Optimism and curiosity are often a part of the same process, symbiotic elements of production. Though one does not require the other to exist, how can the optimist not be curious when the world is so full of hope, or how can the curious not be optimistic when they are always looking for wonder. This duality is sometimes combative in the surreal and complex patterns visible throughout the conversations in Michael Swaine’s work. On our map; I plotted a beginning somewhere before Michael’s pitch for re-appointment as 3D4M faculty at the University of Washington. I had taken a graduate seminar lead by Michael this past fall and, one Wednesday, as an alternative to having our class meet at a dive bar for a book reading in drag, Michael suggested boarding a bus and riding it until the end of the line. After the lecture was over, I offered this bus route alternative as the setting for an interview conversation based around a paragraph or two I wrote on limitations.
The start of our journey was sometime at the junction of reading bus signs and emptying paper cups. Having left Parnassus, the cafe in the basement of UW’s Art Building, we were now trying to find the best, least familiar, transit route. Moderated by only the law and business buildings we trekked toward the bus que north of UW’s brick plateau called the Hub. A rational and safely literal beginning for us to dutifully fulfill a functionless rule “ride the bus to the end of the line and back.” As we walked we discussed our perspectives of newness held on the campus. I fumbled over the name of the law building, which even at this moment, I can not remember. We determined that what had seemed like a line of busses waiting for passengers was more a retirement home or nursery for old paused routes at midday, Maybe lunch break… We ended up crossing the street west of the Burke Museum and boarding the 542 to Redmond. A public utilities car was parked in front of another bus whose destination read “Training.” Two men walked around the back to connect the bus to the trolley lines above. We wondered what the utilities car was doing at the stop, assuming it had something to do with the bus or transit, we spat a few possibilities to each other. The car remained as the bus pulled out and I am not sure it ever left, or if it ever had a reason for being. Later, in redmond, we will encounter another car of the same model transporting bus drivers presumably to and from their routes. It was not the same car, just similar. Is it similarities that cause rhythm? If it is, does sameness cause pause, or change. Michael spoke of reinvention when thinking about a prompt for a show of his collaborative, Future Farmers, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Reinvention seems to be a place in between these two temporal tenors, space and meter. Does the work exist as a response to a moment, a hesitation, or does it fit within a categorical theme; collaborators, time, materials or subject matter? A retrospective will always have meter because it will always pass time. The notion of maintaining timelessness is terrifyingly modern in some cases, but also may be apart of making a work “in situ.” Not that Michael has mentioned a commitment to time or timelessness. Rhythm and meter created through similarity does not obligate sameness, as a matter of fact it means there must be a huge difference between the two moments or objects. Much of Future Farmer’s work lives in reproduction, Michael seems to enjoy perceiving the conversations that happen around the object as a medium. During the interview Michael mentioned how he often doesn’t need to hold onto his piece after the show or collaboration is over as long as he has some form of documentation to signify the experience. Throughout the interview Swaine alludes to surreal possibilities of the sound and experience happening immediately, activating thought outside of the interview, outside of the bus trip, writing a parallel story that exists only through the physical and acting voices of the moment. As we pulled off of the highway the deceleration screamed, distantly, from all around us. Michael’s response was to pause, then listen, mid idea. mid narrative. The pause is often how Michael makes associations or extrapolates personal events into new work. In Michael’s talk at the University of Washington he described two moments where an exploration became an event, he found a thumbprint in a brick on a Cambridge walk way and then found a note of erratum in the back of a book on the shelf of a Harvard Library. Thinking of these projects specifically, I am forced to consider how Michael termed “bracketing” as a way of “looking in”-to a moment. The research and detective work exploring the thumbprint uses a very different approach to looking within than the survey that the Erratum piece required. Erratum looks into the library system directly through a physical lens and a combing process. A search party working on a drill. Michael had a group of students, his collaborator and himself find every piece of erratum on the shelves of the Robbins Philosophy Library. While, the thumbprint follows a trail of social and functional breadcrumbs through the factory, leading to various workers and sects of management within the Stiles and Art Brick Company. It offers pause in response to material, steeping in the system of production used to make the very bricks on which the original thumbprint had laid. One uses a structure and the other enlists a journey, both provide ways to maintain a perspective. I would argue that “combing a field” Is looking in, and following a path (or journey) is looking out. The work and worker is always “looking in” at the subject matter, the conceptual object created by our interactions with the research. Or rather, Michael’s interactions. [Errata: Material Interruptions]
While talking with Michael, there is a strange permission to assume. Thinking through the conversation you realize that he only selectively uses compromising terms like “probably” and “maybe.” Even with these diegetic limitations the conversation never ignores potential. In response to a statement I had made about defining the beginning of a project Michael mentioned a work called Reverse Ark. Michael and his collaborator Amy Franceschini enlisted a team of students to construct an ark to escape the imminent flood within the confine of a school gallery. This project had no set end insight, as time and efforts passed students would come into the gallery space where the ark was being assembled to ask about it’s status of completion. The ark was possibly, or probably, never going to leave the gallery though Michael and Amy may set it to sail. Who knew. The project has a certain element of improbability on a semantic note, though that improbability again facilitates a kind of permission for different goals to emerge. On the Future Farmer’s website (http://www.futurefarmers.com/reverseark/) Reverse Ark is a complex study in resource management and highlights an existential value in problem solving. The narrative reframes perspective, seeing the goal from the context rather than the content. Offering controlled limitations that serve to obscure the true variable limits of experience, and autonomy, allows us to choose to accept what is omitted. Maybe we should never know what we can’t do, only think it.