In 2002, the Lawrence Weiner text work “Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole” was prominently displayed on the brick façade of the Walker Art Center. The piece spoke to the complexity of systems and how individual elements, works, people, and ideas can exist independently yet coalesce in and out of a larger thought. It became something of a motto for the people working inside the Walker, and even though the work has been removed (we still reinstall it in the galleries from time to time), it’s an idea I think about surprisingly often. How one thing next to another thing creates an entirely new thing by virtue of proximity.
Earlier this year, the Design department had lunch with Matt Olson of OOIEE, and the conversation turned to music, and we decided that Matt had to make a mixtape for The Gradient (but really for us). Matt and I exchanged emails and mixes, and eventually I was introduced to DJ/artist Frank Lyon, and the idea of the mix continued to evolve. Matt began writing, and Frank began putting together songs, each piece informing the other as the project progressed. On their own, Frank’s mix and Matt’s writing are beautiful works. But together, placed side by side, the bits and pieces of their practices come to present some semblance of a whole.
The “Practice of a Growing Platform of Practices”
I have a practice of creating practices. It’s a lighthearted way of organizing, framing and communicating thoughts about various ways of being, while also giving a lot of space for potential poetics or surprises to emerge. It sidesteps the temptation to be definitive, which easily gets mixed up with a desire for certainty. “The first rule of the practices club is not trying to be right.” It is offered in the spirit of remembering things can be too real to be normal.
A few months ago I wrote a short text for a talk I gave at SCI-Arc about “Open Practice”, a broad term one could use for all these “sub-practices” being created. The text also became Issue 4 of Margin, a publishing project by Jasio Stefanski and Lauren Thorson who do work as Studio-Set. Somehow seeing it in print made it feel more formal – in a good way – and it seems nice to keep going with it here.
The “Speak First Think Later” Practice (More Like Jazz)
Recently I had lunch with the Walker Design Dept. We talked about projects and all the art, books, and ideas we were excited about. Lots of music talk too: mixes, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, internet radio, and so on. I was saying how much I’ve come to love the mix as a form. As an abstract collaborative element while working in the studio… a sort of weather system that behaves like a gentle map.
I have a habit of blurting things out and, suddenly, I blurted out “I should make a mix for the Design Dept!” Emmet Byrne said “You should. We can post it on the blog.” (Yikes); nervously I said “I totally should! But I probably have so much on the calendar… damn, I better not.” In truth, I was also thinking “Shit, I don’t know how to make a mix!” Later though, a few ideas emerged—all at once—all tangled up together.
The “Remembering I Don’t Choose My Own Thoughts” Practice
For me, the emergence of ideas is blurry and geyser-like. It becomes especially noticeable around work and projects. I don’t really choose much… things just come. It’s common that—in a flash—a few different, disconnected and overlapping ideas and thoughts appear, seemingly at the same time. This was like that. All at once I thought:
1. The weird feeling of annoyance and dissatisfaction I get when trying to talk about the work I do. Like if someone asks about influences and I know I can’t say ‘everything’ because that’s a lame answer, but, it’s the correct answer.
2. How projects are more a culmination of known and unknown ‘ways of being’, than they are the result of a set of decisions or choices.
3. Frank Gilbert Lyon – literally one of my favorite mix makers – comes to my house with a stack of records every few weeks. Amazing, obscure, magic records. They become a soundtrack to a sprawling conversation we’ve been having about everything… and everything else.
4. From these songs, we could make a mix that is representative of the emergence that feels somehow different from intention – and its role in how things come to life. Or as John Butcher might have said “I don’t think we need a definition for improvisation.”
5. This could be the mix for the Design Dept blog.
(Brief aside rewind to 1. and 2. The Toward A “Don’t Put The Coat On Inside Out Practice Please” I was watching a John Berger interview recently where he was being grilled about some of these things. Finally, he firmly but kindly ended it by saying “No. No, no, no, no. You see, that’s the problem with questions. When we answer, we tend to want to put the coat on inside out.”)
