MoMAZoZo: An Interview With Paula Wilson and Mike Lagg

MoMAZoZo looking South.

MoMAZoZo looking South.

Carrizozo is a small railroad town in southern New Mexico surrounded by mountains to the East and White Sands Missile Range to the West. I visited there last December and was fortunate to meet Paula Wilson and Mike Lagg, the founders of MoMAZoZo, an art space located in Downtown Carrizozo. Mike and Paula have been developing a residency program over the past several years to bring artists to Carrizozo, where they can find both solitude and engagement with the community, history, and landscape of South Central New Mexico. The following interviews looks into the history and future of MoMAZoZo, and the dynamics of art spaces in small towns. It also offers a glimpse into how artists are incorporating structures from art institutions, such as that of a residency, into their own practices.

Spencer: First, I’d love to get a little background and timeline for MoMAZoZo. How and when did it get going as an art space and as a residency? Were you following a specific vision in establishing it, or working intuitively as things progressed?

Paula: Mike and I remember how MoMAZoZo began differently. I have a distinct memory of Mike coming up with the name in my studio while I was painting. It clicked– funny yet somehow accurate. Kind of like, let’s dream big and fill those shoes. It was more of an idea than a program, institution, or plan of action. It was about us joining forces. We aren’t married but have been together for 10 years, so it represents our union– our idea, our coming into being and the meeting of our minds and artistry. I made a poster for MoMAZoZo. A picture of a cube in the desert or an empty blank space. That was the start for me. 

Winter Solstice bonfire this past December.

Winter Solstice bonfire this past December.

Mike: What I remember is that we were offered a free space on 12th Street in Carrizozo. Large, abandoned, and unencumbered. We proceeded to it make it MoMAZoZo. We made signs, we made pretzels, we made it a space to be visible. The MoMAZoZo hour is what made it possible.

Paula: Our open hours have been consistent and unwavering from the start– Fridays, from noon to one.

Mike: Except we are closed on Black Fridays for humanity’s insanity. 

Spencer: How did each of you come to Carrizozo? What prompted you to stay?

Mike: Paula came here for the promise of a green chili cheese burger. I came here because of the cheap rent and I saw the opportunity of Carrizozo to be my art center.

Paula: Yeah. I was living in Brooklyn, making art and teaching. I became familiar with the area because my Mom had moved to Lincoln, NM, which is about 45 minutes from Carrizozo. I always loved being in New Mexico and spent as much time as possible here. I hooked up with Mike while I was visiting her and we were long distance lovers for a year before I saw a chance to leap into this new life. It seemed so full of possibility and a means to be fully in my artistic life. And then there is the green chili addiction…

Spencer: I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience traveling down to Carrizozo. It’s a very specific experience, much like traveling to Marfa, or visiting Spiral Jetty: each highway, turn and small town you pass through adds to the meaning of the place you wind up. But that is my experience as an outsider, coming from an urban center. I think there is this urban-center/rural-periphery divide that dominates many narratives of the art landscape and privileges cities over small towns. What has been your experience of working in a rural town? Does this distinction hold up? Does MoMAZoZo operate as a periphery or a center?

Paula: MoMAZoZo is definitely a center in the new global and virtual paradigm. 

Mike: It wasn’t until recently until we physically became the center of the art scene in Carrizozo with the purchase of the Lyric Complexu on Twelfth Street. It was an abandoned suite of buildings. Two of them were on the verge of being condemned. The third one, being Paula’s studio, was recently remodeled for a micro brewery. Included in this complexu are ten lots of open space. It is across from a park that is basically the center of Carrizozo with Twelfth street being the historic and artistic biway. So all told we have a 5,000 square foot studio and a two story abandoned hotel with lots of potential. 

Paula: Not to mention the Lyric Theater. I like how you talk about the experience of traveling here. We find ourselves at the spot near where White Sand National Monument meets the Valley of Fires lava flow. There is a tension of forces that give Carrizozo its vitality. A mix of liberals and conservatives, newcomers and old timers, preservationists and cattle ranchers. 


Spencer: I was struck by Paula’s comment that as visitors we sort of functioned like currency. I reflected on how laid bare a lot of transaction is in small communities: visitors bring income or extend networks or increase visibility. These transactions are not always so transparent in large cities, and aren’t necessarily intuitive either. Starting a residency seems like a good way to foster transaction and serve both artists and communities. What has been your experience so far running the residency? What have been some of the experiences of participants?

Mike: We found that the residents of Carrizozo have embraced our Artists-in-Residences with open arms. 

