chopped it up, and had three molds within an hour or so. Back in NYC, accessing a woodshop is much more complicated for me. When I glazed my bisque pieces, I worked on a large table in a communal space near the kiln. A roll-up door was up, letting in sunlight and a light breeze. It was just so pleasant.

Glazing in the shared space on a pleasant SF day.

The residency aims to provide opportunities for artists to experiment. Having not done ceramics since high school, I took a hand-building class at La Mano Pottery (an independent, women-owned business in NYC) this spring. The instructor (and La Mano co-owner) Julie Hadley was very encouraging. It is so nice to feel unafraid to mess up, especially when you are learning new techniques and trying to get comfortable in a shared space with clear rules and etiquette established among members. In five classes, I learned enough to figure out what kinds of tools I liked and needed, and was able to hand-build pieces that remained intact in the kiln! I had shipped out the linoleum blocks from Working Together (only realizing in hindsight how much money I would have saved in shipping if I unmounted the blocks in NYC). I used the linoleum like stamps, imprinting them in the wet clay.

Works in progress.

I only dip glazed two pieces at La Mano, however. So when it came time to glaze my LPP pottery, I was treading on thin ice. I bought four quarts of glaze and hadn’t tried any of them before. I suppose an experienced ceramicist would have insisted on making some test tiles. Quarts are very small quantities for dipping, so I applied by brushing. The instructions suggested 2-3 coats, which I suspected to be too heavy, and indeed, the results were often unsatisfactory. Though it was disappointing that many pieces didn’t come out as I’d hoped, I have the perspective to see that perfect outcomes would have taken a lot of dumb luck, given my minimal skills and experience in ceramics. I learned a lot and had fun. I gained some confidence in my hand-building and valuable lessons in glazing. I am so grateful that the residency aim is experimentation.

A small serving tray, imprinted with the image of Subjugation and Obedience, will be available at LPP.

 

A trivet with the image from Dropping the Ball and Picking Up the Pieces, and a “Cool Down” postcard.

 

MOODS & MODES postcard set

I am also happy with the print multiple I made. At first, I sketched illustrations of pottery, but it felt like someone else’s work, or like a Bay Area motif. I realized that just plain calligraphy, like the Working Together book cover, would be true to me. I took full advantage of the chance to print on weird papers, and use lots of colors that would be quite laborious to print on letterpress.

Double plant pot and postcards available at LPP soon.

The set of 8 postcards is called MOODS & MODES. Some reflect the ideas in Working Together (“Thank you for listening” inspired by “Listening”). Others are inspired by the pottery inspired by Working Together (“Cool down” came from the trivet, which was inspired by “Dropping the Ball and Picking Up the Pieces;” “Let’s grow together” relates to the double plant pot inspired by “Shared Growth”).

MOODS & MODES will be available at Little Paper Planes, which is currently renovating and will re-open with a studio for art classes next week. You can support LPP’s Kickstarter to offer classes.

Huge thanks to Little Paper Planes, Kelly, 1240 Minnesota Street, Brion, Jesse, Sean, Michael; Dana, Miguel, Beth, Liz, Sandra, Henna, Richard, and all the kind and welcoming studio artists; Genevieve and Elizabeth; and Michael, Angela, and Sophia.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Little Paper Planes’ 2017 LPP+ Residency

For their 2017 LPP+ residency program, Little Paper Planes received 107 applications for 5 selected residents.*

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Selected artists comprise 1:21.4, or 4.6% of applicants.

*Two residents were invited, for a total of seven residents in 2017.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art & Development, Travelogue

Sanitary Tortilla Factory Residency Wrap-Up: What, Where, When, Why, How, and My Experience

I was the first artist-in-residence at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory in Albuquerque, NM. Here are the residency basics and reflections on my personal experience. 

WHAT

Studio on Residency Day 24: Hand-lettering signs.

Studio on Residency Day 24: Hand-lettering signs.

Sanitary Tortilla Factory houses over a dozen artists’ studios, a sign shop, a wood and metal shop, a gallery, and, now, a five-week artist-in-residency program. I came across the call for proposals on NYFA. It solicited proposals around social practice and/or sculpture. There were two residents selected: Alex Branch and I. (Coincidentally, we both happened to be female NY-based artists who also daylight as art handlers.) I was the first AIR. Alex’s residency is scheduled to start in mid-August. The residency entailed:

  • The use of the 500 s/f gallery as my private studio.
  • Access to the shop.
  • On-site living quarters.
  • A $2k stipend ($1,500 materials and $500 for travel).
  • An exhibition in the gallery following the residency.

