The Circulation of Knowledge, Part One of Six – Dustin O’Hara

“The Circulation of Knowledge” is a series of contributions from artist Dustin O’Hara about his collaboration with the Santa Cruz public library.

“I am interested in the boundaries of autonomous production, between where a project ends and when and with whom it begins. I am interested in citizenship, between conditions and expression. I am committed to the everyday and skeptical of institutionally rarified spaces. As an artist, I am interested in a socially engaged research-driven practice. I am interested in cooperative living, going on long walks, and the social recasting of cultural and civic infrastructure.

This essay reflects a traversal of living mythologies, a collection of moments and stories that took the form of a collaboration with the Santa Cruz public library system. The ‘material’ collected has been exhibited and archived, and within this writing I will narrate my process of engagement – a textual practice that attempts to solidify and simultaneously problematize the boundaries of where this project might begin or end. This is an attempt to frame the project in a way that foregrounds inter-dependent collaboration as it exists inseparable from an assemblage of institutions and unacknowledged historic actors.

While much of my thinking can be directly linked to a lineage of late-20th-century procedural and conceptual art practices that were concerned with an art-life relationship, I currently find the pragmatic question of how institutional and infrastructural conditions inform behavior and beliefs to be much more interesting. How do we conceptualize the relationship between individual agency, interdependence, and structural conditions? ‘Whether cast in aesthetic or social terms, freedom and expression are not opposed to obligation and care, but in fact depend upon each other…’ (Jackson 14). What stories will we hold onto? And what will be forgotten?” – Dustin O’Hara

This is the story of a retired cop car and librarians and library staff determined to go beyond the walls of the library building, operating within a political climate that has become increasingly skeptical, if not suspicious, of their function and value. Like a receding tide leaving some unlucky fish to dry, the public programs that were once considered staples of a modern democratic society are being systematically dismantled and forced to argue with each other for their own survival.

From Catherine Steele's personal photo collection. Appropriated for a series of canvas prints.

Santa Cruz Public Library Outreach is a small team that, like most of the library staff, starts their day at the library’s main office. But what distinguishes Outreach from the rest of the library staff is that rather then patrons coming to the staff and librarians, the Outreach staff goes to their patrons. Most iconically known for the Bookmobile, Outreach operates on a two-week to monthly cycle of visiting rural communities, low-income neighborhoods, senior living facilities, farm labor camps, and the county jail. Outreach uses its limited resources to account for the contexts that their patrons inhabit, making library services available to those that would otherwise not have access. Continue reading


Radio Valencia – Lee Tusman

In November, artist and curator Lee Tusman started a nine-month round-the-world trip to visit artists, musicians, curators, squats, pirate spaces, galleries, underground restaurants, etc. At the beginning of the trip, he spent several weeks in the San Francisco Bay area and was invited to visit Radio Valencia along with Alien Slang, a noise musician active in the Bay Area scene, for an interview between Slang and radio host DJ Bunny Whiskers.

Radio Valencia is a small community radio station centered in the Mission District of San Francisco. Founded by Chicken John and John Hell, the station began broadcasting in August 2010. As a fan of pirate radio, a past college radio DJ for 4 years at the freeform station WBRS, and as someone deeply interested in micro-broadcasting, Lee was interested in learning from the two “Johns” about how they organized the station as well as their goals for its growth. The following is Lee’s email interview with the Radio Valencia founders.

DJ Bunny Whiskers interviewing Alien Slang on Radio Valencia

Lee Tusman: How does Radio Valencia differ from other freeform or non-commercial stations like college radio?

Chicken John: Well, I don’t really know how all the other stations do it. I’ve only ever been involved in pirate radio. This station is bullshit free. No meetings, no rules. There are dues, hardly anyone pays them. So I guess it’s pretty different. It’s about radio being a device that promotes community. Radio is a collaborative artwork. Continue reading

Instructions for Eating: Serving Beer in the Gallery – Eric Steen

“Instructions for Eating” is a monthly column edited by Tracy Candido about food as a medium and eating as a social practice. Invited artists present recipes, preparation instructions, directions for hunting and gathering, lists of ingredients, etc. for public consumption. These experimental essays function as a site of learning and action: readers are encouraged to perform the instructions laid out before them. Each invited artist is asked to propose/suggest two other artists who would be well suited for the column. This creates a participant/artist driven effort. The following entry is from Eric Steen.