Paula: It is the simple things, like when Sully volunteered to take Jemima back to the airport, or when Anya was able to procure bicycle tire tubes from Bill at the municipal airport. The need arrived and was satisfied without the exchange of dollars but just with good will. In Carrizozo we can privilege quality and diversity of human interaction.

Mike: The other day someone asked– “When is OUR next Artists-in-Residence coming?”

Paula: Yay. I wasn’t quite expecting the community to have such a stake and investment in our artist’s experience. And there is a reverberating impact that each visitor and artist has– recommending and bringing new people to the area… a network. The Carrizozo Colony AiR is a collaboration with Joan & Warren Malkerson. They provide the housing and studio spaces. We work together to make this thing sustainable and smooth operating. 

Mike: There is a community email newsletter and each artist has been getting a profile in the local paper. It is just the way small communities work and we try not to take it for granted.

Spencer: What has been your experience as partners and collaborators? As two artists with individual practices, a collaborative practice, AND an art space and residency that you run together, I’m always curious about process…

Mike: In most things, that an artist does, you basically are doing by yourself, because that is just the nature of the artist’s life. So when an opportunity does come along to collaborate, that is a special moment. Those are the rare occasions that you gotta jump on. Because two people working together have the exponential power of creative force.

Paula: Yes, I like it. I think it is hard for us to see how often and successfully we collaborate. I tend to focus on the production…

Mike: … but that is really not that important sometimes.

Paula: Right. We live and work together, the parsley in our garden, the painting on our kitchen cabinets, the flat files that you made… it is in the grown and digested life that fuses us. There are plenty instances of manifestation of our collaborations, like our workshops and…

Mike: … our wooden spoons. 

Rain catchment in the desert.

Rain catchment in the desert.

Spencer: Looking forward, what is on the horizon?

Paula: We have been blessed by support both within and outside of Carrizozo. Currently a New York collector of mine, who visited and loved Carrizozo, is funding an Executive Director position. We are welcoming 13 artists in 2017 for the Carrizozo Colony Artist-in-Residence. We look forward to hosting lots of events in the Lyric Theater.

Mike: So far I have been tearing down the fences along our new properties. I look forward to more openings, more access, and more diverse collaborations.
Paula: Yes! And visitors. Please come visit us.

To visit:  LYRIC COMPLEXU on Twelfth St in downtown Carrizozo 503 12th St, Carrizozo, NM, 88301. The MoMAZoZo hour happens every Friday from 12pm-1pm.


PSST: Joshua Safran


Joshua Safran talks about his ongoing work as a lawyer advocating for the wrongly imprisoned and survivors of domestic abuse, and the film Crime After Crime.

The full podcast can be heard here.

Joshua Safran is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, “Free Spirit: Growing Up On the road and Off the Grid.” In addition to his career as an author, Joshua is also an attorney and a nationally recognized advocate for survivors of domestic abuse and the wrongfully imprisoned. Safran spent his childhood hitchhiking, and surviving the elements and a violent stepfather before finding his way to law school.  Crime After Crime is the exclusive documentary film on the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, a woman sentenced 25 years-to-life for her connection to the murder of the man who abused her. Twenty years later, as she languishes in prison, a California law allowing incarcerated domestic-violence survivors to reopen their cases is passed. Debbie finds her only hope for freedom when two rookie attorneys with no background in criminal law step forward to take her case.

For its second season of public conversations, the Portland State Social Practice Talks public conversation series has focused on various aspects of the prison-industrial complex in the United States. These talks have ranged from artists to reform advocates, playwrights to curators, all engaging with, challenging, and questioning the role of prisons in our society. The conversations serve as a form of public research in relation to an ongoing project at the Columbia River Correctional Institution. The goal is learning how different people approach contact with the corrections system, and the potential role of art in this context. The conversations were held publicly at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Program Report: Front/Space

Sustainability: Molding a Fundraiser
Becoming a sustainable organization, especially at the DIY level, is something constantly in balance at Front/Space. Over the last two and a half years, we have experienced unprecedented growth which has challenged the way Kendell and I look at finances in our small volunteer run organization. It may seem hard to believe, but our operating budget for the year is close to $18,000. With rent as our largest expense, we constantly come back to our core question: How can we serve artists and pay them for their creative labor?

The crowd at Hot Hands 2017 hosted at The Drugstore Studios in Kansas City, MO.

The crowd at Hot Hands 2017 hosted at The Drugstore Studios in Kansas City, MO.

We strive to provide support by the means of stipends to in-town and out-of-town artists, as well as paying a photographer to document our exhibitions. With these expenses being the foundation of our budget, we realized that we would need a variety of funding sources to close the gap between our grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and operating expenses. With multiple consultations with a variety of community partners, we decided to look into fundraising models created by similar sized DIY organizations.

