The Classroom: Friday, January 31, 2014, 11am – 1pmPanel with Fritz Haeg, Mark Allen of Machine Project, Johnnie JungleGuts / KChung community radio station. Moderated by P.collective (John Reardon, Verina Gfader, Ruth Höflich).
Machine Project EDU Jan 2014 slideshow → DownloadWildflowering L.A. map → Openwww.wildflowering.org
F R I T Z H A E G: I would like to present two local activities of mine that are happening now that I think have some overlap with what Mark and Johnnie are up to. Wildflowering L.A. is a project commissioned by LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division). It’s an initiative to plant native wildflower seeds on 50 sites across Los Angeles County. I am working closely with the Theodore Payne Foundation, and referencing the English horticulturist and botanist Theodore Payne who did a similar project over 100 years ago in LA. On walks he took around LA County Payne noticed native wildflowers that were disappearing from the land as LA was getting urbanized. Payne’s extensive research and organization ultimately aimed at creating wildflower seed mixes that he was trying to promote LA residents to plant. He would approach landowners in Pasadena and Hollywood, encouraging them to plant these mixes, so LA residents could see what the native landscape looked like. These mixes are still sold by the Theodore Payne Foundation, an important organization that I fell in love with when I first moved here 15 years ago. When I got the invitation to do a project, a collaboration with them became possible. I wouldn't have been able to do the project without their involvement We developed 4 custom seed mixes and I did an open call around LA County for anyone with a piece of land they either own or have control of that measures between 500 and 2000 square feet. There also needs to be irrigation, since these flowers only fully bloom in a really rainy season, and of course this happened to be one of the driest seasons in LA County.
F H: Over 150 people applied to participate in the project and from those we selected 50 sites. Interestingly, about one third of these selected sites are within a few miles of my house, which I suppose is because all of the people interested in this kind of activity have generally congregated on the east side of LA, like Echo Park, Eagle Rock. On the project website, wildflowering.org, you can see the great density of sites in east LA – they go way up to Lancaster where people often go to see the California poppies in bloom – all the way down to south LA. We had a few applicants in Malibu that didn't work out.
When someone was rejected, it was because the land wasn't the right size or they don’t have ownership of it or they couldn’t do the amount of work necessary.
We have streaming, tweets and instagram pictures coming up on the website. The first flowers started to appear a few weeks ago, the peak bloom will probably happen at the end of March, or early April. We took before–pictures of all the sites and we’ll return to do the after–pictures in mid April. At the end of June we’ll have an event where participants can bring their flower cuttings to place on a big floor map of LA County, and have posters up of the 22 wildflowers that we planted.
Wildflowering L.A. is also on view in a very dramatic way at the LA County Arboretum where we have removed an acre of lawn, moved the earth around into topographical features and sown wildflowers.
One of my favorite sites is the federal post office in Eagle Rock. A local landscape architect who lives there was really eager to participate in the project. He got in touch with the manager of the post office who offered to set up irrigation just for the project. On these 50 sites, everyone is independently sowing the seeds, irrigating, weeding, and then we’re returning and telling the story of what happened. And even with the sites where nothing much is happening, they’ve introduced new diversity into the local seed bank.
Wildflowering L.A. is a kind of transition for me into work that will happen in LA. I’ve been mostly living on the road for the last seven years, doing projects everywhere else but LA. Now I’m trying to figure out if it’s possible to do work only in LA or California. The last edition of a traveling project, titled Domestic Integrities, is opening at the Berkley Art Museum this weekend, and after that I’m focusing my attention on LA as much as possible. I think it will be interesting to talk to Mark and Johnnie about that, since both of them do a lot of work focused on LA, what it means to live here, our artists community.
Regarding the afterlife of the project and what happens to these sites: there are the carved and burnt signs at each site which will be removed in June, when these plants dry up and set seed. They actually need to dry up on site to set seed, so hopefully we’ll see meadows of dead plants, that's what we have to encourage people to keep and pay attention to. So once that’s happened the signs will be removed, however we’re going to be gathering those seeds, collecting them, and re-dispersing them so the initiative is hopefully cyclical – yet the project really only lasts for one year.
J O H N R E A R D O N: But it does draw you into a whole network of relations.
F H: Yes, I’ve now made contact with these 50 very diverse sites, ranging from public schools, to churches, to businesses, to typical homeowners, to universities, and so on. And for a year at least it transforms all those places and locations – these wildflowers are not perennials, they are all annuals which means that they sprout, flower and die in one season. There’s been a lot of lawn removal happening, people have to figure out what to do in June because they’re going to have an expanse of dirt. But the project is about paying attention: In LA we have seasons, and we have cycles that aren’t apparent with the kind of landscape we have around us. But when you plant native wildflowers you understand our unique seasons. Our dormant season is the summer rather than the winter or in the north, many plants dry up and die and retreat in the summer. Once you understand that, you do view the landscape differently. A meadow of dried up plants is what happens here in the summer.
