Ellen Mueller

Interview with John Schuerman

by Ellen Mueller on September 4, 2023, no comments

a drawing and map of the Minneapolis 3rd precinct

John Schuerman, “Precinct Perimeter” (2020)

As part of the run up to the hardcover release of my book, Walking as Artistic Practice (softcover comes out in April!), I’m going to be publishing some brief interviews with the various artists, authors, researchers, creatives, collectives, and platforms whose art practice, written material, or other works I cite and mention.

My third interview in this series is with John Schuerman, who is a self-taught artist and independent curator. His aesthetic style and social consciousness formed as he grew up on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin. He is an environmental, and documentary artist, exploring the physical, social, and psychic landscapes through drawing, video, photography, and walking-based art forms. His curatorial projects engage viewers on today’s most pressing issues: empathy, human overpopulation, gun violence, money, time, nationalism, identity, conflict, environmentalism, and abuses of power.

EM: First, thank you for chatting with me about your work, Precinct Perimeter (2020). I cite this piece in chapter two (Analyzing Walking Works) in the subsection on “Drawing and Painting.” How would you describe Precinct Perimeter for people who might not be familiar with it?

JS: In the summer of 2020, I was reeling from the murder of George Floyd, the riots and destruction across our city that followed, and my reckoning with America’s violent culture and systemic racism. I live near where Floyd was murdered, and not far from the 3 rd precinct that was destroyed along with most everything else in that vicinity. I walked almost daily as an artist to think, document what I experienced, and to come face to face with things as best I could, and then to examine my thoughts, complicity, activism, limits, etc. On this specific walk, I followed the perimeter of the 3 rd precinct (about 22 miles), I camped halfway around in a former homeless encampment, and filtered water from the lakes and streams –all public sources of water were shut down due to covid. I made the journey in 23 hours, which was just long enough to really feel the exposure of what was happening in our community and in my psyche which was struggling to make sense of things. I documented the experience with words, drawings, photos, maps, etc. often using arsonist ashes in the work.

EM: What are your thoughts on walking as artistic practice?

JS: First, I’d say there are several forms that walking-based art can take –performative, pilgrimage, ‘journalistic witnessing’, Investigative/documentary, etc. I explore all the forms I can think of and try to place myself in the center of things and report on that experience –what is happening in my head intellectually and psychically, and what I’m sensing physically. So, I’m not a distant observer. I am part of what’s happening, and my ‘voice’ comes from within the situation. Regardless of the walk’s form, I formulate questions before, during, and after the walks, but mostly during – and I consider the places I travel as mine, and ours: my/our city, my/our community, my/our mind, my/our Earth. As the artist, of course I choose what gets documented and I can only document that which I notice but my aim is to participate in the collective experience. If I can set it up so that another person could substitute themselves for me in the walk, that is ideal. My walking projects often tap into questions that already exist in the collective mind of our community. For example, gun violence or global warming, or the widening income gap.

EM:  Can you tell us about any recent or upcoming projects you are excited about?

JS: For the past year and a half, I’ve struggled with health issues that prevented me from walking at all, and it has been a very slow climb out of that –so getting back to the physicality of walking even short distances feels great and hopeful. I do have several walking projects in mind that I can’t stop thinking about, and when I’m ready, they will happen. For example, I want to walk the length of the Blue Line train in Minneapolis and document the culture/activity at each stop location. It has quite a range from quiet suburban shopping to areas largely populated by homeless people. I also want to do a walk of ‘ill-repute’, walking to several strip clubs in Minneapolis. These are places I’ve never been and know nothing about really, so it is time to know a little. Lastly, I will be virtually participating in a residency in Sweden this fall, I hope. I’m not well enough for travel, but the Residency hosts have invited me to participate virtually.

NOTE: John and I have a walking talk and workshop coming up Saturday, September 16, 2023 at 2-3pm at Viewpoint Gallery, 591 Hamline Ave N., Saint Paul, MN 55104 [FREE]