The gallery/studio: My project was not studio-oriented, so it sometimes felt like an embarrassment of riches to have a 1,100-square-foot gallery to work in. I was grateful, though, to address the gallery early on, when I had more slack time as I was waiting for submissions to come in. I drew oversized maps and hand-lettered questions for a response wall. The public could interact with them at an artist’s talk in the beginning of the residency, as well as throughout the exhibition following the residency. This was helpful since a major component of my project was located at various sites around town.

Studio 360: The STF gallery/ my AIR studio on Day Four of my residency.

Studio 360: The STF gallery/ my AIR studio on Day 4 of my residency.

It was very helpful to have a large space for two workshops with a local youth arts organization.

A participant's contribution on the response wall.

A participant’s contribution on the response wall.

STF was very kind in not asking me to open my studio to be public outside of scheduled events. I really appreciated the flexibility to work when and where I saw fit: in the gallery, in the apartment, or at other locales.

 

The shop. The wood shop has a table saw, and a chop saw with 16’ fence with measuring tape and adjustable stop. There’s also a band saw, a drill press, a belt/disc sander, an air compressor with brad and construction-grade nailers, a table router, and a joiner. There’s also a forklift. There’s welding equipment but my knowledge of metalworking is so limited I shouldn’t attempt to describe it. I borrowed sheri’s Makita impact drivers and drill on an as-needed basis. I brought my own small hand tools and PPE. Getting the dust collection system up and running is sheri’s next project.

Hitachi chopsaw with a real long fence.

Hitachi sliding compound miter saw with a real long fence.

sheri trusted my self-assessment of my skills, and we didn’t do a shop orientation. Sometimes orientations are welcome, and sometimes scheduling them can become a hurdle to getting your work done.

 

The apartment is a beautifully appointed studio, with a full kitchen, WIFI, a washer and dryer, and a dishwasher. (I donated an exercise mat for yoga and stretching.) The apartment is located on the side of the STF building with a private entrance off an alley. They installed a cute sculpture/cactus garden in front.

Apartment 360, on Day 1 of the residency. They added a flat-screen TV after this photo was taken.

Apartment 360, on Day 1 of the residency. They added a flat-screen TV after this photo was taken.

Just across the alley is a beautiful patio shared by Sidetrack Brewing and Zendo Coffee, both quality purveyors. Their spaces became a mini-extension of the residency—they’re great places to read on cool mornings, and meet up with local artists in the evenings.

Just two blocks away is grocery store with a pretty good selection for its size. I was happy to find almond milk, organic carrots and kombucha there. They had really cheap (conventionally grown) cherries and cantaloupes during my visit.

Alternatively, you can get pricy but farm-fresh produce (including great salad greens grown in ABQ), eggs, and fancy bread at the Downtown Grower’s Market on Saturdays and the Railyards Market on Sundays. Both are within walking or biking distance.

Friend of STF Rebecca lent a red girl’s bike (I brought and donated a helmet and bike lock). Coming from NYC, I found Albuquerque to be bike-friendly. Nobody honked at me or drove too close. The North Diversion Channel Trail is a neat bike path (where I spotted a roadrunner) that runs between a channel and the I-40.

sheri provided transportation as needed in her capacious cargo van, to the lumber yard, to/from the airport, etc. She also spent a day driving around and installing signs with me. It was possible to install these signs alone, but I was very grateful to have a buddy.

 

The exhibition. My project had three components: story collection, the offsite signs, and the zine—and the timeline and budget just covered them. I didn’t plan an elaborate a solo show for the exhibition. The exhibition showcases the zine, and has a looped slide show about the process, with photos of workshops, signs, and the sign locations. There are also interactive elements, where the public can post thoughts about what belonging means, and collectively map their roots and their places of belonging in Albuquerque. I’m grateful that sheri was supportive of keeping the effort for the exhibition minimal.

Members of the public connecting their roots and places of belonging in Albuquerque on hand-drawn maps.

Members of the public connecting their roots and places of belonging in Albuquerque on hand-drawn maps.

 

Participants pinned and labeled their places of belonging. The painted numbers indicate locations of commemorative signs.

Participants pinned and labeled their places of belonging. The painted numbers indicate locations with commemorative signs.

Albuquerque’s art scene is highly geared towards First Fridays. There are lots of galleries open, and audiences in droves. Launching the exhibition on the First Friday in July was a great send-off. I left town the next day.

 

WHERE

Sunset from Barelas.

Sunset from Barelas.

