Nov 19, 2010

A View From the Tower



“As a craftsman, a journeyman artist, he is not without his guile; he has come to decide that if you would see the horizon from a forest, you must build a tower. If the horizon will reveal most of what is significant, an hour of examination can yet do the job – it is the tower which takes months to build.” - “The Armies of the Night” by Norman Mailer, 1967

I swept the floor, cleaned out the stove ash, rolled up the blankets and closed the door. I tied a leather strap through opposing eye hooks not knowing when this makeshift lock would be undone or who would do its undoing.

For the last five months I have lived in a building fondly dubbed The Tower. It’s not much of a tower but it is the tallest structure as far as the eye can see. The Tower was built as a play fort by a teenager some 15 years ago and has been largely unused for the majority of that time.

The Tower is part of a complex of homesteads built by Tom* in the 1970s. In the past 40 years, Tom has made a handful of homes on the Taos mesa and he generously invited us to rehabilitate and live for the summer in a cluster of these handmade structures. For the past five months, Tom’s homes have been our home and as both physical structures and testament to a lived philosophy of resistance, these homes have introduced us to some very real possibilities for alternative, off-the-grid living.

We founded PLAND (see www.itspland.org) as a way to better understand how the world works. We wanted to learn how to build things, how to live with extremely limited resources, how to insert ourselves into a community of intentional isolation, how to start a non-profit organization. While building our own house just over the sage-covered hill from Tom’s, we took refuge in his wood and earth structures.

Tom’s homestead is made of stacked lumber and mud plaster. Discarded windshields serve as windows that look out over the vast mesa. An underground cistern is filled with water, trucked in from town, and extracted through a hand pump as needed. Water is also collected from the roof in large barrels and an old bathtub; we use this water for bathing and to water the sunflowers. A wood-burning sauna, dug into the ground with a skylight looking out to the stars, affords the mesa’s most luxurious bathing and a way to stay warm. Two solar panels harness enough power to light each room through a string of car headlights; yet candles, lanterns and headlamps provide much of our daily lighting. Tom built the homestead a little bit at a time and each room, alive with character, represents a different moment in time when resources became available to Tom to house his family of five. He has spent much of his life well below the poverty line, bartering for and scavenging building materials throughout the years. The yard is covered with piles of tools, wood, cars, tires, bottles, and other treasures, collected over the years with a promise of one day proving useful.

Tom is a basket weaver and he wove shelters for his children to play in; his daughter spent many nights sleeping out, 100 yards from the main house in one such shelter. Similarly, Tom's son's Tower sits on the edge of the property, beyond the outhouse and the adobe pit.

When I first moved to Tom’s the Tower was a pack-rat palace, filled with a decade’s worth of rat shit and debris. My sister and I shoveled out the mess, washed the walls, and repaired the floor. The lower level of the tower is dug-out, with a tiny door and three steps down to the earthen floor. The room is octagonal and eight feet in diameter, with a tiny wood-burning stove in the center of the space and two small windows filling it with light. In this room, I built a bed. Upstairs is a similarly shaped space with tiny windows puncturing the walls. Here, I built a desk and a chair. I set up my shrine and unpacked some books.

Off the second floor of the tower, we built a small deck from which you can see the rock formations to the west, San Antonio Mountain to the north, the open desert that stretches to the west and south with the Sangre de Cristos creating a ring of peaks in the distance. The main thing visible from the Tower is sky. It was here, on the deck, that I learned to see the color variation of night-time clouds. It was here that I saw countless storms roll in, casting rainbows to the west and heavy fog on the horizon. It was here that I learned about the variation between the speeds of sound and light, that I witnessed the northern migration of the moon throughout the changing seasons. I marveled at traffic passing on the highway, reveled in the tone of silence, felt myself confronted with so much space.

Sometimes you need to leave your hometown to know where you're from. Sometimes you need to go without coffee to know its affect on you. Oftentimes it is necessary to create a space away, apart, without to really see the way things work and the value that they have in your life. For me, the Tower was this kind of space. After five months without running water, living 35 miles from the nearest amenities and with such an expansive view, I see more clearly the essentials of daily life.