Talking about the other kind of LA-centered activity, in parallel with moving back to my home here, I’ve been thinking about the next chapter of my work now that I wont be traveling. I have a geodesic dome just north of here (The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo) on the hill of Mount Washington, and I used to have a school there hosting a series of events. Yesterday I decided that I’m going to restart the school at my house, figure out the structure of it and announce this publicly soon... Laurie Peake (Program Director of the Liverpool Biennial 2012), who is here among the audience, commissioned a project in Liverpool a couple of years ago for which she and the Hayward Gallery in London bought the dome for my projects. It’s a beautiful 19 foot diameter canvas dome that was on the roof of the Hayward for a school that I was running there, the Sundown School of Queer Home Economics. It then went up to Liverpool for a project that we did in a park – and this was my first native landscape project, called Foraging Spiral. The dome was the headquarters where the community gathered over a long weekend to discuss the future of this park, which has a very complex set of issues.
I decided having this dome arrive back to me from the Walker Art Center a few days ago, I’m going to build a platform for it in my garden and it will become my schoolhouse now. Previously when I had my schoolhouse it was in my house, and now I will have a separate room for it. There will be book clubs, yoga classes, craft circles, and all happening in my garden. In this space, even when it was on the roof of the Hayward in central London, I spent a whole week in there morning to night making soup and tea, practically living in it. And in the park in Liverpool we had a very intense weekend of it too, so that kind of activity will continue. I mean, it kind of hit me like a thunderbolt when I woke up one morning. I thought, of course, this dome that has been traveling around and has been my mobile home in a way, is coming back to my home and now I’m going to really reinvest in being here.
J R: Is the subject under investigation somehow related to where the dome is?
F H: Yes, when the schoolhouse has traveled, the subject under investigation or the context has always been topical; related to queer domestication in London, for example, because London has a great queer community, or in New York it’s been all about dance and movement, or in Liverpool it was about this local community trying to make this park work. Besides being topical, the school for me has always been very personal, it has been my personal school where I’m the chief student, it’s led by my own curiosity and that will continue. In the future the school will be focused mostly on the physical embodied, rather than the abstract, aspects of education, so not focused on digital technology or a lot of talking and debate. It will be more about things that we make with our hands and our bodies, by being in a room together with other people, all the things you don't get when you’re facing the screen all day – gardening, cooking, knitting.
M A R K A L L E N: Fritz and I had lunch last week and, although we didn't talk about this panel, it’s obvious our brains are in the same place, because this is a good segue.
Very recently I started thinking about Machine Project in terms of the question, “Could an organization be a machine for generating culture?” If we think of a machine as something requiring inputs, we can think about feeding in researchers and artists and ideas, with enthusiasm, knowledge networks, and hopefully some financial resources, and out of that machine pops a little event brick.
That event brick might take place in the storefront, at a cultural institution, or off-site, but no matter where it occurs, it tries to engender public participation. Out of this come proposals for other ways of living or for cultural innovation.
The model for this is to think about each topic that's explored and to dive into it as deeply as possible. Larger institutions tend to be constrained toward their expected topic of content, whether it’s art or history or science.
One of the things about smaller spaces is that you can be expansive, trying all kinds of different topics, and this allows you to build a transdisciplinary audience. You have somebody who comes for the event on cactus care, and then later shows up for the dance performance, and then shows up for the evening on Spanish poetry.
You bring people in around their area of interest, and then, hopefully they’ve had a pleasant experience, so they start coming to stuff they don’t know about. It is a model for how to build a diverse audience in opposition to the gallery/museum model, in which you have an artist working in their studio and producing work there, which then goes to a site of display.
I’m interested in merging the production and presentation: a pure middle model, where the event itself is where the art or ideas are produced. It requires a site, an artist, and an audience at the same time.
I’m really invested in thinking of the audience as one of the three fundamental entities that you need, whereas the gallery/museum model doesn’t – the audience becomes superfluous in a way. If you go to a gallery to look at art, you can go look at art for free – it's a great resource – but you are unnecessary in the economy of it. A gallery needs just one person to buy all the art to support itself, whereas I’m interested in the model in which the audience is essential for the production of ideas.
This also leads to an interesting place for thinking about growth. The traditional way you would grow if you were a business or a non-profit or a cultural institution is that you start with your scrappy little alternative space that becomes popular, then you get a bigger space, and eventually you become an institution like LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art).
The advantage of this is, as you grow by doing various projects and activities, you grow a larger infrastructure to support that. The disadvantage is that the more infrastructure you have, the more constrained you are to working in a certain fashion. Once you have a museum, you have to do museum-kinds of things. For example, if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail; if you have a massive building, your work and activities follow strategies appropriate to a massive building. If you don't have a massive building, you can develop ideas and projects through relationships with other organizations.
The model I’ve tried to follow for growth is to think of relationships as what is being grown, rather than infrastructure. If we want to do a museum-scale project, we set up a partnership with a museum, or if we want to do an event in New York, we will organize something with Cabinet, and if we want to do something in public, we emerge as a public art organization for a period of time.
What Fritz and I have been talking about is whether you can use this idea – that the relationship is the infrastructure – to develop a model of education and art that can work in parallel to the MFA program. Ultimately, we are thinking about what an art school does.
To begin with, you have a group of however many students, ten, fifty, one hundred, and they have assembled for a specific period of time around a certain amount of shared values. I may have a very different concept of what art is, say, from Johnnie, but we’re both at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) at the same time, and we’re both invested in the idea of art as something meaningful, so it creates a structure for abstract and concrete materials to be developed through people who are brought together.