STF is located in Downtown Albuquerque. To the north just a few blocks is Central Ave./Route 66, and the main strip for night life and Kimo’s quirky Art-Deco-meets-Southwest movie theater. I was lucky enough to arrive just as a film festival started; I really enjoyed an evening of local shorts.

To the South are the Railyards and Barelas, a historic, largely Latino community that is also home to Working Classroom, and a few scrappy artist-run spaces.

If future residents haven’t spent much time in Albuquerque, I recommend renting a car and visiting Meow Wolf and other cultural offerings in Santa Fe and going for hikes in wilderness areas. I really enjoyed visiting Taos Pueblo and Casa San Ysidro in Corrales. It was a great way to learn about New Mexico history, and experience how places help tell the stories that happened there.

Taos Pueblo.

Taos Pueblo.

WHEN

My residency was from June 1 to July 8. It was hot. The daytime highs were usually in the 90s, and sometimes in the 100s. I was very glad I brought a sun hat. The advantage of summer is the great farmer’s markets. But some resources—like the clay studios at UNM and Barelas Community Center—were closed for the summer.

 

WHO

STF is staffed by the director sheri crider. In addition to running the STF studios, gallery, and residency program, sheri is also a practicing artist and contractor. If it sounds impossible to juggle all three, you haven’t met sheri. She’s an absolute dynamo. She’s indefatigable. I immediately liked her. She’s down to earth and has lived a lot. She is pretty chill, and you don’t get the sense that she likes rules or will enforce boundaries awkwardly. I got the impression that she doesn’t have time for bullshit, but she never made me feel that she didn’t have time for me. Someone assisting sheri is also helping with STF’s social media, and I’d accidentally mistaken them for STF staff. I was initially concerned about lack of staff capacity, as I’ve experienced the impact that good and bad studio managers and/or residency coordinators can have on residency experiences. I think it helped to adapt accordingly, by trying to be more self-sufficient and creative about who I asked for help.

sheri crider and Valerie Roybal made a bee hotel that is installed in an ABQ open space.

sheri crider and Valerie Roybal‘s project-in-progress in the shop: a bee hotel that is now installed in an ABQ open space.

Barb Bell, sheri’s partner, helps out, especially with events. Michael Apolo Gomez is helping me out with photography.

The lines between STF and sheri crider are blurry. I lightly hitched rides on expendables in the studio, shop, and the de-facto STF office—sheri’s studio. Sometimes I asked, sometimes I intuited. I hope that what I gave in return—intangibly via the project, and tangibly with expendables I reintroduced into the shop ecology—is a fair trade.

There was only one resident artist at a time. I was very grateful for the friendliness and welcome of STF studio artists, especially Travis Black, Beau Carey, and Karsten Creightney. Travis and his assistant/studio mate Ani Bea were ever friendly and caring. Beau was nice enough to share his work with Working Classroom interns when they came by for a workshop, and let me tag along when he went to the art supply store. Karsten brought a truckload full of scrap lumber for forthcoming AIR Alex Branch. Tami Abts and Josh Stuyvesant of A Good Sign were instrumental in receiving shipments and getting them picked up, loaning me a grommet press, and also sharing what they do with Working Classroom interns. When you are new to a town and a shared space, being around people who are happy to help is immensely reassuring.

As Lucy R. Lippard was a juror (along with Bill Gilbert, who had to leave for Japan), sheri was kind enough to invite her over for lunch. I’d been reading “The Lure of the Local” and it was tremendously helpful in thinking through the complications and paradoxes of doing work about being an outsider and making work about the local.

 

WHY

I’d heard sheri say one of the goals of the residency is so artists from elsewhere learn about the art happening in Albuquerque. While New Mexico history is incredibly deep and complicated, I definitely gained an appreciation for the art community, as well as various people, culture, and places here. The list of reasons that this place is special is astoundingly long. There is space, physically and creatively, for artists to take risks here.

I heard others express an interest in increasing the production and visibility of social practices and community-engaged art in Albuquerque. ABQ seems to have many drawing-and-painting-oriented artists and community muralists. I think Ellen Babcock’s Friends of Orphan Signs is lovely in it site-specificity and community engagement.

For me, I applied because its offerings matched my goals and interests. I was intrigued because there are few residency opportunities focusing on social practice, and I’d wanted to return to New Mexico since my first time visiting seven years ago. Having my proposal reviewed by Lucy R. Lippard was a bonus. Moreover, it provided an opportunity to realize a new project that merged my interests in participatory projects, research, and community engagement. I really wanted to do something as an artist that formed an alternative to divisive, hate-mongering rhetoric.

