Bureau for Open Culture: On Symptoms of Cultural Industry

Now on view through Sunday, July 31, at Bureau for Open Culture at MASS MoCA, On Symptoms of Cultural Industry is a work of performance, video, installation, photography and a book. It examines the changing economic and social life in North Adams, a city whose economic base has shifted over the course of recent history from making textiles and electrical components to making art and culture. The work was produced by Bureau for Open Culture as a collaboration among Timothy Nazzaro, Rachel Sherk, Nate Padavick, Cassandra Troyan and James Voorhies. The majority of its content was inspired by life in North Adams and original research and conversations with individuals and their families who worked at Sprague Electric Company, some for more than 50 years. The industrial complex that MASS MoCA inhabits today was once operated by Sprague Electric, which employed over 4,000 people in a city of only 18,000 residents.

On Sunday, July 17, the opening night performance There Is Only Light (We Do Not Know What To Do With Other Worlds)by Cassandra Troyan consisted of a recitation of a script that was composed from the conversations with former Sprague employees including Michael Hutchinson, Ruth Bernardi, Chuck and Joan Tompkins, Dee Garnish and the late Paul Garnish. The conversations were conducted and recorded over the course of the past several months. Troyan excerpted parts of these talks, transcribed the excerpts and combined them with excerpts from transcripts of oversight hearings on job services for dislocated workers in the Berkshires that took place in the late 1970s. These texts were combined with a journal-like register of deaths in the early 1800s in Massachusetts.

Comprehensively, the performance gave a portrait of labor in Western Massachusetts, from the personal words of lived experiences to the official hearings held to determine what to do about rising unemployment and loss of industry.

Prior to Troyan’s performance, members of the audience were approached unexpectedly by her and asked to read part of the script, to take on the character of each of the Sprague employees. Many members of the North Adams community, including artists, friends and neighbors, agreed to read the script. As the performance ensued, Troyan stood at the front of the room speaking the part of the narrator, but not in the sense that she was leading, or that in some way her text was more privileged than the others. Rather, she seemed to take on a historical voice, or that she was actually the voice of these lived histories of oversight hearings, labor crisis and archival death notices.

The current installation in Bureau for Open Culture includes a video projection of Troyan’s performance, recorded against the brick wall on which the video is now projected, appearing to fade into and out of the materiality of the wall. The installation brings to mind the conflation of the two different kinds of labor, both immaterial and material, that now and once took place inside the factory spaces. The voices of Troyan and the readers of the script can be heard throughout the space.

The recorded performance is about 20 minutes long, the average length of a coffee break at Sprague Electric. A vendor with a coffee cart used to make his way through the vast spaces at Sprague. As the cart stopped in each room, work would pause momentarily while workers gathered for a few minutes to talk and drink coffee. The cart would continue into different parts of the factory and work would continue.

The installation includes photographs by Timothy Nazzaro, images of Sprague employees who participated in the project as well as photographs of life in North Adams, from the perspective of an artist residing here today. The text “Unknown Pleasures” by James Voorhies is part of the installation and also printed in the publication.

Nate Padavick designed the publication for On Symptoms of Cultural Industry. It includes the text by James Voorhies, photographs by Timothy Nazzaro and the script written by Cassandra Troyan. The publication is available free.

Posted July 27, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Bureau for Open Culture: I Am Searching for Field Character
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MASS MoCA and The Wassaic Project


Curator Susan Cross on the  Wassaic Project:

Our neighbors from down the street in Wassaic were here at MASS MoCA for the  Solid Sound Festival.  If you aren’t already familiar with The Wassaic Project (run by three Williams College grads: Eve Biddle, Bowie Zunino, and Jeff Barnett-Winsby), we hope you had the chance to learn more about this exciting arts organization.

Located in a sprawling agricultural complex in the hamlet of Wassaic, New York (located off Route 22 right near the Metro North train line), this artist-run space hosts an international residency program (with studios in the gorgeous Luther Barn – see above photo) and features art exhibitions and works by their artists-in-residence in the towering grain elevators of the former Maxon Mills (photo below).  Their annual music and arts festival drew over 2000 fans in its second year in 2009, and this year the festival (August 5th-7th) will include 100 artists, 25 bands, poetry readings, dance performances, film screenings, and more.

The Wassaic Project offers artists and audiences a unique setting for making and engaging with art while working to save the historic buildings of Wassaic and engage with the local community. And admission to their exhibitions and the festival is FREE! (Donations welcome).

Their vision and energy are inspiring, and we love to think of them as a sister institution.

For Solid Sound, The Wassaic Project partnered with the Bureau for Open Culture to bring artists Breanne Trammell and her kite-making workshop as well as Jen-N-Outlaws Fish Fry Truck and Crawfish Boil to MASS MoCA.

