Recipe For A Research Residency

What you will need: an invitation from Sarah Schultz and the Walker Art Center Open Field Team to consider Fluxus


9 cups of tea, 4 beers and many conversations around the inherent nature of Fluxus with artist Chris Kallmyer. Set aside initial impressions to cure.

12 parts literature, notably Fluxus Experience by Hannah Higgins, with much Ben Vautier for humor, Alison Knowles for flavor, and George Brecht for grounding. Surprisingly not as much cage as expected. Quaff with some Hans Ulrich Obist.

8 pounds conversations with Sarah Schultz and Christina Alderman

1 dollop Dick Higgins’, A Child’s History Of Fluxus

21 parts bad ideas, lightly blanched and discarded

clarify 34 parts web research

12 dabs Facebook

7 pinches Twitter

1 week stewing onsite with Walker staff, Chris Kallmyer, and local artists Margaret Pezalla, Andy Ducett, Jenni Undis and Mike Haeg

Discard 1st photo shoot

Steep with 2 viewings of original Fluxus artifacts

1 large helping of Walker exhibition Art Expanded, fricasseed

2 dredges of Walker Library, rendered

5 big helpings of Walker staff assistance

Bake at 85º for 1 week, during the month of June

Serves: 1-500

It’s a mouthful

Conferences, experimental projects

Manfiesto Adjustment

As a group of us are on the eve of a session at the National Art Education Association conference “Making Room For Participation In The Changing Space Of Education,” it seems useful to revisit the work from the AAM team in 2012 which initiated these conversations. Beginning with a shared desire to develop resources, thinking, and create a language for experimental work in museums, that team created* a manifesto as a result of our formative discussions.

We had finished new and experimental work with contemporary social practice projects spanning the Hammer, Walker, and Portland Art Museums, and the evolving work in the Center for Creative Connections at the Dallas Museum of Art. As I see how the work has formalized and expanded over the last two years, I’d only make a slight changes. You can see the original here.

An Elastic Manifesto for Museums & Artists
(if they feel like reading it)

Otherwise Known As: Why Do Experimental Work

It will expand your role in the community: The work is more social and each project appeals to different audiences. It relies on networks inside and outside the museum to function and therefore has a greater reach.

It will make you better at your job.

It pushes all departments: it innovates all areas of the museum, by engaging them in the art-making.

It is the closest thing so far to working in line with how artists create.

You are furthering a conversation with contemporary work: these projects directly engage with new art forms and publics.

Together we are re-imagining the system, and that is good.

It’s the work of today. It can integrate with all the tools and systems we have at hand.

Just make it happen.

*Original authors:

Maria Mortati, an Independent Museum Exhibit Designer, Sarah Schultz the Director of Education and Curator of Public Practice, Walker Art CenterSusan Diachisin the Kelli and Allen Questrom Director of the Center for Creative Connections, Dallas Museum of Art, Stephanie Parrish the Associate Director of Education and Public Programs, Portland Art Museum


De Stijl manifesto, 1918.

art engagement, experimental projects, Museum projects

Cats, Camp, & Workshops


I’ve been involved in a number of non-traditional efforts recently and not much posting bandwidth. Here, highlights of the summer.

Parks and Rec

In June I was invited to participate in the Headlands Center for the Arts “Hawk Hill Shelter Challenge.” This was a week-long workshop where our central challenge was to explore and conceive of a publicly-accessible “shelter” for an overlook above the Golden Gate Bridge.


The “team” was a variety of architects, artists, and most notably, a poet, where some participants signed up to come for their summer vacation. An interesting aspect of the workshop was the fact that a private, non-profit art center was pooling it’s conceptual talents to respond to a National Parks quandary typically addressed by RFP’s with architecture and landscape design firms.

The Challenge: Design a shelter for the site that takes into consideration: climate, current recreational and interpretive uses, protected species, and historic architecture. The resulting prototypes will feed into a formal proposal to the National Park Service for inclusion in its multi-year Hawk Hill Master Plan.

This was a wonderful, sometimes messy, yet very worthy experiment, and good for the Headlands for going there.  A surprising finding for me was the presence of the poet in our midst. I’m convinced poets should be part of all design challenges. They have a way of ensuring the thread of the core goal. That is emotion, which is a central force in all human endeavors.

Museum Camp

A few weeks later, I was a camp counselor at “Hack the Museum Camp” at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. I wrote about the experience on the Center for the Future of Museums blog. An excerpt:

“However, the MAH camp’s tight focus around one of a museum’s central creative acts was for me, more inspirational. It supported a conclusion that I’ve come to (along with many others): museums need to get more adept at producing vs. protecting. Hosting a “hack” like this is a good way to practice production.”