My projects often have an emotional touchstone. For this project, the touchstone was the feeling of welcome and pride I find in a newspaper clipping that my mom has kept for over 30 years. It’s an article announcing the naturalization ceremony that welcomed 50 “new Americans,” including my parents. I am not an immigrant, but I identify with immigrants, and I really love how this project encompasses how different people find places where they feel belonging. For example, Zahra Marwan, a Kuwaiti-New Mexican UNM alumni and illustrator, said that when she first heard the cante, or singing, in flamenco class, it reminded her of the call to prayer in the Middle East. Barbara Bell wrote about being of service to her elderly Hispanic New Mexican and Mexican neighbors. (You can read excerpts from all the stories in the Belonging zine).

 

HOW

This residency cycle was supported by the Fulcrum Fund in partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The FUNd at Albuquerque Community Foundation. Without funding, I couldn’t have done the residency or project. I wouldn’t even have applied to it. (Some folks in ABQ danced around the question of if I have a day job. I do—in fact, more than one: art handler/crew lead, freelance designer, and artist’s assistant.) As you might have guessed, the residency is also subsidized with sheri’s labor, resources, and generosity.

 

MY EXPERIENCE

I had a rough start—I flew in from NYC with a woozy-making head cold. The 5,000-foot elevation, sun, and dryness took a toll, too. I was a mess. Thankfully, Travis, Ani, and sheri checked in on me, and cued me in to the prevalence of local allergens, and I switched from cold meds to allergy meds.

As I’ve written before, residencies offer new resources while removing you from many of your own. That includes the emotional support of people who love you. Setbacks can test your resilience and how you bounce back from self-doubt, isolation, and uncertainty. It really makes you appreciate people who offer genuine care, encouragement, help, and enthusiasm.

This was my first residency project in which social practice and community engagement were key components. Soliciting participation for this project was challenging, and at times, frustrating. There were many factors: I have few connections to Albuquerque, and the residents of a place nicknamed “The Land of Mañana” can be noncommittal or slow to respond. Quite a few contacts were away on vacation, and some services were closed for the summer. A service organization scheduled a workshop but did not show up. I’d emailed refugee groupsw and attended their events, but didn’t receive any stories from them. I posted an open call to which people responded with enthusiasm online and at the artists’ talk, but few followed through with submissions. Sometimes I was frustrated with the small returns in light of so much outreach effort. Other times, I rolled with the city’s leisurely pace. Perhaps one social practice skill is mono-tasking being patient.

The lifeblood of the project became partnerships with Working Classroom, an arts and education program for young artists from historically ignored communities; and Saranam, a two-year housing and education program for homeless families in Albuquerque. My connections to these organizations were quite happenstance. I mentioned going to ABQ to Ronny Quevedo, an artist who I rarely run into in NY. He connected me with Working Classroom. I was connected with Saranam via Erin Fussell.

I also suspect that the topic of belonging is both sensitive and uncommon—identifying your place of belonging may take time and be uncomfortable. You have to risk exposure and vulnerability.

As a result, I kept the story submission open until three weeks in to the residency.

This left two weeks for production—painting 13 signs, installing most of them, having a hand in 6 of the 7 activity sheets, building and painting 5 boxes, and writing, editing, and designing the 24-page ’zine. There were many late nights. I was pretty exhausted by the end.

In past residencies, I learned about the need to simplify, let go of unnecessary details, and not make myself crazy. I took that to heart, using it like a mantra. It was helpful. For example, I made mini signs for the oversize map in the gallery, and then I started making miniature activity boxes… How cute would it be to make an actual mini box with a hinged lid with mini activities inside? I wondered. But with priority components still in progress, I knew enough not to fall down that rabbit hole.

Though this project was similar to past projects involving a survey and zine, it also involved a higher degree of social practice and public art. I’m satisfied with how the project came out, yet I still look forward to more critical distance and feedback from participants and audiences. On one hand, I aspire to be free of the need for external validation. On the other, validation is gratifying, and moreover, this is a community-engaged project, in a new place. How it goes over is important. I was really moved when one audience member said, “using art to give people a voice, to start a dialogue, to ask questions and most importantly to listen” is “most relevant today.” I suppose this comes back to patience as a social practice skill: how the zine will be read, if and how the signs live on, and if participants and places are affected—these all will play out over time. The residency has ended, but project’s new phase as a publication and public artwork is just beginning.

Overall I had a wonderful residency experience. I’m especially grateful for sheri and her easygoing manner, her openness to my project and suggestions, and her help and encouragement.

Find the zine and activities at BelongingABQ.com. Photos will be posted soon.

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