Photo courtesy of ILSSA co-founder, Emily Larned

North Mountain hosted Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA) for its second group residency. “ILSSA offers thoughtful opportunities to reflect on certain aspects of impractical labor/art making and collects that data and shares it with its members and larger art-going audiences.” Four ILSSA members arrived with their individual interests and skills, and a shared interest in art as social practice. Through common meals, skillshares, walks, idea exchange, and book recommendations, the group found “the time, space, and place to both focus (narrow) and to imagine (wide).”

Susanna caught up with ILSSA members to hear about the group’s mission and time on site.

What is ILSSA about? What does it facilitate for its members and community? Nike Desis: Through regular mailings, ILSSA offers thoughtful opportunities to reflect on certain aspects of impractical labor/art making and collects that data and shares it with its members and larger art-going audiences. It does this by facilitating surveys and exercises and other outlets for declaration (i.e. manifestos) and then republishing, exhibiting, making, and hawking them. The whole project is expertly curated/conceived by its co-operators. The data, paper objects, research materials, essays, and posters are beautifully printed and sent to individual members, who do not know each other, or each other’s work, necessarily. It’s not about direct communication within the group, though it is very much about solidarity. As an ILSSA member, I feel like the issues raised in the ILSSA literature and exercises invites the kind of reflection that actually supports the maintenance of a creative practice. 

Who came out for the NMT residency this year? What are their practices and how did they use NMT? Nike Desis: I make zines, posters, stationery. I occasionally write. I also consider my group work in non-hierarchical/not-for-profit/community or consensus based/small/arts-related organizations part of my practice. At NMT, we were able to talk about issues that I perceive to be central to ILSSA’s output: investigations into narrative, labor, meaning, group work, and creativity. We helped Emily collate and pack the next mailing for ILSSA, so that she could send it from West Virginia. Emily Larned: As both ILSSA Co-Operator and outside of ILSSA, my practice could be described as publishing as a socially engaged art practice: reading, thinking, writing, collaborating, editing, designing, typesetting, printing, binding, collating, shipping, distributing, community building, repeat. We shared so much at the ILSSA Group Residency: meals, skills, walks, ideas, books. Katie Latona: My practice speaks to a redefinition of home space and work space: how we mark these borders in our lives, and how those markings have become increasingly messy and inexact. Being in the quiet and beauty of a rural setting only helped to clear my mind of distractions, find some focus, and be able to catch my breath. John Labovitz: Although I’m a practicing photographer, typographer, and printmaker, my main gig these days is running North Mountain. So for me, life at the residency is a normal rather than exceptional event. This is my home. It was refreshing and educational to see the place and use the time as a resident here. I enjoyed observing how others were inspired by the place, and by seeing how I have been so directly inspired by ILSSA in the formation and continued evolution of the residency program.

Was there anything particularly generative, or better yet, re-generative about being in a rural residency setting? Emily Larned: The time, space, and place to both focus (narrow) and to imagine (wide). Laying out in the orchard on a warm sunny afternoon, I read Kathi Weeks’ book The Problem With Work, which contains a line that summarizes for me the main gift of the residency: the opportunity “not so that we can have, do, or be what we already want, do, or are, but because it might allow us to consider and experiment with different kinds of lives, with wanting, doing, and being otherwise.”