To further its efforts to serve as a hub for inspiration and site for creativity, the Blanton has commissioned artist Leslie Mutchler to create new works of art to be used as creativity stations within the museum. Titled WorkLAB Satellites,the 40 x 90 inch mobile and flatpack workstations will supplement the Blanton’s WorkLab program—a series of open studio experiences offered to children and their families each summer.

Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

Leslie Mutchler in front of the WorkLAB Satellites. Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

Cut from birch plywood on a CNC router, each of the workstations is designed to be configured and reconfigured in a multitude of ways; changing the look of the work environment in conjunction with new projects. Window-like openings will enable visitors of all ages to engage in conversation as they create.  The stations will be stocked with everyday materials such as tape, paper, pencils, stencils and chipboard. Simple directives in English and Spanish will offer instruction for creating paper sculpture, collage and weaving, among other projects.

To introduce the project, we sat down with Leslie to interview her about her creative process and how WorkLAB Satellites came to be.

How did the idea for these creativity stations originate? What drew you to collaborating with the Blanton on this project?

For the last six years, my work has become more and more participatory. I installed a project titled tumblrEAL at Gensler Global Architecture in Austin in the spring of 2012. The project consisted of cardboard (temporary) furniture (shelving, sawhorses, and wall frames) that housed a large assortment of digitally printed images sourced from my personal tumblr site. I installed the project as a way to give the architects at Gensler (sitting behind computers and surrounded by gray cubicles) something visually striking to look at and also something to physically engage in. All of the prints were hole punched and could be easy moved from one location to another, providing endless ways in which an interested viewer could sort through and curate visual information. This level of participation has been increasingly more important in my work in the last few years as I am invested in collaboration and the notion of flux within my work. In late 2012 I developed TrendFACTORY as a production-based participatory project, in which I ask the audience to make three-dimensional forms from printed and pre-scored chipboard using limited materials and tools. I provide the maker with simple instructions and ask that the final object be documented (by the use of a smartphone or camera) and uploaded to an online archive.

Ray Williams, Director of Education and Academic Affairs at the Blanton Museum, approached me in the late spring of 2013, after he had seen TrendFACTORY at the Visual Art Center on UT Campus. He and I talked at length about the project, our interests in creating a work space for people to make and share with one another, and thus he asked me if I was interested in proposing a similar project to the Blanton, but on a larger scale. I was thrilled to engage in such a challenge- and we were off and running.

Can you explain the significance of the name “WorkLAB Satellites?” What do you hope to connote with this title?

I think there is a common misconception that an artist spends time in their studio messing around in hopes that something good might come from the time spent. While play is an important aspect of the artist’s studio practice more important is the notion of work. When I go to my studio, I work. I read, I research, I study materials and processes, I calculate and imagine outcomes and most importantly I work hard to design and create installations or projects that will invite a particular response and read from my viewer. In short- working in my studio is work. It’s the work that I’m most happy to engage in, but it’s work none-the-less. The word “lab” is in reference to the idea of the laboratory- or a place where experimentation and play takes place.

The word “satellites” references the modularity and ever-changing composition and make-up of the work environment. WorkLAB Satellites can be installed and deinstalled quickly; it can change formation; house different materials and processes; and is in constant dialogue with the Blanton’s permanent hands-on studio for making, WorkLAB.

Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

The WorkLAB Satellites installed at the Blanton. Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

Why are these artworks designed to be interactive, and what do you hope participants will get out of the experience?

It is my hope that through these guided projects, making use of simple but rich materials and processes, the user can experience a high-level of engagement with the making of a creative work. I believe a person, regardless of familiarity with the art world, can bring a wide range of aesthetic and cultural knowledge to their creative work practice. Essentially, they put themselves into that thing. This too is what artists do; it’s why we become so attached to the things that we make. As artists we know that work starts with an idea (whether that be small or grand). One can imagine and perhaps see it in their mind, but ultimately the thing that they are making/ writing/ composing never ends up looking like what was imagined. This, I think, is the lynchpin of creative practice; learning to see and appreciate results that might not have been planned. I want to give that experience to a person (a non-maker/ non-artist) so that they might find a new appreciation for the trials and tribulations of the creative practice.

The IKEA effect, coined by Associate Professor, Michael Norton at the Harvard Business School, is a study that proves the increase of valuation for handmade products. This psychological phenomenon essentially tells us that our labor leads to love. People that make an object with their hands (from baked goods to IKEA furniture) are inclined to be more attracted to their results as opposed to those results stemming from external efforts. By giving an individual materials and guidelines for making I am empowering that person to find value in using their hands.

What role does social media play in the artwork? What is the importance of documenting the work, and how do you achieve that in your directions?

The photos I ask the maker to take and upload exist as a way to document what happens in the work space. The online archive serves as a way for people to revisit that experience of making and for people from around the world to view that experience without actually having to be there or participate. The archive also serves a cross-section of the cyclical nature of aesthetics and a look into the current hand skills of the public.

We are surrounded by social media in all other aspects of our lives. We document experiences, travel, events and moments and send it out into the world for instant gratification. Why shouldn’t we want the same from our creative endeavors and struggles. It’s my belief that social media, while primarily is a social tool, also facilitates learning and investigation. We research, seek and engage with like- minded people and projects, and we seek to connect to a larger world to achieve greatness.

WorkLab Satellites is made possible by a grant from Texas Women for the Arts.

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One Response

  1. Leslie—this looks like an enticing project. I really enjoyed the interview!

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