Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA)

In 2008, Bridget Elmer and I decided to create a generative framework for addressing issues related to art, craft, time, labor, and economics. We wanted to build community with other artists, while creating a platform for independent publishing and social practice. We established Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA), a membership organization for makers who use obsolete technology in conceptual or experimental ways. ILSSA is structured as a Union that fosters solidarity and creates opportunities for members, and as a Research Institute that publishes new ideas, communications, and resources.

Below are details of select ILSSA projects: publications I've produced for ILSSA as Local 917 Shop RC, and an overview of some of our actions and exhibitions. Please visit for more information.

2008 -- present
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ILSSA Convergence
putting up the vinyls at cccdemily working hard on that chalkboardthe final installation at cccdIn July 2013, ILSSA converged for the first time in Asheville NC. The busy schedule included: an Impractically Asheville walking tour; an analogue film screening by Mechanical Eye Microcinema; an exhibition of the State of the ILSSA Union at Asheville BookWorks; an exhibition of members' photocopied hands and tools at Harvest Records; and the first meeting of the ILSSA Working Group at The Center for Craft, Creativity, & Design;and a shared observance of the annual Festival to Plead for Skills on July 7. The ILSSA Working Group was the first meeting of members of ILSSA, and will be shared in an upcoming publications. Members addressed issues raised the the State of the ILSSA Union, discussing art, craft, time, work, and money, among other things. The result of the meeting is the basis of an exhibition on display at CCCD from July 6 - July 24, 2013.
State of the ILSSA Union
state of the ILSSA union
2012 | 8.5 x 22 inches | letterpress printed from handset type & cuts

In early 2012, as part of the ILSSA Quarterly, we mailed a 8.5x22" letterpress survey to all ILSSA members, asking each to assess her labor conditionsas an art worker. 42 members responded with great insight, clarity, and thought.

state of the ILSSA union report
2012 | 7 x 11 inches | 17 pages | letterpress, foil stamp, photocopy; interior designed in AppleWorks

The resulting report is an edited compilation of the returned surveys: a collective and contradictory voice recounting the State of the ILSSA Union. Issues raised by the Survey will be investigated at the first ever ILSSA Convergence in Asheville, NC, July 5-7 2013, where the surveys themselveswill also be on display at an exhibition at Asheville BookWorks from July - August 2013.

installation at A+D Gallery

The Asheville show was the second public exhibition of the surveys, which were first exhibited at the A+D Gallery, Columbia College Chicago in early 2013 (installation shot above).

39 Kinds of Work

An essay on the primordial origins of modern work, as suggested by contemporary interpretations of the 39 Melachot. The essay suggests that perhaps all activities we engage in today, no matter how irrelevant to survival they may seem, may be traced back to a subsistence-based activity. Even filing. And meetings.

handset from lead & wood types and printed letterpress
2009 | 17x11 inches unfolded | 500 copies

image of 39 kinds of work brochureimage of 39 kinds of work brochure
What is craft and why does it matter?

A short essay positing that craft is simply doing things as well as one can. The text-of-many-typefaces running vertically consists of titles from the New York Public Library'sreference collection, all of which contain the word craft in their title; the essay's analysis follows from this really interesting (and often amusing) index.

handset from lead & wood types and printed letterpress
2008 | 17x11 inches unfolded | 500 copies

image of craft brochureimage of craft brochure
The Only Freedom is Freedom from Want /
Is Freedom from Want the Only Freedom

Produced as an informal keepsake for the Brooklyn panel at the 2008 ARLIS Artist Book Conference at MoMA, and included in ILSSA's Inaugural Quarterly, January 2009. It is, btw, a reversible-by-rotation poster. Is it The only freedom is freedom from want or Is freedom from want the only freedom?

handset from lead & wood types and printed letterpress
2008 | 8.5x11 inches | 700 copies | 5 colors
image of freedom posters
Festival to Plead for Skills

Each year on the 7th day of the 7th month, ILSSA celebrates its own version of the Festival to Plead for Skills. All members are invited to practice a skill of their own choosing, and to document the results of such practiceto share with all ILSSA members.