We rarely, if ever, get to practice our craft in museums. So having a place that was safe, full of resources, practitioners from different backgrounds and implicit reward for risk taking meant everyone got to try something on for size. Be it ideas, craft, teamwork, etc.


Heeeeeere Kitty

Earlier in the summer, the Walker Art Center asked me if I’d like to make something for the 2nd Internet Cat Video Festival. At first I messed around with a cat meets museum concept such as a ‘Cat Curating Kit’. When I learned that it was to be held in the Minnesota State Fairgrounds stadium, that changed the challenge. The most logical response to people in such a spectacle, was well, to make a spectacle. The result (image top of post) was a video booth that roved the fairgrounds challenging fair-goers to imitate their cats:

People Imitating Cats – Walker Catvidfest from Maria Mortati on Vimeo.

FYI, the Walker produced a mini-documentary about this year’s fest. Maybe it will help you make sense of the phenomena. Maybe it’s just crazy.

Conferences, experimental projects, social practice, socially engaged art

Open Engagement and the Museum

Open Engagement Conference Graphic

Last month I attended Open Engagement, an informal conference on social practice art (or Socially Engaged Art) that is produced by Portland State University’s Art and Social Practice MFA students. This was my 2nd time (I threatened last year to do a cartoon on it but only had time for one- feh).

OE is interesting to me because there are questions and challenges that social practice artists engage with which parallel what I strive to do in my work: a focus on manifesting ideas for inventive engagement, and smart participation. In addition, there is often a historical context to “participation” which surfaces in the course of the keynotes or discussions. Context that is largely absent in other conferences and the museum blogosphere. It also provides a language to talk about work that is evolving, and struggles with its inherent intangibility.

There were three projects or talks that stood out:

Claire Doherty talked about their Situations project “Nowhere Island”, conceived of by Alex Hartley and produced for the UK Olympics. My knee-jerk reaction was “oh god, really?” when I heard they discovered a piece of exposed arctic landmass, and put together a proposal to tow it around the UK. What emerged, however, was a story of joyous and thoughtful social impact. The island it created a sense of expectation as it moored off towns around the coast. They developed a mobile embassy, the cumulative results of which deeply engaged the public in discussions and activities around citizenship and sovereignty. A dear and fraught topic. There is more, so go to the website and check it out, along with their other amazing projects.

Nowhere Island

Nowhere Island, #OE2013

The social practice artist Heather Zinger presented her smart, fun, and impactful work with cancer patients through the Embrace Center at Sanford Health in Fargo, ND. She developed a series of projects that corralled, animated and soothed staff and patients.

“(Oncologist) Terstriep sees Zinger’s addition to the staff as the first step in creating a dynamic arts program that “taps into an artist’s expertise” to create an environment of healing and well being that wouldn’t be attainable otherwise, and it’s bearing out in patient reaction.” (Source)

She also put together an amazing slide that showed the complexity (and power) of her network. I think we could all take note of this approach:

Heather Zinger's organizational slide, #OE2013

Heather Zinger’s organizational slide, #OE2013

There was a delightful project out of the Richmond, VA public library system called “The People’s Library.” A team of artists (Courtney Bowles, Riley Duncan and Mark Strandquist) took hardcover books that were about to be tossed, gutted them, put new (handmade) paper inside with letterpress prompts. These books were given out to the community to journal. When they were done, they were brought back into the library collection for others to check out, and learn what their neighbors were thinking about. Simple and interesting engagement, that leverages existing social phenomena.

The People's Library, #OE2013

The People’s Library, #OE2013

Of course a panel I participated in was one I got a lot out of. Organized by Stephanie Parrish and Mike Murawski (Portland Art Museum) and Kelsey Snook (Daily tous le jours), it was called “Art Museums and Social Practice: Where Are We Now?” It was a panel in two parts. Part one consisted of a dinner discussion with artists, museum directors, curators, educators, designers, and educators from the Met, Walker Art Center, Hammer Museum, Queens Museum and beyond. We were there to ostensibly think about what’s next for events such as Shine A Light event, which was held during the conference. What emerged was a discussion, debate and overall thoughtful exchange around the feasibility, utility and possibilities of doing this work in and around museums. The next morning was part two- a panel where we opened this conversation up to the conference.