Many galleries think about using local foods and supporting the local community when it comes to serving food in the gallery. During openings, fundraisers, and special events food is often seen as an expanded type of art – care is taken to make sure that the food is prepared well, raised humanely, and free of harmful chemicals; local farmers and artists are invited into the gallery to give presentations on the food and to show how eating can be a relational activity. When it comes to the drinks provided at these events however, many galleries skimp. Galleries that I visit, and galleries that I have worked with, often receive beer donations and are able to offer beer for free to visitors. The problem is that this beer is often a product of huge companies that promote their beer with misogynist and objectifying advertisements. Additionally, most of the donated beer is industrial lager, where low quality ingredients and mechanized labor produce a drink that is stripped of flavor and has little resemblance to beer at all. These companies include Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Stella Artois, Heineken, and others.*

There is, however, a growing movement in beer; a movement that has been hindered by neo-prohibitionist ideologies that associate beer with drunkenness and all that is wrong in the world (which isn’t helped by the marketing work of the large brewing companie)s. In this movement, beer is seen not as an agent for getting drunk, but as a drink that has more complexity than wine and coffee; a drink that encourages thoughtful analysis, that familiarizes people with local agriculture and food politics, and is recognized as the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. Patrick McGovern, a lead archaeologist specialized in the field of alcoholic beverages, suggests that beer is a major reason that groups of people began to form into agricultural communities, providing an easier way to have large and consistent quantities of grain available. Whether or not this is a myth, I have become interested in the aesthetics of beer and brewing. As an artist and homebrewer, my work is inspired by the idea that beer is the people’s drink – that it brings people together, loosens barriers between people, and that these social elements are integrated into the entire idea, production, and consumption of the beverage. Beer is a social lubricant (as Tom Marioni stated), and it is a social glue. Drinking good beer, to me, is a form of activism as it brings people together, inspires local economy, develops a sense of landfulness, and is known for shaping how people think about where their food comes from. Beer is an agent for social change. This fascinates me and is a major topic of exploration in my work. The pint is a center for relational activity; sharing a pitcher is an activity that, by the end of the pitcher, will likely have inspired warming conversation and bonded people together. In my opinion, drinking together and community is at the center of well-made beer.

If it is a part of the gallery’s general philosophy to support local food groups and organizations and to provide visitors with high quality food experience then it is necessary to put that same effort into the drink selection as well. In this post I will provide three general ideas for incorporating locally brewed beer into aspects of the gallery, showcasing it as a type of art. For those who are interested in these ideas, I have included a few broad but practical tips as well as some final thoughts on working with brewers.

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Instructions for Eating: Naming Nature – Eric May

“Instructions for Eating” is a new monthly column from Tracy Candido about food as a medium and eating as a social practice.  Invited artists present recipes, preparation instructions, directions for hunting and gathering, lists of ingredients, etc. for public consumption.  These experimental essays function as a site of learning and action: readers are encouraged to perform the instructions laid out before them. Each invited artist is asked to propose/suggest two other artists who would be well suited for the column.  This creates a participant/artist driven effort. The following entry is from Eric May.

I’m all for “going green.” I have to wonder, though, what exactly is this ideal of “green?” Is it a utopian state where mankind reverses the impact that we’ve had on the planet, finding a perfect stasis of man and the original design of nature? It seems like an impossible feat. In terms of our consumptive relationships and habits in an ecosystem, I wholeheartedly support ideas of seasonal, local, heirloom, and genetically pure food. However it seems to me that by focusing so much on an ideal, we may be overlooking the way nature actually looks in the 21st century.

Man is nature, so I’m not here to say we have irreversibly corrupted the planet. We ought to take a close look at how we’ve changed the environment and take more responsibility for the altered ecology of now. Its time to unpack our value judgments towards species that are considered impure or nuisances, for typically we are the reason they are here. In my practice I examine these relations. I am interested in the language we have created around other beings.

Genesis 2:20: Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field. I’m looking at language beyond just taxonomy here. In animistic belief systems, animals are given the status of spiritual figureheads. The medicine man or shaman of these cultures would induce visionary states to commune with the animal spirits. They put themselves in the place of the animal. In Western civilizations there is an inversion of this type of relationship with nature, in fables and other such tales, animals are put in the place of humans to allegorize our own virtues and misgivings. On one level, we look for a commonality between our own behavior with that of the animals, we look into them for emotion and expression, we find an empathy in their “cuteness.” We name animals, in this case, to reflect our perceived innocence of nature. The teddy bear, a surrogate human child. On the other hand though, when the same such creatures are tipping over our garbage cans or eating our tomatoes we name them pests.

