Walking through the Artisan’s Asylum is like opening 100 boxes of Cracker Jacks and pulling out better and better prizes as you dig deeper. And I’m not talking crappy temporary tattoos. I’m talking 10-foot bikes with rotating disco balls, a huge starburst-shaped contraption made from traffic cones, a custom arcade cabinet running a program called MAME (“Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator”) with a couple thousand different arcade games—you know, just chilling there for the playing. Meanwhile music’s blasting, one artist is riding through the paths between the 100 artists’ cubicle-spaces on a Razor scooter …
five minutes in and I’ve already lost Craig and Jesse while exploring.
“We brought you some Dig boxes,” Jesse says after we wheel the first five beat-up boxes in.
“Hell yeah!” Finance Director Dmitri Litin says, before laughing and saying we probably couldn’t tell his position by his haircut. “One rule is the Dig Box must retain ‘FREE’ on it,” he says, before all the artists we’re eating and drinking UFOs with start brainstorming on Dig Box renovations
“I was gonna weld a saw onto it…
but I’ve moved away from the saw blade to bicycle parts…”
“My idea was to make it look like one of those old-school claw machines…”
“I was thinking like a little Wally!”
“Can they move?”
“Do you tie them down?”
“What about a Jack in the Box? That jumps out when they open it?”
“Or like, a live animal, that attacks whoever throws trash in it,” Craig offers.
“A live badger!” I add.
“Or I’ll be in the box!” one of our first contending artists, Max Papas, says as we all continue laughing. “It’ll be performance art… [Assumes a sad-emo voice] this represents my emooooooootion.“
This night all started with me jumping into the Dig van, sitting in the front with Craig, The Captain of Dig distribution to my left, and Jesse, Sales Manager extraordinaire to my right—one of MY cigarettes already dangling from his mouth.
“Wait so what is this? What am I supposed to be documenting?” I ask.
“It’s this dinner thing at Artisan’s Asylum.
They’re ‘gonna be painting our fucked up Dig boxes,” Jesse says.
I turn to Craig, but he’s been continuously talking this whole time about how he wants an advice column on DigBoston.com and is muttering
“TONIGHT, we’re ‘gonna talk about lesbian dog owners….”
Out of nowhere, Jesse abruptly stops cracking up and turns to me:
“YOU have to document this.”
“YOU have to write about this.”
“You know, in that way you do…”
as he reaches and blatantly takes MY lighter to light MY cigarette.
“Anything ELSE you want? Jesus Christ,” I say, but neither of them is paying attention.
“I love how it’s like, the three shadiest people at the Dig going to do this…”
Jesse says as we pull into the Artisan’s Asylum.
After getting lost for about ten minutes between masterpieces, blue prints, and welders, I find Jesse and Craig in the lunch room with about a dozen members of the Asylum.
“You should probably hand out that stack of papers to them,” I say to Jesse.
According to Director of Operations Molly Rubenstein, the Artisans’ Asylum has 91 people renting spots, ten storage rentals, and a waiting list of more than 80 artists who want to rent spaces. Then they have a slew of walk-in members who use the shop on the fly … so many that Dmitri isn’t really sure how many walk-in members they have. There’s also a massive machine shop in the back of the building, which comprises about one third of the space. The Asylum offers classes and makes people take a test before they can use the equipment.
“Cause most of the stuff here will kill you,” Dmitri says, laughing.
Craig bursts out laughing and I make a mental note to keep him away from that area unsupervised.
About 20 artists of the Asylum have offered to have their way with our old, battered Dig boxes over the next few months. We’re going to drop off five at a time throughout Boston, and Molly plans to create a map for ArtisansAsylum.com and DigBoston.com, showing where each artists’ box is located.
“So I’ve always been curious about this,” Dmitri says to Craig at one point. “Do you need to get licensing to put out newspaper boxes in the city?”
“We have to renew an annual permit,” Craig replies. “Stay within ordinances, you know, by maintaining them—“
“That’s kind of the point. If [a Dig box] looks more artful, and they see that people took time and care with it, the city will appreciate it,” Jesse says, cutting Craig off.
