Box Trucks As Arts Infrastructure

By Kasey Smith

What is artistic infrastructure? Is it something we can we map with schematics and diagrams; trace a map of all the white walls, track lights, picture hangers, and pedestals that comprise our creative lives? Could we use that to chart a course towards prosperity – turn left at the DIY art collective, right at the storefront gallery, and straight on towards a solo show…

Just as the urban grid is facilitated and serviced by roads, bridges, public utilities, and architectural systems which we utilize but do not (always) control; so goes the artistic corollary as well. From museums to galleries to frames to pedestals to online image galleries; the art world is made of boxes (and rigid, box-like systems) that we work within, but don’t always direct. This box-like thinking is reflected in the bones of our language – there are white box galleries and black box museums, there’s thinking outside the box and thinking outside the building.

I would like to add a new box to the arts infrastructure lexicon. One with more vibrancy, responsiveness, and agency than many other systems of display.

Box Truck.


It’s My Art In A Box

Put your Art in that box
Make her open the box
And that’s the way you do it

*

Why box trucks? Four reasons – making and displaying art in box trucks is Accessible, Inexpensive, Discrete, and Modular.The first two attributes apply to individual creators, the second two more to curators or artists in aggregate. But all four combine to allow for a fluid planning, execution, and deployment cycle that can be owned at each step in the process.


 Back That Accessibility Up

I like big trucks and I cannot lie.

*

How many U-Haul locations are in the US? And if you manage to get blacklisted from renting U-Hauls, how many Penske locations are there? And if you manage to get blacklisted from Penske, how many Budget locations are there?

At each of those locations you’ll be renting a standardized truck. So a U-Haul in Alaska will have the same deck height and dimensions as a U-Haul from Alabama or Arizona. Hell, chances are that U-Haul has been to Alabama and Arizona.

Box trucks are a known quantity/quality. They have predictable dimensions, features, and special add ons. Does your piece require a ramp or a lift, a “Grandma’s Attic” or a side door? There’s a truck for that and chances are, no matter where you go, you can probably rent it. This makes the whole business of pre-making a site specific installation A) Easier B) Replicable C) Plannable.

The site specific installation –> The site standard installation

The site standard installation –> Goddamn this is easier than I thought

Making art can be daunting; making art that doesn’t hang on a wall or sit on a pedestal even more so. Overwhelmed by decisions and choices, it’s easy to become paralyzed by creative block. By providing clear, predictable constraints, it’s easy to think through, around, and outside the box truck in a way that productively challenges both beginning and experienced artists alike.


Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.

– Andy Warhol

*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for fine artists was $44,380 in May 2012. How does this compare to the median income in your region? And how do those numbers stack up once you consider the dozens of professional costs – for show applications, framing, documentation, web design, and materials – that go into the business of being an artist? Probably pretty poorly.

 Now, if you’re crafty, you can rent a 10 foot box truck for close to $70. I’ve seen whole box truck projects pulled off for slightly more than three times that (FULL DISCLOSURE – none of mine have been in that range). And with the average box truck team consisting of two to five collaborators, even the $1k+ projects start to feel more feasible. That’s an Awesome Foundation grant, that’s a small scale Indiegogo campaign, that’s your tax refund check, that’s an approachable and manageable price tag.

 In the realm of Big Art this is cheap; and not in the tacky, low rent connotation of the word. Cheap as in accessible, accessible as in low barrier for entry, low barrier for entry as in low risk. Which means this platform can allow fledgling artists to create more work, and established artists to create outside of their core practice since

 There are lots of painfully hip terms for this type of creative workspace – sandbox, incubator, laboratory – but their value has a depth that transcends buzzwords. When we approach the work/play creative spectrum and nudge the dial from here:

 work <–|——> play

 to here:

 work < —–|–> play

 You’re giving permission to take the kinds risks that push creative “growth experiences”. It’s deeply ironic that for many artists, putting food on the table means playing it safe with their practice. If every creative experiment comes at the expense of one’s established income stream, how does one weigh chances for growth against negative risk? Probably more conservatively the more time consuming and expensive a project is.


Little Boxes, Little Boxes

There’s a U-Haul one and a Penske one
And a Budget one and an Enterprise one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

*

“And they all look just the same…” Is this always an insult or in certain contexts can it be considered a strength? Box trucks are ubiquitous in the cityscape and unless they’re cutting you off or covered in top notch street art how often do you give them a second thought? Exactly. Box trucks “hide in plain sight”  which allows their interiors to trade in secret magics and act as the proverbial blank canvas for creative interactions and expressions. Blinking in and out of focus as art, mobility, and the law require. SSSSHHHHH There’s nothing (and everything) to see here. **pulls down the back rollup door and turns on the engine**

“Does that truck contain an art piece or a studio apartment?” is a powerful attribute when you’re designing and deploying guerrilla pop-up projects. It’s often the difference between having an event and not, as it makes your work discrete and innocuous.

*I didn’t even notice it.
*It seemed like it belonged there.
*Eh, it’s a truck, I’m sure it will be moving shortly.

I’ve made a lot of art involving camouflage and urban space. I like to think my box truck projects count, and that they’re perhaps some of the best examples of a singular object disguised as a multiple. A false multiple if you will. A Simulacan’t.*

*Yes, that was bad and I feel bad for it.



  (Supermodular) You Better Work It, Girl

 Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.

– Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

 Box truck-based art functions, especially in group settings like the Lost Horizon Night Market, because each truck functions as a modular unit. Truck by truck by truck – we build complexity from smaller, more manageable subsystems. Designed independently, yet functioning together as a greater entity, this allows truck artists both the freedom and protection to create.

 For the push and pull between the trucks as individual art pieces, versus the event as an creative ecosystem, allows for beneficial boundaries between collaborators.

 “We’re all in this together.”  
“Not my circus, not my monkey.”

I’ve seen experienced artists balk at making immersive art pieces in a collaborative space without walls or physical barriers between the work. In fact, I’ve been the artist overwhelmed by that very creative scenario. Sometimes good fences make good neighbors. I don’t need to know how often you mow the lawn or whether your roses need pruning – I just need to know that you’ll feed my cat while I’m on vacation. In many ways, large-scale collaborative art is similar.

 “We’re all in this together.”  
“Not my circus, not my monkey.”

The box truck format allows us to experience all the benefits of collaboration


If You Give This Man A Ride

Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally
gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…
maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion:
Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

– Hunter S. Thompson

*

Say it after me – “Accessible, Inexpensive, Discrete, and Modular. BOX TRUCK!”

There. You did it. Beautiful.

Now what are you going to build?

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