As we move into town and back on the grid for the winter, I feel both relief and nostalgia. Like climbing down from a mighty tower, it feels good to be on familiar ground but I miss the great view from above. Life off-the-grid is both terrifying and meaningful. There was a time when we ran out of water. Another time, the coffee was used up. The wind blew so hard and so consistently that my sanity nearly flew away. Yet, I took pleasure in learning to wash my body with cups of water and sunshine. I felt the power of making our own electricity. Time became a multi-dimensional thing and money lost a bit of its currency. Every moment, every action, required a level of intentionality that took nothing for granted and infused everything with potential.

Our summer was spent building a tower – a structure for seeing our surroundings more clearly. The act of building continues to be a means of experiential truth by seeing things how they really are. We have spent those months cultivating a way of life that is sensitive to limited resources – from water to money, from time to personal motivation – yet open to big possibility. Over the year, PLAND has evolved and for us it has become about celebrating our unique vantage point. Life off-the-grid requires infrustructure and know-how, creative problem solving and loads of perserverance. The best moments of the summer occurred when we were able to share our vantage point with newcomers. “Look what is visible from here! Do you, too, see that another way is possible?”

Like Norman Mailer’s craftsman, we spent the summer creating a structure that would allow for an expansive and new point of view. There is still much work to be done on our proverbial tower; we are ambitious and these constructions take time. At PLAND, we are building a house, a community, a school, an art space, a garden, an electrical system; we are creating a way of life. This, we hope, will allow us to see the forest for the trees. And then the horizon beyond.

* names have been changed for sake of privacy

** photos by Molly Danti and Carrie Thompson

Sep 22, 2010

All That is Solid Melts into Air

If you're in San Francisco this month, check out the debut of Red Legacy at Queens Nails Projects. The exhibition is curated by Zoe Taleporos and is about the legacy of 1960s counterculture.

All that is Solid Melts into Air: Nightmare City with Copy Lake, Erin Elder and Sam Green

Opening and Reception on Friday September 24, 2010

7:00-10:00 p.m.

Free and open to the public

Special performance by Nightmare City with Copy Lake at 8p.m.

Exhibition Dates: September 24, 2010 – October 24, 2010

Gallery Hours: Fridays and Saturdays from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. or by appointment

Press Contact: Zoe Taleporos, queensnailsprojects@gmail.com

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” – Karl Marx

All that is Solid Melts into Air: Nightmare City with Copy Lake, Erin Elder and Sam Green is an exhibition that brings together three investigations into the legacy of 1960s counterculture and its effects on contemporary life and art practice.

Nightmare City (Carol Anne McChrystal and Keturah Cummings) present a new work in collaboration with Copy Lake (Alex S. Lukas,) an interdisciplinary performance piece, NIGHTMARE CITY COPY LAKE THE HORDE. The work explores the process by which 1960s counter-culture, despite its former political and cultural potency, has become a flaccid caricature of its own values in popular culture. The performance reinterprets the songs A Home is Not a Motel (Love), Hotel California (The Eagles), California Dreamin’ (The Mamas & the Papas), and Dreams (Fleetwood Mac.) Seamlessly merged, the songs are performed with lyrics intact but accompanied by and filtered though mangled amusical tape loops and washes of noise. The performance is punctuated by psychedelic projections, in which retro aesthetics and form are mediated by digital interventions such as wipes and pixelization. Vibrant dashiki costumes are spray-painted dull beige, tambourines and hand-made, pan-ethnic, mysterious percussive instruments turn prop-like, becoming totem-poles of multi-dimensional and occult-based dream catchers adorned with strings of Tibetan bells. The performance was recorded at sites historically significant to the 1960s counterculture movement in California, including Altamont, People’s Park (Berkeley), Golden Gate Park (San Francisco), and Monterey and will be performed at Queens Nails Projects for the exhibition’s opening.