The “Take Turns Merging aka We Become Each Other” Practice
For a few years, before Frank Lyon and I were friends, our orbits kept drawing us nearer and nearer in a way that started to become almost humorous. We knew a lot of the same people, had back to back shows at the same gallery in 2012 and then in 2013 I was artist-in-residence at the Rauschenberg Foundation where I shared a house with Frank’s uncle the photographer Mark Lyon. Finally a couple years ago Frank and his wife moved here from NYC.
So these sprawling sessions of conversation and music have been happening for a few years now. The kinds of conversation that would be impossible to describe unless you heard it or were there. (Have you ever listened to the Morton Feldman John Cage talks?) Not to imply we are capable of traveling at the altitude of those great humans. But certainly to imply we’d enjoy trying to cover some such thing.
A “Having Many Heroes” Practice.
How DO we best tell the story or represent a few years of conversations? Surely, accuracy isn’t the only thing I can imagine with attempting a “subject map” so,
A “Toward Understanding What Deleuze Meant When He Said ‘Consistency ‘” Practice…
Peter Sloterdijk→Animism→Childhood Story of camping in South Dakota→Robert Filliou’s “Whispered Art History”→Jimmie Durham saying “Words want us to think we can’t think without them but, we can.”→On the difference between doing something for leverage or gain vs doing something for love→“The Jimi Hendrix of No Technique Practice”→Therapy and comparing notes on therapists→Sadness→Balearic Music→Homeless Kodo, the restless and irritable zen teacher who lived in early 1900s Japan→Barthes “The Neutral”→Anti-Bangerism v Neutral-Bangerism→Proposing A “Never Finishing The Book” Practice→Helio Oiticia and “Call Me Helium”→Gardening→The ethos of Punk→The “Before We Are The Performers Of Our Own Freedom” Practice→Scents and Smells→The “Toward More Naive Experiments Please” Practice→Discuss the Brilliant ”Offness” of the Art On The Album Cover’s We’re listening to→Drummer’s Pocket Practice→… Lacroix Waters
The “Live In Your Ears, When Mixes Become Form” Practice
If Harold Szeemann was working now I think he’d be involved with the mix somehow. The mix deserves a closer look… a deeper and wider examination. The mix deserves a moment. Maybe a museum show or graduate studies program at Bard… or a documentary series on Netflix. The mix is a collage that lives in the ear. An audio descendant of the ‘combine’ ala Rauschenberg. The mix is partly a behavioral relative of the photograph since – like the photo – recorded music takes care of a part of something that you can never have or hold even while you’re in it. But it’s not only what it is that makes it important, it’s what it does. It creates a collaborative context. It makes space. Peter Sloterdijk said he is “a student of the air”… a mix helps make the air. A mix doesn’t ask for much. It leaves a lot of room…
“Not Seeing The Reflection On The Screen Till A Bird Flies By” Practice
I sit at my computer a lot, listening to music while I work. In a trance to some degree. There’s a reflection on the screen as there is a window behind my desk. I almost never notice the blue skies and trees reflected there but, a few times a day, a bird flies by and I wake up for a second.
The “Have You Ever Tried To Memorize A Tree?” Practice
The mix is like this too. It’s like walking through the woods and then encountering an opening that looks out onto an overlook or opens onto the ocean. Suddenly your attention becomes narrowed and intense for a bit, only to return to the woods washing over you. And while it sounds natural to say that you walk in the woods…
The “Toward A Walking With The Woods, Not In Them” Practice
The “Stop Confusing Intimacy And Intensity” Practice
The craving for intimacy is perhaps one of the deepest and most fundamental needs of a human… with other people, the spaces we’re in and the objects that fill our lives, but in the modern Western world, maybe we have a habit of pursuing intensity instead. It’s so easy to forget about time’s role in things and believe that these small satisfactions and arrivals we build our lives around actually have meaning and aren’t just passing by. If desire constantly takes us outside ourselves in the search for satisfaction, what might the “Being At Home” Practice mean?
