Erin had been corresponding with Talia Logan, the gallery director, and other faculty members for nearly a year prior to the 4 week session which spanned the month of September, right at the beginning of the fall semester. Emily, HB, and I joined the conversation over the summer, and during many long phone conversations, a rough vision began to take shape.
For years Talia has had a priority to curate exhibits which highlight the art-making process, encourage visitors to participate, and create relationships between artists and art-viewers – in the art world these types of things are generally called “social practice,” and they have historically been rare but are now becoming a hip trend [note: Yesterday I read in the latest New Yorker that “participatory art” is THE. HOT. SHIT. right now. Just sayin’]. She likes to call her gallery a “Co-Laboratory” – love it! – so naturally her primary vision was a large exhibit displaying the Beehive Collective’s collaborative process.
This included a more traditional exhibit in the main Olin Gallery, showing the original TCC drawing and lots of sketches and notes from both TCC and MR graphics. I say “more traditional” because the many bits and pieces were displayed in an atypical way, crammed and chaotic compared to the standard “everything at eye-level, plenty of white space” aesthetic one usually sees in a gallery. It looked a little bit more like a cluttered studio, which was appropriate for the theme. See a little sub-section with photos of this gallery here. (It is also linked later if you want to keep reading)
But that exhibit merely showed artifacts of the process. The other part of Talia’s vision was more open-ended and action-oriented. She wanted us to demonstrate the process “live” in an adjacent gallery. Smoyer Gallery was really just a big L-shaped hallway between the Olin Gallery, the Olin Theater, and the Art Department class rooms, but it was regularly used to display smaller shows. This was the workspace where we were permitted to do whatever we wanted, or at least whatever made sense within the template of “Emergency Room” work-in-progress installation.
I was super-excited about this aspect, and jumped up and down and said “Ooh! Ooh! Pick me!” when Erin mentioned it across the email list. Maybe most bees don’t know this, but my preferred style and aesthetic is actually almost opposite to the Beehive official doctrine – I love to make and to see art that is fast, simple, sloppy, brightly colored, geometric, abstract. It is the collaborative process and the cross-pollination that I love about the Beehive’s work, more than the illustrations themselves. So I was super-excited about the opportunity to bring these different approaches together! And all of us were excited for the opportunity to share and to learn from each other many of the varied exercises we had learned or invented over the years.
Because we were not able to present a complete vision early enough to suit Talia’s planning and promotion time-line, the official title of our exhibit was her generic suggestion: “Think Tank.” A little bland, but accurate, as the basic concept was that we would be something like a zoo exhibit – “Observe the artists in their natural habitat!” – as we practiced collaborative and emergent design in response to current events.
We ran with this idea, organized it and amplified it, and eventually committed ourselves to a project which actually went way beyond her wildest dreams of collaboration and engagement.
Below are some of the draft vision statements. The first was for the gallery director and art department, so it is weak in details but strong in pretentious artsy ambitions, and contains very specific jargon (underlined):
We are often asked “How did you all make that?” It is a difficult question to answer – due to the collaborative & emergent nature of our work, every project has been different. And yet, we have learned lessons and we know that it is replicable.
So we hope to use this residency to explore, practice, refine, and record our Process. Theory + Practice, evolving in tandem in the gallery. Art in Action.
We know that the Beehive’s work makes art a tool for education, agit-prop activism, and collaboration. One unique and inspiring thing is that we are always engaged in “social practice,” collaborating by internal dialogue as well as public interaction. We are known for complex illustration & story-telling, dense moires of overlapping metaphor – with this project we will seek to turn our previous work INSIDE-OUT, so that the viewer is surrounded by a dramatic scene, and can witness the multiple layers of process – artifacts left behind from discussion, games, and ideation – floating behind and around each character.
We will create an installation in which the Process IS the Product. If a gallery is a space inside which everything is designated as Art, then we will declare that Art is Action. Art is Dialogue. Art is Learning. Art is Evolving, Transforming, Becoming.