Erin Elder is an independent curator and writer based in New Mexico whose research is centered on Drop City, an artist commune formed in Colorado in 1965. She is a co-founder of PLAND, Practice Liberating Art through Necessary Dislocation, an off-the-grid residency program that supports the development of experimental and research-based projects in the context of the Taos mesa. Elder currently writes the blog Red Legacy, a collection of notes on the possible intersections between commune building, land use, and art practice. For this exhibition, she provides a library of her source material that has influenced her writing and curatorial practice. In her own words, Elder describes the materials as “…basically any books about communes, the 60s, alternative living, LSD, DIY living/building, anarchy, back-to-the-land, nudity, psychedelia, activism, community organizing, underground newspapers, hippies, San Francisco, alternative education, early computers, rock and roll, social change, radicalism, trash, recycling, toilets, adobe, domes, free love, summer of love, groovy, Haight Ashbury, Woodstock, health food, The Situationists, everyday life, protest, and consciousness.”

Sam Green is a documentary filmmaker best known for the Academy Award nominated, feature-length documentary The Weather Underground. For this exhibition he presents Lot 63, Grave C, a short documentary film about Meredith Hunter, the teenager killed at the Rolling Stones’ Altamont concert in 1969. Hunter’s death has come to signify the collapse of 1960s utopian idealism, but little is known about Hunter as an individual. Buried in an unmarked grave, Hunter’s personal story appears to have been forgotten while the event of his death remains an important moment in American history. Lot 63, Grave Chas screened at film festivals such as Sundance, Rotterdam, Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Black Maria, Nashville, Los Angeles, Seattle, PDX, Tekfestival (Rome), Silverlake, and the Dallas Video Festival.

Aug 13, 2010

From the Earth, a Home

Adobe! It's a time-tested building method indigenous to the Southwestern United States as well as other arid parts of the world such as West Asia, Northern Africa, and parts of South America. Making homes from earth is resourceful, inexpensive, long-lasting, fun, and an opportunity to handcraft physical space.

Here is an image of the largest abobe structure in the world: the citadel of Bam in Iran.

Here is an image of the Taos Pueblo near to where I now live. The pueblo is made from adobe and has housed the Tewa people for nearly 1200 years.

I've wanted to learn the craft of adobe making as a way of understanding my surroundings, honing a skill, and appreciating the local architectural vernacular. The following images create a visual narrative of my recent attempts to make bricks from earth. As these images relate, making adobe is also a practice in trial and error and tenacious experimentation.

















Adobe brick making is best produced with a large group of people. Here are a few images of the Reality Construction Company, a commune that lived near Taos in the 1960s; their cottage industry was adobe bricks. Images courtesy Roberta Price.




I will be leading two earth-mixing workshops at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in conjunction with an exhibition at the Gallery of Contemporary Art entitled Hypothesis. The exhibition pairs artists and scientists in an examination of inquiry and research. Learn more here.

May 17, 2010

Start Your Own School!


This week Colorado passed Senate Bill 10-191, one of many legislative moves aimed at standardizing American education. As my friend Sue remarked, it's part of a movement that "takes the craftsmanship out of teaching."

In response to this wave of limitations and standardizations, Sue is starting a school. The Little School on Vermijo is a "village school for gifted and talented sixth graders" who will "become a true community of learners." Sue's school is based on classic academics -- they will study Latin -- but encourages curiosity, wonder, social interaction and public performances. She's starting the school with eight students, including her son.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that the art world is hosting more and more projects that take the form of alternative school and attempt to creatively reconfigure public education. One such project I recently learned about is School of the Future.


The website for School of the Future (www.schoolofthefuture.org) opens with an online form soliciting feedback. What do you want to learn? It goes on to state:

School of the Future is a project about what a school can be. We'll open this July as an inter-generational free school for the community around Sgt. Dougherty Park, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. From solar-powered lighting to a giant scrabble board, giant Tyvek mountains and experimental food sculptures, the School of the Future is an invitation to experiment and analyze learning through the arts. Each class, performance and student-teacher exchange provides inspiration for a curriculum that allows a community to respond to a particular site, encouraging the use of under-utilized public space as a way to learn and question cultural constructs and personal responses to school and education.