Artist Spencer Pullen drawing at Hot Hands 2017.

Artist Spencer Pullen drawing at Hot Hands 2017.

We landed on the idea for Hot Hands, a live drawing and fundraising event, because we saw it as an opportunity to showcase a distilled version of our goals as a whole for Front/Space. Hot Hands is centered around a very simple format of promoting artists. One night only, artists make their work on the spot that can be purchased for a flat rate of $30.

Each artists tackles this challenge in a different way, forging new ways of thinking in their personal studio practice. We quickly realized how democratic the event can be for both those who are participating or attending. The $30 price point makes the art work extremely accessible, “leveling the playing field” between emerging and established artists. Whether you are a first time collector or a savvy buyer, anyone can witness the magic of an artwork’s creation from the artists’ hands to the finished piece on the wall.

Artists Rodolfo Marron III and Garry Noland making their work during Hot Hands 2017.

Artists Rodolfo Marron III and Garry Noland making their work during Hot Hands 2017.

Below are a few tips and tricks, if you choose to create your own Hot Hands or to be applied to your own fundraising model:

  • Establish your venue. This will assist in knowing the capacity for your event.
  • Form a budget that seems reasonable to fit within that venue. For instance, if your goal is to raise $10,000 but your space’s capacity is 150 people, perhaps you need to partner with another larger organization with enough space to host your event.
  • Establish your artist roster. Who will be participating? Be sure it is a mix of well known artists in the community as well as emerging artists who are looking for opportunities. Outline the event to the artists and make sure they are a good fit. Many might be nervous about crowds or making work on the spot.
  • Establish a Volunteer Coordinator and gather volunteers. Communicate your expectations to the Volunteer Coordinator and make sure they understand the multiple roles that need to be filled such as the register, greeting guests, runners, art handlers, set up and break down, etc. Do not forget to make your volunteers feel appreciated!
  • Solicit Donations. Ask ask ask! You never know if someone will donate until you ask. Soliciting alcohol donations to be then distributed (not sold) is helpful and tips can be a large source of income for the event.
  • Communicate with your artists and establish a meet and greet so they can get to know each other. It is also helpful to have your volunteers meet the artists before hand so they can accurately promote and advocate the artist’s work and help answer any questions to guests.
  • Establish a system for taking money. Since Front/Space has a parent organization as our fiscal sponsor (Fractured Atlas) we had to conform to a couple of rules set in place by them. Determine if you will take sales with cash and/or card.
  • Merch! A commemorative t-shirt or tote bag (if marketed correctly) can go a long way but also do not forget to do a non-specific-to-the-event merch item as well. That way if you do not sell out of the t-shirts that say “Hot Hands 2017” you can use them for other fundraising opportunities or sell them throughout the year.
  • Understand your audience. Figuring out who you are targeting to attend your event. Most people who are excited to spend $30 on a piece of artwork (a steal!) will not pay a $20 admission cover. Understanding who you are throwing this event for will contribute to its success.
  • Follow up! Thank you cards, emails, whatever it takes. Be sure to follow up with your audience, volunteers and artists after the event to be sure everyone knows that without their support this event (and your organization!) is not possible.

For more information about Hot Hands please view this article written by KCUR :

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Artist Peggy Noland during Hot Hands 2017. All photos by Timothy Amundson.

Artist Peggy Noland during Hot Hands 2017. All photos by Timothy Amundson.

Program Report: CASP

The Centre for Arts & Social Practice introduces a project from 2015 that involved a notebook exchange and creation of a large collaborative rug.

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Derdh Guna Derdh | (one and half by one and half)

Community based art project by Anuradha Pathak | Installation Artist & Head – Kolkata Chapter

The community based art project Derdh Guna Derdh was developed at Shankar Camp in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. The people living in this area are rural migrants from Sunderbans – West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and their basic occupation is as house-helps of the residents living in Vasant Kunj area. These people live in an urban cluster with impermanent housing and civic facilities, and share diverse religious and cultural practices. The project developed through dialogues with the women of Shankar Camp who brought forth issues of migration and belonging, amidst the economic need to live in the city. The memories of domestic craft and recycling of textiles became the context through which this project was implemented in two main activities:

1. Documenting the Daily: There is a long standing practice of women in India from marginalized communities to buy household items in exchange of old clothes. Here the notebooks and pen/pencil were provided in exchange for clothes to make the 1.5 x 1.5 ft Aasans (cloth rugs). The notebooks were used as diaries by the children in that area where they documented their daily experiences and aspirations for three months.

