Sustainable Practice: Nancy Zastudil

by Rachel Hooper February 24, 2012

PLAND under the stars

In many ways, Nancy Zastudil was the inspiration for this series of interviews about sustainable practices. We worked together at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston, which organized a symposium called Systems of Sustainability. In the course of planning for the event, we talked about ways that the definition of “sustainability” could be extended beyond a strictly environmental context to the idea of sustaining a creative project.

Sustainability of a project often involves careful planning in the beginning stages to make sure the endeavour can be adapted as circumstances change, consumes a minimal amount of resources, and continues to enrich the lives of those involved for years to come. Nancy Zastudil co-founded just such a project in 2009, a constantly evolving outpost in the New Mexican high desert that is part alternative school, part laboratory, part homestead, part art studio called PLAND. She is also a curator, arts writer, and all-around creative thinker, who is not afraid to go off the grid.

Wax by the Fire: How would you describe your organization and curatorial practice? Do you see them as interrelated?

Nancy Zastudil: I’ve organized my curatorial practice under the title of The Necessarian. It’s a self-branding effort of sorts informed by Vladimir Tatlin, who stated: “Not the old, not the new, but the necessary.” This is my personal mantra because it locks in a consistent approach along a broad spectrum of possibilities and/or opportunities. In other words, “What must be done?” My answers (and related actions) are relevant to the situations at hand, the goals or desires, etc.

In this way, I have developed my curatorial practice so as to provide a series of services rooted in historical and contemporary art, as well as administrative knowledge, and the cultural affects of such. For example, under The Necessarian, I provide exhibition curating, project implementation, and public programming for institutions; consulting services for organizations (for example, administrative streamlining); and professional development and referrals for artists.

In addition, I take on multiple collaborative projects of which PLAND is an example. PLAND is an acronym that stands for Practice Liberating Art through Necessary Dislocation. Erin Elder, Nina Elder, and myself founded PLAND in 2009 and identify it as “a multi-disciplinary organization that supports the development of experimental and research-based projects through a variety of on and off-site programs.” PLAND is a hands-on, exploratory approach to Do-It-Yourself alternative living, headquartered off-the-grid near Tres Piedras, New Mexico.

So yes, its all interrelated.

WBTF: How did you come to the decision to forge your own path and start a new organization?

NZ: At the Mitchell Center, I truly learned from director Karen Farber what it means to do your job in accordance with a mission statement – to have this be your guiding, driving force, to have it inform every professional decision you make, to have it be your voice. I wanted to see what it would be like to develop, from scratch, a new organization – mission, vision, and all. I wanted to put into practice what I learned at the MC while collaboratively developing an organization that taught me new, wacky things like how to build a house out on the Taos mesa without power tools, electricity, or running water and with very little money.

Plus, to be very candid – I was burnt out from working and I needed a break. Karen was rad enough to hire me straight out of graduate school, which meant I had to hit the ground running. She basically taught me what I know and I learned more at the MC then I ever did in graduate school. So, after operating at full force for a few years in Houston, founding PLAND offered an opportunity to change up/slow down the pace of things and learn new skills in a brand new environment. I took a few months and worked as a WWOOFer (the org: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) on a farm in Las Vegas, New Mexico, before heading out to our land at PLAND.

WBTF: What do you do to sustain your practice?

NZ: I do anything to avoid stagnation. I love feeling content, but I go batty if I feel stuck. So I tend to have several projects happening at once, and this inevitably leads to more projects and collaborations. I heard a saying the other day, something to the effect of: “juggling isn’t about catching, it’s about throwing.” I take this to mean that one should keep throwing things (ideas, questions, proposals, etc.) out into the world to see what comes back, what finds its way into the rhythm. However, in order to sustain myself – my relationships, my life as I want it to be, my good health, and more – I have to consistently reach for balance. Otherwise, as I saw happening while I was at the MC, I get overwhelmed, work too much, get burnt out, bitchy, and controlling. No good.

WBTF: Who inspires you?

NZ: I’m consistently inspired by people who can balance a million things as once and still maintain their sanity, relationships, and overall good mood. In my professional life, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing women in the arts field including Karen Farber, Director of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center at the University of Houston and Nancy Wozny, Editor at A+C Houston Magazine. Currently, I’m working with Kathleen Shields, Director of both The Frederick Hammersley Foundation and The Lightning Field, plus Suzanne Sbarge, Director of 516ARTS (Albuquerque, NM) and Executive Director of ISEA2012 Albuquerque: Machine Wilderness, and Andrea Polli artist, educator, and Artistic Director of ISEA2012 Albuquerque: Machine Wilderness.

Spiritually, my mom inspires me. She has had a difficult few years dealing with the effects of my stepfather’s multiple severe strokes, and she relies on her faith for strength.

In my personal life, my partner Ian Goebel inspires me. He has mastered the art of relaxation, patience, support, and kindness. I’m super thankful.

WBTF: What projects are you working on that have not been realized yet?

NZ: My involvement in projects is most often the result of daydreaming with friends and colleagues, playing the “what if” game. “What if we…started our own business, moved out of the country, quit our jobs?” etc.

For awhile now, I’ve wanted to own and operate my own business. So, at the moment, a friend and I have an idea brewing for an “office supply concept” – part retail store and part work space (modeled after, but not married to, the co-working model), all with a vintage flair. We are in love with vintage office items (1940-1970s) and are responding to an appreciation for the office as an aesthetically-considered, creative space. Short of a generous benefactor, it’s years and tens of thousands of dollars away from actually materializing, but putting together a business plan is a good exercise for my brain.

On the curatorial front, I’ve been working with artist Pamela Fraser to curate an exhibition of her incredible paintings for Blaffer Art Museum (2013). PLAND has just put out our open call for Summer 2012 residency applications. I’ve got some fun writing each month in A+C Houston. I’m the Taos Coordinator for ISEA2012 Albuquerque: Machine Wilderness which takes place this September. This is my first year working with The Hammersley Foundation here in Albuquerque as well as The Lighting Field; and artist Ariane Roesch and I are are in the very early stages of proposing an exhibition to an art space in Houston.

Lots of fun things in the works.

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Carolyn Cornell February 28, 2012 - 06:30

I am intrigued by the wonderful stretch you are doing. I am a multi-areas Artist and love hearing about what happens next on your journey!

Please put me on your mailing list.
Thanks, Carolyn


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