“It beautifies the city. Instead of having rust and graffiti all over it.”
Then, finally, Jesse says his piece:
“The boxes get really roughed up… like we’ve had boxes totally destroyed by snow plows.”
“So we thought it would be cool for you to take the boxes and turn them into pieces of art. Something people will walk by and be like, ‘wow’.”
“This is the kind of thing [the artists] love, too, because they like to have something to start with and work with,” Gui Cavalcanti, President of the Artisan’s Asylum, tells us as he gives us the tour of the Asylum. “It’s better than having to create something totally from scratch.”
Now, let’s meet the first five artists who will pimp out the Dig’s boxes.
They clued us in on some of their ideas….
LOOK FOR A “CHICKEN COOP” DIG BOX
Khya is Khrysti Smyth – artist, dancer, animal
trainer, ecologist, and green-living guru who
can’t bring herself to let anything be thrown away
that might still be useful. Khya makes jewelry,
furniture, wall art, and whatever other new
endeavors she is exploring at the moment and,
with the exception of some of her wall hangings,
she prefers to make art that is also functional.
The strength of Khya’s trash-reduction
convictions combined with her creativity and
willingness to do things a little differently have
inevitably led to her discovery of as many ways
of making useful things out of scrap materials as
she can figure out. As much as possible, her
materials have been found onthe brink of being thrown away or have been
otherwise sustainably harvested, right down to the feathers molted from
her very own backyard flock of chickens. KHYAMARA.COM
LOOK FOR A “TENTACLE” DIG BOX
Inky Stainsworth is a mixed media artist from
Somerville. For the past 15 years he has been
working in a variety of mediums to create
colorful and slapstick characters for use in
figurine sculpture, logo creation, canvass,
silkscreen, and large-scale murals. Also opera-
ting under the moniker, “The Serial Krusher,”
representing an appendage of local Boston
underground arts label Vermin Street Records,
he leads a double life as an electronic music pro-
ducer, DJ, and VJ, cutting up and looping sam-
ples of ’80s horror movies, circuit-bent video
game imagery, and homemade audio/video
effects for various installations and live perfor-
LOOK FOR A “DIG” DIG BOX
Max Papas is a painter and cartoonist from
the suburbs of Boston. One of the many fine
arts students this generation has produced,
he has yet to find his place but not quite ready
to give up either. His main influences include
Keith Haring’s use of figure, Max Ernst’s
emphasis on bird symbols, and Godzilla’s roots
in nuclear armageddon. This is his first foray
into public art and he thanks the Dig and the
Artisan’s Asylum for the opportunity.
CAT TWEEDIE BALL
LOOK FOR A “FRIENDLY ROBOT” DIG BOX
Cat Tweedie Ball grins as she dives
into our awe-inspiring world. She
was the first girl to pin a guy in San
Francisco high school wrestling, an
All-American pole vaulter in college,
and completed a PhD in nano-
mechanics at MIT just as she turned
26. Cat is captivated by seeing nature,
art, and our culture through different
perspectives and has explored many
corners of the world to challenge her
own assumptions. Some highlights
include biking solo along the Mekong river in Cambodia, bushwhacking through remote
jungle, and Muay Thai kick-boxing on an island in southern Thailand. Cat is
dedicating the next year of her life to welding and metalwork in the Artisan’s
Asylum community and is psyched to play with the dig box over the next month!
LOOK FOR A “EVER NEEDED TO WRESTLE ONE OF YOUR
POSSESSIONS AWAY FROM A HUNGRY ANIMAL? THIS IS KIND OF
LIKE THAT” DIG BOX
Laurie Z is a JP resident and Emerson College
graduate (so she basically bleeds paint and haiku).
Her favorite art forms are collage, fabric, and sound.
Her ultimate goal is to combine all three. When
she’s not searching the streets for garage sales and
cast-off buttons, she also enjoys making her own
fonts and clothes.