Walker Art Center

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Beyond Repair: Art, Community, and an Expanded Notion of Publication

By Haley Ryan

“What’s going on here?” It’s a question that Sam Gould, founder of Beyond Repair, invariably gets when people enter the painted-plywood booth in the Midtown Global Market. And it’s a question that Gould asks of himself, and others, constantly.

At first glance, Beyond Repair appears to be a bookstore or print center nestled between a taco shop, an Indian fusion restaurant, and a microbrewery in Minneapolis’s Midtown Global Market. Paperback books, booklets, and text-based posters bearing mantras like “RESISTANCE IS POSSIBLE” line the shelves of the booth. A monolithic digital printer symbolically occupies the center of the stall. Along one wall, a hand-built table filled with projects and papers creates a natural conversation space. The printed material is for sale, but at Beyond Repair the exchange of inked paper is secondary to the exchange of ideas. It is a shop, but more like a workshop than a store: an ongoing project shaped and informed by the conversations, publications, and relationships that materialize within and around it.

Gould says he and the artists he collaborates with “see the shop itself as a site to start generating publications, whether that means a book or a booklet or a parade or a protest or a meal—it doesn’t matter.” It may be easier for visitors to conceive of the artistic project as a bookshop that makes its own books and works with a variety of authors and artists, but it is much more than a quirky store. It employs the trope of being a business within a literal and figurative marketplace both to sustain itself and to complicate existing notions of exchange—asking what role a business should occupy within a community and what it may be capable of when the community is active in molding its form and direction.

Spaces for Conversation

Gould is cofounder of the Red76 artistic collaborative, its Journal of Radical Shimming, and the South Minneapolis Society Library, a book lending resource for residents of the Powderhorn, Central, and West Phillips neighborhoods. While conceptually centered on independent projects, Red76 also works with institutions on initiatives that invite communities to engage in conversations about art, politics, and the notion of public space. At the Walker, these have included the Anywhere/Anyplace Academy and Surplus Seminar for Open Field, the “three-year experiment in participation and public space,” and the Tools for Remediation book-binding workshop held as part of the recent exhibition Hippie Modernism. What these collaborations all have in common is the designation of open spaces for conversation—something that Beyond Repair will do as well, though its semi-permanent manifestation allows the scope to be broader and more undetermined, defined along the way by those who participate.

For the next three years, Beyond Repair will operate from a leased space within the Midtown Global Market in the city’s Ninth Ward. Gould says its positioning within the existing infrastructure of a multicultural marketplace is intentional, as it grants the project “a certain amount of legitimacy” that can be toyed with and subverted. Shoppers may stumble upon it and start asking the questions imperative to its activation: What is this doing here? What does it have to do with me? How can I get involved?

A key part of the project is its inclusiveness and honesty. Matt Olson, an artist/designer who had an Open Field residency with his then-studio ROLU in 2012, points out similarities between the virtual, ever-expanding social space created by blogs and the “analogue” space created by a crowdsourced art project like Beyond Repair, noting that “social networks and growth happen really naturally in certain contexts when inclusiveness and openness are part of the platform.” Following this logic, Beyond Repair aims to be transparent and communal in ways that most businesses aren’t, from production to financing to decision-making.

The Long Now

Beyond putting words on paper, Gould points out, publication is the act of making something public—through shared spaces, open conversations, and ongoing projects. The idea is that Beyond Repair can act as a catalyst to collaborations and conversations between neighbors, “so that we can form a public that is attuned to asking our own questions and not this reflex to respond to questions from people in positions of power who don’t live here.”

Gould, who lives with his family a few blocks from the market, hopes his community can resist narratives foisted upon neighborhoods like the Ninth Ward by governments, developers, and NGOs: that it needs to be “fixed,” that the tools for fixing come from outside the community, that the community needs to be saved from itself. Instead of answering to higher powers, neighbors can think “beyond repair”: if something isn’t working, perhaps it needs to be replaced with something totally new.

Gould acknowledges that answers won’t be immediate or clear. “These sorts of conversations need years”—which is why Beyond Repair is a multi-year project. After the three-year lease in the market ends, the project will continue as deemed appropriate by involved members of the neighborhood.

Not all conversations need to be theoretical and tactical: just sharing everyday events and thoughts can help to create publics and publications, too. Monica Haller, who got know Gould because they both made artworks relating to the war in Iraq, visits the space to converse about issues that relate to their lives: locally, daily, globally, and over time. “Sometimes this has evolved into tangible or tactile works,” she says, “and sometimes it remains, for now, in conversation, debate, and taking care. We talk about ‘the long now.’ A lot of this activity and work is about letting things slowly unfold, or to unfold at their own pace.” Beyond Repair provides the space and starting point for ongoing dialogue and thought around issues large and small, without pressure for individuals to “decide” or “act” or “respond” immediately.

Non-Nonprofit

With flexibility and transparency as top priorities, Beyond Repair “looks towards a diverse system of funding and support strategies, with a core interest in maintaining conceptual and political autonomy over its purpose.” Put simply, Beyond Repair doesn’t receive large grants or public funding—and it’s a conscious choice. Though nonprofit organization and funding seems to be the in-vogue solution to well-intentioned social projects, the “bureaucracy and the beholdenment to certain forms of hierarchy” inherent in the nonprofit framework isn’t necessarily worth it. As a community-driven project that resists answering to external concentrations of power, it didn’t make sense for Beyond Repair to rely on government funding and approval every step of the way.