During the School's July semester a research document will be created and distributed in collaboration with the School's student body and teaching staff. This curriculum will draw from the process of building the school and will act as a resource to support the creation of new models for future education.

What strikes me about these two projects is that the process of creating the school is, in fact, a collective effort, one that shapes and is shaped by learning how to learn.

In thinking about the craftsmanship of teaching and artist-run schools (see also Red76, Bruce High Quality Foundation University, Sundown Schoolhouse, Acurious Summer: Extraordinary Workshops for Children, and The Public School for just a few examples) I've dug up another rich resource from the Sixties.



The Rasberry Exercises: How to Start Your Own School (And Make a Book) was written and self-published by Salli Rasberry and Robert Greenway in 1970 and is a collection of texts and images about just that. Ironically, the book is difficult to use and proves more inspirational than instructional (this, however, may be the intent...) The book is reportedly inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog and other DIY manuals of its time. It reads like a catalog, contains resources, books, quotes and photos, broken into chapters:

1) In Search of a Context -- makes a case against public schools
2) Getting Started -- discusses various models and also the needs of parents, teachers, and students
3) Details -- basic taxes, laws, issues of money, records, incorporating and transportation
4) Doing It -- big ideas and curriculum
5) People and People Problems -- structure, visitors, discipline
6) Alternative High Schools -- case studies of various community and free schools
7) There Are No Limits

I have yet to read the book in its entirety but have pulled a few quotes and images for consideration:

"Our aim is to create a learning environment where the individual and his needs will be most important, and where learning can again become the natural and exciting process that it was... This means that students must be allowed to take responsibility for their lives and their learning."


"With our foolish pedantic methods we are always preventing children from learning what they could learn better by themselves while we neglect what we alone can teach them."

"It seemed to me that much boiled down to the relative absence of fear... they seemed to be less afraid of what other people would say or demand or laugh at... perhaps more important, however, was their lack of fear of their own insides, of their own impulses, emotions, thoughts."


"The chief task of educators is to see to it that the activities of society provide incidental education, if necessary inventing new useful activities offering new education opportunities."

"We will share what we can share. There are no limits. We'll make lots of books and change lives -- and thus our children will have lives instead of schools."



"The way to get into free schools is to do it. (Studying, analyzing, planning, thinking about them either delays the plunge or skews the evolution of what could be a free learning place -- with us fully into it, Here and Now."

There are certainly a lot of problems with Sixties models of free education (see earlier post on Pacific High School) but there are riches to uncover as well. Luckily, we can decide to do things differently, based on their flounderings and successes and on a unique set of contemporary conditions.

As I finish my first year of teaching at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, I feel exhausted, inspired, disappointed, and resolute to continue teaching. It's been fascinating to see the industry of public education from the inside and I can understand, more than ever, the need for reform. While budgets are cut, students are underserved, teachers are underpaid, and tests take the place of direct experience, I hear the rumblings of change. Let's hope the collective work of artists, of our predecessors, of women like Sue might provide manifold, contemporary visions of how to better school.

* top image borrowed from acurious.org, from a 2009 workshop Cardboard City.

Apr 16, 2010

Hosting Twists and Other Little Revolutions



I was recently sent an article by Jan Verwoert entitled "Gathering People Like Thoughts: On Hosting as an Unorthodox Form of Authorship Dedicated to the Practice of Anton Vidokle." I don't know much about the practices or either Jan or Anton and I can't seem to find the proper citations for this essay (therefore, I don't know when it was written or where it comes from.) Still, I find the ideas in this nine page article about social practice some of the most compelling I've read and I hope to create a legible pastiche of this wonderfully provocative essay.