The mode of accreditation suggested here is an interesting possibility for providing a model for art school in relation to “the market.” Accreditation developed out of guild systems in the Middle Ages – you have a limited number of people who can buy a well-made chair and you have highly specific techniques for making a chair really well. A guild system is responsible for both, transferring the knowledge of chair-making down through generations and teaching people how to make chairs, and then, most importantly, for controlling supply. You don't want every jackass in town making shitty chairs and messing up your chair market.
To a certain degree, this is where the art school system is most profoundly broken. A great number of people would agree that there is not a canonical set of knowledge for what art is, how you become an artist, what an artist does, how the artist functions in society, etc. In terms of the function of accreditations transferring canonical knowledge, this system is broken and the supply part is profoundly broken. We know, of course, that there’s more art than the world wants. This is not necessarily a bad thing – I think the more art there is, the better, even if there’s not a market that can support it. I believe in art as a way to live your life rather than a way to support yourself. But institutions and schools are not controlling the supply; if they wanted to do that, they would only allow a certain amount of people to attend art school.
Furthermore, it’s broken at the teaching level. There’s the idea of, “I’ll get an MFA so I can get a teaching job,” but in fact, very few people get teaching jobs once they graduate. I’m excited to think about what happens if you can get rid of this. In one way, of course, accreditation in itself not a bad thing. For instance, if I want my appendix out, I don’t want The John Burrows’ Experimental Appendix Removal Research Center to grope around inside my guts. But if I want an experimental hug, John Burrow might be who to go to. Having said that, being an artist is more like being a comedian: you don't really care where your comedian went to college, you either find him or her amusing or you don't. Art operates in the same way: you either find it interesting or you don't.
The problem with this is the size of the infrastructure. If you look at the existing MFA programs, they have an enormous infrastructure, which allows teachers to be paid – a significant factor – and it provides resources for classes (the space, the time), and to have an administration process that allows various activities to take place. The question is: how do we compare, as Machine Project or as Fritz Haeg or as KChung?
One way is to say, “We are a node, and we’re going to have this interaction with a small number of people, and we see that as very valuable.” This is the model a lot of people in LA have followed for a long time; lately, however, I’ve started to think there may be a way in which we can view the relationships between these organizations as an infrastructural scale equivalent to a university.
Here’s an example. My friend, Ken Ehrlich, who does projects with Machine, has a show on KChung and has taught at The Public School [thepublicschool.org/about/la]. Ken and Johnnie (KChung) have done a telethon at Machine, in addition to being involved in something at KChung. Both the artists move between these spaces, as do the audiences. This means that there’s enough infrastructure; this is the relationship between the parts rather than the parts themselves, and this can be a valid scaled model to the existing programs.
What’s exciting about this model is that each node can experiment with how they present their program. If you get three artists together, they will immediately tell you what kind of artist educational program they’re starting at the moment – that's what everybody talks about – but you realize there’s such a wide range of how people think about their ideology. There’s also always the relationship between pragmatism and utopia; for example, about whether you should charge money or not, and there is the question of defining a curriculum or letting it be emergent.
Fritz, we were talking at lunch about how you didn't want to say what the school would be studying, but that the students would entirely define it. At Machine, I consider our work to be curatorial: we identify what we think is interesting now, and say, “Come do it with us!” What I’m proposing in this model is that each node would follow its own ideology and its own process. The thing that ties it together or investigates how these processes work, is the students and participants moving between them.
I haven’t thought about the potentially big challenges in doing this – this is just proposing a way to think about new possibilities, and it strikes me as willfully naive in terms of practice. Money is always a problem. Part of the reason that the MFA programs are so broke is that they’re so expensive. It puts you, once you graduate, in a position of having to accept a certain way of relating to the world. But that said, I believe teaching is a valid thing to do for a living. You want to figure out how the system of an MFA program can become more affordable, so that it doesn't constrain what people do, and is also able to generate enough to pay people to teach. On the other hand, if you adopt a model that has an economy outside of the dominant one – which I believe is a viable alternative strategy – the question is: how do you build sustainability? Most projects and events emerge and then disappear, because they’re based on people’s personal energy, and that can only be sustained so far. The other point is: how do you balance autonomy and cohesion? If you get twenty people in a room and try to do something, your project becomes about group process and this is what you will end up talking about. I’m interested in what the model is where KChung can operate autonomously, and where there is enough infrastructure that gives the advantage of the scaling the network. How do you make that infrastructure useful for people rather than something that only ends up replicating all of the shitty dynamics?
I would like to put these inquiries and trajectories forward today not as a blueprint, but as a way to start thinking about how existing relational networks can replicate the advantages of scale that happen with large institutional scales, that maybe we don’t think are so flexible – which is the university and major cultural institutions. Finally, I want to say that I don’t see this as a replacement for but a parallel to…
J R: Or supplement to…
M A: … MFA programs, to museums, and all those institutional settings. All of our economies are tied together. We have very utopian ideas of how we do things, but the underlying economic structures – hedge-fund management, making collectibles for the one per cent, and the industrial military complex that’s behind those MFA systems – all those forms of money are complicated and compromising. We have to understand that we’re trying to build more interesting and equitable barnacles on top of these massive ships.
