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Make Sh!t

WHY SHOULDN’T URBAN PLANNING BE A PARTY? On two nights in November, Minneapolis planners hosted the public for free food, a live quiz show, and a series of art happenings to gather input on the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Public Acts of Drawing (me and Marx Studio in this iteration) traced historical maps of the city and asked attendees to layer on their visions of our future.

So what change do we want to see in the world? Parks, boulevards, bike freeways, sculpture gardens, several gargantuan monuments, and a Doll City, to name a few.

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++ A PROPOSAL FOR CREATIVE CITY CHALLENGE 2016 +++

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An artist-led architecture for urban self-reliance.

Self-reliance and connection to the land are common threads in the history of this place—from pre-settlement societies to European farmers to the early industrial era that harnessed the bounty of the soil and water.

But modern living is erasing so much land-based knowledge and skills, as well as our identity as growers, savers, and rugged survivors. We are now citizens of the corporate-retail-financial complex, more oriented to stadiums than seedbeds. Push too hard on our modern assumptions and they crumble like an interstate bridge. American cities are one major security breach or climate event away from disaster.

Renewing our self-reliance—and our relationships with each other—is increasingly a matter of self-preservation. We are (again) a diverse population of people struggling to make a home together in a challenging place, with many mouths to feed and little more than our collective wits to protect us. What actions will we take to prepare? We believe the Creative City Challenge—with its goals of promoting health, community connection, and vital exchange through art in the city’s center—is the perfect vehicle to address this question.

Artists, as usual, can show the way. Minneapolis makers, growers, architects, technologists, and other creative toilers have long been out front preserving knowledge and skills—and forging new ones—outside the mainstream cultural conversation. From urban farming and sustainable architecture to alternative transportation and homemade textiles, our artists know how to make it for themselves.

This summer in the center of the city, we want to amplify their voices and transmit their knowledge. We call it “Self-Made Mpls”: an iconic complex, part garden, part workshop, part classroom, part prototype, where citizens and visitors rediscover together what we’re capable of.

Will it happen? We’ve proposed sillier things. Never count MakeSh!t out …

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I READ THAT CONTRADICTION AND MENTAL DISSONANCE are the price of our ridiculous modern lives. It’s undeniable in my case. The son of an artist and an engineer, I’m liberal but obedient, cheerfully fatalistic, a staunch anti-consumer who makes his living on corporate largesse. There’s not much I do without some psychic friction. I know I’m not alone.

So I cherish the unconflicted moments. I found my respite long ago in the instinctual act of drawing—blindly, with no grand ambition or promise of reward. When I draw, counter-arguments grow silent. For a few minutes or hours, I know I’m doing the right thing.

That’s what drives the MakeSh!t experiment, now in its third year: low-stakes longing for uncontrolled creativity. We finally found a way to bottle it for mass consumption. To my astonishment, people showed up.

Public Acts of Drawing, first projected on a dark mill ruin in the summer of 2012, made its primetime debut this month on TPT’s TV Takeover, and again during a terrifying July storm. Hundreds of intrepid revelers (The Mayor, piano prodigies, drunks, tykes up way past their bedtime) huddled under our Fleet Farm party tarp, braving lightning and sheets of rain to scribble with us for hours. At 3:30am when the power went out, they were still washing up.

The project is also a thicket of contradictions: Solitary yet social, free-wheeling yet constrained (by media and elbow room), ugly until it’s beautiful. One component of the event—broadcasting on a skyscraper in real time with a Hollywood-grade projector—was shut down on account of weather. With 10 inches of visibility, no love was lost.

The best measure of the project isn’t the final artwork, which I love, but Aaron’s time-lapse vids. Watch us fill in everything, almost without thinking. Hard to say why exactly. Maybe because we have hands.

Another utterly pointless job well done. Thanks, fellas.

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TrafficON JUNE 14 SLEEK ELECTRIC TRAINS start rolling from downtown Minnneapolis to downtown St. Paul around the clock. There are 18 stations in between, including one a few yards from my front door. It’s historic for the Cities and pretty sweet for me: essential services are already popping up nearby, housing values should get a bump, and I get the designated driver I always needed.