The mix—like the woods—might represent the way forward. Media, and mediated experience, have changed so much in the last 15 years; the internet is allowing us to see time and history differently by breaking the traditional institutional/academic habit of telling history as a fragmented set of stories that unfolded in a linear timeline. And ten years ago if you’d have told me that I’d be watching a 72 hour movie soon, I couldn’t have pictured it but, my wife and I just binge watched 6 seasons of Homeland in such a short amount of time that it could easily be considered a movie.
The “Ask What Is A Movie?” Practice
Skype and phones have made our attention the place where we are. All of this makes it easier to be with the woods and examine our relationship with intimacy and intensity. A chance to recognize and potentially de-memorize the dance of late capitalism, and its quiet and persistent deceptiveness. Intensity is easier to sell, and not a particularly high bar.
Thankfully, now, we know time is scrambled. The past isn’t gone, it’s just not here. The present moment is expanding sorta like the universe.
The “Using “-Ness” As A Suffix To Open Words Up A Bit” Practice
I think it started with oceanness or messy skyedness but, in relation to the mix, I like the word bothness. It comes through my interest in Barthes’ notion of “neither-norism” which, at first glance seems such a perfect term to describe so many of the mixes I love right now. Music that is just out of reach in terms of it’s place in time, style and culture. These mixes tend to deliver you to a place that is neither familiar nor unfamiliar… at first I’m tempted to say they are in-between but, that rehearses the tired limits of a binary so, instead, I want to say they exist with a bothness.
(Quick aside: I love Frank’s mixes but in the spirit “-NESS” here are some other classic “lines of flight” Brown Rice #80 JM Moser with Jamie Tiller, all of the AM produced Études Mixes but especially N°20 and N°5 , and Mix for Tokyo by Kindness aka Adam Bainbridge
Every time the artist David Horvitz moves his studio or his home—which has been frequently—he sends me a picture of some pieces he has designed by my old studio RO/LU. I’ve known David for years but it’s been mostly long distance and have only been with him a few times. These pictures he sends illustrate something that’s easy to forget, we are defined by the things between us, the things we share
One day Frank and I were working on something and I noticed an Al Stewart record on top of a large stack. I mentioned my childhood memories and we started discussing AM 70s radio hits, I think we touched on Noah Baumbach’s use of the genre for a sec and then I said “You should check out this song Sentimental Lady by Bob Welch. That’s a song that figures very largely into my life in intimate and intense ways. Frank’s eyes smiled and he produced the record which—along with the song—was a new favorite of his. I told some stories about how this song and its spirit shaped some moments in my early life which literally made me teary.
“The Mix And The Woods As A Perfect Vehicle For Ghosts” Practice
It morphed into us reflecting on how remarkably different each of our relationships with this song was, and yet also, somehow by entering the space of the song a bothness is made available which transcends those differences without undermining their significance. At some point Frank said “It’s the Bob Welch between us.”
Towards “An Available Air Sculpture Between Us” Practice, Please.
Matt Olson: Matt Olson established OOIEE (Office Of Interior Establishing Exterior) and I\E\E Landscape Office on 1/1/16 to work on projects related to contemporary art, design and culture. It is a cross-disciplinary, open practice with interests ranging from furniture/objects, actions/scenarios and landscape architecture related work to teaching, writing, publishing and more. From 2003 to 2015 he was cofounder and creative director of RO/LU.
Frank Lyon: Frank Lyon plays records and makes work in the Twin Cities as himself, and duo OUECHA. He first began sequencing and presenting “other people’s music” as a child, and developed his style over the next 30 years throughout the United States and Europe via collecting music, but also playing music, watching movies, listening to people talk or not talk, reading philosophy, and playing catch (mostly frisbee). It has all only become more thoughtful. His technique has formed recently around a certain wish for dynamic intimacy and global consciousness via stringing together recordings from around the world, around time, and around feelings. As though any moment has a multiplicity of poetic truths that lie latent, Frank labors to find that truth in an improvised collective soundtrack, and share in that announcement-discovery with his fellow listeners. Becoming sensitive to these mostly unutterable and powerful meanings brings us closer together, and nearer to the next set of questions: Where Are We? And, What Is Closeness?
Designed by Ben Schwartz