2. Mark on the Plot: Aasans (small cloth rugs) are generally used in rural areas where they are spread on the floor for people to sit on. In this workshop, aasans, with a size of 1.5 x 1.5 ft were made from the worn-out clothes (sarees and dupattas) by the women in the community. These old clothes were exchanged first with the note-books/pencils and then each woman was given colourful cloths of the exact size along with a white small cloth on which they wrote an unfulfilled desire or an issue plaguing their living spaces in Shankar Camp. After this, they did needle-work on the writings and stitched them on their respective aasans. They also decorated the aasans with colourful beads and patterns. When each 1.5 x 1.5 ft cloth was complete, all the cloths were joined together to form a big rug.

Derdh Guna Derdh (one and half x one and half) was conceptualized and facilitated by Anuradha Pathak (installation artist, Kolkata) and supported by Parul Kiri Roy (architect-academic) and assisted by an architecture student, Michael Vivian Ekka. The community based art project workshop was organized by CASP – New Delhi chapter from 30 March – 2 April, 2015

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PSST: Yaelle S. Amir


Continuing our series on mass incarceration in the United States, we are joined by curator Yaelle S. Amir of Newspace Center for Photography. She talks about the exhibition Prison Obscura  which was on view at Newspace from April 1st-May 28th 2016. The exhibition, curated by Pete Brook, examines the imagery surrounding prisons both from inside and outside the walls.

You can listen to the entire podcast here.

Yaelle S. Amir has worked as a curator and researcher for over a decade, focusing primarily on socially-engaged photography, video, and installation with an emphasis on community engagement. She has held curatorial and research positions at several institutions including the International Center of Photography, Museum of Modern Art, and New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. She has curated exhibitions at Artists Space, CUE Art Foundation, Center for Book Arts, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Franklin Street Works, ISE Cultural Foundation, Marginal Utility, and the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, among others. Yaelle is the recipient of several curatorial fellowships and awards by national organizations from The Luminary and Paul Artspace in St. Louis, to BRIC Media and the Art & Law Program in New York. At Newspace, Yaelle manages exhibitions, lectures, and public programs.

PSST: Sherrill Roland

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SEASON 2: Mass Incarceration

For its second season of public conversations, the Portland State Social Practice Talks public conversation series has focused on various aspects of the prison-industrial complex in the United States. These talks have ranged from artists to reform advocates, playwrights to curators, all engaging with, challenging, and questioning the role of prisons in our society. The conversations serve as a form of public research in relation to an ongoing project at the Columbia River Correctional Institution. The goal is learning how different people approach contact with the corrections system, and the potential role of art in this context. The conversations were held publicly at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

This week we are joined by Sherrill Roland. The full conversation can be heard here.

Sherrill Roland is a returning student entering his thesis and final year of my Master’s in Fine Arts at UNCG. He started a few years ago before his world turned upside down. In October 2013, Sherrill went to trial and subsequently lost, and 11 months later he was released from state prison in Washington, DC. Almost a year and a half after being released, he was exonerated of all charges and granted a bill of innocence.

The Jumpsuit Project is a socially engaged art project conducted at UNCG during the 2016-17 academic year to raise awareness about issues relating to incarceration.

Program Report: Front/Space

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Front/Space as a law office from Google Street View, circa 2008(?)

Origins and Operations: How Front/Space emerged from DIY to DI(WE)

Stepping in as co-director of Front/Space, nearly two and a half years ago, I wouldn’t have believed where we are now, what we have accomplished and what we have yet to do. Alternative and DIY spaces are a necessity to the complexity of the cultural landscape, they are safe havens for risk taking and interdisciplinary practices that do not rely on institutional critique, commercial constructs or business practices. They attempt to reimagine and redefine space and often go unnoticed by the general public.

When I speak about Front/Space I strive to speak to these ideas as it emerged from the perfect combination of opportunity of space and cheap rent that draws many artists to Kansas City. In 2010, it is was founded by a rotating crew of residents and volunteers who came back to the city after college to discover many changes and development in the Crossroads Arts District. Previously a law office, they rented a building that conveniently contained a storefront window that was big enough to exhibit solo work, a collaborative project or host an intimate performance. Steadily, Front/Space grew as a collaborative effort with each resident and volunteer contributing to multiple facets of the project. They began showing work generated by friends, colleagues, architects, writers, and civic media makers, contributing to the built-in audience of First Friday – a monthly gallery crawl that many cities from across the country have adopted.

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Front/Space at night with February 2017 exhibition The Shape of Things by Kayla Mattes and Justin Seibert. Photo by Timothy Amundson.