In my “Dinner Party” and “Picnic” projects, in which I play host to anthropomorphized fantasies of animals, I invert the relationships we have with pest animals and recast them as guests to our privileged, typically off-limits dinner tables. However, these aren’t the cute animals of You Tube video follies or the gentle, cultured creatures of “The Wind in the Willows.”” The beasts at my parties typically don’t have such dainty table manners. We despise these animals because they reflect our nasty brutish side. It happens to be animals such as raccoons, opossums, and bears that play the roles of our despised backyard invaders. Yet they are simply just clever, omnivorous scavengers with attuned motor skills, just like us, and in this case it’s physiological rather than allegorical.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t empathize – by all means, Rousseau and Betham have taught us that the beasts indeed feel. Perhaps we just ought to join the animals in their place as the shaman may have on a vision quest. Meet nature head on. It’s with this on-the-ground, face-to-face attitude that we must approach the contemporary state of nature. The animals are invading our preened suburban lawns because their woods are shrinking. And they love to eat our delicious scraps.

Some of our interventions in the landscape have yielded much more sinister results. Species end up where they aren’t supposed to be due to any number of reasons – sloppy agricultural practices, unchecked hitchhiking on vessels of trade, shrinking natural habitat, fucked up shifts in weather, mismanagement of environmental policies, etc. Yes, thorough, long term, pragmatic solutions to manage invasive species are tantamount. However, adopting a more hands on, aware perception of these species would help us better live with them, as they are (accidental) citizens of our localities and we are typically responsible for their residencies. We give them a name – invasive – a slightly more threatening term than immigrant.

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Rubbish Project – Anne Elizabeth Moore

. . . and then there are situations where social practices aren’t so much an art form as they are the only way to get anything done. This is often the case in former socialist countries, or countries near former socialist countries, or in places of extreme poverty or political distress. Like Cambodia.

In the past three years, I’ve spent a great deal of time in, and studying, Khmer culture. Since the extremely destructive Khmer Rouge regime ended in 1978, and following a subsequent 15-year civil war, which included bouts without government as well as stretches under Vietnamese-style socialist rule, little infrastructure remained to support art or culture. This is actually an understatement: little infrastructure exists even now to support the life of the majority of Cambodians, who earn less than $60.00 per month. Educational systems, sewage systems, economic and monetary systems, food systems, even working government systems are still barely forming, over 40 years later. Hell, toilet paper is still a luxury here. Traffic lights are new gadgets. Dental plans wholly unheard of.

What does exist—and what has kept the place going through times of excessive strife—are family and kinship circles. These function, stronger even than ever before, and still offer a genuine retort to poverty, failing schools, and lack of jobs common throughout the country. Continue reading

On the Shop Floor: From “Silence, Work In Progress” to “Work In Progress, Speak!”

While part of the inquiries Bureau for Open Culture is making in On Symptoms of Cultural Industry involves research into former manufacturing industries in North Adams, specifically the history of Sprague Electric as discussed in recent posts, the workforce today is another focus. Major Fordist manufacturers have largely disappeared from the North Adams and Berkshires region. But a concentration of production is very much part of the texture of this area. And, it often takes place inside the very same factory spaces—now converted lofts—into which the multitude of workers once filed. The workers today are commonly referred to as freelancers—designers, copywriters, illustrators, educators, artists, computer programmers, curators, web developers and animators. In other words, communication is the central crux of their work. They make up a vast networked community of immaterial laborers that are dispersed throughout the world. The Belgian sociologist and philosopher describes this kind of worker:

Immaterial workers work mainly with their head, which they can (and indeed have to) take with them wherever they go. Immaterial labor doesn’t stop, then, when the worker leaves the office. Immaterial workers can easily take their work home, to bed and even, in the worst case scenario, on holiday with them. They are accessible via mobile phones or the Internet, and can plug in to the shop floor at any moment. [1] Continue reading

World Making

In a recent post, we drew on propositions elucidated by Hardt and Negri in Commonwealth to contemplate our questions with regard to the commodification of identity in service to radical identity politics and cultural capital. Their text continues to influence our thinking about the problems of how to make the liberation of identity a reality in the work On Symptoms of Cultural Industry. While any kind of vague historical assessment can give insight into how the world actually is and illuminate what the world can actually be, it does not give specifications about how to rectify radical politics now. This is part of the lure for us. Continue reading