American Art's Outdoor Sculpture Instagram Challenge
July 29, 2014
This July, American Art held its first Instagram Challenge through a partnership with Restless Collective (RC), a New York-based multimedia collective specializing in travel and adventure storytelling. The Instagram Challenge is intended to raise awareness and appreciation for public outdoor sculpture across the country. For 30 days in July, we invited everyone to explore and interact with alfresco art anywhere: discovering it locally or traveling on summer vacation. The Challenge asked participants to take a snapshot or selfie with an outdoor sculpture that meets the criteria for each day of the challenge and then share it with us and Restless Collective. Co-founders of RC, Morrigan McCarthy and Alan Winslow, photographed and interviewed people about outdoor sculptures at the same time, and chronicling their July on their Summer of Sculpture Tumblr.
On the final day of the Challenge, July 31st from noon to 4 p.m., Morrigan and Alan will be at American Art, doing what they do best: sharing stories. Afterward, they will lead an Instagram Walkabout around the museum neighborhood to —you guessed it— photograph more sculptures! Public programs coordinator Katie Crooks has been working with RC and sat down with Morrigan to get the scoop on RC's backstory, goals, and work.
Eye Level: Let's start off with some background. How did you two meet and get into the travel/adventure/photography/storytelling business? How does one even get into this type of work?
Morrigan McCarthy: We met while both working for a summer at a photography workshop on the coast of Maine. Alan was working in the digital printing lab and I was assistant teaching. We hit it off that summer and decided to move to New York City together in October of that year. It was there, in a tiny studio apartment that we came up with the idea for our first adventure together, Project Tandem.
We both have backgrounds in environmental science, and we were interested in the American debate over climate change. We wanted to get a pulse from ordinary folks, not just the media or people with platforms. So we set off to ride bicycles 11,000 miles around the United States, photographing portraits of Americans and interviewing them about their thoughts on the issue. It was both our first time doing anything like that, and it was nerve-wracking to just jump in with both feet! We had two bicycles, a small tent, and a few clothes, with a small grant that allowed us to cover our very minimal costs. We spent most nights camping in farmers' fields and behind fire stations. Over the 11 months that we cycled, we developed a process that felt like a good and natural way to tell real stories. The process has evolved quite a bit since then. But that type of work is still the foundation for what we do now.
EL: Your passion and talent for what you do indicates that this is more than just a job. What does Restless Collective mean to you, and what are its overarching goal(s)?
MM: Restless Collective is a way to formalize our work together, allowing us to combine our individual strengths. We've been working together for seven years now. When clients hire or collaborate with Restless Collective, they get the benefit of our ground-level sociologically-flavored style: my background in documentary and Alan's background in art. Our goal is simple: we want to better understand the world around us and share great stories about it.
EL: Tell us a little bit about how the collaboration with the Smithsonian American Art Museum came about?
MM: This project fits naturally into what we do. It's exciting to have the opportunity to explore our local area in a new way. Usually we're exploring places foreign to us. So talking to people in our own city, and photographing the amazing sculpture we have around us has been great fun. We're excited to start getting the broader Instagram community involved now, and to see photographs of public sculptures from all over the United States!
EL: What's the craziest thing that has happened on one of your traveling adventures?
MM: Wow! That's a tough one. The thing that jumps to mind first is one night on our first project together. We were tenting on a golf course in Nebraska (about 9,000 miles into our trip), and it was tornado season. Being from the Northeast, neither of us had ever really been near a tornado, so when we woke up in the dark to the sound of birds going crazy, we didn't really know what was happening. We were both just laying there, wide awake, listening, and then all if the sudden everything went completely silent. We unzipped the tent and in the lightning flashes we could see the sky was all greenish. We knew that was bad, and so we grabbed our cameras, laptop, hard drives, and sleeping bags and made a run for it. We got to the golf course's public restroom just as the hail started and we sat in the doorway watching our little tent get thrashed in the wind. Eventually, it got so nasty we went inside, put our sleeping bags under the sinks (you're supposed to be near plumbing, if possible) and slept the rest if the night there, figuring that if our tent and bikes were going to get carried away in a tornado, there wasn't much we could do about it. In the morning we were thrilled to find that the bikes and all our gear had held the tent down. We packed up and headed into town when locals told us that the tornado had passed pretty close to the golf course. We were just lucky! Maybe that's not the craziest thing that's ever happened to us, but it was one of the first crazy things!
EL: OK, sky's the limit! You have no scheduling conflicts, a limitless budget, and endless possibilities. What would your ideal next project be?
MM: We've talked about sailing around the world, but also about following the old spice routes. We also both love food, so maybe a food-based project is next! Right now we're focused on turning our most recent project, The Geography of Youth (an around-the-world journey to document the Millennial generation) into a public art show that will be able to be projected in public spaces worldwide in 2015.