Verwoert starts with these questions:

"What is the relationship between hosting and authorship? Is a host an author? Is hosting a form of authorizing something? Authorizing what? A social process? With what authority? That of an author? Gathering people like one would gather thoughts? Perhaps. But if a host should be a little like an author, would an author then not also be a little like a host? Gathering thoughts like a host would summon guests? Maybe. If this, however, should be so, what does it mean for our understanding of hosting and authorship as forms of cultural production?"

He goes onto defining terms as they relate to authorship and authorization:

"To authorize also means to inhabit the space you open up through your voice, your discourse, to spend time in this space, furnish it and turn it into a place for living (which is what followthrough means: to learn and live with the profane reality of your works and words, once they are born, and stand by them.)"

He follows this discussion with an important point about resonance: the author must set something in motion or, as Verwoert says, "lay down a rhythm" and that rhythm must resonate with others who join in, making the thing that is authored audible. Although this audible voice is the result of collective joining, it is still somehow authored by the one who lent the space and the initial momentum by which it is reverberated.

"Hosting in this sense is the act of lending a body, a mind, a soul to this consciousness for it to actualize itself under specific material conditions of space, time, and money. This particular consciousness couldn't exist otherwise."

Although these conditions are particular to a time, place, and intention, the collective experience is only invoked when the spirit is right. Likewise, the spirit is authentic and vibrant only when the conditions are conducive to its collective flourishing.

"... The magic of hosting would lie in mastering the forms, formats, and formalities that enable one to summon people, spirits, ideas, and images." And behind this mastery is a tradition that is grounded in ceremony, ritual, rite. Yet for many contemporary hosts, the desire to break with this tradition results in defiant acts of unorthodoxy.

"... What modernism placed at stake is the dream and demand of autonomy: the hope and claim that the power of a cultural practice to truly make a difference was inseparable from the freedom to determine its own conditions."

Verwoert has a fascinating take on this paradox of unorthodoxy and talks about the twofold challenge of unorthodox hosts: that of creating a proper occasion that is a pretext for gathering as well as that of hosting unorthodox spirits in an unorthodox manner. In other words, the unorthodox host must not totally rebel against tradition in order to gather a collective force. He or she (or they) must have faith in the potential inherent in gathering extraordinary people who are asked to work together in uncommon ways. It seems to me that Verwoert is talking about the tension between the collective will to self-organize -- the shared desire for autonomy from a dominant paradigm -- and also the necessary spark of motivation. While unorthodox hosts can provide the context for this rebel spark to alight (how exciting to consider!), its flame is dependent on the bated breath of an expectant and desirous constituency.

In the right context, the collective desire (alongside a healthy dose of anger and/or alienation) motivates a manipulation of the status quo, or as Verwoert calls it: the twist. This twisting of laws, of expectations, of social norms, is carried out with a spirit of unorthodoxy and in the pursuit of autonomy. "It is in and through the performance of this twist that the authority of this kind of authorship is founded. It resides in this twist, in the joy, pain, anger and laughter emanating from this twist: in the spirit of your twisting."

It should be noted that the performance of this twist is a collective effort, therefore the authority of the twist is disseminated. The authority takes hold when those involved in creating the twist begin to think and act differently, when they begin to experience thinking and acting differently together.

"The authority of the twist lies in its credence. This credence can only be generated and investigated by an association of people who, together, validate a shared experience as credible." This credence is born out of the moment of authentically shared experience.

There is no substitute for lived experience and therefore no two twists are alike. Have you found yourself in a moment -- a discussion, a brainstorm, a demonstration, a party -- in which the collective suddenly (and confidently) became a force? Was there a moment of terror, glee, recognition, heart-pounding inspiration, in which you imagined that things might henceforth be different? Did you lose yourself in sorting out the details of who said what and who arranged certain elements, but were instead overwhelmed by the sheer power of your shared difference?

"It's the momentum of this moment. It's the momentum of different spirits authorizing the experience they have produced together, through realizing that it has had an effect on -- and in this sense acquires a certain authority/credence in relation to -- the way they experience themselves and the mode in which they are together, differently, from now on."