#OE2013 dinner

#OE2013 pre-panel dinner

#OE2013 panel query slide

Query for panel and audience

Again, this sums up a focus that brought me back to Open Engagement:

Social Practice venn-diagram


It’s Elastic

Hello! The Elastic Museum blog was developed to explore, support, and understand engagement projects. Highly social and largely experimental projects are able to push on the parameters (from both sides) of what can make a museum. Many of these efforts seem disparate on the surface, yet many share the goal of innovation in our communities, as well as around the relevance of museums or and cultural entities- whether it’s stated or not.Practice Overlap

Turning the cruise ship of museums from a focus on cultural stewardship to cultural partnership, facilitation or production means tinkering and tangling with a variety of systems on many levels. It’s complex, embedded work.

In addition, fostering and creating this type of work in museums often means working outside of traditional resources, as well as creating new roles and partnerships. As this space is emergent, it highlights a need for developing and sharing resources, building networks of artists, practitioners, projects, and offering models for inspiration through new forms.

My own practice around museums forms the basis for this blog. However, my thinking has been transformed through two panels at #aam with the following inspirational people and projects: Sarah Schultz, Walker Art Center, Susan Diachisin, Dallas Museum of Art, Anne Manning, Baltimore Museum of Art, Stephanie Parrish, Portland Museum of Art, Jaime Kopke, Denver Museum of Art, Wayne McNeil, Center for Living Arts, Emily Blumenthal and Dylan Kinnett, Walters Art Museum, Rebecca Edwards, The J.Paul Getty Museum, and George Ciscle, Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art.

I’ll leave you with the The Elastic Manifesto, Manual and Bibliography we developed last year to get you thinking (click the image below). If you’ve got a project, point of view or theory you’d like to write about here, let us know in the comments. Thanks!

- Maria Mortati

Elastic Manifesto

experimental projects

Tonight, The Great Calculation Talk

This week, Mark Glusker (my husband) and I have had an exhibit + series of events at Southern Exposure Gallery, called, you guessed it, the Great Calculation. We are exploding a topic- in this case, electromechanical calculators circa 1960, which Mark collects and tinkers with. Given the space and duration, it’s a bit more elaborate version of what we created last fall at Machine Project.

Tonight, he will be giving a talk followed by a machine-inspired musical performance by a San Francisco musician:

Learn more about these incredible machines and see how they work firsthand. Mark will begin the evening by sharing his deep understanding of these complex machines and their historic uses, contextualizing the machines and the culture around them within contemporary technology. His talk concludes with a live calculation performance by eight participants from the audience, who will work simultaneously to demonstrate the loud and lengthy process necessary to complete simple calculations. Next, artist, musician, curator, and technologist, Mat Dryhurst will give a musical performance inspired by and incorporating the calculating machines.

Friday, April 12, 2013, 7 – 9 pm, Southern Exposure, 3030 20th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

The exhibit opened last Wednesday, and will be up through tomorrow. Our first event was a “Machine Drawing and Dissecting Workshop.” Along with ambient music by the talented Aero Mic’d, participants drew complex innards of machines at one table, and attempted to tinker and/or tear them apart at another. All while surrounded by a smattering of Mark’s collection:


This project has reinforced how essential it is that experimental galleries exist. Working in the context of an art space freed me up to explore ideas and engagement vehicles which doesn’t preclude anyone’s entry into the subject. It’s also been great fun.

art culture projects, experimental projects, socially engaged art

Heisenberg and Audio Tours

Tour Stop – image: Machine Project

I wrote about this project back in June- Southern Exposure and Machine Project joined forces to create 20 continuous days of events in 20 homes in San Francisco. Ours was one of them. There were three events that day, and one was an audio tour, ala museum, created by artist Josh Greene. The SMEP team recently posted the video excerpts of the event (below).

I thought I’d post the process. It all began with the following email from Josh:

i have been thinking quite a bit about your career in museum design and the confluence of that background, a ‘show’ in your house and of course the notion that a house is filled with tons of compelling information (both past and present).

i am thinking about trying to put together a museum-style audio tour of your house. if the technology permits, people would connect to itunes via their phones and find the tour as a podcast.

in order to make this happen i would need to sit down with you and mark and have a more detailed conversation to generate the content of the tour.

“Inspired” by these interviews, Josh produced and narrated a museum-style tour of stops around our house. Upon arrival, visitors were given a map, and read an introductory panel. Then they downloaded the audio from iTunes, donned headphones, and wandered silently, stopping at various markers:

I’m not going to tell you what is truth or fiction. For me it is wry and stark reminder that like much of the universe, museums also follow Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: “The more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa.”

We had a lot of fun.

Southern Machine Exposure Project Event #14: Josh Greene’s Audio tour from Southern Exposure on Vimeo.