F H: Mark, thinking about this the past few days and really deciding to move ahead with the school after all the conversations we’ve had too; I did a school at my house, it was a short one-off thing before I started traveling and it was fine, and I didn’t think about it as an alternative to an MFA program, because it’s not expansive enough or a long enough term commitment to really make that; but if I want to pursue this seriously – to make an alternate to MFA programs which are broken – and have someone of a certain age saying, ‘Do I want to go to an MFA program or do I want to be part of this community?’, and that diagram you made is exactly the diagram I’ve started to make on my own, independently listing KChung, Machine, even this artist-run café Thank You For Coming in Glendale [www.thankyouforcoming.la/]. I can go down the list of all these interesting organizations in LA now I would want to partner with, and say maybe for one day they’re in the dome on the hill, and another day they’re at KChung, and another day they’re at Machine, but people can independently decide how they want to participate; it would be interesting to see if it is possible to create a real alternative to these MFA programs.
M A: I consider it more as a parallel path. For a lot of people, the MFA system is useful, and this other, possibly richer program that we are proposing isn’t going to replace it. This came about because I started to get interns that had come to LA, who were out of college and considering an MFA. They were saying to me, “I want to be part of the LA art scene, but I don’t really know if it makes sense to spend all that money. Maybe I can meet people just by interning at Machine.” What the school is most interesting for, and best at, is finding a community and generating infrastructure for thinking. Maybe there’s a way that can happen outside of the school environment.
J R: And yet avoid the bureaucracy and worst excesses of its system.
F H: The MFA system is appropriate for certain kind of people who want to make certain kind of work to enter into a certain art economy, but there’s a particular approach to making work today and the way it’s set up does not seem appropriate to me, not only because of the economics of it, but because of the idea of indoctrination. Being against indoctrination of any kind, I do not want to make an educational environment that is indoctrinating people into a way of thinking. It should be quite the opposite, where it’s more emergent; so that's the other part of it aside from its economics.
A U D I E N C E: Mark, because you made your presentation like a test run I thought that there should be one more slide. Some image or idea that could help close it off is perhaps jumping from the institutional focus back to a slide that describes the users, as I’m still feeling you’re making a strong comparison graphically and I very much like the slides. I’ve worked as a teacher in a school without having an MFA, and I love it when a job advert says, ‘MFA or equivalent;’ that’s when I start thinking which equivalences can I list on my application in order to prove to somebody that I have value that isn’t accredited by a Masters degree. And you’re leaving out location as a big part of it, philosophically speaking, everything that I’ve seen – the university and so on– is irrelevant to location; the building itself becomes a location but the Machine Project storefront can be anywhere. Seeing people outside Machine I knew I had to stop to find out what was going on whereas if you drive by a university there isn’t that engagement.
F H: That’s a good point because the infrastructure you’re talking about, what you get when you’re not that big, is you are dependent and part of the community, whereas when you’re at UCLA or LACMA you’re on campus and there’s not that implicit immediate relationship to your neighbors, such as having a direct rapport with the café to your right and the clothing store to your left.
M A: Yes, there is this idea of porosity that I need to build into my program. I forgot to mention that the university is closed. Once you’re in, you’re in; you can’t just wander into it.
L A U R I E P E A K E: But there is also the city as your infrastructure. In the Liverpool Biennial we were developing a kind of porous educational infrastructure in partnership with anybody that was interested in art education across the city. Location as such is significant, and if it’s the city, it is wide open and yet has a particular local flavor which grounds you, this is important and helps frame the individuals’ education, here education is actually contextualized with the necessities and urgencies of the place you live
J R: The city becomes a resource.
I wanted to ask Fritz about his return to LA after 10 years, and thinking about these things and Mark, didn't Machine Project have its 10th anniversary in 2003? So, is this something for both of you about looking back over 10 years, where certain opportunities and patterns become evident?
F H: Mark and I have been on the same schedule, our work has evolved at the same rhythm and pattern. My mature work and Mark’s mature work both started 10 years ago around the same time and we were having a lot of conversations then, and have been following a consistent wave, going away and returning, and having what we’ve been doing here being fed by experiences we’re having in other cities. But a point I wanted to make too about universities is, the whole nature of what we consider to be a university is predicated upon the idea that the universe is coming in and we’re denying the locality. I mean the whole fantasy of the university is to leave the city and go into a walled-off fortress, universities have a great deal of trouble now relating to their neighborhoods. It's usually a very fraught relationship because they’ve situated themselves against the city in a way. Creating a place where it’s the universe is the very opposite of the local. The fantasy is you’re getting away from the local, and I think it is uniquely possible to deal with this fantasy through the kind of networks that we’re talking about, where you are forced to pay attention to what’s around you – while with the university you’re meant to move into a different headspace where you can ignore the reality surrounding you.
I had such experience when teaching at Princeton University for a term a couple of years ago. To avoid using the university buildings, we set up a temporary encampment in the quad, we made our own classroom and our own food, and we didn’t use any of the facilities. If we had to clean up, the janitors didn’t. We did everything, and it was cool being set up in the quad because we did have people stumble into our talks. We had this porosity that you’re talking about that we found just by being in the middle of the winter in the quad and not sequestered in a classroom. And strangely it was the Princeton ‘staff’ – not the teaching staff – like security guards, cleaning people, all the other people who worked in the university and who were most excited and enthusiastic about it and would stop by. A lot of them had come of age in the 1960s and they were like, ‘Right on!’ And the other students were asking, ‘What is this hippie bullshit?’ It was very peculiar, the security guards were our biggest fans. I was there for four months.