As cultural producers, self-proclaimed radicals, and simply inquisitive people, I think we all share some desire to see great change. What keeps you from being an author of change, the host of an unorthodox twist? What keeps you from joining in the momentum of a spontaneous moment in which everything could shift, even just a little bit? I believe that Verwoert is telling us that creating change and asserting autonomy is a craft, an art form, one which requires astute awareness of context and subjectivity. To create change, we must learn to decipher authenticity and allow that genuine spiritedness to be the signature on our work. We must release ourselves from heroism yet be willing to set things in motion. It's an intoxicating idea, one that I hope I can understand better through lively and regular practice.

TOGETHER. DIFFERENTLY. FROM NOW ON.

Apr 5, 2010

There Are No Ends, Only Processes

"We found ourselves going more and more back to basics, starting again, relearning everything we knew, not sheltering ourselves from our natural environment but learning to live with it. The alienation of Western man is partly due to his having lost contact with all natural functions: the reality of being alive. There are no ends in life, only processes..."

"The artists' 'life' as a member of industrial civilization has rarely become 'art.' The nature of his activities alienates him from the mainstream capitalist society and its market values, because the production of art is not inspired by consumer demand but by cultural necessity. When the necessity of survival forces the artist into participating in society, the contradiction in values destroys the man to preserve the artist; it often destroys both."

"We installed conventional flush w.c.'s but have decided to revert. The stool -- which is ridiculous and ugly -- uses too much water and demands a room itself. It has become obsolete. The ideal is a fly-proof hole. From this ideal several simple structurally pleasing outhouses have been designed and built; one is not enclosed but consists of a hole in the ground with a lid, surrounded by brush."

These quotes come from Bill Voyd's essay about Drop City written in 1969.* As we begin to plot our future at PLAND, we find ourselves following a similar train of thought. Going back to the basics leads to a consideration of art's value in society as well as the constant trouble of toilets...

* Voyd, Bill. "Funk Architecture" in Shelter and Society, Paul Oliver, ed. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers; 1969.


Mar 22, 2010

PLAND is launched! Off-the-Grid and on the web.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 22, 2010

Contact: Erin Elder pland.info@gmail.com

NEW INITIATIVE PROCLAIMS:

PRACTICE LIBERATING ART THROUGH NECESSARY DISLOCATION!

www.itspland.org

TAOS, NEW MEXICO - Announcing the formal launch of PLAND, an off-the-grid residency program that supports the development of experimental and research-based projects in the context of the Taos mesa. PLAND was conceived of and founded in July 2009, when creative trio Erin Elder, Nina Elder, and Nancy Zastudil banded together to acquire a small parcel of land near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Rio Grande Gorge. The arid plot is currently void of amenities such as water and electricity, with terrain defined by sage brush, chamisa, and breath-taking vistas of open sky. The region is home to alternative communities including the Taos Pueblo, several Earthship developments, and a scattering of off-the-grid homesteaders. 



The three founders describe PLAND as:



“A program that focuses on open-ended projects that facilitate collaboration, experimentation, and hyper-local engagement. We do not hold expectations about prescribed outcomes. We privilege process over product. We believe artists can do amazing things when supported and encouraged in new contexts. We believe that no context exists like that of the Taos mesa.



We find our inspiration in a legacy of pioneers, entrepenuers, homesteaders, artists, and other counterculturalists who – through both radical and mundane activities – reclaim and reframe a land-based notion of the American Dream.”



During Summer 2010, PLAND will host a motley crew of thinkers and doers in a series of work parties, idea-testing workshops, and inaugural project-based residencies in order to transform the land into a more inhabitable outpost while challenging artists to create, experiment, and produce their own work within this unique context. These activities are funded in part by The Idea Fund and supported by the hard work of students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.



