Deep Space After Thoughts by Michele Anderson

This July the Traveling Museum had the pleasure of working with an outstanding team of artists in Fergus Falls, MN for the launch of our Artist Residency Pilot Program.  The week long collaborative residency exceeded all expectations and included musicians Michele Anderson and Dan Olson along with visual artist Naomi Schliesman. We look forward to the continued expansion of the Traveling Museum Residency Program in 2015.  A special thank you to Michele Anderson for sharing her thoughts on the experience.

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Deep Space after thoughts.   Michele Anderson                                                        

The day that Naomi Schliesman asked me to collaborate with her and Dan Olson on a sound/art installation for the Traveling Museum, I was complaining, no—whining to her, teary eyed, about how hard of a time I was having connecting with my musical identity while balancing my professional life as an arts administrator and community organizer.

But when she said, “Well, why don’t you do this Traveling Museum project with us,” I did a 180. I was terrified beyond words at the thought of sharing my music with my community, which had really never experienced it since I moved here three years ago. So, I tried to get out of it and to retreat back into my comfortable world behind my office desk. She didn’t let me, though. She is awesome like that.

Music has always been part of my identity. My body. My way of expressing myself when I really struggled to find words, or when my voice wouldn’t even work, especially throughout my childhood. In college, I spent more hours in the practice room than anywhere else, memorizing Berg’s piano sonata, analyzing twelve-tone music, and composing a one-man operetta called “The End of the World is a Love Story.”

Outside of the academic world, and especially in a rural town, it’s incredibly hard to find context for classical piano and new music. Sure, I could give a recital here, but I would have to find time to practice for at least six months first, and then people would sit there in silence and stare at me and expect so much of me – what if I f%&* up after all these years and just couldn’t perform anymore? And yes, okay, I can go to the Fergus Falls Space Station any night and “jam” with my pals, who are amazing rock musicians, but it’s just still not the same and I tend to gravitate more towards the tambourine than the piano, cause after all that training no one really ever taught me to “jam.”

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person out who makes excuses like these not to create, or who struggles to find context for their creative work while maintaining leadership roles (not to mention things that I don’t yet relate to, like raising a family). This is why I am so excited that the Traveling Museum exists and that I got to experience firsthand how it will impact artists as it travels around the country. They and their communities are in for a truly unique experience of creating and participating in art.

For the week that we hosted the Traveling Museum in Fergus Falls, collaborating with Dan and Naomi helped me to dig through layers of sediment that had piled up through the years of my musical rut, and start to see my experiences throughout all of that silence more as a tool than as a barrier. The intentional limited time (one week) and space (9’ x 6’) of this artist residency experience also took the pressure off of creating something that was “Worth It” for an audience to see, but instead something quite more special – a quick, invigorating splash in the deep and unknown waters of our creativity, and an invitation for others to jump in if they wished.

The incentive to collaborate with Naomi and Dan made for clarifying lessons about the unique ways we express ourselves, rather than how we should show off our talents. While Naomi sat in the front room extracting teeth from a deer skull, glue-gunning felted objects to a turtle shell, and installing metallic material around every surface of the inside of the museum, Dan and I worked in the sound booth, tinkering with three song ideas that were an answer to Naomi’s concept for her rendition of the museum: “Deep Space.” It turned out that my classical/folk background and Dan’s glam-rock approach were the ideal combination to create a soundscape for the ethereal and the archeological objects that Naomi was creating just yards away from us.

But the best part was that we didn’t allow ourselves to focus on perfection. Dan and I attempted to record each track on its first take, because the two of us also had a ridiculous amount of responsibilities that week (Dan has a one-year old son and was in the process of moving to a new apartment). The rawness of the recordings is something that sweetly reminds me of the relationships that are necessary to make great art and music. As we became more comfortable with this intentional imperfection, we invited several other Space Station “regulars” to add vocal tracks as they came in, a process which resulted in some moments with friends and strangers that I will never forget.

The night that the museum opened, the Space Station hosted a studio performance of the band Air is Air, which drew a large, younger crowd. As the sun set and people stood outside socializing, they had the chance to step into this installation and reported experiences ranging from meditative, to disturbed, to confused, to inspired. The museums’ fleeting presence created a sense of lightness for me as an artist, and I relaxed away from my usual desire to hyper-communicate “the process,” and “the intention,” and instead enjoyed having people I knew talk to me about what they thought even if they didn’t know it was my voice or my music coming out of the speakers.

Did I mention that Fergus Falls is a pretty small town, and that Dan, Naomi and I also happen to make up the entire staff at Springboard for the Arts’s office here? Let’s just say that didn’t matter in this context. We really wanted this to be about our connections with one another as artists, rather than as colleagues. That said, I would highly recommend the Traveling Museum as a unique non-cheesy team-building retreat for other arts organizations – the three of us have a new understanding of one another and I’ve noticed that we’ve been laughing a lot more in our office lately. Which can only be good for the artists we work with, right? And hey, I already have two new music gigs lined up as a result of people in the community learning that I can do this stuff too. So I think I can call myself a musician again. That feels pretty darn great.

Deep Space artists: Michele Anderson, Dan Olson and Naomi Schliesman inside Deep Space with visitors
Michele Anderson, Dan Olson and Naomi Schliesman with visitors inside the Deep Space installation

Michele Anderson lives and works in Fergus Falls, MN where she is the Rural Program Director at Springboard for the Arts AND a musician.

For more photos from the public event visit our IMAGE GALLERY

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