First Friday in Kansas City transforms the Crossroads Arts District from a bustling 9 to 5 neighborhood to a packed party extending a near 8 block radius. This type of density is rare, as people travel from midtown and the suburbs to participate in this event. Food trucks, vendors and performers line the streets while people pack into galleries to view art or scope out free booze.

In the early stages, Front/Space offered a different type of experience that subverted much of the spectacle that has become First Friday. Situated on the edge of the district, many people would walk past FS after parking their car, with a slight glance thinking “what is this?” Not conforming to the traditional “white cube”, Front/Space immediately attracted those who were curious, thoughtful and wanted to build a broader conversation about what was happening in the Kansas City art scene.

In 2014, after approximately 4 years of running the project completely out of pocket, Front/Space was unknowingly nominated and received a SEED Grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation – three installments of $10,000 that were to span the course of three years. In this time, the directors Kent Szlauderbach, Leandra Burnett and Sarah Murphy were working on their capstone project Civilian, a publication showcasing the intersection between art and civics. With the end of this project in sight and other prospects and opportunities on the horizon, it was time for them to move on. This surprise grant was a turning point for the previous directors. Not only did it legitimize the work they were doing, but also confirmed their determination to not let Front/Space absorb back into the Crossroads once they left. It was then I was tapped to join Front/Space in fall of 2014.

Even with a background in event planning and arts administration I was a bit nervous to embark on a project that seemed to have an established presence as one of the only alternative/DIY spaces in the Crossroads. Front/Space had been a place of discovery for me, and I was drawn to its architectural charm and unassuming presence. As a visual artist with passions for community development, I saw potential for new projects and quickly began research on artists and cultural workers I wanted to highlight and engage. However, I soon realized that this was only one perspective. After exploring multiple options, I decided to ask Kendell Harbin to be my collaborator in this project. Kendell and I had many similarities that would set the stage for a healthy collaboration including that we both had our final projects as seniors at the Kansas City Art Institute at Front/Space. Though our respective shows were completely different in content and concept, we both had a shared love for this strange space as a way to challenge what was going on in the Crossroads.

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Front/Space street view under previous co-direction, circa 2010/11

Once I had courted Kendell into being my collaborator and with funding in place our next questions were: Where do we go from here? What work is compelling? How do we want to run our space?

The first idea for a program was centered on the simple concept of “work” and “working together.” Everyone brought a task, project, writing, whatever they were putting off or needed to complete and then we gathered in the storefront to complete the task together. Kendell and I provided a small resource library, tables, space and brought in collaborators to create activities to navigate mental blocks and participate in to-do list consultations. We felt that this first event really set the tone for how we wanted to run our space, where we were working side by side, sharing resources and stories, challenges and pipedreams. We saw Front/Space as a space that could be uniquely community driven, to shape the vision of what can be possible within these walls.

Now in 2017 and the wake of the contentious election and in the face of a new administration, this concept of “work” has begun to resonate even more passionately. We have so much work to do and it is together that we make this work stronger. Moving forward, we see Front/Space as the platform to engage new audiences and extend to new communities. Though this plan doesn’t necessarily have clear action steps, we can see that our small organization has already shaped and inspired new artist run spaces in Kansas City. We hope that this pooling of resources and information is the key to a great start.

A link to all past residents, co-directors and founders can be found here.


Kansas City Crossroads Arts District during a typical First Friday event. Image source:


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First Front/Space event “WORK” under co-direction of Kendell Harbin and Madeline Gallucci.

Program Report: Greensboro Project Space

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A Little Less Art

Today, the team at Greensboro Project Space (GPS) sat around our reception desk researching the logistics of breaking a Guinness world record. Let’s back up a second. Greensboro, NC is a small town. As a curator from big cities, my perception of public programs had to switch to not only what kinds of experiences to make for the public, but how I can build into them a mechanism to attract the public. The usual social practice and curatorial tools I use just weren’t enough.

Typically the goal was to create projects that are engaging, and offer new experiences that break through the monotony of the everyday. I say engaging often enough that sometimes I need to stop and examine what it means to me. Engaging for me means a sort of mental or physical investment in a project. It could be a good investment (good engagement) or bad investment (bad engagement) but nevertheless, an investment (engagement). This means that the public can participate in the project, or be responsible for creating the project of their own volition. At a base level, this is still my primary methodology, but the thing that is missing only revealed itself as I tried to fit the same projects into a different context. I can easily generate engaging scenarios, but how do I convince people that they need it?