The Wassaic Project is having a fundraiser on July 9th from 5:00 to 8:00pm. I’ll be making remarks to celebrate the great work the Wassaic Project is doing at 6 PM.

Posted July 6, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Bureau for Open Culture: I Am Searching for Field Character, Wilco Solid Sound Festival
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Best of Winter 2011

The sun is shining, the birds are flying, and just when we thought winter would never end – summer is here and Bureau for Open Culture is kicking it off at MASS MoCA with Beer Garden!

Beer Garden? That sounds pretty great!…Well it is. And it’s happening THURSDAY MAY 27 and FRIDAY MAY 28 alongside the Hoosic River at MASS MoCA.  It is a platform for conversation, community, and beer.  Join us for discussions and local brews.

Don’t worry.  We’re not going to forget the amazing season we had this Winter/Spring.  Let’s review the Best Of’s for the 2011 Winter/Spring Season!

Best Way to Work Up a Sweat in January: Free Day and Bhangra Funk Dance Party

Best Icicle: The One on Geometric Death Frquency: 141

Best Use of the Audience: Rory Scovel

Best Opportunity to Watch Someone Sleep: Habit

Best Picture of Our Crew: This One. (by Danelle Cheney)

Best Double-Take Performance: The Low Anthem

(Club B10. March 5)

(Hunter Center. April 16)

Best Use of Leather: Tragedy

Best Before and After: Nari Ward Sub Mirgae Lignum

Best Sold Out Performance: Iron & Wine

So get out those tank tops. Slip into those flip-flops. And let’s get this party started THIS WEEKEND with Beer Garden, The Workers Opening Reception, and Rosanne Cash!

The best is yet to come…

Posted May 25, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Bureau for Open Culture: I Am Searching for Field Character, Free Day, Iron & Wine, Nari Ward: Sub Mirage Lignum, Openings, Rory Scovel, The Low Anthem, Tragedy: The All Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees
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Plans for NAMA!

Bureau for Open Culture is an institution on-the-go that initiates the overlap of art, science, ecology, and design. In a variety of locations, BOC helps foster collaborations that explore cultural, social, economic and political conditions.

We are so happy that BOC has landed here in North Adams for the summer and fall as part of our upcoming show The Workers. BOC’s series titled, I Am Searching for Field Character (after a Joseph Beuys essay), invites artists and thinkers to explore North Adams’ historical roots and current relationship with MASS MoCA.

James Voorhies, Director and Chief Curator of Bureau for Open Culture, met with us on Sunday to discuss the ideas for North Adams...You know, because we really like ideas here at MASS MoCA. Get it? The project is an exploration of a community that evolved from an industrial society into a cultural getaway.

When we met with James, he told us about three projects that will take place this summer from May 26 – September 30. First, there’s Beer Garden, a center for conversation AND beer nestled alongside the Hoosic River. Starting on May 26 (let’s hope the snow is gone by then!!), Beer Garden will open for intellectual conversations about community and cultural work over locally brewed beverages every Thursday and Friday night from 5pm-10pm!

Another project is Work Site, a lovely office space in the formerly un-renovated Building 8 at MASS MoCA which will be open to freelancers who would like to bring their laptop to a new workspace and meet some new colleagues! (Think of a coffee shop without the coffee).

James also introduced me to one of the artists, Sarah Cowles, professor of landscape at Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University and mastermind behind Elegantly Wasted: a Fashion-Forward Ecosystem for the Hoosic River. Sarah was joined by some of her brightest architect and landscape students from OSU. The group spent the weekend in the Berkshires becoming familiar with the area.

They visited the Natural Bridge State Park, local restaurants, the Hoosic Tunnel, and even tried their luck with Trivia Night at the PNA in Adams!

Made into a concrete channel in the 1950s, the Hoosic River has not always been a “dead-zone”. The 66-mile long river once provided ecological strength to the Berkshires and industrial power from the 1700’s to the 1900’s. Today there is a disconnect between the community and the river. Sarah and Bureau for Open Culture are here to change that.

The students split into three groups and surveyed the four-mile channelized section of the Hoosic River that runs through NAMA; sketching and observing the area. Their goal was to contemplate and discover a possible relationship between the North Adams community and the Hoosic River.

Two suggestions were thoroughly discussed: One was creating a sound-piece that would be affected by the changing water levels in the River; another was creating smaller ecosystems off of the channelized river to support wildlife.

Bureau for Open Culture is looking forward to connecting with the North Adams community through natural, scientific, and cultural development. Keep reading to see what they come up with!..or visit Bureau for Open Culture’s website!

(Look how happy they are to be in NAMA…)

Posted April 13, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Bureau for Open Culture: I Am Searching for Field Character
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