Hello, my name is Spencer. I'm an artist and art worker based in Portland, OR. I am currently pursuing my masters degree in Art and Social Practice at Portland State University. I am also the Exhibitions Director at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I make site specific collaborative projects locally and around the country, and can also be found teaching classes and workshops.
One thing I like to do is talk about the weather. I like to talk about whether it is raining, or sunny. About how cold it has been, and how it’s not going to stop. I like to talk about how it used to be, about the worst it ever was, about how it’s going to get worse. I like to talk about anticipation, about forecasts, about let downs.
The weather is what I talk about when I have nothing else to say. Sometimes the weather is all I want to say. The weather is not up to me. We can’t get good at the weather, nor can we learn any more than anyone else already knows about it. We can talk about what it did, and what it’s doing. We can talk about what we think it’s going to do.
I call my grandfather, “Hello, it’s Spencer! Is it cold where you are? No? Sunny? That’s fine. Love you, bye.”
I just finished up a residency in Carrizozo, New Mexico. The program, hosted by artists Paula Wilson and Mike Lagg, with the support of Joan and Warren Malkerson, gave me studio space, lodging, and a month to slow down and work on some projects both old and new. I was in residence with my partner and sometimes collaborator Roz Crews, and together we took the time to think and research the idea of collaboration as a whole. Through this process, we went on lots of long drives, listening to Sarah Schullman's "Conflict Is Not Abuse." We cooked meals together, were invited into peoples homes, and ultimately produced a zine about what we learned.
I felt ponderous and slow while in Carrizozo. I did a lot of sitting and watching. I counted over 5 tumbleweeds that blew past me in that time. I watched sunsets, stars, and trains roll by. The town is a vibrant, welcoming community and I was quite inspired by all the energy and love the residents of this town pour into all their projects. As one person described, "it's a place where if you have an idea, and some initiative, you can really get something done."
Last Fall I curated the Food Program for the Time Based Art Festival, PICA's major annual event. In collaboration with PICA's three Artistic Directors, I built a platform for critical conversation around the food landscape in Portland. We brought in local, emerging pop-ups and food vendors to serve food each night of the festival, and hosted two public forums: an edition of Tender Table, and a panel discussion with the vendors who served food during the festival.
The main work in the first year of this project was changing how it fit into the festival as a whole. Staff, artists, and audience members all had certain expectations and habits built into how food service during the festival was treated, and my goal was to create a deliberate and distinct break from old precedent. Vendors were to be treated as any other artist we work with. The relationship shifted from a primarily financial and bottom line necessity, to one where we were supporting emerging creative practices that challenged the status quo, something that is central to PICA's mission throughout its programming.
We had the pleasure to work with incredible vendors Mis Tacones, The Big Elephant Kitchen, and Mija Mija. And we had incredible suppot from intern Maria Saldaña, who conducted interviews with each of the vendors for a publication we produced concurrent with the festival.
Building the food shack, two days before the opening of the festival.
I run a small imprint called Sunday Painter Press with my collaborator Roz Crews. SPP is an experimental press dedicated to the creation of books as a product of collaborative and socially engaged art. Each publication we create is a site, an outcome, a punctuation mark.
I currently help co-direct the Columbia River Artist in Residence Program, an artist residency for prisoners at the Columbia River Correctional Institution, a minimum security prison within the Portland city limits. I am one of a team that helps to faciliate this residency, which we have created in collaboration with prisoners who currently reside at CRCI. We hoped that through the creation of a formal residency, including visiting artist lectures, workshops, group critiques, collaborative projects, and an art library, we would be able to carve out a space to talk about contemporary art, and the many creative facets of an artists practice.
You can find more info about the project here.
I often like to make a publication as the center, or end result, of a project. I think books and publications have a great way of facilitating collaboration. They let individuals contribute just as equally as groups. They imply narrative. They carry photographs, documentation, and text. They are distributable and not necessarily precious.
One recent pubclation project I did was in collaboration with a group of students at Reed College, in Portland. I was asked to talk about a now sun-setted project, Sunday Painters Group (see below). It was funny for me to think about what felt like sort of a dead idea, and it made me think about what other kinds of dead ideas exist in the world. To that end, I had students search the Thesis Tower at Reed for abstracts from old undergraduate theses. These theses, representing dead or dying ideas, were collected from over 100 years of graduating Reed students and preserved in this tower. Together we deleted words from each abrstract to produce a madlib, and the collection of madlibs was turned into a book, titled Gradlibs.
Over the course of a month during this past summer, I collaborated with Roz Crews on a project titled 30 Under 30, an experimental documentary that attempted to see what young people were doing in Santa Fe, New Mexico (my hometown). By taking the 30 Under 30 list and throwing out almost all of the criteria, we hoped to convert it from a capitalist driven hype piece for young entrepenuers, and turn it into a way for two artists to get to know a place. Two of the oft repeated tropes of Santa Fe are that there aren't any young people, and that the town is full of artists. Thus are criteria wound up being, under 30 and not an artist.
