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Dreaming of a foam stoop and an ethereal roof

The Makeshift Manufactory Micro-Residency, Iowa City, IA

December 2012


The finished structure by night. Photo: Makeshift Manufactory

Response by Makeshift Manufactory (Mark Drummond Davis and Kalmia Strong)

January 18, 2012

A magnificent work of styrofoam architecture now stands proudly in our backyard, thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of Neil Strickland and Brian Orser, recent artists-in-residence in our home. Since 2011, Makeshift Manufactory (a term that refers both to us as a collaborative team and to our place of residence) has been offering micro-residencies as a way of supporting artists and makers of all stripes through simple, direct generosity without having to rely on grants or institutions. Residents can stay as little as three days or as long as two weeks, and we provide a live/work studio space, food, laundry service, tools, transportation, and the support of our contacts within the Iowa City art community. The only requirement is some kind of final trace or presentation of the work completed during the residency.


Collection of scrap foam. Photo: Makeshift Manufactory

Our inaugural resident was Jesse Barron, a writer visiting from Brooklyn, who in the course of a week in the fall of 2011 finished the epilogue to his Dubai-based novel and gave a reading of a few excerpts. That summer, book and textile artist Arini Esarey flew in from Boston to execute a series of embroidery drawings, and in two weeks produced enough work to have a gallery show in our living room.


Strickland and Orser mid construction. Photo: Makeshift Manufactory

Strickland and Orser—based in Lake Jackson, TX, and Santa Cruz, CA, respectively—arrived in early December of 2012 and managed to build a fully functional performance venue out of scrap styrofoam in only five days. Working with the architectural theories of Christopher Alexander, the duo aimed to create a meaningful structure using a cheap, easily worked material so as to facilitate spontaneous decision-making and an organic building process. “To lower the stakes,” they wrote in their proposal, “means to create the circumstances in which transformations can be piecemeal, dynamic and careful (but not cautious).” This is an approach they would like to apply not only to architecture, but to all aspects of life. “[W]e have a historical opportunity,” they explain, “to create new processes which can allow novel building forms to emerge alongside and in direct communication with the re-organizing harmonies of contemporary lives.”


The opening event sing-a- long was made complete with accordion by Gina Tarullo. Photo: Makeshift Manufactory

The finished structure, which can hold a performer as well as an audience of nine, features an outdoor bench, a stoop, a lowered performance alcove, ornamental lighting, and an ethereal domed roof. During their opening event, Strickland and Orser delivered a compelling introduction to the work, which was followed by performances inside the space: readings by distinguished poets Kelly Morse, Margaret Ross, and Jake Fournier as well as a sing-along performance by celebrated accordionist Gina Tarullo.


The finished structure by day. Photo: Makeshift Manufactory

The foam structure will remain in our backyard indefinitely as a venue for future performances, shows, and happenings. It offers a palpable daily reminder of the amazing creative potential that small-scale artistic generosity can unleash.

If you are interested in participating in the Makeshift Manufactory Micro-Residency, contact us via e-mail to begin a dialogue about your project: