When I was approached about developing an interview that involved a theme loosely constructed around the concept of documentation, curator Andy Beach along with his weblogs Reference Library and Stork Bites Man immediately came to mind. As a unique case within an excessively large cloud of blogs out there, Andy Beach curates content that proclaims a sense of selflessness that is shown particularly well through the cataloging of his experiences in fatherhood.
By not only taking form through the context of a single theme, Beach is able to provide his readership with inspiring content that is refreshing, honest, and doesn’t beg you to perceive him as a personality bound to the Internet’s ever-useless popularity contest.
Jabari: A photo you’ve published simply titled Wooding from 1982 is a reflection on you with your sister and dad in the family tool crib. Can you talk a little about what life was like growing up a Beach?
Andy: Ha. There were a lot of jokes: “Sandy Beach”, “Son of a Beach”, etc. I had a good, small-town Michigan life; lots of bike riding, playing in the yard, throwing rocks and watching semi trucks go by. Freedom. I look back at that photograph that my Mom must have taken and my Dad is about the age I am now. And in that photo, my sister and I are the ages of my own daughters now. This is in the basement of the same house where my Dad and his friends built an addition to add two bedrooms for our growing family. He liked his workbench area and enjoyed his particular way of arranging and displaying his things. But he knew how to use those tools and often did. I don’t feel as grown-up as my parents seemed then. I still feel like I’m trying to figure things out.
When I was in the middle of second grade, we moved from this house on the outside of town to a house in the middle of our small town. In the new place, the three kids each had their own rooms and I remember we often switched rooms and re-arranged the furniture in our living room. It seemed like the whole family was trying to settle in and figure it out, but never did
Did you study any facet of design or art formally in school?
I ended up attending five different colleges and switched my studies from engineering to graphic design, yet still graduated in only four and a half years. I ended up with a BFA but no real art education. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted and needed out of an education, so I did what I could do get through it quickly. I tried to learn without making any mistakes. I was wrong, of course. That way of working makes it very hard to be creative and expressive and honest. Learning from missteps and failures and then adjusting, not abandoning, when things go wrong is how you grow.
I remember being obsessed with The Zone System in photography classes; I kept trying to capture and reproduce what I saw with the naked eye. I wasn’t trying to make art or even trying to make a “good” photo, I just wanted the photograph to look like what I saw with my eyes. It is kind of pointless exercise, but it still fascinates and frustrates me — the way people take pictures of their goods for eBay and in the way architectural spaces are (mis)represented in magazines, it is a kind of documentation that drives me wild.
I catch a sense that your inspirations are centered on both utilitarianism and the playful moments within the everyday. Explain how these ideas influence your praxis and theories in art and design?
I don’t think I’ve ever been all that interested in the fantastic. I like projects with a purpose. Whatever process I have definitely comes from being a keen observer and wanting to find a solution to a problem, but never without humor. You’re right; I like to find the playful moments within something dry or even boring. I feel free to think and inspired when I’m driving long stretches of highway between Pennsylvania and Michigan. Focused on the road and the limited landscape is a perfect structure for finding or creating playful moments.
Stork Bites Man is quite unique in being a blog that features content that within its intimacy is the certainty that it will evolve over time. How did the blog come about and as your children grow older what would you like to see come out of its existence?
Absolutely. I started the blog to keep track of things, but Stork Bites Man quickly became more about experience and emotion. There are still a lot of objects, but often those are just a symbol of something else that’s on my mind. Or a reminder of something my daughters did or said. The blog has become a place to share experiences and ideas rather than things.
The idea of a reference library refers to a place where things are documented, archived, and researched on site. How is the concept of a reference library reflected within your blogging methodology?
Well that was the whole point at the very beginning. I started Reference Library because I was looking for a way to organize the thousands of images on my computer. It could have just as easily ended up as a flickr account or a well-organized iPhoto library. I liked the idea of tagging and making it somewhat public. A week later I had visitors and it became a Blog. I wanted it to be a tool; an archive of images I could go back to again and again for research. It naturally evolved into something else, and just like Stork Bites Man, Reference Library is more about experiences than objects. It may look like an image or object blog to most people; the tags are only rough chunks of meaning. For me these things are very personal and have significance beyond what it is shown on the blog. I can go back in the archive to certain weeks or individual posts and be reminded of something funny my daughter said, the house we almost bought, or the fire I almost started. It is still a tool, but for me it’s more about processing my own ideas than being an “inspiration” resource.
