We have as much time as it takes: Interview with Red76

Opening Thursday, May 6th, We have as much time as it takes is the final thesis exhibition of the Curatorial Practice program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. The following interview was conducted for the exhibition catalog between curators Nicole Cromartie and Courtney Dailey and two members of Red76. It is the first in a series of interviews to be published at Daily Serving with artists from the exhibition. The catalog is available as a free downloadable pdf at www.wattis.org/whamtait.

Red76 is a multi-artist collective founded in Portland, Oregon, in 2000. The project they conceived for We have as much time as it takes was executed mainly by two of its members, Sam Gould and Gabriel Saloman. Counter-Culture as Pedagogy: Pop-Up Book Academy is a yearlong series of events that take place in a variety of venues. The latest edition of The Journal of Radical Shimming, available for free in the gallery, includes interviews and a counterculture index created for this exhibition. It will accompany the project’s next iteration at the Walker Art Center this summer. Learn more at www.red76.com.

Courtney Dailey: As practitioners whose work ex­ists primarily in the public realm, how do you create a situation to get the greatest amount of people engaged?

Sam Gould: We’ve developed methodologies over time for our publicly engaged, dialogical practices. There are basically four points: clear frames, horizontal space, generative action, and ephemeral distance. Clear frames develop a space that’s very familiar to people: they act as an entrance point; you’re on a con­struction site, you’re entering a bar, you’re going to a copy shop, or a restaurant. It may be the worst restaurant or the worst business that you’ve ever encountered but you understand what it is. Famil­iarity is key.

Nicole Cromartie: But your project for the Wattis, Counter-Culture as Pedagogy: Pop-Up Book Academy, 2010–1 is, by comparison, an unfamiliar, hybrid structure.

SG: I don’t think so. We talk about it as a traveling bookstore. So people are like, “Oh, it’s a bookstore,” but it’s actually a school. We arrange small classes, small sessions, where people RSVP to an open call that’s publicized through various means: word of mouth, flyers, and email. We control the frame through pub­licity, location, and topic.

Gabriel Saloman: I think it’s worth admitting that there’s a degree of fraud in that.

SG: Oh, yeah, it’s a total fraud. It’s a ruse.

GS: But once people are there, we’re not doing this thing where we told you it was going to be a candy house and now we’re going to put you in the oven. It’s not re­ally important that people get the exact experience that they came for. We invite you to this bookstore or construction site, and while we’re here, let’s talk. And it seems innocuous enough that people immerse themselves in it, because they already feel like it’s familiar. They don’t know that they’re par­ticipating until they already are.

SG: Once people get within this frame, we work to level or flatten our au­thority, and to allow them to make decisions through direct conver­sation. At the end of a project, we shouldn’t be there (though by necessity, we start out directing or facilitating). But through our ac­tions over time, we want to divest ourselves of that role; this is the horizontal space part.

Generative action stems from the feeling that I get in a particular situation, like at band practice or at a political rally. Things might be totally inspiring when you’re there, but the minute you leave that energized space, everything dies. So the idea of generative ac­tion is that the activity acts like a battery—it’s the power station that transforms the energy in a room into media, in the widest defini­tion of what media can be: from the Internet, to newspapers, to direct conversations between you and me, even to rumor or myth or disparaging commentary.

Ephemeral distance suggests that this is not the thing you’re after. We are trying to get people to internalize a situation, then trans­form it into their own thing. This conversation/publication/display is not the conclusion. Those are the four points: pedagogical tools that we use all the time.

GS: We create models for action rather than finished, complete ideas. And the intention is to create a proposi­tion that other people conclude. It’s turning the experience of the art situation into a commons over which we don’t claim owner­ship. That’s not to say we don’t have proprietary rights to certain things, and certainly we have privileges that other people aren’t going to have. A total horizontal­ity really couldn’t happen unless people took off and ran with it, without us.

SG: Unless people just felt direct au­thority, and decided: this is mine now. And if that happened, I’d be psyched.

CD: Many of your projects evolve and develop over the long-term, and in multiple places. How can viewers who might encounter the work just once understand your projects in their entirety?

SG: There is no entirety to the project; the project just keeps going. I talk about it in terms of literature: books don’t die. Just because Proust finally stopped writing Re­membrance of Things Past doesn’t mean that the work is over. The work is there as long as people are talking about it and engaging with it, which is a way that you can define any artwork.

GS: That also explains why we have a blog for every project, and pro­duce as much printed media as we possibly can. There are multiple ways that the work moves through the world and ways that the proj­ect can continue to be relevant. We cherish printed matter. Those objects become totemic devices that give us time travel; they give us an opportunity to exist simul­taneously in the past and in the present. They allow us to see not only the things that have changed, but the things that have cycled around.

NC: Your practice is not typically gallery-based, but for this exhibi­tion, you’ll have ephemera in the gallery. Why did you decide to do that?

SG: Because we’re punks. It’s funny to us: we fought so long to get out of the gallery and now we’ve reached a stage where people are asking us to come and do projects outside of the gallery. So, inevita­bly, in our contrarian way, we want to go in.

GS: The new taboo!

SG: The deeper answer is that it per­tains to the project. We’re focusing on moments that find their way into so-called mass culture. We can shine a light onto those objects that build up to create the domi­nant culture. We want to find a way to extrapolate and physicalize our discursive practices in the gallery and illuminate them. We get to say, “Look at this!”

GS: So often, we experience visual work on the Web. Now the gallery is becoming an analogue device. The gallery has more in common with a record player, a slide show.

CD: How does Red76 make work?

GS: Sam develops these initial projects and they expand, depending on what’s appropriate, who can say yes, and who we feel resonates with the project.

SG: There’s a big difference between someone who happens to be involved with one thing that we’re doing, and a real, holistic engagement. So much of what we do occurs “off-stage,” if you will, when we’re just hanging out. The work is based on the affections between all of these people—even feelings of disenfranchisement. There’s been a lot of disaffection and infighting, as in any collabora­tive project, but it’s always based on friendship.

We have as much time as it takes is on view from May 6 – July 31, 2010 at the CCA Wattis institute for Contemporary Arts. For more information see www.wattis.org.