The thing that has struck me the most is that considering the rallying of individuals for a project, greatly effects the project itself. I’ve found that this new element brings in a necessity that is sometimes overlooked. I make work for people, and I often take for granted that people are sitting around waiting for me to bring them something to digest. Our big idea is to not only create experiences designed for people, but to make projects that act as a resource. This resource doesn’t only act as way to bring people into the space, but can be a creative apparatus to construct new and exciting projects. It could be simple. In our latest exhibition about incarceration, we handed out free honeybuns to anyone who came into the space. Honeybuns act as a form of currency in contemporary prisons and jails. Not only do we have a great conversation starter to expound the important data regarding the politics of incarceration, but we can feed people in our neighborhood who are hungry.


The Guinness Book of World Records investigation came from sitting around a reception desk with my team, acting as a think-tank trying to solve simple problems with big and creative ideas. The easy question we asked, is how do we get a huge amount of people to come into our space? The more nuanced form of the question is, how do we convince people that they belong in a space like this? We have found that the answer is to become a resource that stems from the specific needs of a community. Surprisingly, the resources that I have used to bring people in are not art most of the time. This isn’t intentional, but comes about through a realistic purvey of the needs of the people in Greensboro. Art can do a lot, but compared to the spectrums of wants and needs it seems to fall low on the list. I’d say, about 10% percent of people in Greensboro enter into art spaces (this data may or may not be sarcastic). Because we are an art space that focuses on social engagement, collaboration, and participation, this is an alarming realization. More and more we think that fitting into the categorization of ‘art’ is the corrupter that is making us work against our interests. Our goal now is to not figure out how to be different from a gallery, but how to remake ourselves continuously for the different needs of our communities.

Through breaking a Guinness record, we can turn GPS into a kitchen that is baking the world’s largest apple pie, a zoo that is inhabited by the most amount of people holding a ball python with one hand, a greenhouse where the biggest amount of people simultaneously work on a bonsai tree, and a variety of different spaces that acts as an exercise in impermanence. The next time we sit around the reception desk brainstorming the intricacies of community engagement, our first hurdle will be to achieve the unthinkable; purging the perception of GPS as a space to view art. Only then, can we be free to become whatever is necessary, and needed.


“When I die burn durians for me to eat – just place them in my coffin”

On art and senior female culture.


Last year, I was brainstorming the creation of a publication on senior female culture I wanted to title The Grandma Reporter. My classmate suggested writing a manifesto. Here is an early draft still in the works:

“The Grandma Reporter is a publication committed to the subculture of senior females and their rich worlds existing across the earth, where elderly women have lived forever. We aspire to be accessible to young and old but especially to elderly women. We hope to energetically connect our readers, contributors and interviewees in a senior female culture movement. We believe in: proudly declaring your age and keeping it a mystery; dressing up, down and from the heart; talking about death and thinking about past and future lives; walking sticks, wheelchairs and flying in your dreams; wrinkles, bulges, spider veins and bunions; ‘old’, ‘elderly’, ‘senior’, ‘nag’, ‘ageless’, ‘prune’, ‘sage’; discussing disease, incontinence and great television shows; sharing stories of crime, adventure and nonconforming genders; considering the struggles of growing old in a young, technology-focused world; food, genes and other things passed through generations; uncovering long loves, heartbreaks and sex that evolves with age; swimming as a magical way to keep fit in spite of on-land mobility challenges.”

I ended up making a test issue within a frenzied week and a half, in part for the final assignment of the History of Art and Social Practice class taught by Ariana Jacob. I described it as “a publication on senior female culture (including the occasional senior male), exploring topics ranging from fashion, recipes, crime, love and adventure to bunions, caregiving, gender, aging bodies, ageism and death.” My hopes are to find new ways to express the experience of aging in its full spectrum. The name was inspired by The Asian Reporter, a Pacific Northwest news source. The font had to be big enough for seniors. I thought about the term ‘grandma’ and whether it might be alienating to certain sectors of elderly females. In the end, after soliciting advice from various groups of people (and receiving suggestions like ‘silver fox’), I decided to go with it and hope the word could gain currency as broadly referring to elderly females.

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The theme of the test issue was style, which felt like a fun, accessible topic of potential depth to start with. I decided to interview female seniors on their favorite outfit and their thoughts on self-presentation as they age. After that, I would pair each senior with a youth, who would recreate the outfit and ponder the same topic. The Hollywood Senior Center in Portland kindly agreed to put out a call for a group session. Eight seniors who were active members of their community showed up, one enthusiastic male included. Per instructions, most came in their favorite outfit. As each of them mused about their clothing and style through the ages, I sensed a bubbling curiosity amongst them and by the end, a couple new friendships were made. The session felt like a kind of “forum” (as described by one of them) holding a fun investigation on a topic we momentarily found to be of great interest, and that wasn’t usually discussed. It was, eventually, a counsel on identity in old age, and I was the fortunate collector of bouquets like using coke cans to curl hair and a self-confidence that comes with maturing age.