Before having the luxury to document your interests and memorable activities through various web-based narratives, how would you compile the artifacts that you felt needed to be revisited?
That’s why I had to start the blog. I was keeping three-ring binders but it was such a static archive. I couldn’t do anything with them. I wasn’t able to compile or archive anything in a satisfying way. I needed a structure. “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” Jason Fulford shared that quote with me and it’s a perfect fit for how the blog works and for what I need to do to make it keep working.
Do you try to maintain a physical reference library at home?
I try. But I am not as organized as you might expect. There are piles and piles. And stacks of books on top of the piles. My grandma was a hoarder. It’s in my blood.
eBay plays a big role in your hunt for objects and clothing, can you name a few of your most memorable finds?
Years before I started the blog, I was outbid on a chair (a “Domus” dining chair by Ilmari Tapiovaara). I contacted the high bidder hoping he might change his/her mind and let me have it. Turns out it was the artist Robert Gober. I always thought that was funny. I still know his eBay name and sometimes check out what he’s bidding on.
In May 2007, I came across a listing for a beautifully weird birdhouse made by Stan Bitters. I didn’t know anything about him or his work but I liked the object and wondered why it was five hundred dollars. Someone else got it and I ended up posting it on Reference Library. A reader from California saw it on my blog and loved it too. He contacted Stan Bitters and then started to carry the birdhouses in his shop, South Willard. So that’s how I met Ryan Conder, who became a fast friend. (We did the Shrimp Shop together at his shop in 2009.)
One of the favorite things I actually won is a weird, folky painting of the Apollo 11 astronauts, the “Heroes of Technology”. The seller listed it as “prison art” but no one really knows where it came from. I put in a bid for what I was willing to pay and ended up winning it for much less, which is the way you hope that eBay will always work.
Can you explain your relationship to curating?
It’s an uneasy one. I want things to be a certain way; my way. It’s a selfish and arrogant belief that I can make something better. I always liked the slogan for the giant corporation BASF: “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.” I have been fortunate to be involved with projects where someone has let me try to do that. I’m more comfortable as an editor or gatherer, than a creator.
Do you feel the term curator can be adjusted in order to include the growing ideation of the “blogger”?
Unfortunately, yeah. Every blogger with a good eye is not a curator, no matter how many pop-up shops he’s done. The other day I was introduced to someone as “a curator” and it made me uneasy. I have worked with real curators, wickedly smart visual and performing arts curators, and I am not part of that club. I tend to explain things by saying: “I have a blog”.
I enjoyed the “Kinder” supplement you curated in Apartamento #04, what were some of your goals when it came to deciding what to feature in the section?
Thank you. I looked at it like a problem that needed a solution, not like a curatorial intervention. (I don’t make the kids section. I make the kids section better.) My goals were also selfish. I had talked to Geoff McFetridge a year or so earlier about some of the furniture and things he had made for his daughter. I thought it was a great idea for a book or something, so when “Kinder” came up it was a perfect opportunity to get Geoff to share some of those things. I really wanted Andy Rementer to make a coloring book. I loved Enzo Mari; can we talk to Enzo Mari? Yes. I loved the workshops and art-making parties Jordi Ferreiro had done, so I wanted to include him. It all came together very easily. I had the lineup in my head in about 30 seconds. I knew what would be good: things I couldn’t do myself. I think I kind of live vicariously through these “curatorial” projects.
Have you ever considered doing a print publication or book of your own?
All the time.
I found your mini-exhibition project with Kiosk also very interesting. Can you explain how the Reference Library shop developed?
Yes; it was my mailman’s fault. My wife had ordered some things from KIOSK for my birthday, but they got lost in the mail. When we stopped by the shop to pick up replacements, I met Alisa who owns/runs KIOSK and we started chatting. Almost every Reference Library project has started the same way: someone says “we should do something together sometime.” She was just starting her Mini-Exhibition series; a few months later I was on the schedule to open a shop on Black Friday (the traditionally brutal day-after-Thanksgiving shopping day).
Kiosk Mini Exhibition / Photo: Jessica Williams
What have you got planned for the future?
We’re expecting a new baby boy at the end of November! I plan to finish some projects this fall then take a long break from the Internet and being a blogger/curator/whatever.
Too Blessed 2 Be Stressed!