The Art Capades – Build it and they will come

The Mayor of Grip River handles the town’s phones and wields the official groundbreaking shovel. Courtesy image.
Under Construction: Mayor of Grip River Discusses Public Works
6:45pm Fri, Apr 6
Cactus Bra
106C Blue Star
Ian O’Brien is just really busy, and he’s apologetic about not returning messages. His staff (“me, myself, and I, pretty much”) drops emails like right-field fly balls, and the citizens who elected him (and whose demographics are identical to his staff’s) don’t pick up much slack; he had to write the town charter himself.

O’Brien’s a.k.a., the Mayor of Grip River, has a major speaking engagement at Cactus Bra this First Friday — a State of the Town address in which he’ll discuss the need for a courthouse and the advantages of building a mostly imaginary town with your own recycling (Coke-bottle windows!): You can use the exercise as an experiment to understand yourself, for instance (“I lay out plats and count quorum, therefore I am”), and because it’s art, you may attract other humans who want to get in on the ground floor of a grand concept.

Despite his secretary’s lackadaisical ways, O’Brien and the Current managed to connect for a few minutes earlier this week.


Do you worry that people are gonna see you as sort of a benevolent-dictator type?

Oh, I could see that. I was talking to my friend who is a psychologist at UT Southwest Medical Center, and I said, should I start to worry? I’m talking about myself in the third person, creating a town that I live out of, designing my own town out of my recycling. And she’s like, well I’m taping this just to make sure in case I have to call the paddy wagon we have some information on you.

Psychologists always appreciate having a case study close to them.

Yeah, we go dancing on a regular basis when I go back to Forth Worth, so we’ve been good friends for a number of years.

OK, good, so you dance. You have a City Hall; will a dance hall be next?

Um, no, actually right now I’m working on the courthouse. I’m kinda starting with the primary things that are needed for a town. You know, a courthouse, a town hall, a new public school, and so on and so forth. I’ve been kind of looking at other towns online of different sizes and investigating their level of development. There’s so much to do to actually build a town, it’s obvious that one person can’t do it all by themselves, but I’m trying. I kind of decided well, I can’t let myself get overwhelmed; let’s start with a very simple premise and a very simple website, very governmental looking, and kind of slowly build.

Why build your own town from scratch? Why not just take over an existing town?

Why not go in like a pack of barbarians and sic ’em on the most unsuspecting town nearby?

In the good Republican grass-roots method …

There you go.

… take over the school boards, then …

Well, for me, I don’t know, it’s a little bit like childhood memories. I started doing these drawings last semester that dealt with these Coca-Cola bottles that transformed into spy towers, and toys driving around. Kind of like when you were a kid playing with things on your table and it became this other world; and kind of tracking my own consumption and assessing what kind of stuff I use. My parents are hippies and they have kind of an obsession with recycling, where I would get yelled at if I threw away a can or didn’t compost a banana or whatever it was.

So I’ve been real obsessive about recycling. Sometimes I would start to forget to put it out in the morning on Fridays when I go to school, so it kept piling up and piling up in my garage. So the next step instead of drawing this world and trying to make Coca-Cola bottles and other things turn into this world `was` what would it be like to actually build it using those materials? And then, if I’m gonna build it, what is it gonna take to make it real? Then it’s like writing a 12-page town charter, or designing a logo, and creating different offices and what are their jobs.

And then, like you said, finding citizens …

Well ...  it’s not like The Simpsons, but I’m not creating a state, you know, because I’d like this to be able to travel, and this could be anywhere, so I kind of leave it open where someone can be somewhat invested in the town — not necessarily financially, but visiting the website, reading the news … and I’d like to start eventually putting a weekly
podcast on there as radio broadcasts.

They can’t physically live there, but they can go and visit it and interact, because online’s almost it’s own world, you know.

Grip River’s town hall takes reusuable materials to the next level. A big plus: built-in wallpaper. Courtesy image.

What would you say your philosophy of governance is?

My philosophy of government? Well, what I’d like to do, as far as bringing in more of the community is, after I have a couple of buildings built and let’s say do this proposal for the new courthouse —  which is what my state of the town address is gonna be about — I want eventually as the buildings progress to be able to have shows — not necessarily performances — but be able to invite the public through the website and putting up flyers around school and various venues around San Antonio, and different places I go. I’m gonna go to Barcelona this summer, and I want to learn about their architecture and collect recycling there and kind of learn a little about their sense of government, and maybe invite some of the public and allow them to participate.

I’m gonna have a town-hall meeting `Friday`, and I have these forms that I want people to fill out — they’re gonna be kinda complicated, kinda like blue-bubble forms — and based on the data that I receive from the people at the opening will help tell me what I need to build next for the town.

I guess part of what I was trying to get at … when I asked you what your philosophy of governance is, is do you think of yourself as sort of a …


Utopian is actually what I was going to say.

Yeah, more utopian. I’ve been kind of looking into that, about Utopia, and also Plato’s Republic, and art is not a society, but I’m building a society out of art. My office is planning on looking more into that in the future … But yeah, I kind of look at it like a little bit of a utopia. It’s more of like a self-investigation, like my own stuff and cracking that and then creating this world that’s kind of out of these nightmares and things and memories as this kid, and then from that making it into a real place.

I think it’s funny, the idea of trying to make a cardboard town out of my own recycling and trying to present it as if it’s a real place, and take on all these jobs and different roles in this town. It’s a big learning curve, it’s a lot of starting small and learning as I go and adapting and changing and developing.

Now did you make your own sash? The one that you’re wearing in the groundbreaking photos?

No, I actually had one of the graduate students make it. You know I consider myself a pretty Renaissance man, but I don’t actually have any skill at all with a needle and thread.

It has this fabulous over-the-top high-school beauty-pageant …

That’s what I was going for. I went and got this really lustrous satin and I really love the color, and I thought it was really over the top. And I was thinking about those sashes that they wear for like the prom, or sometimes I’ll see women around town wearing them for like getting married or Miss Something — sometimes they’ll have a little tiara and they’re just really bright. I wasn’t necessarily looking to get glitter on it or anything like that, but I like that kind of almost theatrical feel to it.

Especially with the suit and tie.

Oh, I love the suit … That suit that’s in the photograph is called Magic Stretch, and you can wash it in your washer and dry it in your drier, and I got it for like $20 at the thrift store. And I got another gray suit that’s also pretty fantastic looking … You know, you’re mayor, you have to have a suit. You were talking about people investigating the website and really getting involved in it; I’d like to get to the point where it’s really believable enough where I can start maybe going to other towns, or as I travel places maybe contacting them in advance and talk about methods of government and `being` more ecologically and economically sound and certain things that I find my citizens want or need from their government.

I’d like to get to the point where the website is believable, ideally where some business gets me on their mailing list and all these businesses start emailing me because they think this is a real town and that I might want to buy stuff for my offices. It’d be nice to get kind of caught up in that big machine.

Or they might wine and dine you and see if you’ve got any tax incentives …

There you go. I’m all about that. I’m not sayin’ I’m open for bribes, but I’m definitely open for free food. As a mayor, I’m still also a poor graduate student.