I know it’s short notice, but it seems that Ypsi has earned a spot on the national tour of the Trading Tortoise, thanks to the fact that our friend Jason Wright lives here. (More on that below.) As of right now, it looks as though the Tortoise will be open for business tomorrow, between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM, at the Corner Brewery. (A big “thank you” to the Corner Brewery for coming through on such short notice.) For those of you who have yet to hear about the project, here’s a bit of background from the original Kickstarter campaign which brought the whole thing to life.
The Trading Tortoise is a traveling art project created by Souther Salazar and Monica Choy with the goal of creating a unique community experience while exploring America through objects and stories. The plan is to make a sculptural installation (in the form of a large tortoise-shaped trading post) that we can set up at different stops throughout the nation.
At each stop, we’ll set up our Trading Tortoise installation and invite people to bring an object, story or creation and exchange it for something else special we’ve found or traded for along the way. We hope to connect people in different places in America in this way, through a network of traded treasures, and through a mutual love of giving and receiving in a non-monetary exchange.
Every person has a unique object or story that only they can bring to this project. Each item we receive will be tagged with the person’s name, location, and a number and documented on our website so people can follow our trades and see where their item eventually traveled to…
The tortoise has since been built, and the tour is presently underway. And, judging from the trades they’ve made thus far, I’d say it’s been successful.
Here, with the answers to my questions, is Souther, who, as I type, is on his way to Ypsi from Ohio.
MARK: To start off with, can you tell us how many stops the Tortoise will be making, and what you’d like for people to bring to the Brewery tomorrow?
SOUTHER: We are planning on making close to 40 stops around the U.S. The Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti will be our 4th stop on this tour. People are encouraged to bring a special object, story, drawing or something handmade to barter with us. Be prepared to share the story of the item you bring and to write down a little note about it on the tags we will supply for documentation. We’ll be setting up our Tortoise trading post inside the Brewery. The event is all ages and everyone is welcome to trade with us.*
MARK: I’m curious as to how you came up with the idea of a cross country tour during which you’d barter objects and stories. As the Trading Tortoise tour culminates with a gallery show in New York, I’m guessing that two things are somehow connected. Would I be right about that? Did the tour kind of evolve from the fact that you needed to drive across the country anyway, for this show?
SOUTHER: It was just something we wanted to do– drive around the U.S., meet interesting people, and trade objects and hear stories. We also wanted to do something creative in each place we visited as a way to share and participate in the community. It wasn’t a job that we knew existed, so we tried to create it for ourselves. The art show came later… I show with Jonathan Levine in NY just about every other year, so the timing worked out naturally. I figured that after an adventure like this, it would be a good assignment to give myself, to process the experience through a body of focused new work. But the show at Jonathan Levine Gallery will not open until May of 2013. Our traveling will be completed in early November of this year and then we’ll find a place to live, set up a studio and I’ll work on the show.
MARK: Concerning the gallery show, will you be creating any work as you make your way across country with the Trading Tortoise?
SOUTHER: I am trying to create work in an immediate way while we travel, but the gallery show will be new work made after the traveling is done. I want to have time to process the experience, and set up a new studio in whatever place we decide to live in once the tour is over. I try not to think about the pressure of an audience… my main goal is to make work that makes me feel satisfied in the end.
MARK: From the looks of it, you’ve raised considerably more than you were hoping to from Kickstarter. I believe, at last count, people had pledged over $26,000, which is more than double what you were looking for. Having never waged a successful Kickstarter campaign, I’m curious as to what happens to the excess money that you raise. Do you get to keep it? And, if so, how do you intend to use this additional $13,000 that you have to work with? Will you be building a more elaborate Tortoise, staying at the occasional hotel, hiring a film crew to follow you?
SOUTHER: $13,000 was the minimum we needed to build the Tortoise and do the most basic tour. All the additional funds we raised brought us closer to our ideal version of the tour, with many more stops added. We’re staying with friends and strangers for most of our trip – no fancy hotels for us.
MARK: Did you consider other animals to inhabit before settling on the tortoise?
SOUTHER: We considered a snail, briefly… but we had already made a large snail together. A tortoise also is slow and carries his home on his back, and is conveniently tent-shaped, so he was the perfect candidate.
MARK: Do you actually sit inside the tortoise, and conduct your business inside it, asking in one person at a time?
SOUTHER: Yes, well, we sit just inside the tortoise doorway and people come up one at a time and sit in front, and we trade on a little table right at the threshold. It works better to have one (or two, with close friends or couples) to trade with at a time, because then we have a chance to hear the story of their trade and learn a little about them in the exchange.
MARK: What items did you be start with, at your first stop?
SOUTHER: We started with items Monica and I have collected throughout the years. Many of them come from California, but some are from other places. Some are interesting, weird little things. Some items are sentimental and have some personal meaning to us and all of them are things that were either one-of-a-kind or hard to come by.
MARK: What, if anything, do you know about Ypsilanti?
SOUTHER: Honestly, I don’t know much about Ypsilanti. My old friend Jason Wright lives there and he’s a very creative person. We were hoping to visit smaller towns with interesting communities as well as the typical large cities that you’d imagine on a tour. We heard from Jason that Ypsilanti was a nice place with good people, so we wanted to check it out.
MARK: Is there anything you won’t trade? Or, is everything you acquire, as you move across the country, going to be available for trade?
SOUTHER: Everything we acquire while trading will be up for re-trading. Though we’ve been very tempted by some of the handmade items people have brought us. The goal of the Tortoise is for us to experience the joy of “finding” these special items and hearing the stories behind them, but then finding the right home for them someplace else. It wouldn’t be right for us to hoard all our favorite trades… though we will happily take gifts.
MARK: In addition to works of art, and physical items, I believe you will also be trading stories. In what format will these stories be collected?
SOUTHER: We’re asking that people write down the stories they’d like to share with us on a sheet of paper so we’ll be able to keep track and share them with others. We’ve already received some stories and are hoping for more. We also had someone in Toronto who asked for an oral story in exchange for his item, so that works too… though a bit more difficult to document.
MARK: I’ve heard that zines will also be created as you traverse the continent. Do you have themes in mind? Will they be about the journey? Or will they focus mainly on cataloging the items that you barter for along the way?
SOUTHER: The zines will be about our journey, the people we meet, experiences, and probably some of the stories behind some of the trades we receive. We’ve only been on the road for 3 weeks and we’ve already encountered many different things that will easily inspire our first zine. Mainly the traded items are cataloged on our website and we’ll use the zine as the way for us to share our experiences on the road more in depth.
MARK: What else should I have asked you about?
SOUTHER: I think that’s pretty thorough. Maybe it would be good to mention that we do have a few guidelines for trading: 1. Nothing alive, perishable or illegal, please. 2. Try to keep your item size to something that can fit inside a shoebox or smaller (we have a limited amount of space in our car). 3. Handmade items are encouraged!
So, start making stuff! ….Unless, of course, like me, you already have something laying around the house that would be prefect.
Oh, and here’s the Kickstarter video. I think you’ll agree that it’s pretty incredible.
[*It's been a while since I've spoken with Brewery management, but, while they allow children of all ages, I believe they require an adult guardian to be present... I imagine, however, that a solution could be found if someone under-age wanted to get in and make a trade, and didn't have a parent around. Either Monica or Souther could step outside for a moment and make the trade, or, better yet, a member of the Brewery staff could keep an eye on the young person in question, making sure that he/she didn't drink while inside. As I don't imagine many unattended minors will be seeking access, I don't think it will be a problem, but I thought that I should mention it, just in case.]