It was via email I was able to meet and interview former Charlotte Street Fellows Mike Erickson and Erica Lynne Hanson about 1522 St. Louis, a project space in Kansas City founded in 2012. 1522 St. Louis at the time offered “a platform for artists to explore possibilities and projects outside of their standard studio practice, through collaboration, questioning, and the opportunity of space.” I emailed both of them a set of questions to respond to about the logistics of the space and how it coincided with their individual art practices. After Mike responded, Erika was able to then lend her own perspective on the experience of running 1522 St. Louis.
Julia Monte: How did all of the artists who ran this art space initially come together and what steps were taken to get 1522 St. Louis up and running?
Mike Erickson: For me, I remember it like this. I was trying to figure out how to move into that space. I knew the landlord and had previously talked to him about smaller spaces for gallery possibilities. As time passed I needed a live/work space and knew of 1522, but couldn’t afford it all on my own, it was too much space for me. I had friends that were interested in studio spaces which was great, but there was space left open and through talking with my coworker, Justin Gainan, I had found out he and Erika had similar interests in opening a gallery space. Since there was space available and a shared interest it all seemed to fall into place.
I can’t really honestly remember much that it took to get it running. Some money. There were people that we wanted to show, I would think for each of us, probably before even the space was a real thing, so that part wasn’t hard. We chose a name for the space–its address–and made a logo based off of hobo signs.
I will admit that first year I didn’t do much, if really anything, administratively; I think I thought of myself more as a caretaker of the gallery space at that time. I thought a lot about the vibes of the place, haha, that’s what I was really looking for. I wanted the space to build or gather a type of energy I thought I had grown up on in the city’s gallery scene when I was a student and freshly after. Once it was just me running the space, I really got a full idea of what it takes to run something like that and it was more than I thought, for sure. It’s a lot. I honestly don’t think one person should try to do it on their own, it’s a dumb attempt. Those types of projects benefit from multiple perspectives.
Erika Lynne Hanson: At the time, I remember there were a number of folks thinking about starting spaces. I had chatted with some of the people that would become original PLUG members, and there was a sense that the city could use more contexts for viewing and exhibiting work. Mike and Justin Gainan wanted to start something as well. I remember in our initial conversations there was a real opposition to looking for granting and funding sources. I am sure this was for a number of reasons, but I think at the heart of it was the desire to be a totally autonomous entity that could be as loose and flexible as possible. From there, like Mike said, we just kind of made it happen.
For the first year, I took a lot of the lead on admin and PR things, as well as working on shaping the exhibitions, working with the artists to try and instigate risk.
JM: What were some of the possibilities and projects that were investigated in this space and by whom?
ME: There was a lot that took place in there and I feel like I could talk more about projects than possibilities, because in a sense they were and are all possibilities still. So many wonderful things.
ELH: One of the focuses we had when starting 1522 was to create a space where it was okay to fail, and really tried to convince the artists to make new work that they had been thinking about, but was maybe outside of their normal practice.
Like for our first two exhibitions Katie Ford and Lee Peichoki were asked to respond to the the words “Naamah, Ulignous, & Laborer”, that were chosen by tossing a dictionary into the air. The exhibitions were interesting in relation— Katie built an installation that explored failed utopias, and Lee Showed these surrealist domestic paintings— there was a similarity in the vibe of the exhibitions, while the work was totally different. Without our prompting both exhibitions ended up speaking to ideals and expectations and the inherent “spookiness” that can come from one’s projection.
In a later series of exhibitions we asked 4 artists to use the space as a studio / laboratory to create installations that functioned differently than their usual work, Amy Kligman totally embraced this challenge to the fullest, working with so many awesome party supplies to create a wild, yet smart, installation.
JM: What was one of your favorite events or projects at the space?
ME: I loved the openings. The people, new friends and old friends, the talk, the laughs. I lost my voice at one of the first shows, I think Amanda Gehin’s. I still have a wheat bundle from the Hmh Services show. I remember how crowded it felt in there at David Rhoads’ opening. The snow and cold during Garrett Hayes’ show. We had a Dolphin family dinner among Elvis Achepol’s exhibition — which was of drawings of the furniture from the Dolphin’s backrooms. Its really difficult for me to separate my memories of my life at that time from my memories of the gallery; I like that.
ELH: We did a show called Monkey Business that paired Julie Malen’s personified monkey sculptures with Hundreds of Milton Stevenson’s paintings. The exhibition vibrated between being sincere, cynical, critical and playful— in the works themselves and in the pairing.
JM: Were you both making work while running the space? If so, how was the work influenced and what advice might you give to a young artist on how to make work while also running/starting a new art space?
ME: Yeah, I was definitely making my own things while the gallery was going. My studio was on the flip side of one of the gallery’s walls. Did it have an influence on my work? I think it must have, yes, but perhaps no more so than say reading the news, the morning coffee ritual, or the weather. I name those examples because they are daily things. That space was that for me, I was in it every single day, it was the last space I was in when I leaving my house and the first space I walked though when I came home every time.
The advice I would give is to make sure you have the desire to do both. Either one, artist and gallery director (if that’s what that is), in and of themselves, requires serious time and dedication and commitment to do, so choosing to try both at once can be an invitation to feeling overwhelmed in side in many ways, was for me at least.