A U D I E N C E: Mark, wasn’t there a case where LACMA did seek out Machine Project? And isn’t that an example of where the university acknowledges its lack of connection with contemporary content and crosses its boundaries – gets outside of its infrastructure?
M A: You are talking about A Machine Project Field Guide to the LA County Museum of Art in 2008. I think we all need one another – it’s an inter-tangled economy – and LA is much better about this than other cities.
J O H N N I E J U N G L E G U T S: I went to a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania, and if you’re not familiar with Quakerism, it’s basically an anarchist off-shoot of Christianity that believes in the power of friendship and equality and real sort of presence. A Quaker service could completely consist of a bunch of people sitting in a room in silence, and then anyone who feels like having anything to say standing up and speaking, and that's the service and that's more or less the religion. So what does a boarding school that’s built around that look like? I don't have any pictures of the service because that's a taboo but it looks like that (image Maypole), which is actually a celebration of Communism, and that ritual is called the Maypole. I don’t know what’s going on here, but it seems to capture the spirit for me, lots of dancing around fires in the woods; and there I am in some really nice pants.
After that I went to CalArts, because they said you didn't need to know how to draw that well, and after all the focus on togetherness and presence, I really wanted to keep that going. When I first got to CalArts, what I was looking for was a class where people made art together in the same room, but that was not available, and I asked around about it and people just thought it was a funny idea. Being among and surrounded by these amazingly talented people there, it felt kind of cool, as if going to the school for X-Men or Hogwarts; but what I realized about Hogwarts and the school for X-Men is that they’re actually free, which makes them very different from where I went to boarding school and college, and this is an essential difference.
So this class environment where people made artwork in the same physical space with each other wasn't really offered; but then in my second year there that was like an adjunct to another class around drawing. You were supposed to come and do drawings collectively based on things you learned in the class. I started going to that every week and it turned into this unit called Open Drawing, and I was put in charge of it in my third year. At that time however I wasn’t really interested in drawing anymore, I was heavily into the occult and wanted Open Drawing to be like a secret meeting place for that, which it was for a little while.
There was a garden that Fritz actually started on campus and because the people who had started it with him had graduated, it was getting dilapidated. It looked beautiful to me but it was becoming really messy, and they wanted me to work on it because they thought I was like a hippie, but I wasn’t keen because I have no knowledge about gardening. So when they approached me, what I ended up doing was having Open Drawing do this ritual in the garden, where we invoked the spirit of the Lorax and laid out ladybugs that we stole from a Do-it Center and arranged things like rune shapes. Amazingly, the next day 3 graduate film students were working in that garden… but anyway, Open Drawing did eventually become about drawing when we got busted for the witchcraft and we had to start drawing again. And on the third week of Open Drawing I had an idea which was to just draw advertisements for Open Drawing that we would put up around the school (images); and we did that and then it just never stopped. Open Drawing became solely a space for making advertisements for Open Drawing – a never ending cycle of advertising.
A lot of the drawings are a little rough but sometimes people would spend a long time doing one, it was very laid back. Sometime it would get a little performative (image), some people would do this weird photography performance installations with the open drawings (image) – that's a really awesome picture of Oliver Reed (image) – it's one of my favorite open drawings because it’s done on the sign that says, ‘Strathmore Excalibur,’ it cracks me up. Sometimes it would deteriorate into peculiar, occult text pieces (image)… Hundreds of people have attended Open Drawing and made flyers. After school it extended to the Concord gallery in Cypress Park [concordspace.com/], we’ve done it in the basement of Centre for the Arts, Eagle Rock [cfaer.org/]. This is a nice picture that gives you an idea what an Open Drawing show looks like. We’ll do these wallpapering installations of drawings (image); there’s also an Angry Birds inspired Open Drawing (image) and a George Bush inspired Open Drawing. A friend of ours brought his elderly dog to Open Drawing as a model and we probably made over 50 drawings of Zeus. Very tragically Zeus died a few months later, but it was nice, because Jack had about 50 drawings of his dog who had touched the lives of so many artists. Another big activity at Open Drawing is something called Stroke for Stroke where each person gets to do a line.
Another project, KChung, is a community radio station that broadcasts out of Chinatown. It started very small and remains pretty intimate, though now there’s probably over a hundred different shows and two hundred different DJs. Anyone can sign up to be on the list for subs and then that usually evolves into getting a show. We broadcast five days a week. We have shows that are on specific genres of music, and more general shows such as the talking shows, which feature people talking – weird kinds of talking. There is also the reading radio which is a reading program for the blind and dyslexic, relationship advice shows, business advice, and my own show, Outbreaks, I’ve had 2 shows, my first show was JungleGuts (image). There was an Open Drawing installation at KChung (image), (image of KChung group shot), and KChung has done a number of events at different museums. We are really interested in doing creative or performative things with radio; here at the book fair we’ve installed a radio station – similar to the Hammer, where we had a residency in 2013 [hammer.ucla.edu/residencies/2013/kchung-radio/] which included live and performative activities: we had lunchtime dance parties for people on their lunch break, we put together a mystery play that you would listen to on a pair of headphones by walking around the museum. The transmitter was in different places for each different section of the mystery play, so if you got close to it, you’d get another bit of the mystery and then you would walk further. All these different radio broadcasts were going at once, and installed in short distances – ranges of around 20 feet – you could pick it up, if you were standing near by it. So that's a summary of KChung.