“Not being a nonprofit doesn’t mean that we are explicitly for-profit,” Gould explains. It means that the project doesn’t need to appease outside expectations to receive support and legitimacy. In order to sustain itself, Beyond Repair can (and must) focus its attention instead on what the community wants and needs it to be. And, existing outside the nonprofit bureaucratic system grants the project the flexibility to switch gears as deemed necessary by collaborators, and allows money earned through sales to be put towards a wide range of projects and initiatives.

Ongoing Projects and Happenings

In addition to the ongoing conversations happening in the shop every day—from “What does a healthy neighborhood look like?” to “What is social design?”—Beyond Repair is involved in numerous collaborations with individuals and groups. According to designer Alex Hage, “Beyond Repair represents the type of artist-driven, open-format space that should exist more in this world because (in addition to being a bookstore) it offers a venue for events, conversations, and projects that are about how artists view the world—which is different from the “normal” ways the world works.” Hage works for Small Multiples, a worker cooperative that does graphic design and web development “in support of social and economic justice, education, and the arts,” and built Beyond Repair’s website—just one of many collaborations that have already been instigated in the name of Beyond Repair.

One of the strategies for covering the shop’s rent and insurance is the sale of limited editions of prints by local artists inspired by the idea of a ‘rent check’—the price of each edition being equivalent to a month’s expenses. In February, designer/archivist/activist Josh MacPhee created one with a watermark that reads, “Theft is Rent.” The series aims to cover recurring expenses so that revenue from any other source (sales, print services, commissions, grants, etc.) can be put towards projects in the neighborhood.

In December, Beyond Repair and Juxtaposition Arts hosted a conversation with Emory Douglas about the Black Panther newspaper and how it was used to form a public around the ideals of the Black Panthers. A book will be made out of the conversation, and sales will be used to support projects that question and address the role of the police in south Minneapolis.

Lacey Prpić Hedtke is a photographer and the head librarian of the South Minneapolis Society Library, which will soon have select titles available for perusal and borrowing in the Midtown Global Market. She also helps assemble books in Beyond Repair a few times a week and is publishing a “21st century guide to spiritualism” zine and accompanying poster. “It’s nice to have more things in the Powderhorn/Phillips neighborhood that feels like they’re for the neighborhood—accessible, conscious of who those neighborhoods are made up of, and working to engage with them and reflect those communities,” she says. “It’s also nice to know of an artist-friendly print shop that is affordable and run by an actual artist.”

Every Saturday, a pop-up portrait studio is set up outside Beyond Repair for Sean Smuda’s ongoing project, What’s Your Beauty and Will You Share it With the World?, a “portrait of the neighborhood” created through photos of its residents and descriptions of places and things they find beautiful within it.

In addition to work produced for or with Beyond Repair, the shop also republishes existing works. The Walker’s Artist Op-Eds initiative—an ongoing series of commissioned online essays, accompanied by print pamphlets—will soon be available as a Beyond Repair reprint, keeping the production local and extending the project’s reach.

Models for Community Building

Beyond Repair exists in dialogue with a range of artistic traditions and cultural genres, says Gould, who cites inspirations from collectives, publishers, and individuals “from the English Civil War to today.” He names the True Levellers—also known as Diggers—who produced radical pamphlets in 17th-century England and provided a name and inspiration for the San Fransisco Diggers centuries later, anarchist publications coming out of Washington State in the 1800s, and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, perhaps the most well known example of a publication that galvanized a large public into political action.

Then there was the boom of independent and countercultural media springing up in the second half of the 20th century. From the Whole Earth Catalog and Black Panther newspaper to Hippie Rags and photocopied zines being made in basements and copy shops, communities were using printed material to spread ideas, form relationships, shape and document a changing culture, negotiate new technologies and realities, and record personal experiences. Ed Sanders’s Peace Eye Bookstore—a site dedicated to socialization and publication—is a significant inspiration for Beyond Repair. Sanders’s interests as a musician, writer, and activist were manifested in the bookstore in 1960s New York City, which became a gathering place for “writers, artists, musicians, poets, members of the alternative press, political activists, and outsiders.”

Another tradition that Beyond Repair exists within is relational aesthetics, a form of artistic practice in which human interaction is both the medium and the product. Coined by critic Nicolas Bourriaud, it is often associated with Rirkrit Tiravanija, whose art, including a pop-up kitchen serving Thai food and a jigsaw puzzle to be pieced together in a gallery, fosters “the formation of communities, networks of acquaintances, and lasting friendships within them.” Though not within the institutional context of a gallery, Beyond Repair also recreates familiar frameworks for interaction (a business, a print shop, a publishing cooperative), within an existing trusted structure (the market), to serve as the catalyst for community building and publication—in all senses of the word.

A printed sign welcomes visitors into Beyond Repair’s space in the Midtown Global Market

Gould often hosts discussions at the Beyond Repair work table

An array of books, booklets, and zines available at Beyond Repair

Visitors to Beyond Repair

Sean Smuda’s pop-up portrait studio outside the shop

Josh MacPhee’s design for the Rent Check series

A selection of books and a stack of folded fortune tellers

A free poster at Beyond Repair referencing the killing of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police officers

A selection of posters available for sale at Beyond Repair