Shown here are various festival activities through the years.

2009 - present2012 festival publicationfestival publication | 2012 | 11 x 4.25 inches | 150 copies
2009 festival guidefestival guide | 2010 | 11 x 17 inches | 150 copies
invitation to the 2009 Festival to Plead for Skills
first festival invitation | 2009 | 7 x 9 inches | 150 copies2013 practice: weaving on a portable lap loommy 2013 practice: weaving on a lap loom2012 festival practice: sewing envelope books from the Every Day Work showmy 2012 practice: sewing envelopes from the ILSSA Every Day Work show into books2011 practice: spirographingmy 2011 practice: Spirograph!2010 practice: miniature rorschach testsmy 2010 festival practice: Rorschach tests2009 practice: miniature warp chainsmy 2009 festival practice: miniature warp chains/span>

A message to writers and publishers from Walter Benjamin

Significant literary work can only come into being in a strict alternation between action and writing:it must nurture the inconspicuous forms that better fit its influence in active communities... leaflets, brochures,articles, and posters. Only this prompt language shows itself actively equal to the moment.

Methinks he would have included zines in that list as well! Produced for the spring 2011 ILSSA Quarterly.

letterpress & rubber stamp on deadstock stationery
2011 | 4x5 inches | 250 copies
little pink message for you from your pal walter B

ILSSA Reference Collection: an Analogue Internet

For Impractical Labor's Research Quarterly, April 2010: an analogue internet. Reference report forms (left) are issued to all ILSSA members, along with an invitation to submit handwritten reports to an ever-growing, collaboratively generated annotated bibliography of ILSSA-relevant reference materials. All submitted reports are color-coded, photocopied (right) and distributed to all members with each subsequent Quarterly.This project is now retired.

handset from lead & wood types and printed letterpress
2010 | 8.5x11 inches | 300 copies
image of ILSSA reference reports
ILSSA Every Day Work: an exhibition at Hammes Gallery
January 27 - March 2 2012, Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame INILSSA installation at Saint Mary's College Notre Dame IN

The installation Every Day Work chronicles one full year (January 1 - December 31, 2011) of Impractical Labor as practiced by a dedicated group of ILSSA members. On every day worked in 2012, members saved remnants of their process in a dated envelope. In early January 2012, members sent their envelopes and/or a representative tool to the Hammes Gallery at Saint Mary's College. One envelope is posted on the gallery wall for each worked day. On the gallery floor, the saved remnants are grouped by month, with remnants from each day organized in rows. The exhibition is a visual chronology of every day worked by union members, wherever they may have been. Together with the tools, the show provides a glimpse into the nature of such work.

ILSSA installation at Saint Mary's College Notre Dame IN

Upon the show's closing, Saint Mary's College students were offered the remnants for their own creative reuse, and the envelopes were saved to be bound into books.

Emily Larned sewing books at the Bridgeport Arts Festival

On July 7, 2012, ILSSA's 4th Annual Festival to Plead for Skills, Bridget and I sewed the chronologically organized envelopes into books of two-week increments as a public demonstrationat the Bridgeport Arts Festival. We taught impromptu bookbinding workshops to passersby. Once bound, the envelope books were sent to all ILSSA members who participated in the show.

book sewn from installation envelopes
collection of books sewn from installation envelopes

Many thanks to Krista Hoefle for the opportunity to install the show, to Saint Mary's College for their support, and most especially to all participating ILSSA members, without whom this exhibition would not have been possible!

2012 | mixed media installation | download the exhibition guide

ILSSA Website
the website of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts, ie ILSSA

Naturally, the ILSSA website had to be handmade entirely in html, no CSS or programming languages, but with, I'm afraid, copious and naughty amounts of br/s, just like this site. Have a look for yourself at

2009 | hand-coded html

thanks for visiting  |  lovingly hand-built in 2012