Another major part of my collaborative practice is collaborating with animals, making work with animals. I would definitely say that everyone should make at least one major artwork about wildlife or animal welfare, because it’s incredibly enriching and there’s not hardly enough work about it, and also animals are almost always the easiest to collaborate with. This is a mountain lion (image), a bison (image), some wolves (image), kittens (image) more kittens (image) more kittens (image). Most of these kittens I was trying to find homes for; with these performance actions I’m pretty ruthless and I’ll do whatever it takes to find homes for these animals.
Another project I want to talk about briefly is The Eternal Telethon [eternaltelethon.com/post/33457487400/kchung-news-watch-tonight], a fundraiser for a retirement home where artists can retire from everything else, to be located possibly on the Salton Sea because the land there is very affordable. It's a series of webcasts with performance art, music, and instructional How-to videos. We’ve done them at Machine Project, we’ve done them in a swimming pool, under a blanket, and in many other places; and that’s the gist of that project, there have been probably over 200 different telethon participants who’ve done performances or music or reading poetry events, anything that could happen on a webcast basically.
Finally, mentioning an older work, a float I made for a 4th of July parade: it was designed to encourage people not to put as much pesticide on their lawns, and so we were throwing these little pamphlets to people with candy on them that were instructional, like, how to maintain your lawn without running the water supply. There you go, that's a pretty scattered summary of some of the alternative communities I’ve been a part of.
F H: What strikes me right away, especially by seeing everything Johnnie was talking about, and this would be something interesting to hear about from both Johnnie and Mark: as I’m coming back here after a lot of traveling and trying to work in LA again and thinking about what I want to do, and focusing on the school and reflecting upon this networked diagram that Mark was showing, I feel so profoundly inspired by what’s going on in LA and lucky to be here with all this energy and a very particular way of working. To me, all of that is epitomized in the different things Johnnie is involved in, and I try and explain it to people; maybe what Johnnie is doing at Machine is a good example, it's a certain engagement with the natural world, with animals and wildlife and the landscape. It may sound prosaic and simplistic in other cities, but in LA it’s so much a part of living here, in a city this big, that has such a complicated relationship to a very diverse amazing environment.
I consider this as primary in a way, but I’m wondering if there are other ways to describe what’s unique about living and working in LA right now. These groups you marked out in your diagram, Mark, if we’re looking at this network of artist–run organizations and communities like KChung and Machine, you can go down the list in LA – people are doing this in other cities but what is unique about them in LA right now? And I do think there is some uniqueness, yet we are not ghettoized.
J R: There’s difference in the same place.
V G: Maybe that leads into another question too. I’m interested in how you connect with each other: how is this network built between all of you now living here and working on similar interests, but still with very different approaches and practices? And if I look at Machine Project where you announce an event one night before it happens and then people turn up – there is this spontaneity – how can that be lived in a city like LA with its peculiar mode of moving around and public-ness? You have to be really organized and continuously connecting and communicating, and I wonder about the particularity of how that happens in LA, and how that defines the connections and mediations between you and subsequently the nature of the projects.
F H: When I lived in New York I went to openings all the time, everyone goes to openings, but you just kind of make appearances, you go for 10 minutes; that doesn’t happen here as much, if you show up somewhere you’re committed to being there; and that's why even small groups and gatherings, like this here today, in LA make sense. Everyone that's here wants to be here, and I always used to feel the gauge of a successful event is usually numbers – how many people you got in the door even if they’re all texting the whole time and don't care, but here and among this community that we’re talking about, the people in the room are ‘there’ because they really want to be there and they’re really present and thoroughly committed to whatever is going on. So when Robbie Herbst did something at Human Resources [humanresourcesla.com/] the other night, there were 10 of us and half of them I’ve known for 10 years, the other half I didn’t know, but because they being there I thought, ‘Oh, you’re part of my community, now I know you.’ I feel in a strange way for a city this big it becomes almost more intimate and more immediate, this sense of the community constantly redrawing its borders.
Something I would want to think about related to all these topics is, what is an appropriate education or intense educational period for someone who wants to be an artist of a certain kind in LA today, and how is that different than what the 12 MFA programs currently offer, and the debt that most people come out of those with, with the exception of a few programs where there is real financial support? Looking around the city and seeing KChung, Machine, Human Resources, The Public School and Thank You For Coming – it would be good to list all these cool places – I think there’s already these amazing communities and organizations that already have educational components to what they do in some cases. They already exist, and for what I’m doing at my house or will be doing, we could collectively create an organized network saying, ‘On these days I have yoga, book club, craft circle..., KChung has these days, Machine has these days, and so on,’ so that someone who wanted to drop into the city could organize an entire week or summer or even two years around this, making a long term organized commitment to a certain schedule; thus retaining all the freedom that we currently have yet surrendering a certain amount of that freedom to a structure that we both share.
J R: Being more strategic in other words.
F H: Yes, we could acknowledge each other’s presence in the same eco system and build using each other’s strengths. What I’m interested in exploring in my school will hopefully compliment what these other places are doing in some way.