For more information visit www.itspland.org

ABOUT THE FOUNDERS

Erin Elder is an independent curator, writer, and teacher interested in collaboration, sense of place, and expanded notions of culture. Her research has focused on Drop City, the first of the ‘60s era artist-built communes and continues to do research and write on the countercultural activities of the American Southwest. She has produced projects with a variety of institutions including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, W├╝rttembergischer Kunstverein, Creative Time, the Center for Land Use Interpretation, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. She currently teaches experimental art practices at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Erin holds dual self-designed BAs from Prescott College and an MA in Curatorial Practice from California College of the Arts. She enjoys hiking, hot springs, and building forts. She has recently learned the art of making wine from scratch.


Nina Elder is an artist who examines the visual evidence of post-industrial culture, and its distinctive cycles of production, consumption, and waste. Her work is concerned with banality and the proliferation of commonplace objects. She scrutinizes the aesthetic mitigation that often camouflages sites of production, use, and disposal. Her artistic inquiry responds to the friction between humanity, the natural world, and industrial proliferation. Nina's research is executed through hiking in the Rocky Mountains, exploring factories, mines, and dumps, reading Western novels, and while driving down desolate highways. In 2009 Nina received her MFA in Painting from the San Francisco Art Institute and she holds a BFA in Painting from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She has exhibited across the nation, including California, New Mexico, New York, and South Dakota. 



Nancy Zastudil is an independent curator and freelance writer whose research focuses on collective art practices that operate in the service of revolution and social progress. She held the position of Associate Director of the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts from Fall 2007 - Spring 2010; has collaboratively curated exhibitions in numerous cities including Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston; and is co-founder of Slab, an exhibition method that collaboratively facilitates artists' projects and events. She is managing editor of the forthcoming art journal 127 Prince; is co-editor of On the Banks of Bayou City: The Center for Land Use Interpretation in Houston (March 2009); and her interviews and reviews have been published in Proximity Magazine, spot, …might be good, and Curating Now. Nancy holds a BFA in Painting and Drawing from The Ohio State University and an MA in Curatorial Practice from California College of the Arts. She is a WWOOFer, a barefoot-running marathon enthusiast, and lover of cowboys.


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Mar 19, 2010

It Only Takes a Spark to Get a Fire Going



I'm about to have my first Houston experience -- beginning tomorrow and lasting for 9 days -- centered around an exhibition called Proposals for a Socialist Colony. This project is particularly exciting because it was spawned by this-here blog, Red Legacy. While I've always heard weird, unsightly things about Houston, I'm terrificly excited about this trip as I believe it will be a gathering of radical artists, each invested in recreating the world through the practices of art.

Here's a little preamble for the exhibition:

In the mid 1800’s a box of national archives went missing during the Archive War causing Skydive’s land to revert to its original deed. It stipulates that the land be granted to any group starting a socialist colony on the property. The works in this exhibition are proposals for this new colony. They contribute a variety of perspectives on the fruitful paradoxes that reside in the quest for individual freedom and the necessity for social contracts, collective processes and their sometimes authoritarian implementation.

Mounted in Houston, Texas, the exhibition is set against a backdrop of the state’s historical independence from Mexico and the United States, and in which a libertarian spirit persists and is legally protected. There are no zoning laws in Houston: any enterprise can exist within any building or neighborhood. The premise of this exhibition takes advantage of this lenient civic stance (without it the proposed colony could never exist), to designate a zone for debate about where personal necessity ends and public life begins, and what role self-organization can play in the development of collective processes.

An Exhibition of Proposals for a Socialist Colony has been built fromproposals for systems, tools, communities, communications, resource use, historical research, democratic gestures, implementation, and a public relations campaign. To produce this project the artists and curators engaged in a collaborative practice, where artists could operate as organizers and decisions were subject to the group.

