Mildred’s Lane and The Mildred Complex(ity)

Mildred’s Lane is a 93-acre, wildish site deep in the woods of rural northeastern Pennsylvania on the border of New York State. It is an ongoing collaborative involvement with my fellow artist and friend, Mark Dion, our son Grey Rabbit Puett, along with our like-minded friends and colleagues in the world who convene there. We are coevolving pedagogical strategies by practicing a generous and rigorous engagement with every aspect of life. It is a working-living-researching experiment centered on domesticity. The entire home/site has become a living museum, or rather–a new contemporary art complex(ity). Importantly, it is about people. I call myself an Ambassador of Entanglement, to pull apart traditional leading roles in such an endeavor, and in order to participate in the responsive and experimental events that are ongoing at Mildred’s Lane.

What is different about Mildred’s Lane is that it functions as a home as well as a school; reassembling the connections between working, living, and researching, through specific concepts and projects sensitive to the site. This unusual program affords people the ability to participate in the experience and production of research driven projects within a truly transdisciplinary and collaborative everyday environment.

At the core of this new curriculum are two principles:

  1. For students, research and project-based learning are best pursued in the context of actual site and community.
  2. Education should be principally involved in the development of new modes of life – what we call workstyles.

Work is our life; we take our practices out of the studio and apply our conceptual tools to everything we do and think, including employing ministries of comfort to creatively adapt to what we have at hand that sustains our needs.

Our collaborators are friends and colleagues that have been coming to Mildred’s Lane for well more than a decade. It is a growing mutual concern that frustrations over the obstacles in traditional fine arts classrooms have been counter-productive to developing environments where the practitioner, the student and the institution can collapse with attempts to coevolve a curriculum for new and emergent practices. We, thus, exist in the everyday with a revolutionary rigorous rethinking (the 3 Rs) of the contemporary art complex. These rare and valuable conditions of exchange, collaboration and generosity shape our shared experiences that have transformative and lifelong effects on how we think of ourselves as creative practitioners functioning in the social sphere.

Importantly, beyond our friends and institutional partnerships, Mildred’s Lane has come out of the woods and onto Main Street, USA in the form of a series of public projects with the Upper Delaware River Valley community. After a long series of think tanks on the future of exchange in contemporary art, Mildred’s Lane established an off-site storefront project space for broader community discourse and experimentation, thus coevolving what we call The Mildred Complex(ity).

Mildred’s Lane and The Mildred Complex(ity) is now situated in nearby Narrowsburg, NY, across the Delaware River (a hundred miles northwest of New York City.) The aims of the town projects have ‘City and Country’ potency and dynamics of a community of people involved in the production of exchange. It is through these projects experimenting in ways to integrate our communities, interconnecting disciplines that have been over-coded by exclusionary systems in recent histories of capitalism. Projects with Resident Artists in Complex(ity) manifest in installations, performances, workshops, lectures, debates, town meetings, and subsequently, more town involvement; always as community collaborations with particular geography to building renewable sociality, charged with environmental activism.

I think that it is important to convey that it is not necessary to tailor this experiment in living to the overly administrative, non-profit organizational system. We have been operating out-of-pocket and with the generous involvements from our friends working year round to afford these freedoms. Additionally, our friends and institutions have supported fellows by awarding scholarships to select practitioners to participate in workshops and/or intensive studies throughout the year (particularly in sessions during the summer) and around any given topic, project or research. Independent practitioners also come to us with their tuitions that support a provisional family staff of guides in workstyles, which is importantly inclusive during a stay and course of study. These tuitions also support careful digestion choreography, involving cooperation in understanding the local and seasonal food community that is so vital to this region. Other than these expenses, we are working through mutual generosity as much as we can possibly afford, balancing through barter and exchange.

These methods of economy have been challenging, but the rewards outweigh the losses in so many ways. This program has no predetermined outcome, nor does it conform to any fixed agenda. Mildred’s Lane is interested in new possibilities. It is up to our whims and wit as to how we program and operate each year changing, shifting–coevolving. Mark and I both have careers in practice, teaching, and receive awards occasionally that allow us to make this all possible. My transdisciplinary practice is evolving–now wedded to this landscape–but that does not mean that it has inhibited my work as an installation artist, rather it has expanded me toward greater rewards, physically and theoretically, that being is the practice, and that is socially and politically profound.

Nested in the discourses around my home at Mildred’s Lane and The Mildred Complex(ity) is the fact that I am a single parent, solving old problems as well as inventing new ones within new waves of feminism–and motherhood. This project puts to practice a shift from the isolated authorities of public/private schooling and forces us to address the potentiality of new workstyles, new sociality, a whole engagement inclusive of the conflicted introspective concerns in our everyday lives. As creative practitioners, work is our life; therefore, we weave our lifestyle through it.

What do we think is important for us to know in this age of political unrest, environmental turbulence and changing world histories of labor? What lessons would we/could we/should we learn/teach/create? What conceptual tools do we need? What is important information we need to know in the 21st century? These are the type of questions we think about. We have the technological needs; we are interconnected and are collectively concerned, although, we are well aware that these are not new agendas. There is a deep history in theoretical and utopian studies of pedagogical and living experiments that have continually asked such questions; believing that what has been overlooked or forgotten in a contemporary world is WHOLEschooling; embracing every aspect of our collective existence through rethinking new modes of being in the world– evoking a creative, social and political entanglement that incorporates questions such as: 1) our relations to people and to the environment, 2) systems of labor, 3) forms of dwelling, 4) inventive domesticating, and 5) clothing apparatuses – all of which compose an ethics of comportment. This is embodied in The Mildred’s Lane and The Mildred Complex(ity) Project, encompassing a working-living-researching-making strategy and co-evolving a rigorous engagement with every aspect of life that we call workstyles––being is the practice.

j morgan puett