J J: I forgot to mention, with almost all the projects I talked about here, The Eternal Telethon, KChung, Open Drawing; what they have in common is, they are all ultimately about people, the presence of people in physical spaces: KChung is still is a crazy ritual because so many times, especially in the early days, I’d check on who was listening and there was nobody listening; we were just sitting there, and we were all coming every Wednesday doing our thing for an hour, and it was this ritual, and you saw these people and spent time together. The Eternal Telethon is the same, who knows how far away this retirement home is and what shape it will take, but it was really more about building a community around artists. KChung is quite successful at that, because it’s so egalitarian with the idea of being a radio station where you can basically do whatever you want involving sound. And those are the projects that interest me and that I’m interested in being involved with, and ultimately, if other people thought about it, they’d feel the same way.
R U T H H ö f l i c h: How do you see this focus and mode of working as being related to education, especially in relation to this Quaker upbringing of yours?
J J: I guess I have a hard time separating things because of my specific background, because Quakerism is basically based on the idea of how important it is to be present with other human beings, because this is precisely how you learn. And Mark illustrated that so wonderfully in his diagram. Let me use a pretty crazy anecdote. When I was interviewed for the MFA program in Yale, the main thing they said to me was, ‘We don't understand how this work functions in an educational setting,’ and I didn't know how to respond to that, because I could not understand what they were talking about. They continued, ‘You’re really cool, you don't need to go to school, you’re the kind of person I want to meet on the bus.‘ So they think about art education in an entirely different way: there are certain things you do at school that aren’t really about being around other people.
F H: They wanted to give you a white box to be alone in.
M A: Let me build on something you were saying that I’ve been trying to figure out, which is the question of LA and how schools function here. I think that you come here to go to school for a fixed period of time, you have an infrastructure which creates a community around doing stuff – so you’re here. Then you finish school. Most people are traumatized by that, because they no longer have a group of people interested in the same stuff they are. The response then becomes to remake it: to make your KChung, to make your drawing club, to attempt to replicate what the school does automatically. What I’m interested in thinking about is: what if we take over that function? In LA, many people have a strong tendency toward, and experience with, building micro communities, which is important. What if you could build something that generated the kinds of communities the way a school does it without the enormous financial part of it, that could give more people access to it? Could you make a machine for making more micro communities now?
At Machine we started doing workshops – on how to use a sewing machine, for example – and we continue to do that, but the workshops we want to do now are more along the lines of how to make the community you need to make the stuff you want to make. I want to move to a more structural level for what we teach, because that’s how we get interesting art and materials to think about. The other model – the market model – is all about making things, which survive outside of context, that you can rip from a studio and put into an art fair. The other model is much more interesting, which is how groups of people construct meaning among themselves, and what work is generated by that. To create the groundwork for that condition is my aim.
A U D I E N C E: One of the things I’ve noticed at The Public School, for example, has to do with levels, orders and horizons of knowledge production, and the engagement that produces them. When we tried to take on reading all 3 volumes of Marx’s Kapital, you immediately had this Balkanization of people, material and ideas. What I’ve noticed to some extend about LA is that there’s not a lot of theoretical depth and analysis, but there’s a vast surface – top swimmers but no divers – but then when you start talking to people they are also divers, but it’s not a public practice of deep sea diving. I am not sure if this is a structural issue, but it is certainly problematic, because at The Public School sometimes people think we get bogged down on too much Marxism, too much this, too much that; or too much philosophy, but we need the sound artist, we need the graphic designer people, we need the software programmer people to be in the room too, then you have a different environment. At Machine, is there something about the depth of things?
V G: And following from that idea of a surplus of theory (theory as a surplus or excess), Marxism, and so on, what is your or Machine’s relationship to more established forms of speech?
M A: We cover whatever people are into thinking about. Some people like to think about the economy of aluminum smelting, other people like to think about something entirely different. My work is much more about how to create a social infrastructure that supports a life around ideas, while not being connected to one particular idea or another. I’m a surface thinker. I think we skim over a lot of things, but I’m interested in creating a ground for people to find each other and to have a deeper conversation. I’m like a facilitator – but I’m also a pragmatist, I’m not engaged in highly theoretical discourses.
V G: How do you and Machine survive in terms of money?
M A: I have a job. I teach at a college. At Machine, I try to get rich people to give us money, and we do projects with art institutions that give us money, and then we charge money for workshops.
J J: Machine also has a really insane suction machine that sucks up your money. It’s really fun to watch your money get sucked up into this tube. It just makes giving someone money fun.
In terms of KChung’s financial infrastructural requirements, all DJ’s have to pay dues of 10 dollars a month and we also get our money through doing events. A lot of times people will ask us to broadcast their event or do something at their event – that's one way. We’ve applied for a couple of grants, perhaps these work out. In any case, most of that ends up kicking right back into more equipment, because we want to do more stuff with radio. KChung is a pretty selfless project, no one gets paid anything.
F H: This issue of how money moves around and how people support themselves and how work supports itself, is so important to all of this especially since that’s one of the critical components of the educational system that's just really broken. I guess what I’m thinking about now, there’s a certain way of working in the world, of being an artist today, that I’m really interested in; and it's a way I’ve been trying to make a living out of for the last ten years. And it has to do with asking, ‘Is that possible for people, is there a way of being an artist in the world not just for a few but…? What are the alternatives?’ At the most extreme, we have this participation in a heavily corrupt art system where obscenely rich people are temporarily sitting their money with art, because that's just a comfortable place for it at that moment, because the real estate market is down or whatever; but what is the alternative of participating in that? I’m not against the commercial art market per se, but I am against a certain extreme way that it’s operating today.
