David Hamlow

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Our Words In/Out at RACA Gallery

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Our Words In/Out with Brad Coulter. Rural Contemporary Art Gallery, Mankato. Floor and nooks: David Hamlow, In Our Words. conserved corrugated cardboard, 2017-19.

In 2016 I was privileged to be awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant to create a series of conserved corrugated cardboard letter-forms that could be placed in a space where the public was invited to freely manipulate these letters to form meaningful words and phrases. This post describes the culminating event of this process: a two-person show with graphic designer and typography professor Brad Coulter.

In Our Words.  RACA Gallery, rural Mankato.

In Our Words. RACA Gallery, rural Mankato.


I had approached Brad last year to pick his brain about Asian fonts, as I had been considering the possibility of doing further versions of this project in other languages. Although Brad damped my enthusiasm for incorporating these complex, multi-part characters in my initial project, we discovered a shared interest text-based works in which the audience was integrally involved in creating and continually transforming the meaning. We pitched an idea for such a show to painter, Minnesota State University Mankato art department professor and chair, and (most recently) Rural Contemporary Art Gallery director Brian Frink. He was excited to exhibit this show and here are the results. One of the things I liked best about the space were the many nooks and crannies in which I could stack the letters.

Opening reception for  Our Words In/Out.  RACA Gallery, 02-09-2019.

Opening reception for Our Words In/Out. RACA Gallery, 02-09-2019.

But as cool as this looked—the real point of this show was to get those letters moving! People had a lot of fun rearranging the letters into an endless variety of messages.

Art Lundgren broke the ice with a ‘quick’ message.

Art Lundgren broke the ice with a ‘quick’ message.

A young visitor to the show encourages us all to Dance!

Our Words In/Out (after).  conserved corrugated cardboard, 2019.

Our Words In/Out (after). conserved corrugated cardboard, 2019.

In the end—as intended—the space was transformed. Messages ranged from the absurd, to the political to the poignant, and in the end ultimately hopeful and inspiring.

Brad Coulter  Our Words Out Cards.  Custom letterpress card system. 2019.

Brad Coulter Our Words Out Cards. Custom letterpress card system. 2019.

It was very gratifying to share the space with such a talented and conceptually challenging artist. The window wells of the gallery were a perfect choice for displaying this series of custom cards. Visitors to the gallery were invited to take the cards out into the world, photograph them in this new context, then share them to social media with the hashtag #ourwordsinout

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Responses ranged from the joyful, to the sublime, to the hilariously biting.

In Our Words.  RACA Gallery. 2019.

In Our Words. RACA Gallery. 2019.

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In closing, I want to acknowledge officially the crucial role my State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant played in making this piece and this event possible. I could not have had the time or resources to do this without the generous support of the people of Minnesota through this grant program, and conversely I would not have had the opportunity to share this work with the people of Blue Earth County and the rural areas around Mankato, nor had the chance to share these peoples’ inventive responses to this opportunity, without that support. Vote to keep it alive!

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David Hamlow is a fiscal year 2018 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.