Conversations are a series of MKE<->LAX residency reflections produced by artist, writer, and former MKE<->LAX resident Katie Loughmiller. To read about Katie’s experiences in Milwaukee, please visit her blog Love Notes From Milwaukee.

Monica Miller is not a native Milwaukeean but has been calling Milwaukee home since 2009 when she started school at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD). During her time at MIAD, Monica met Sara Daleiden and shortly started to become more involved in Sara’s work through MKE<->LAX. In 2013, Monica visited Los Angeles for the first time and in that two week visit, Monica was invited to observe a class at the Graduate Public Practice program at Otis College of Art and Design. This is when I first met Monica but not the last. Two years later, I had my first residency with MKE<->LAX in November 2015 and Monica generously volunteered her time to show me around. I will never forget her taking me to a house, walking to the basement and in the corner was the smallest art show I’ve ever seen, in a closet! In that trip, I was invited to participate in my first femTALK. femTALK, which meets on a near-monthly basis, is an assembly of individuals who identify as females created out of a request for support from other female artists that associate with an art world primarily dominated by white males. I was immediately impressed by the inclusiveness of this group and my ability as a first-timer to speak openly and candidly. When I returned to Milwaukee in the summer, I was excited to work with this group and Monica more closely. Now, Monica and I are roommates and while we have many conversations about Milwaukee, Los Angeles and art production, it was great to sit down more formally to discuss these topics more in depth!

Since you were recently in Los Angeles as an artist-in-residence at The Little House Gallery through MKE<->LAX, let’s talk about that – what were your first impressions?

I could sense it was bigger than a city I was used to. It was much more vast than I expected. I thought it would be a lot more clustered. There are vaster spaces of land and longer stretches when commuting. Because I knew I was going to a city I expected it to feel more city-like. LA doesn’t quite feel like a metropolitan city. New York, for example, is way more condensed. When you’re in those pockets of vastness in LA, you really feel you are in a desert. I took the bus a lot and that was nice because I got to see the landscape more. And that’s what I enjoy about LA – you’re obviously in a very specific ecosystem but the landscape paired with the architecture really shifts depending on where you are. And you can really see that progression especially while taking the bus. The first time I was there in 2013 was for two weeks and I really loved taking the bus and the train. I had time to go all over the city the first time and this last time I was much more located.

This time you spent most of your time in Venice – how did you like that compared to the other neighborhoods you visited?

I think Venice Beach is so weird! The first time I stayed in Boyle Heights, I didn’t even know what that was before visiting, but I loved it. I was able to feel a lot more at home there. The artist residency where I stayed in Venice is super close to Abbot Kinney and I felt so much more like a tourist. It was really odd to walk around and see all these boutiques, expensive stores and people vacationing. I’ve never lived in a place that has that kind of draw. Milwaukee doesn’t really have that draw except during Summerfest but then you know where it is and can avoid it.

And how was it for you to work in Los Angeles and see people working in Los Angeles who mostly know you in a MIlwaukee context?

Los Angeles has this shininess to it so while I feel like I’m having this intense new cultural exposure and experience, they’re just living their life as they do. LA is much more laid back. And I don’t know if this is right but I sense you can get a lot more done in Milwaukee in a day than you can in Los Angeles because of transit time. This last time I was there I had to work on independent freelance work back home and I was having artist meet ups and such. I felt like it was so much harder to get work done in Los Angeles because of that commute. You spend a condensed period of time in a space because you’re not going to move once you’re there. And I think that’s where the relaxation comes in because you have no choice but to just chill out.

That’s definitely true! Getting from place to place in Milwaukee is so rarely over 5-10 minutes – so we definitely have more time here because of that.

Yeah and especially now that it’s the winter, we huddle. We don’t want to go out and do stuff. While we can still commute a lot more here and go to different part of the cities more easily, there is an inherent need to draw in. Of course, in the summer everyone is out and it’s a lot more social. But I think I work better in colder environments. Maybe that’s a Milwaukee condition once it becomes warm you don’t want to do anything indoors. I can’t focus when it’s hot and I also don’t want to be inside working when it’s nice out!

This last visit you were able to host a femTALK in LA, how did that go?

It was so good! Everyone responded so warmly and enjoyed being together. I think it was really important for women to be together and I don’t think they really have shared space. Some of them didn’t know each other but there was an immediate sense of camaraderie to the credit of Tracee and Sara organizing them and that was great.

And from a practice standpoint, it was really validating. I’ve had a lot of hot or cold experiences with people from Los Angeles. A lot of it has been ego-driven and/or fake. Luckily, none of that has happened with people I have met through MKE<->LAX but I’ve worked in other art spaces where we’ve worked with people from LA and those stereotypes of what people are like coming out of that region have come true. Of course, I’ve met really great people too so I just wasn’t sure who was going to show up or what to expect. I know where I stand in Milwaukee as a producer so coming to a new space, with a new group of people and practitioners, I didn’t know how I would be read. As it is, what I do in Milwaukee is often seen as odd half the time. Going to present femTALK which is a really different project and has a lot of layers to it, was received so well. I have an understanding now that LA’s depth for culture and art production is way deeper than Milwaukee.

I agree but why do you think Milwaukee isn’t able to go as deep in terms of art and cultural production?

It’s sort of known that the Milwaukee art scene is scarcity driven – there are never enough opportunities. And because of this scarcity, you’re going to jump at any opportunity, maybe without a criticality around it. Sometimes because it’s a necessary line on your resume. I also feel that there is never enough critical dialogue about what has been done. I think people feel like you can’t critique the do-ers in this city – that if you critique they’ll stop doing or making. On top of all that, I think that Midwestern niceness is often afraid of critique.

Speaking of do-ers, there was a lot of Milwaukee do-ers, yourself included, in the room at the Designing Equity intensive. Any takeaways from that experience?

What I really liked about the intensive, and what I realize we don’t do enough of here because we don’t value it, is iteration. Iteration is really important and that’s where critique happens. It may not happen as directly but there’s an editing process that happens during iteration.

In Milwaukee, a lot of the production is grant-based and you have to consider a timeline. Some are a full year and the projects that people take on often need longer than that to develop. Due to time and lack of resources, you never leave enough room to just sit with something. You are struggling and producing, producing and producing right up until the last minute. By the time you’re done and have time to catch your breath it’s over. Instead of having enough space to really think about what you’ve done. I don’t feel like there’s enough time and then people are off the payroll so they aren’t paid to think critically about what they did. I think the intensive has been a good model to show how valuable time is for projects to develop.

Are there any other thoughts about your visits to Los Angeles and it’s influence on your work here in Milwaukee?

One of my major takeaways was the commute. For example, from Little Tokyo to Venice Beach takes an hour and a half commute by public transportation. And Milwaukee to Chicago is an hour a half commute. This got me asking myself why can’t I just go to Chicago more? Before, I might go to Chicago once a year but after this LA visit I’ve been to Chicago four times. It made me consider scale much more.

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