R H: It starts with the education just because of the costs of participating.
F H: The costs of doing it; and in relation to Johnnie’s experience at Yale, the reason they had that conversation is because their thinking runs like, ‘We’ve got this studio, what are you going to do in that studio?’ It's the same dynamic and politics in a museum. When you have a building full of white boxes to fill with young eager potential art students, the assumption is, ‘Well, you’re going to use that white box we gave you, right? And if you’re not, then what are you doing here?’ And what are you going to make when you’re in there and how are you going to sell it when you get out to pay this tuition? It’s a crazy cycle.
J J: It’s really hard. The other thing that's important to negotiate is, how do you really reach out to people in an intelligent way who have no access to art education? I mean, it is possible and it does happen all the time, but I don’t really know how – I’m still figuring a way to talk about this delicately but… I do networking events for people who play the video game Pokémon at art museums and art galleries, and the majority of people who come to these are Mexican-American because Pokémon is popular regardless of your educational background, and it’s just crazy to see that 75–80% of the people coming are not white, and at any art event I would normally go to, this is exactly what it would be. And I think people feel intimidated by certain aspects of the art world because they think about its obligatory relationship to money.
F H: The scale of the art audience and participation as well as access are huge issues. When you ask people, ‘Is art for the 1% or is it for the 99%?’ I’m sure most people respond that it’s for the 1%.
A U D I E N C E: There are art worlds.
F H: Or you could probably just say art periods. It's a major concern and something hard to take on, but important to take on, and I don't know how to exactly, but I do know that the occasional experiences I’ve had with my work when it’s left to small insular groups and exposed itself to people who wouldn't otherwise have an experience with it – that's been the most gratifying. Laurie, when we did our project in the park in Liverpool, for example, there were people in that dome who would never comfortably go into the Biennial shows, who we were engaging in a conversation about all the issues related to the work and art today outside of that kind of environment where people feel quite apprehensive.
In terms of LA, the most cliché place for art outside of those reified communities is street art and murals, but if anyone has seen Agnes Varda’s film Mur Murs from 1981, a re-mastered version of it recently screened here again, it is so amazingly inspiring and beautiful. And it tells the story of art making across the city, and murals are such a cliché now, we kind of take them for granted. This documentary is a really touching portrait of LA that’s invisible now in a way.
J R: You seem to be describing the creation of a space that goes well beyond the art world. A space for a kind of constructive uselessness, a space to spend time without it being categorized and instrumentalized.
F H: I’m just feeling, the generation that I’m of, and the education and the experiences I’ve had, are so profoundly limited for the reality of the world we’re living in today, that it’s even presumptuous of me to think that I know what we should be looking at and talking about, and what younger people should be dealing with now. Young people have impulses that are important to listen to, about what we need to pay attention to, and I’d be more interested in guiding young people along directions that they think are important rather than me saying you’ve got to understand this to know that… And for the school I want to start back at my house, it’s coming out of what Johnnie was saying too. The fundamentals of it are based on humans together in a room primarily, having embodied physical experiences that engage with the senses and tactile physical realities – starting with that and wherever that goes.
A U D I E N C E: I’m one of the people who run the Bay Area Public School [thepublicschool.org/bay-area] and the unexpected problem I’m coming across is how to deal with people – who are 24 or 26 – who if they’re not paying tens of thousands of dollars, for them it’s not real somehow.
J J: It’s very hard to separate educational value and I guess what you’d call social value, it’s not social value but it’s related to the value of going to Yale. You tell anyone you went to Yale, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God!’ But you could probably get a better education somewhere else; that's one part of it, the education part of it at this point.
M A: But please remember to do the readings.
Mark Allen is an artist, educator and curator based in Los Angeles. He is the founder and executive director of Machine Project, a non-profit performance and installation space investigating art, technology, natural history, science, music, literature, and food in an informal storefront in the Echo Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles.→ machineproject.com
Fritz Haeg's various projects have included designing, constructing, parading & rewilding and running Sundown Schoolhouse (2006–14), a series of educational environments and initiatives which evolved out of the Sundown Salon (2000–6) at his geodesic home base in the hills of Los Angeles. In late 2014 Fritz Haeg began a long-term project and new chapter of work with the purchase of the historic 1970’s commune Salmon Creek Farm on the Mendocino Coast.→ fritzhaeg.com/wikidiary→ salmoncreekfarm.org
Johnnie JungleGuts is an artist living and working in the Los Angeles area. One of the recurring subjects of his work is animals and also their relationships with people. Conversely, he is also interested in the digital wilderness and exhibited over 800 drawings of Pokemon in his solo show at Human Resources.→ KCHUNG RADIO, www.kchungradio.org→ KCHUNG TV, www.kchung.tv
Verina Gfader is an artist and researcher (The Contemporary Condition, Aarhus University, Denmark) whose work is generated around questioning the surfaces and display mechanism one chooses in relation to having a voice–performing voice–fictionalizing a voice. Her practice includes models, drawings, fictional institutions, text material, and print in between unregulated and sophisticated presentation. Together with Esther Leslie, Edgar Schmitz, and Anke Hennig, she develops the Animate Assembly.→ contemporaneity.au.dk→ art.gold.ac.uk/animate