My project for the exhibition is called Each Campfire Lights Anew and is the second in a series that considers Hakim Bey's notion of the Temporary Autonomous Zone in the construction of momentary communities and ad hoc spaces. Sunday evening I will take a group of University of Houston students camping and we'll build a campfire. It will be unscripted to an extent, but I've prepared a grouping of rounds that I intend to teach the group to sing. We'll roast marshmallows and tell stories -- the students have been asked to read Bey and prepare their responses in the form of a campfire offering. Remnants and influences of this initial campfire will show up elsewhere throughout the week. In a sense, the campfire provides a spark for many other things/groups/ideas/happenings/collaborations/conversations/loves... More about my project here: http://skydiveofficeofculturalaffairs.blogspot.com/

An Exhibition of Proposals for a Socialist Colony presented by Skydive Office of Cultural Affairs at Project Row Houses and is organized by Sasha Dela, Benison Kilby, Elysa Lozano for Autonomous Organization, and Nancy Zastudil. Artists include: BAW, N55, Aharon, Amy Balkin, Zanny Begg, The Copenhagen Commune, Chto Delat/What is to be Done?, Jos├ę Filipe Costa, Erin Elder, Amy Franceschini, Alex Lockett, David Mabb, Anna Pickering, The Public School, Jon Sack, Temporary Services, Chin Xaou Ti Won, and Duncan Wooldridge.

Hope to see your round the campfire this week!

Mar 15, 2010

NORAD, our biggest local oddity


Since moving to Colorado Springs, I've become (re)enchanted with some of the local oddities. We have a fake cave dwelling, Santa's Workshop (a north pole-themed amusement park), a castle-like shrine to Will Rogers, a cog railway that takes tourists to the top of Pikes Peak where a donut shop and other curios await. There are thousands of attractions within a day's drive of Colorado Springs and countless festivals (like the annual Coffin Race in Manitou Springs or the famed Fruitcake Toss) to entertain and amaze. Getting its start as a resort town, Colorado Springs has always thrived on tourism. We have one of the only 5 star hotels in the state, one of the best zoos in the country, and ready access to astounding parks, views, mountain drives, waterfalls, historic towns, and much more.

One of the weirder (yet nearly invisible) oddities in Colorado Springs is NORAD, which is essentially a military base inside of Cheyenne Mountain. North American Aerospace Defense Command was built in the 1960s during the height of the Cold War to protect the Arctic from attack. It has since been repurposed to fight the drug wars and the war on terror, but was decommissioned as a military base in 2006.

Although it is supposedly unused today, it still boasts a crown of blinking red lights atop Cheyenne Mountain, creating an ever-present constellation in the night sky. If you live in this town, you've wondered about NORAD at one moment or another. Its scale is hard to determine and public access is forbidden. The power of NORAD may have something to do with satellites and lasers, but it is also empowered by collective imagination. As children who grew up at the foot of NORAD, we used to speculate what it was like inside and what sorts of activities went on therein. I imagined that NORAD filled up the entire underside of Cheyenne Mountain, that cities on giant springs housed millions of radars and maps and men who never saw the light of day. At one point I feared that NORAD could read my mind, that it was tracking my thoughts or watching me through the light fixtures.


One of my new favorite things about Colorado Springs is a program on Radio Colorado College called The Big Something. I've started receiving their daily email posts because they include free songs, local announcements, public interest stories, newsy tidbits and more. Its another local oddity that makes me proud to live here.

This week The Big Something notified readers that Popular Science Magazine has recently made their entire 137-year archive available online and although the collection is not yet searchable, the editors of TBS found an illustrated article about NORAD just before construction was completed in 1967. I suggest you read the article yourself as it discusses the massive bomb-shelter still housed inside our "lumpy" mountain. You still can't pass through its 43-ton steel doors, but this article will give you entry into one of our nation's strangest Cold War oddities and the logic behind the continent's "most elaborate and important" defense installation. Read it here



I like to imagine a new future for decommissioned NORAD. What might it become? With numerous military bases being repurposed as parks, artist residency centers, historic landmarks, and more, I wonder what can be done with one of the world's largest and most outdated bunkers? Perhaps NORAD -- the inter-mountain luxury hotel, the artist commune, the underground farm, the world's largest movie theater, the greatest planetarium ever -- will become another favorite local oddity. Even though NORAD is now defunct, this village inside a mountain still conjures the imagination.