I think the times I did the worst, and there are a number of times in contention for that title, at running that space is when I was focused more on my own situation and less on the gallery’s situation. Those spaces can be run by you but they are not you, they are something uniquely themselves with their own needs separate from yours and so a relationship develops, must develop, a give and take, and it’s real. For it to be successful the proper attention must be paid.
ELH: I was actively making work, curating other exhibitions, and teaching at KCAI during this time. I think that the work I did for 1522 was often influenced by my studio practice, thinking about how I was viewing it as a shifting thing, and challenging myself to stay flexible. That often spilled over into the questions I would ask of the artists when approaching them about doing a project.
In hindsight, it seems like there were magically more hours in a day then! I would say that making time to be in your studio is the most vital thing, by this I don’t mean necessarily a physical studio, but in the mind set where you can be working through problems and scheming new ideas.
JM: What was the motivation behind closing 1522 St. Louis? Have you planned/do you plan on starting a new project like it?
ELH: That was ultimately Mike’s decision, since Justin and I left Kansas City after the first year and a half of 1522’s run.
ME: I was moving. That is mainly why I closed it. I was also feeling a little worn from doing it myself for two years (after Amanda and Justin left). It was a lot for me to do, and I was the type to not really feel comfortable asking for help with it or delegating portions of the work to others, would I do it again? Maybe, I can admit I do think of it at times and miss those activities that surround a space like that and its operations. For me to do it again the situation would have to feel just right, so far that’s not been the case.
JM: Mike, now that you have moved to Northern CA, can you talk a little bit about how the climate in the artist community has changed and what you are doing now as an artist in a new community?
ME: The town I live in now, Tomales, is tiny with a population of around 250. So in this town itself it’s relatively fair to say there isn’t much of an art community, although there are creative people. Truthfully in the last two years I have only visited a gallery or museum once, and I was traveling at the time. While there aren’t those type of institutions super close nearby there is the ocean and beautiful landscapes and seascapes, all new to me. Types of regional agricultural architecture, such different light, super thick fogs, whales, owls, sounds of cow sex, clean air, rain for days, and green fields around christmas, in a sense that’s a new community for me. And a community that informs my making.
I still paint, and being out here removed from the influence of the a scene has changed the paintings I think, but other things have as well. Having spent so much time in the midwest I was never aware of a landscape near me that captivated me enough to make me want to try to paint it. Out here I can’t stop looking and learning how to look just by looking at the landscape, that it feels silly to think I never wanted to paint landscapes.
I have always possessed the ability to be a hermit. Kind of disappear into the studio. I can do that very easily out here. An interesting thing though is then trying to find the energy source or tap that I always sought when I wanted to be social and have that type of interaction, take in that type of information. Out here the closest I have gotten to the energy I got from the art scene in KC has been through the an aspect of the farming/agricultural scene. I worked at an organic farm stand that also had a internship program as a part of it. Sounds odd or not, but there are a bunch of young people out here living in old chicken coops and out buildings and waking up at three in the a.m. with their best friends and tend to and harvest plants we can eat. Things that nourish. I like that that energy is similar to the pack feel of my art making community memories. Everyone loving everyone else’s production.
I think making things is a bit like golf in that ultimately you will probably play your best game when you are content focusing on your own game/play and not the game/play of others, but yet you see how others play it, and then you can think of ways to play it more in your own way. Triangulate your position. With the internet and social media you can keep up with it, the game, from pretty much anywhere if you want. All the situations for inspiration exist and all the freedom of being away from it exist as well, all a choice. What a good time to paint or make I think.
JM: Erika, could you talk a little bit about what you are doing now within your art practice?
ELH: When I left Kansas City it was to take a faculty position at Arizona State University, teaching courses that focused on fiber and socially engaged practices. My work has always referred to the landscape, often as a thing that was distant to the human. Once I relocated to the desert that had to be totally rethought — humans are intrinsically part of the landscape. My current projects explore the creation of locations for meaningful interactions between objects (and when I say objects I am including humans as well). In more plain language, it is a re-homing campaign. I am weaving flags that pay homage to a thing that has been displaced from the landscape, then the flags are brought to the location. So far I’ve visited a glacier, sand dunes, and a dark skies town. I am really lucky with my current position, because it provides a reasonable amount of flexibility to travel for exhibitions and residencies.
Artist Run KC is a print publication from Informality that encapsulates a partial history of artist-run spaces in Kansas City.
Artist-Run KC features interviews with former Charlotte Street Foundation Artist Award Fellows who have managed spaces or contributed in a meaningful way to Kansas City’s artist-run scene. This zine was produced by Informality in collaboration with PLUG Projects and commissioned by the Charlotte Street Foundation for their 20th anniversary celebration, Every Street is Charlotte Street. Artist Run KC features interviews with David Ford, Tom Gregg, Peregrine Honig, Mike Erikson, Madeline Gallucci, Erica Lynne Hanson, Garry Noland, Glenn North, Dylan Mortimer, Sean Starowitz, Caleb Taylor, Heidi Van, Jaimie Warren, and Davin Watne.
Artist Run KC launched at PLUG Projects on NOVEMBER 12th 2017 alongside their revised PLUG book! If you are interested in a copy email firstname.lastname@example.org