Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The M12: A New Vision For The High Plains

The Black Hornet racecar at the I-76 Speedway; designed by the M12

Last week we discussed Richard Saxton, a Colorado-based artist whose work considers the intersections of artistic and community practice across a number of mediums: design, architecture, photography and sculpture. Today we'd like to continue to investigate the idea of "the vernacular" in  modern art by focusing on the M12, a collective of artists who emerged from The Municipal Workshop group Mr. Saxton helped to organize. 

Here's how this "community resource for evolutionary thinking" describes its place within rural America and contemporary art:
The mission of M12 is to plan and execute new projects in the realm of contemporary public art, to facilitate creative research regarding public art making, and to promote and facilitate public art as a vehicle for exploring community identity, contemporary issues, and the creative process. We seek to engage communities and individuals in the exploration of art through exhibitions, residency programs, educational programming, and collaborative visual arts projects. M12 has a particular interest in the rural landscape and the agrarian tradition, and often develops projects that engage, celebrate, and explore the value of these often under-represented communities.
What's profoundly inspiring about the work of the M12 is the way in which these artists are able to merge both a responsibility to local communities and a responsibility to their medium While locating much of their work in areas outside of urban attention, these artists are still pushing at the conventional assumptions of what public art can articulate and achieve.

The collective's site contains many examples of this kind of innovative thinking, as seen above in the Black Hornet project, a racecar the M12 developed to "engage the regional landscape and community of the Eastern Colorado High Plains;" the car raced every Saturday of the season at the I-76 Speedway in Fort Morgan, Colorado. While many visual artists can depict NASCAR and American motor sports from a critical (and often ironic) distance, the M12 has actually engaged with this community.

The Campito is another exciting project that goes onto a terrain that many contemporary artists only consider from a distance. Here, the group has redesigned the traditional sheep wagon of the West, and--still within an condensed space--offered a portable living quarters that contains solar panels, a composting toilet and a portable garden (among many other features). The M12 sees in this commonplace structure an opportunity to assess a region's connections both to their place and their history:
The project as a whole looks to stimulate community dialogue about the campito and larger subjects inherently tied to its present day reality; heritage of the American West, contemporary agriculture and food production, globalization, immigration, workers rights, and federal policies and practices. The project fuses contemporary, historical and geographical knowledge with the intention of putting it to use on the future Western American landscape.
This fusion of "contemporary, historical and geographical knowledge" can be viewed in much greater detail on the M12's website, which is also featuring their Prairie Module--a gorgeous geometric public art structure that is powered by solar panels. Currently installed in Indianapolis, the M12 tells us these Module is "the first public art installation to return solar power to the electrical grid."