I then went back and intuitively matched each senior to a younger person I knew. I sent them an image and some quotes from their partner, and set out to meet each of them, mostly in their personal spaces where the outfit could be experimented with. Our conversations afforded moments of intimacy in which, for me at least, there was the invisible, comforting presence of their older style accomplice. Though both sets never met, the younger participants were evidently inspired by if not curious about their partner. Our conversations made me see, in spite or because of the unbridgeable gulf in experience between the generations, a kind of longing to reach across the ages. Pondering aging when you are five or twenty-four ended up being a curious, somewhat profound exercise. I was taken by an eight year old boy who recently decided his new mission was to be “funky and classy”, “because it makes me feel better”, and my friend who said, “I think about everything that I’ve done up to now, it makes me feel like I deserve to be 24”. From the start, I had intended the audience of this publication and my projects on aging to include young people; this experience made that desire clearer.

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With the same group of seniors, I conducted a discussion on what they would like to see in, and contribute to, such a publication. The wide range of responses included getting ready for death, how to keep your driver’s license, hoarding, dating, confronting ageism, protecting your bones, relationships with younger family members and having a hobby. These responses are presented in the test issue. Later this year, I may collaborate with these seniors on the next issue.

The first issue also included articles that reflected on the theme differently in terms of content and relationship/interaction with elderly females (personal essays, interviews). My hope is for future issues to include a range of articles centered around an organisation (for example, a senior center), country or topic. I also plan to invite artists to contribute to the publication, discussing or presenting artworks related to senior females.

Me with two of the younger participants, Hadar Kedem (L) and Gavriel Kedem (R). They made their mother read and reread their interviews in the publication to them.

Production costs were kept as low as color printing could reasonably go. I did it on Portland State University’s printers and would like to take a more sustainable approach for future issues. I sorted and stapled the issues together on my kitchen table. A few dozen were given to the Hollywood Senior Center for the participating seniors as well as others to enjoy. It is available as a PDF online (with a donation encouraged) and being stocked at an independent Singapore bookstore, with plans to do the same in Portland. Other possible avenues include senior centers and hip cafes that young people frequent.

I am slowly figuring out who this publication can reach and where. I imagine the networks of readers it might create in different pockets around the world, building a small movement in senior female culture. I am also thinking about the curiosity a Singaporean female elder might feel when reading about her Portland contemporary, maybe learning about lifestyles so wondrously different and others so universal. And perhaps I could organize a meetup for this issue’s young and older pairs to get together in more of their favorite outfits. The possibilities are endless, and I feel more and more like a self-appointed advocate for the elderly or someone whose serious hobby is ‘older people’.


Mama and I over this Chinese New Year

Senior female culture was validated for me through the lived experience of growing up close to my grandmothers. I have lived all my life with Mama (my paternal grandma), and Ah Ma (my maternal grandma) has always been close by. At some point in teenagehood, I started reveling in Mama’s everyday – from her schedule and the things she says, to her fats and fashion sense. I would share quotes and photos on social media, and started wondering if ‘the creative ways people live’ could be the beginnings of something that might be regarded as art, an idea I am sure most of my family members find bewildering.

When Ah Kong (my maternal grandpa) teased Ah Ma about being obsessed with durians, the potent Asian king of fruits, she said, “When I die burn durians for me to eat – just place them in my coffin.” Many Chinese believe that praying to your ancestors with meals they like or burning hell money (stacks of textured gold-leafed paper) will ensure them a happy, comfortable life in the underworld.

When Ah Ma says something like this, I start thinking about how that remark could, beyond her wildest imaginations, be transformed into something like an art installation. This might have the potential to “bring a new social imaginary into being”, in the words of Jonas Staal describing art’s contribution – except that where his commitment lies in alternative parliaments involving refugees and serious debate, mine lies in the geriatric, involving underwear choices, wrinkled body landscapes and bunions – an alternative political space of its own. Jonas’ words seem absurd in my context, where my hoped-for impact is miniscule in comparison to Staal’s. But to me this speaks to what art can do in small and possibly magical ways.


