This is Ally Reeves–an artist, designer and educator. She’s currently living in Mumbai, but before she left town (to work through a Fullbright grant there to research street vendors), we recorded some tones. I met Ally a couple of years ago when I was working at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, where she was a Fellow working on the One Mile Garden Project, and I was directing the Pittsburgh Creativity Project.
It’s fitting that I should kick off this new year (and next phase of Locally Toned) with Ms. Reeves’ ringtones. This week, I’ve been drawing attention to socially engaged work (commercial and non-commercial) by artists and designers. There is a whole field of contemporary art categorized as art as social practice. Locally Toned could be classified as such, as much of Ally’s work could, too.
In order to explain that term briefly, I like what Harrell Fletcher and Jen Delos Reyes say on the Portland State University MFA Art and Social Practice home page:
“In some ways a social practice artist is a documentarian with agency. Instead of recording what is happening in the world, the social practice artist is also affecting the world, setting things in motion, fostering connections between people, and organizing everyday life so that it can be seen as engaging and meaningful. In this way the artist becomes engaged on a new level with the artist’s target audience as well as issues related to life.”
To me, that first phrase is so important in defining the practice, so relevant to my approach. I’ve done a good deal of motion picture work, and I’m a fan of John Grierson‘s description of the documentary as a “creative treatment of actuality.” In the field of art as social practice, I might say that artists have a broader freedom to work with non-traditional tools and skill sets to collaborate with and engage audiences in a more direct fashion. A rather large (and often invisible to the public) component of this type of work is how artists design (and adapt) the systems which they implement within communities (kind of like pre-production in film/video work). And, as I’ve been sharing Locally Toned’s Visual Project Maps this week, too, well, inaugurating the 2010 tone series with Ally’s recordings makes very good sense!
These tones aren’t representative of Ally’s social practice work. They come straight from her vocal chords, and from her observations and associations within certain experiences. They and tell us a bit about who she is and where she comes from (“Etowah, TN a one-stop light town at the foot of the Smokey mountains”). I’m interested in sharing the stories surrounding the content (ringtones)–who are the collaborators? What do they do in the community? Where do these sounds come from?
The first Ms. Reeves’ tone is her Homage To Minnie Pearl Tone. Ally says, “ As a child I held a special dislike for Minnie Pearl. She seemed to mock small town women and their mannerisms and played a giggly, backwater character on the show Hee Haw. As I grew older, I came to realize that Minnie Pearl’s character was more complex than I had initially thought: When other characters on Hee Haw treated Minnie Pearl as a naive simpleton, she mocked them in a more sophisticated, subtle way than they anticipated, and they themselves appeared the bumpkin’ halfwits.”
The second tone Ally shares is her gentle-sounding Shmoo Tone. She says, “I encountered a framed picture of a Shmoo skeleton while house sitting for a friend in Chicago a year ago. The Shmoo is a point of wonder, a potentially fictional animal that makes the world feel larger and more mysterious. The Shmoo, like the dodo, occupies such a niche role in the food chain that it has been chased, like so many rare and odd things, to the brink of extinction. Shmooooo….”
Thanks, Ally, for sending me these lovely illustrations to accompany your original tones, and for the many gifts which you share with the world and its communities!