Hello, my name is Spencer. I'm an artist and art worker based in Portland, OR. I create collaborative and socially engaged projects that build nuance and complicate our understanding of the world around us. I can also be found teaching classes and workshops at PSU and around town. I am a graduate of the Art and Social Practice Program at Portland State University. I am also the Exhibitions Director at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. You can email me at email@example.com.
Starting in 2018, I became the curator of TBA:FOOD, a program envisioned to complement the annual Time Based Art Festival at PICA. The festival, which spans 10 days every September, centers around a late night hub at our space on 15 NE Hancock. This space has traditionally had food vendors, and PICA's Artistic Directors asked me to develop something that would continue to offer food while creating a conceptually interesting and artistically driven space for festival attendees to explore.
I began by reorienting how food at the festival functioned. Vendors were no longer simply food vendors, but were considered artists. Creative individuals who were looking critically at the intersection of art, food and community. I also initiated a publication to accompany the program, which includes essays, interviews, and information about local food vendors. In the second year, we took the concept further, by replacing the traditional food vending stall with a fully functioning corner store, replete with both hot food, deli items, chips, dips, artists ephemera, and more. We were able to change expectations and assumptions about what is available at an art festival, and how an art institution can become a hospitable and welcoming place.
We wanted to create a model that let us offer a wide array of things that a festival-goer might need and eventually came to the Corner Store as the perfect container. These shops are our first line of defense for forgotten eggs, late night snacks, gatorades for a sick partner, and more. Corner stores anchor communities and define them. They are an open door off the street, a person to chat with, and a landmark by which to navigate.
Within TBA's Corner Store there are many nesting projects. Artists have created items for sale and vendors have prepared hot and cold food for people to eat. A wide array of snacks, from health bars to salty chips are all available. We aspire to a sort of reliability that can't nor- mally be expected from an art institution. Yes you can buy groceries here.
A related project I did a little while back was an autobiographical essay I wrote titled Capitalism and Convenience.
Between 2018 and 2019, I worked with a group of artists at Columbia River Correctional Institution to create Doing Time, a board game about the experiences of life at CRCI, a minimum security prison in NE Portland. The game design process unfolded over the course of many months, and sought to create a game that conveyed some of the nuance and details of what the experience of incarceration is like. Through this process we realized that there is no consensus or singular experience of prison, and the game collects togethers dozens of dillemas, choices, experiences, and details from the game designers own experience to create an immersive and compelling representation of life at CRCI. The goal of the game is not to trivialize the experience of incarceration, but to bring people together, around a table, to learn and talk about some of the systems at play within mass incarceration.
The group used an iterative design process to try out new rules and test the game. We refined and redesigned the game ten times before coming up with the final version. The game works as follows: players start with the same sentence, and must navigate various challenges and choices in order to do their time, including managing resources, contraband, and stress tokens. By keeping your stress down and doing your time the quickest way possible, you try and be the first one to get to the gate. The game is an abstraction of real life in prison, but through the process of observation and gamification, the group was able to think critically about how prison actually works. What effects does a Correctional Officer have on a prisoner when they walk past? How do prison economics function? These nuanced and often banal aspects often get lost in national narratives about mass incarceration, and are presented here in a way that allows players to experience them firsthand, deepening the understanding of the day to day functioning of a prison. Further information and perspective can be found in the glossary of terms in the rulebook.
The final version of the game was presented to a live audience in the form of an Exhibition Game, with live commentary by members of the design team, and dialogue at the end about the process of creating the game, and it's potential impact.
In the winter of 2018-2019, I participated in 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, we 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."
In the fall of 2018, I launched a new 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 Creative Initiatives, 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 hope that through the creation of a formal residency, including visiting artist lectures, workshops, group critiques, collaborative projects, and an art library, we can 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.
In the Spring of 2018, I led a 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 the summer of 2017, 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 created a sort of 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.
In the Spring of 2017, I collaborated with Xi Jie Ng (Salty) to create the Cafeteria Staff Exchange Program. We worked with cafeteria staff at Martin Luther King Jr. 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.
In the Fall of 2016 I 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.
After the 2016 election, I became very interested in protest and its functions within society. Particularly, how we hold others accountable, versus how we hold ourselves accountable. I decided to protest myself, and started experimenting with different forms of political action such as picketing my own use of Bank of America, handcuffing myself to my compost bin, and a 100 day letter writing campaign to myself that I started on January 20th, 2016. The ongoing project is called THE PERSONAL IS PROBLEMATIC.
In the Spring of 2017, 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 inspired 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 the Art Gym 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 & Clark's 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. For a while, I was experimenting with kite mapping, using an eight foot box delta to take a homemade camera rig up to 1000 feet in the air. I am 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 dad's house to mom's house, to my highschool girlfriend's house, the mall, my first job. Each a route defined by its surroundings. How did the built environment shape how I travel? Each of these drives I navigate turn by turn across the paper.