Sleepover with Ah Ma and Ah Kong for the first time as part of my residency with them

I am currently back in Singapore for the winter term and on a loose, self-initiated residency with my grandparents as site. I missed them so much in Portland that I decided to commemorate them and our relationship before it was too late. Some of the projects I’m working on are: an EP of Mama’s Hokkien (a Mandarin dialect) conversations; something on bunions; a talkshow with my grandmas on what they think of me; a short film on my grandfather’s eccentric inventions and habits. Progress has been erratic but I’m enjoying spending time with my grandparents, though their agreement to this is more of a whatever-she-wants-to-do approach. The nature of collaboration is food for thought when there are calls for deeper participation; there are just so many ways of working and being together. I am also thinking about the presentation of these experiments and would like to include my grandparents’ neighbours and friends in the audience, preferably in a personal or community space.



Coming from such an intuitive place, these artistic impulses are hard to articulate, but here’s a shot: I am transmuting my grandparents’ everyday lives, hoping to develop new ways of making art that take the sacred and banal everyday as material. In some private way not immediately apparent to even myself, I am hoping this will do something for my impossible wish that they may never pass on. More broadly, creating projects on senior female culture stems from my deep belief in the rich worlds that elderly females hold within them: fascinating, complex dimensions that go hidden today and which are at once warm, humorous, rigid, open, wise, eccentric and absurd. These worlds are inspiring material for relational art-making in thinking about form, aesthetics and audience. The geriatric has plenty of surprises in store for art.

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Program Report: Centre for Arts and Social Practice (CASP), India


Photo: Derdh Guna Derdh / Community art project with rural migrants at Shankar Camp, New Delhi, 2015

The topic of sustainability has attracted much interest in recent times in the context of development discourses and policies. However, environmental, economic, and social sustainability has been discussed more than the cultural dimensions of sustainability where arts and aesthetics play a major role. Scholars now suggest that culture should be a core aspect of sustainable development and cultural producers and art institutions can embody values to create intergenerational equity and ethical perspectives of living in our world. While the term ‘culture’ is often debated, it must be understood as a ‘whole way of life’ and cultural strategies as modules for long-term sustainability of diverse communities, worldviews and practices.


Photo: Conversations Series | Public talk by the artist, Navjot Altaf, Pune, 2016

The idea of art as a ‘collaborative endeavor’ is embedded in its capacity to inculcate socially significant values of creativity, empathy and connections between humans, both tangible and intangible. Such collaboration and participation involves working with people from diverse backgrounds and fields beyond the elitist matrix of the art gallery or museum. Embedding cultural strategies within social contexts call for dialogues with citizens and communities and employing art as an agency of collective imagination. This also means research based modules to develop learning methodologies on sustainable thinking and practices essential for our contemporary world.

It is within these conceptual and contextual parameters that the Centre for Arts and Social Practice (CASP – India) was established in 2013. CASP is a transdisciplinary platform for national and international artists, writers, architects, social scientists and design engineers to facilitate critical dialogues on cultural sustainability. It aims to integrate research and practice through meaningful community initiatives and collaborative projects, fostering a relational engagement at both individual and institutional levels.


Photo: Community mural painting with art college students at Shukratal, Uttar Pradesh, India.

As a young organization, CASP supports research based artistic projects and community initiatives. It encourages collaborations between individual, institutions and communities. CASP generates dialogues around the rural-urban binaries to address the issues of habitat fragmentation, displacement and cultural degeneration due to urbanization.

A non-profit initiative, it works through four chapters in Navi Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune and New Delhi (India). Since its inception, CASP has facilitated around 25 programs/projects (workshops, conversations, community art initiatives, public art projects and social actions) with children, students, women, teachers, migrant communities, artists, filmmakers and socially engaged practitioners. It has generated dialogues in home-studios and public spaces, informal neighborhoods and a research centre, including an ongoing partnership with a local experimental art space.

Completed since 2013 | 4 chapters

  • 8 Conversations Series | Kolkata and Pune
  • 12 workshops  | Navi Mumbai, Pune, and New Delhi
  • 3 community art projects | Pune, Kolkata and New Delhi
  • 2 public art installations/exhibition | Residency (Kushtia -Bangladesh) and Pune Biennale – India
  • Citizen Design Lab | Urban terrace garden project (ongoing) – Navi Mumbai, India.
  • 1 international collaborative project | Social Sculpture Research Unit (SSRU), Oxford Brookes University, UK.

Linear Extension | Workshop at New City Limits Collective, Belapur, Navi Mumbai, India, 2013


Workshop at Basti Vikas Kendra with children from urban village at Begumpur, Delhi, India, 2015.


Workshop at Basti Vikas Kendra with children from urban village at Begumpur, Delhi, India, 2015.


Workshop with Teachers from Zila Parishad schools (District schools) in Maharashtra, 2016.


Workshop with students from Municipal Corporation School in Pune, India, 2015.