ILSSA: Creative Practice Call and Response

By Patrick Vincent


ILSSA Frameworks Gallery Entry Title, Unrequited Leisure, 2019, varied media. Photo courtesy of Patrick Vincent.


ILSSA (Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts) was established in 2008 as a form of artist-organization-as-union by co-operators Bridget Elmer and Emily Larned. ILSSA projects enlist the skills and engagement of its members to question hierarchy and labor in art making. In ILLSA’s latest call-and-response project beginning May 2019, members, identified as impractical laborers, were asked “What frameworks are essential supporting structures for your practice?” via the ILSSA listserv. Members’ responses were edited, compiled and published as a zine, ILSSA Frameworks: Notes toward a theory of practice. Additionally, eleven themes/prompts were identified out of this process: Questions, Attention, Alternatives, Risk, Pace, Embodiment, Handwork, Routine, Care, Community and Environment. ILSSA members were given a copy of the zine in July 2019 along with the resulting prompts. They spent a month responding to these prompts; the resulting work was mailed directly to Unrequited Leisure and is currently on display through September 27, 2019.


ILSSA Frameworks exhibition, detail, 2019, varied media. Photo courtesy of Patrick Vincent.


Unrequited Leisure’s ILSSA: Frameworks features ILSSA-affiliated artists from all over the United States with some international participants, all responding to the same prompts. Multicolored office papers are letterpress printed with each prompt as a header, inviting the participating artists to treat the paper in response to the word. Treatments include writing/journaling, writing/poetry, list making, collage, calligraphy, suminagashi/marbling, as well direct tearing and cutting of the paper. The gallery is arranged in gridded groupings of each prompt; the different colors of paper create sections of thought and approaches. The paper is a surface for reflection, yet each paper reminds us that it is the physical evidence of labor. The zine as well as the structure of the exchange is both public and intimate, calling impractical laborers to visualize the underpinning aspects of their creative practice.


Frameworks focuses on the labor of the creative act as well as meditation and experimentation that is often unseen in finished art works. One Pace submission is comprised of an even grid of holes punched in the paper. Another Risk has a crumpled and distorted, cut rectangle within the paper—it is barely attached at the top left corner. This activates the physical surface of the paper; the acts of distorting and puncturing the paper reify Risk and Pace. Others engage the paper as an invitation for writing. A response to Embodiment questions writing as an action executed by a body in thought, beginning with the line “A person in a body” and ending with “Maybe making a poem.” Each artist is anonymous but some continuity in approach identifies artists between the different prompts.


ILSSA envelopes, 2019, letterpress marker pen on envelopes. Photo courtesy of Patrick Vincent.


There is a dual suggestion of everyday activity and fine-craft value to each prompt. The letterpressed header connotes a sacred space of activity, but the office paper suggests daily, ephemeral action. Each paper/prompt is displayed unframed and allowed to exist as the naked reality of each participant’s engagement. The envelopes are displayed as well, reminding the gallery visitors that this is the work of community, connected by intention over great distances. The envelopes themselves are also letterpress printed in a metallic bronze ink, but the scars and blemishes of going through the mail are evident, as well as any circling, drawings or writings by the participating member.


Unrequited Leisure is a curatorial space focused on interdisciplinary approaches to critical and topical investigations run by Chalet Comellas and Clinton Sleeper. The curatorial mission allows for exhibitions such as Frameworks that question the practice of art, making, and value.


????, anonymous, 2019, 8.5″x 11″, pen marker letterpress on paper. Photo courtesy of Patrick Vincent.


ILSSA: Frameworks is at Unrequited Leisure, 625 7th Avenue South, Apartment A, Nashville, Tennessee, from Sept 7—Sept 27. Gallery hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 1 pm to 6 pm.


Patrick Vincent is an artist and Associate Professor of Printmaking at Austin Peay State University.