Five Questions with Sam Gould and Peter Haakon Thompson

Five Questions with Sam Gould and Peter Haakon Thompson

Peter Haakon Thompson, Ready Go flags

Ready Go

Peter Haakon Thompson

Participation is the new art form with artists like Sam Gould and Peter Haakon Thompson, who are taking artistic dialogue in a different direction by creating projects that actively engage and expand their audiences. I was able to catch up with both of them this week to start the conversation that we will expand on during our upcoming Library Salon Series event. Please join us on November 9 for a salon dedicated to exploring their collaborative projects and how they engage our communities.

Take a moment to describe your work and projects and how they relate to participation and collaboration.
Sam Gould: Beyond Repair is an extension of a decision I made a few years ago to “get off the road” of the contemporary art circuit and focus the great majority of my efforts within walking distance of my home. Much of this work began in and around my house. A few years into it a space opened up in the Midtown Global Market, and I opened the shop.

Beyond Repair has a shelf life: 2016 - 2019. The shop is a space for questioning that utilizes publication in an expanded form. So, while we have printed publications available, which we print in-house, the idea is to stress to each person who comes through the shop that publication is the method of highlighting space between bodies discussing means by which to bridge that divide.

Within the three-year time period, Beyond Repair - as it exists at this moment - resides in the Global Market, the relationships that form through this method of publication should help it understand what it should become. The project is in a consistent state of transformation.

Peter Haakon Thompson: My role with Ready Go is two-fold. I run the program as part of my job at Springboard for the Arts, and I also am an artist who has several projects that are listed on the Ready Go roster, and I am artist who does other projects out in the world with people. All of the Ready Go tools are really about prompting participation and sparking conversations. Additionally, Ready Go tools are all open to collaboration with organizations and businesses that they work for.

What was the impetus to start your project?
SG: I decided some time back to focus my artistic intentions within my neighborhood, the ninth ward of Minneapolis. My art practice has been based within the intersection of education, politics, and social space since I co-founded Red76 in 2000 in Portland, Oregon, where I lived until moving to Minneapolis in 2010. The Beyond Repair shop was a way within my self-defined geographical limitations to engage an as-yet-defined public where they were at consistently. I was, and remain, very intrigued by the possibilities of what can happen over time within a marketplace when the site you are operating is not overtly concerned with notions of value and exchange within the limited roles readily available economically. How do you deal with “subjects” within a market setting? How does that change what we value around us, and where does that move once you leave its presence?

PHT: A number of other artists and I were all creating these various mobile tools that were about facilitating interaction out in the public realm. Each artist initially created their tool with some kind of grant funding, but when the parameters were fulfilled, they still had this physical object that they had spent a bunch of time on and had really figured out how to use. We were all independently getting hired to do our work at neighborhood events, etc., but without a real structure of getting the word out. At Springboard we saw an opportunity to bring all of those mobile tools together with two goals: expand the potential for artists to make income, and create an easy, transparent on-ramp for the increasing number or organizations and businesses that were interested in working with artists, but were not sure how to go about it. 

How does your project and work affect community? How does it change within different communities?
SG: Simply, it’s a space for questioning. While I harbor specific political and social ideas, the goal is create a qualitative social environment where people can gauge their proximity to those ideals - not a method of indoctrination or preaching. I'm interested in engaging my fellow neighbors in long, and considered questioning about how we live together now, and how we might like to live together into the future.

Also, I have a very difficult time accepting the term community as it’s often prescribed. I feel it is usually foisted on varying publics - not always ones which are in agreement - for the benefit of those seeking something to profit off of, whether that's financial or social capital. Communities, as I see it, devalue complexity for the sake of false unity. I’m interested in what publics can do, and how they can positively support individual subjectivity in direct proximity to others. That requires a certain, necessary amount of friction.

PHT: There are a couple answers since I have multiple roles, both as an artist who makes/operates these mobile tools, runs Ready Go, and as an artist who creates other projects in community. Based on the amount of hiring that is going on with Ready Go, I would say that one change is that more and more nonprofits, neighborhood organizations, and cities see the value in tapping into the skills that artists have and using artist-designed mobile tools to help them in their work. My own work usually comes from things that I am interested in exploring in my community, most often the community where I live. However, that often ends up being translated into a tool or project that can be adapted and move.

What resources are instrumental in informing your work? How are you inspired?
SG: People, listening, talking, considering, changing my mind, coming back to old ways of doing things to achieve new results; all of these things are arrived at through different methods. Books, records, social occasions, architecture, urban power relations and their institutional and non-institutional systems, to name a few, help inspire me. Equally as much, all of these things will find ways to depress and aggravate me. But, that’s the point. If I’m simply looking for harmony, I’m not doing my job. Equilibrium can, and should, only exist until the next set of relationships (frictions) come into proximity. Nothing worth getting done will ever get done - to your liking - in your lifetime.

PHT: I am continually inspired by artists' Ready Go tools and ideas artists have to create new mobile tools. When talking to artists that are interested in making mobile tools, I often tell them to start with something they are curious or already passionate about. Much of my work comes from things in my life that I do bleeding over into my artistic practice. I had been playing table tennis in a league for several years before I decided to make a mobile, steel, ping pong table.

How do you know when your project/participation/collaboration is successful? What are your measures of success?
SG: When something that I thought was finished begins to fall apart, and I’m compelled to revisit, to jump back into it, and begin to rearrange once again. That’s when I know things are good.

PHT: I did a project this spring/summer sewing flags for neighbors that I would create after having an hour-long conversation; really the whole project was an excuse to meet neighbors that I would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet. The measure of success for that project was that now I have this group of 20 or so folks that I now run into and know.