Interview: Noah Saterstrom and tc tolbert (Trickhouse)

T.M. Semrad: In thinking about tiny presses, my colleagues and I engaged in immersing, discussing, contemplating, dreaming, scheming, making, sharing… We passed around, held, sniffed, caressed, unfolded, flipped through, perused books of all shapes sizes textures bindings. And we browsed, scrolled, clicked, listened, watched in bed, on the couch, at the kitchen table, in the computer lab, on public transport, during someone else’s class, online journals varied in navigation, design, content.

On the Trickhouse about page, the journal is described as publishing “site-specific works that explore the internet as the ‘site.’” Beyond its ability to “publish and exhibit with equal credence works of any medium and genre,” can you expand on this exploration of the internet as the ‘site’ and on both the challenges and opportunities of publishing online?

Noah Saterstrom: This is a big topic, and one that’s close to the center of Trickhouse‘s philosophy. I think of the Internet as the fifth and least embodied of a five-tiered pyramid of exhibition venues (in order of descending physicality): Museums, Commercial Galleries, Alternative and Artist-Run Spaces, Print Publications and Journals, and Online Venues. The advantages, in my view, are self-determination, cheapness, fluidity. It costs so little to run an online thing, you can experiment wildly without needing to keep the lights turned on, or pay for shipping and insuring work, print and mailing costs – all the stuff physical spaces have to deal with. It can be more a liquid, fleet-footed scenario. The questions arise: Who has oversight? Who decides what to publish and why? What does quality control mean, and for a free site, who cares? Why publish/exhibit in such a place? Who is it for? When does it end? And how long will the archive last? All good questions for which I have no need to find actual answers. The free-ness of the Internet allows such endeavors to be purely based on whim, passions, curiosities.

tc tolbert: yeah, it’s interesting, this internet as a site. a place. for me, the wonder of publishing online is the ability to bring work/bodies/voices into the space where i am – thus changing the established architecture i exist within – rather than relying on me to go to them which, for all kinds of reasons, i may not be able to do. for instance, books travel easily enough, but installations, less so. so, to be able to install a piece in my own home temporarily is an absolute gift. so, while i would love to be surrounded by an installation like this: erin lynn forrest, and i feel certain it would be a different experience to be surrounded by encaustic wings and cuffs – to be stitched into this exhibit, i also enjoy the chance to sew the exhibit into my world. and then, really, into many worlds.

Noah Saterstrom: Another neat thing that evolved naturally is Trickhouse Live, the event series that TC and I started (TC still runs it!). Very important to the ethos of Trickhouse is collaboration, actual living breathing human relationships.

T.M. Semrad: Yes, Trickhouse Live and actual living breathing human relationships. How do the website and the event series intersect? Interact? Inform each other?

tc tolbert: in terms of Trickhouse Live, it is also still evolving, but the thing i want to keep is its ease. it is one of the few events (poetry, art, otherwise) where i genuinely experience folks to be relaxed and able to holler out questions, or thoughts. where folks talk to people they don’t know. and it’s not about proving something. Yo Yo Ma says this great thing in an interview with Krista Tippett, and it speaks to the Trickhouse Live philosophy: “We aren’t here to prove something, we are here to share something.” and that’s pretty much all i need to know.

T.M. Semrad: What have you discovered en route? From idea, to plan, to launch, to ongoing execution? Or perhaps your journey was partial or more haphazard and that was part of the discovery.

Noah Saterstrom: The designing, structuring, planning and launching of Trickhouse was extremely deliberate; it took a lot of learning and forethought. However, once it left the station, or the port or whatever, it started to change shape and gather momentum, and it’s surprised me all along the way. There have been a ton of contributors and guest-curators, and all their views and efforts have affected the direction of Trickhouse.

At first I thought (pipe-dream, I guess), that Trickhouse would be ‘for everyone’. But reality is, the folks that go to Trickhouse are largely (and unsurprisingly) art/poetry-minded intellectuals, mostly in, graduates of, or teachers of MFA programs. A great many of the contributors (as you’ll see in the archives) teach on the graduate level and Trickhouse is a weird non-academic, free-form venue to explore ideas/forms/media that might be marginal to ‘what they do’. I like that. There are also a lot of contributors who are outside the realm of art and writing and I’ve always wanted more of that.

Also, at the beginning I thought I wanted it to be open for submissions, not an elite environment. But submissions can dilute; egalitarianism, while good in real life, muddies up a project like Trickhouse, and I like how peculiar it is to be so quiet and selective in the cacophony that is the Internet. As Trickhouse goes on it gets quieter and sparser all the time. You’ll notice no links to other sites, no references to social media, very little promotion at all. In that way, Trickhouse negates some of the major advantages of the internet. Oh well.

tc tolbert: i’m also interested in what noah talks about here – egalitarianism. for all the ways that corporate interests are doing their best to create a hierarchy of sites in this particular interwebbed field, for now, if you’ve got access to a computer (even if you can only get to a library), you can experience some pretty phenomenal art for free. and that is very important to me.

in terms of the development, i was invited to play for real (and i use that phrase intentionally) after Trickhouse had been around for a couple of years. and it was ALL discovery for me. contributing to Trickhouse as either an artist/writer or a curator taught me the enormous importance of the light touch. noah’s genius is wonder in the midst of collaboration. he has high standards for the product but doesn’t let that stop him from enjoying a messy (and seemingly haphazard) process. i grew to not only trust him implicitly, but also to hold a similar sort of flexible frame with fellow collaborators. it makes for some really good shit.

Noah Saterstrom: Oh wow TC, such exquisite responses! I love your phrase ‘wonder in the midst of collaboration’, crap, that nails it. I want to borrow that for the mission statement.

That wonder is key, I think, especially on the internet where free-ness and ubiquity undoes our usual expectations of ‘high quality’, or hierarchy of quality, i.e.: the rich get better whatever-it-is, and poor get junkier. On the internet, there is a vast jungle of content, and standards of taste are shown to be infinite, uncertain, shifting, nothing to stabilize yourself with, except your own sense of wonder. Why else would we waste our time on these things. Spend, I mean, our time.