The Positions and Situations Project is a series of 100 letter correspondences between artist Alex Arzt and individuals who placed classified ads in 1970s magazines published as resources for back-to-the-landers such as The Mother Earth News, whose classifieds were called “Positions and Situations.”
The magazines are a product of what is known as the Back-to-the-Land Movement of the 1970s. After the tumult of the 1960s counterculture, many young people were disillusioned with the political system, the Vietnam War, consumerism, and pollution and were looking for both a way out and an alternative. Many were seeking land and a community to test out the ideals and experiments they cultivated during the counterculture and hippie years. From the late sixties through the mid seventies, one of the largest urban to rural migrations in American history occurred. Progressive minded twenty-somethings left the cities in droves for rural areas to start homesteads and join communes.
The ads were “designed to help would-be back-to-the-landers get in touch with folks already out there” and were required to have a “country slant.” The 100-word P&S ads are vignettes into the dreams, goals, and desires, both practical and impractical, of a cohort of people in their twenties seeking the lifestyle The Mother Earth News promised. Full names, addresses, and ages of the ad-placer are often listed, and Alex used that information to search for their current address on public records search sites. Her initial letter form to the ad-placers has evolved as her own situation has changed and as the project developed, but from the beginning, it has asked two questions: What came of the ad? Did you find what you were looking for the year the ad was placed? The letters encompass the failures and accomplishments of the back-to-the-landers in imagining and creating alternatives to a society they understood as fundamentally broken.
Volume 1:1968-1973 was printed on a Risograph, whose lineage comes from the Mimeograph and Gestetner, two processes once used to print underground and alternative newsletters, magazines, and posters. Looking a lot like a copy machine, the Riso offers a do-it-yourself, economical process that prints one color of ink at a time using a thermal cut screen from a digital image. Given the size and scope of The Positions and Situations Project, it will be printed in three separate volumes. Volume 2 will cover years 1974 to 1975, and Volume 3 will pick up the rest of 1975 and finish up in 1976, the final year of the Positions and Situations section and the beginning of the end of the Back-to-the-Land Movement.
Now through January 5: Rat Bastards Pop-up at the Hammer Store
November 16-19: Chicago Art Book Fair at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
May 12: Henbane release party, Berkeley Museum of Art and Pacific Film Archive
Studio at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in 2017
© Alex Arzt 2017