We will put our Process on Display, firstly by inviting the public to participate with us. We will utilize popular education games to create symbols, concepts, and artifacts of various kinds which will gradually fill up the gallery, and some will develop during future sessions into more elaborate characters. We will document every session with time lapse photography, so that the Story of the Process may be retold.
The role of the artist is Facilitator, Curator, Conductor. These are all different flavors of the same function. The role of the gallery-goer is to collaborate as a fellow artist, to transcend the role of spectator and to become a participant, a maker, an agent.
This residency may be classified in the following fields: Performance Art, Conceptual Art, Process Art, Participatory Art, Activist Art (and though our time in the gallery cannot be considered “Public Art,” I certainly would hope that we get outside at least once).
This next vision statement displays much of our internal discussion – it is longer and a little rambling with all the many details, as were our conversations:
The Smoyer Gallery will showcase Art in Action, People in Process, Ideas in Evolution – weaving elements of performance, “social practice,” and conceptual questioning, we will facilitate the emergent process of participants-becoming-artists together. We will document the entire process as a means of sharing our methods – the final product will be a time-lapse video of everything we did/made.
Friday-Monday will be our “work week.” Fridays will likely see the largest number of participants – we will conduct highly facilitated “popular education games” in order to elicit responses to “essential questions” and explore new topics through open-ended discussion. Saturdays-Sundays we will work at home to curate content, respond to unfinished ideas, and prepare for following sessions, especially creation of templates, etc. Mondays we will conduct smaller, looser sessions focused on making – try to focus on more “crafty” activity, to make it accessible.
3 discrete works:
During our first week, we will discuss the Mountain Valley Pipeline, extraction at local, national, and global scales, and power players at different levels, mostly through a variety of mapping activities. We will ask “What does it look like when a legal construct (imaginary entity) has more rights and power than people, land, or water?” and create a “Corporate Person” character in the upper gallery.
During our second week, we will discuss the “School to Prison Pipeline,” institutional racism, colonization, and “divide and conquer,” mostly through a series of role-playing and story-telling activities. We will ask “What does it look like when there is economic incentive to manufacture criminals?” and create a “Dehumanization Machine” character on opposite end of upper gallery.
During our third and fourth weeks, we will engage in deeper and more open-ended discussions focused on resistance and decolonization. We will look at 3 historical periods which are “cycling back” into relevance today – 150 years in the past (Civil War, 13th & 14th Amendments, nation-building), 100 years in the past (WWI, robber barons and labor movements), 50 years in the past (decolonization, revolutions, hippies) – and we will analyze our current context in relation to the themes of those eras and imagine where we hope to find ourselves 50 years into the future (globalization, corporate re-colonization; resistance, solidarity, sustainability). We will create several versions of creatively designed data sets, and one large-scale mural representing “Transformation,” both in the lower gallery.
We will utilize our public “Graphics for the Commons” workshop (4th Wednesday), visiting middle-schoolers (final Friday), and other smaller, informal sessions that come up along the way to add additional layers, details, new questions, or to just have fun.
This is the final, abbreviated vision statement used for promoting the program. You will notice that this content (though not the format) is very similar to the cute work-in-progress-style flyer we used to advertise as well as the “deconstructed” wall text under the title of the exhibit:
What does it look like when layers of conversation take form on the walls of a gallery?
Possibilities emerge from stories, lines connect ideas, symbols convey synthesis, and simple, unadulterated truths emerge at the intersection of many perspectives.
The Beehive Design Collective is a diverse group of artists, activists and educators “cross-pollinating the grassroots” by sharing stories that explore the consequences of historic and contemporary colonization and honor communities in resistance.
We innovate new forms of popular education like concept mapping, metaphor push-ups and other pop ed games in order to guide ourselves through a process of understanding.
Collaborative art-making has the power to bridge the personal and the political.
We invite everyone to join us in this process as it takes shape in Smoyer Gallery. Think Tank hours are Friday and Monday 1:00-4:00.