(AS EXCERPTED FROM A GUGGENHEIM FELLOWSHIP APPLICATION)
I propose to use Guggenheim Fellowship funds towards the lease/purchase and operation of the now-vacant Kelly Lake General Store in this hamlet outside of Hibbing, Minnesota. Reclamation of this once-functioning store will form the heart of this project. Though my involvement is finite, my intent is for it to become self-sustaining.
According to Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums, more than half the world’s population lives in large cities. More than one billion people live in peripheral slums of third world cities. Eighty-two percent of the U.S. population is gathered in cities and suburbs, and on any given day, 200,000 people live in the streets and vacant land of L.A. Meanwhile, since last summer, the population of Hibbing, MN decreased more than 15 percent to 16,203 residents. Anyone driving even a half-mile north or south of American Interstate highways will see the collection of dying or abandoned towns between the two coasts.
Since 2009 I’ve rented a cabin each summer near Kelly Lake, a village of 350 residents, some of whom live in the same houses where they were born. When I arrived, the Kelly Lake General Store sold gas, frozen pizza and convenience store food but last winter it closed, and it hasn’t reopened. Joe Terzich, 62-year old son of the original owner, still lives in the beige house next door.
According to Town Historian Erica Larson, “When Terz owned it, he sold meat, apples, and groceries. You could go there and shop for a meal. The problem wasn’t the Wal-Mart [built six miles away in 1990]; it was more like the new owners turned it into a 7-Eleven. They took out the ice machine and put in digital gas pumps. It used to be, you’d go in and pay for your gas, and Terz would trust you to pump what you paid for. Nobody wanted to go there for an instant cappuccino. The things you went to the store for weren’t there any more.”
Small local business is the lifeblood of every community. The diners, cafes, and coffee shops between Grand Rapids and Hibbing, once informal town centers, have all closed. Kelly Lake Store will entail the lease/purchase of these vacant premises, and the operation of business for one year. Students from international MFA art and critical theory programs will be invited to “participate”—i.e., work in the store—on paid semester-long internships. Staffing will be augmented by local residents, who like the interns, will be paid the prevailing local wage of $10-$15 per hour.
The business of Kelly Lake Store will be the store: selling gas, groceries, cigarettes, and other convenience store items. The store will not used as a venue for art exhibitions or performances. Instead, interns and staff may choose to keep and/or create documentation of the store’s work—photographs, drawings, texts, journals, videos, notebooks, and ledgers—that may be exhibited at a later time. However, the project’s primary goal will be to make the store’s business economically viable, and then transfer it to new, local owners at the end of the year.
Kelly Lake Store can be seen as a radical re-visioning of Claes Oldenburg and Elaine Sturtevant’s Store Days installations of the 1960s, offering practical items for sale in place of papier-mâché sculpture. In these terms, Kelly Lake Store will address both a present-day need (in Kelly Lake, for a store) and a paradigm shift in the definition of artistic practice since that decade.
CHRIS KRAUS’s most recent novel is Summer of Hate (Semiotext[e], 2012). Kelly Lake Store and Other Stories was published by Companion Editions in Portland last fall.