So this is how it feels when social investments align with personal gain. Privilege in effect.

I thought that day would be all happy-hour-on-rails, but I got more party than I bargained for. As part of the 4th annual Northern Spark, MakeSh!t is re-upping our Public Acts of Drawing event around the Minneapolis convention center from 9pm to 5am. Each hour is planned as a unique drawing event: vernacular lettering, Minneapolis mapping, life drawing (mixing things up so we don’t get bored, more than anything).

Here’s how we pitched it:

… a real-time art-making event that merges free-form collaboration with large-scale urban spectacle. Participants put pen—and charcoal and stencil and glue stick—to paper alongside local artists, dignitaries, and a few hundred friends. Drawers of all ages, skill levels, and styles are welcome. Guest contributors will help steer and energize the proceedings, but the results are delightfully unpredictable. Over the course of the night the individual marks of many become a vibrant lattice of interpenetrated doodles, the Hive Mind documented in graphite and ink. The draw-a-thon is simulcast on downtown architecture [Ivy Hotel, turns out], turning each small gesture into a heroic act. Public Acts of Drawing made its debut in 2012 on the (now destroyed) Pillsbury A Mill in St. Anthony Main.

Did I mention Mayor Hodges is scribbling with us? What shall I lobby for?

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I caught a talk last month by Canadian artist Jon Rafman. It was on a whim with Paul, Witt and a bunch of students and faculty at MCAD. I wasn’t prepared.

I’m a fan of Rafman’s “9-Eyes” project, a gallery of snapshots, some sublime some disturbing, culled from the ever-expanding archive of Google Street View. I thought of it as a kind of found-object work, but Rafman’s description suggests bigger stakes. Google’s simulacrum of civilzation is just one corner of a vast Internet world—explorable, infinitely seductive and terrifyingly human.

As a fellow cyber-explorer, I’ve felt this. I’ve adventured down internet rabbit holes, tripped headlong into its taboo regions and wondered what it all meant (and what it meant that I was there). But Rafman’s take is profoundly dystopic. His videos reveal (but do not really examine) the perils of Internet-addiction, lives completely given over to desire, mostly sexual. It’s a bleak picture. Hentai meets Abu Graib.

No doubt this world exists. But is that us (or more than a few of us)? Is our private universe so perverse? The audience response seemed to say, “that’s not me. I don’t know that Internet.”

One project fascinated me. Rafman’s avatar is the Kool-Aid Man, the ever-smiling sugar water pitcher/Pitch Man known for walking through walls. As Kool-Aid Man, Rafman is our tour guide to the mostly abandoned online world called Second Life, which had its heyday around 2008. The game’s often beautiful invented landscapes (all user-generated) are filled with dreamy experiences—alien discos, snowy deserts, endless archipelagos of fantasy. While the world evoked by Kool-Aid Man in Second Life can also feel warped and off-putting, it rings truer. By Rafman’s reading, it’s a mirror of the collective id.

When we can be anyone and make anything, this is what we make.

(WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK, FAMILY, OR SENSITIVE EYES)

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Old Man John Brown, subject of “The Fighting Farmer,” Steve Davis’s history of Iowa abolitionists coming in 2014.

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Portrait of Brown on horseback, 1877, published in the Davenport (Iowa) Weekly Gazette.

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Detail of the outraged actress from Raymond Pettibon’s illustration for the Minutemen’s Paranoid Time 7″.

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A much-parodied bumper sticker.

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CBGB in NYC, known as the spawning ground of punk, New Wave and vintage cowboy type.

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An illustration for the Fighting Farmer book, Boxcar letterpress experiments by MakeSh!t, and possibly a T-shirt.

WWJBD? I’d venture he would free Bradley Manning, demand amnesty for Edward Snowden, clean up our criminal “justice” system, open the borders, and otherwise slap us silly with his Stick of Righteousness. Truly a hero for our time.