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PBS Digital Studios' The Art Assignment furthers their exploration of New Orleans to visit artist Bob Snead. He's the Executive Director of Press Street, an organization that promotes art and literature in the community through events, publications and arts education: Snead embraces the collaborative nature of art-making and gives us the assignment to produce an ASSEMBLY LINE:

1. Make an object
2. Make a template for how to recreate that object
3. Invite friends over and produce an assembly line to recreate that object
4. Document the process and upload with #theartassignment
5. Fame and glory (your work might be featured in a future episode)

Thanks to Ricki Bratcher and Joseph Vincent Grey for helping demo the assembly line!

Learn more about Bob Snead's work:

Bob would like to thank the many people who have participated in his assembly lines for Family Dollar General Tree, including Clark Allen, Ricki Bratcher, Ameila Broussard, Eric Crider, Joseph Vincent Grey, Ernest Littles, Sophie Lott, Angel Perdomo, Tom Spittler, Catherine Walker, and many more in workshops at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK, Coleman Center for the Arts in York, AL, and May Gallery in New Orleans, LA!

Today we're in the St. Claude Arts district of New Orleans inside of Press Street, an organization that promotes art and literature in the community. We're going to be meeting with Bob Snead, the executive director of Press Street and an artist independent of that. He's originally from South Carolina, and traveled all over the country in a vegetable-oil powered bus doing community-based projects with the art collective Transit Antenna, before he landed in New Orleans in 2010. Bob's works take a close look at the everyday objects, materials, and places around us. Past works include a series of autobiographical paintings, a full size recreation of a pickup truck out of cardboard cartons, and a handmade replica of an ATM placed inside an art gallery. Recently he's also created Family Dollar General Tree, for which he painstakingly turns discarded cardboard into the commercially fabricated goods that you'd normally find in a dollar store. Bob often involves other people in making his work, and today's assignment is going to ask you to do the same.

Hi, I'm Bob Snead, and welcome to your Art Assignment.

Dollar stores are a real part of our everyday life here. Um, we have a lot of dollar stores instead of grocery stores, particularly in our neighborhood and in the lower ninth. When I was working on the, the rec project, I was creating these fields of grass that were replicating New Orleans neutral ground. When I was doing that, I started running out of the cardboard that, uh, I was using, um, that was from our move. And so I started going to the dollar stores and collecting cardboard and getting really obsessed with how every piece of trash, um, from, uh, corporate dollar store is branded in some way with logos and the things that used to be in these boxes. And so as a side effort and kind of just playing with this material, I started making the objects that used to live in the boxes. Um, and then it built from there and it took like uh the first iteration of it took about two years to develop. When I’m making something for the store, I’m not thinking about one of those things, I’m thinking about making twenty of them and how the different steps will, uh, transpire in making those those the twenty things. Um, so it’s more about the process than anything. The last iteration of the store that I made, uh, I had to recruit, um, former students of mine to assist. So I had a crew of six, six students who, former students, who uh helped produce the project because we had a-- we had a six month deadline.

Your assignment is to produce an assembly line with a group of friends. Your first step is to make an object. Your object can be made out of any material that you find in your home, your office, your work environment — wherever you find material. You can make something out of that and then that object, you need to make a template from that object. Then you take your friends, you invite them to come to your house, to your studio, wherever you work on things, and have them produce an assembly line with you, making the object that you made originally. And document the process. So take pictures, make videos of you producing this assembly line and how the process has happened and then put it online and show it to us.

JOHN: So Sarah this gets to something that uh really kind of troubles a lot of people about contemporary art, I think, and also troubles me to an extent. Which is that artists don’t make stuff as much anymore. Like, their actual hands are not involved in the creation of their work

SARAH: Well, there are still plenty of people who actually make their art. But it is true and it does bother a lot of people. For a long time artists have used other people or hired other people to help them make art. And originality is what a lot of people value about art. Like the way a painter lays down paint or the quality of their line, and I totally get that. It’s just that there is another way of making art too.

JOHN: What is this other way?

SARAH: Hiring it out.

JOHN: [laughs and claps] But is that really legitimate?

SARAH: I think so. Artists have been doing this since the middle ages. My mind is exploding from all the possibilities of what we can discuss for the historical precedence.

JOHN: I hope not literally.

SARAH: [laughs] You can think about the whole history of instruction art with artists like Sol Lewitt who make instructions for a work that other people can produce.

JOHN: Right, but I think that if you go further back in art history, because that, I mean that still feels pretty contemporary to me. Maybe you could make a stronger point.

SARAH: Okay, well let’s talk about sort of the Atelier or workshop style of art making. Take famed Italian renaissance artist and agreed upon genius Leonardo da Vinci. He himself was an apprentice in the work shop of artist Andrea del Verrocchio, starting at the age of fourteen. It was there that da Vinci developed his skills as a painter and draftsman while working on paintings attributed to his boss. At age twenty da Vinci became a certified master in the guide of St. Luke and eventually went on to create his own workshop and take on his own apprentices to assist him. Art was a trade, just like being a cobbler or a miller or a physician. Skipping forward to 1962, the guild system was gone but the tradition of artists having assistants was alive and well. It was that year that Andy Warhol moved into his famous silver factory where notables gathered, films were shot, and countless flower paintings and Brillo boxes made. He was a pioneer of art automation, saying, “I want to be a machine,” and his signature use of silk screening allowed him to do just that. Many if not all of the decisions were Warhol’s but the process allowed him to make use of assistants and ramp up production to create not just a single image but additions upon additions upon additions.

I think the big thing is, uh, the kind of connecting with your, your friends, um, in a way that’s new. Um. Working with people and seeing how they make things. And then, uh, also this, uh, doing this, this assignment you, yet get, you get a real connection with how, how things are made and um and uh and really I think it changes the way you see a store.

So now we are in my studio and we’re going to produce an assembly line. I’m here with, uh my friends uh Ricky and Jo and they’re gonna help me produce this bottle of detergent. Sometimes it can be really frustrating having people make something that you have an idea about and then they kind of produce it and then it’s not-- Often the instructions were verbal so rather than having this kind of written thing and then I would have to come in and kind of modify things and show them how to make things. So, actually, throughout the process we developed like a series of rules like the edges of the products could not have a really thick glue line or the seams had to come together in a certain way or it was unacceptable. Developing those rules then made it to where I could point to the rule and be like that is not following the rule book. Um. And so it’s gotta be done over and then no feelings were hurt if, if I had them remake something or kinda rethink how they were working. The way that I work is I’ll make a template and the first product first. When I’m cutting all of my pieces and kind of working through how the thing comes together, I’m building two of every piece. When I’m done with that first product I have a template that everyone can go from. But often, the templates, um, it’s not really clear what the pieces are so then we had to figure out um in the studio um writing directions on all of the templates and, and making it clear like do not use this piece [chuckles]. In the studio so that everyone was, was on the same page and we could recreate the item over and over.

I end up looking at things like how can, how could I make that out of cardboard? Particularly bottle shapes. Like how, how can that transform and translate into cardboard and still be read as the original thing?