The project was also an inquiry into the ways we travel and get to know new places. How deep of a relationship can a person make in two days, a week, or a month? Over the course of a week, we drove around and talked to people, interviewing while we went. We asked everyone we talked to for a reference, mushrooming out from our random encounters into networks across Santa Fe. The result was a sporadic and wide ranging sample of people that gave a snapshot by referral. A taste, a moment, a few people and what they had to say. The entire project took three weeks, at the end of which we screened the film and invited all the participants to attend as guests of honor.
I'm increasingly interested in slow projects. These are projects that creep along and might have minimal results, but represent long engagements with a place, idea, or group of people. What is the value of a project like this, and how do we represent this type of engagement as artists? One such project has been a slow consideration of my food heritage, which started with my enrolling for a community garden plot in East Portland. There, I have been growing Hard Red Spring wheat, which I plan to harvest and turn into Saltine crackers. Saltine crackers were in many ways emblematic of my own food history growing up, which mostly lacked any sense of belonging to an ethnic or regional cuisine. So far, the wheat field (working title Minor Wheat Field), functions mostly as a talking point. It's something I bring up in passing, or as a way to intitate a dialogue about how others might feel about their own histories. I'm not sure what I will do with the saltines, whether to eat them, or preserve them, or present them as sculptures.
I recently gave away up to $50,000 in artists grants to five lucky winners of a contest I held through the Portland State Art and Social Practice Instagram. I experimented with different forms of audience participation, asking people to come up with responses to questions or challenges I posed online. Other prizes included custom business cards, and a year subscription to People Magazine.
This Spring I collaborated with Xi Jie Ng (Salty) to create the Cafeteria Staff Exchange Program. We worked with cafeteria staff at Martin Luther King School and the Native American Youth and Family Center to develop a menu for Assembly, a three day co-authored conference on socially engaged art. The project began as a way to create a lunch menu for the conference, which was sited at the two schools.
Salty and I were both curious about doing some sort of food related art project, and it made sense to start by talking to the people that are working at these schools daily to
cook meals for the hundreds of students that eat there. Through a process of interviews and phone calls, we met Ruby and Virginia at King School, and Laura, Monique and Irene at NAYA, who lent their time and knowledge to our project.
Through interviews and a Cafeteria Staff Summit, we talked about our personal relationships to food, our histories in the food service industry, and favorite recipes. During the summit we brought everyone together at Salty's house and developed a menu, combining both personal recipes and cafeteria standbys. Salty and I took this menu as a template and made food to serve for lunch on both days of the conference, feeding a crowd of over 75 people on each day.
Finally, we shared the project through placemats that included some excerpts from our interviews with Ruby, Virginia, Laura, Monique and Irene. On the Saturday of Assembly, everybody that participated came out for lunch, and we presented them aprons and framed placemats.
I just released a book of Yelp reviews about Herman the Sturgeon, an old sturgeon that has been in captivity at Bonneville Dam Fish Hatchery for many many years. You can get the book here.
I have been very interested in politics since the election in 2016. I am experimenting with different forms of political action such as picketing my own use of Bank of America, handcuffing myself to my compost bin, and an ongoing letter writing campaign to myself that I started on January 20th, 2016. The ongoing project is called THE PERSONAL IS PROBLEMATIC.
This Spring I collaborated on a project called Hotline Think, a mobile calling center that encourages passersby to use unconventional scripts to call mayors, school principals, talk radio hosts, senators, and moms. We provided texts that ranged from traditional political scripts to poetry by artists from the six countries banned from travel to the United States. Our goal was to raise awareness about the immigration ban, and encourage people to have conversations on immigration they might not have otherwise.
Over the course of 2016 I collaborated with Roz Crews on the creation of a conceptual art club called Sunday Painters Group. Over the course of 2 twelve week semesters, we met in malls, public libraries, under bridges, and once in a car to carry out assignments created by members of the group. The project inspire several response clubs, including a Sunday Painters Group that just painted, and a Sunday Beer Group that drank beer. The project concluded with a largescale Sunday Painters Group event at Marylhurst College, where six artists led workshops about daily practices that fall outside of ones artistic practice.
One time Roz Crews and I tried to host a month long collaborative reserach project focused on curatorial affairs, to be sited in the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College. Despite support from the gallery director and faculty at the school, we were told that the gallery was only for rent during the summer, and was to be used for wedding storage. We reflected on this experience through a project as part of Lewis & Clarks Art Week. The project, Community for Rent, took the schools own language used to entice potential renters and posted it on signs around campus. We even made a campus map so people could walk the campus and see all the signs.
I have always been fascinated by maps and map making. I recently started kite mapping, using the an eight foot box delta to take my homemade camera rig up to 1000 feet in the air. Im a proponent of citizen science, citizen run infrastructure, citizenry in general (how we define and expand that term, how we make it inclusive). My kite mapping corresponds with ongoing research into submarine cable lines, cables that strech across oceans to connect continents. I want to know more about these cables; I want to see one at the bottom of an ocean.
In addtion to kite mapping, I have been making my own maps. These maps are based off of habitual routes I took while growing up in Santa Fe. The drive from dads house to moms house, to my highschool girlfriends house, the mall, my first job. Each a route defined by its surrounds. How did the built environment shape how I travel? Each of these drives I navigating turn by turn across the paper. This summer, I am working on a collaborative exhibition about home, and these maps will form an atlas, an intersecion between routine and space.