Q&A: Unplugging With The Founders Of Cabin-Time

Living for a week without your computer, cell phone and tablet might not seem too hard – until you give it a try.

You fidget. You wonder what you’re missing. Without your devices, you’re left to your own devices.

But then your mind adjusts and you start interacting with your surroundings in a new way.

It’s precisely this refocusing that drives Cabin-Time, a roaming artistic residency in Michigan. The concept brings artists and dreamers together to make site-specific work and create new friendships in cooperative intentional isolation.

Michigan-based artists and friends Geoffrey Holstad and Ryan Greaves came up with the idea to create Cabin-Time in 2011 after getting snowed in at a cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They spent the weekend drawing and enjoying downtime off the grid.

This experience led to the idea to create Cabin-Time, which has hosted four creative residencies and is planning a fifth residency this year. As a non-profit, Cabin-Time is funded solely by contributions and seeks to break even for each residency location.

We had the chance to talk with Holstad and Greaves about their experiences at Cabin-Time and see a first-hand glimpse into their residencies.

Tell me how Cabin-Time came about.

GH: Cabin-Time is a roaming creative residency to remote places.

Cabin-Time began in December 2011 after a trip with Ryan to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We got snowed in at our cabin and spent most of our time drawing an elaborate illustration of the weekend in the cabin’s worn register book.

Following that trip, we decided to plan for that kind of downtime in a larger way. The idea? To invite friends, fellow artists, and designers to unplug and join in intentional cooperative isolation while making work off-the-grid for a week.

We were inspired by the tight-knit, best-friend relationships formed by working in close proximity — washing dishes by headlamp, packing water a half a mile from the shore of Lake Superior, and watching the brightest stars rise in the silent outdoors, all the while pushing our own work and swapping stories.

We set out to do four of these residencies in the next year, and followed through, arriving home from each residency even more inspired than the last.

Since starting Cabin-Time a little over a year ago, each open call has received close to 100 applications. We’ve had applicants from eight different countries and 15 different states in the U.S.

With each Cabin-Time residency a short documentary is made, photos are archived, and a Field Guide is printed and published by the small Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Issue Press.

The work from each trip is archived in this Field Guide, as well as each artists’ bio and artist statement.

Following each residency we’ve worked with Michigan-based galleries to host an exhibition and show the work made at Cabin-Time to provide an opportunity for the public to get another look into life at Cabin-Time.

Moving forward, Cabin-Time will host two residencies per year — one in the summer and one in the winter. The number of artists invited to each residency is determined based on location and degree of isolation. Each residency is an international open call and is open to absolutely anyone, closely curated by way of a proposal process.

What makes Cabin-Time a unique experience?

GH: There are several off-grid, out-there artist residencies, but Cabin-Time is unique in that it is “roaming,” always moving, the location and theme and group always changing.

What sort of artwork do you both do? What inspires your artwork?

GH: I pay the bills as an apparel graphic designer at Patagonia in Ventura, Calif.

In my personal life-work, I am inspired by citizen meteorology, new best friends, and that camaraderie right before the frostbite sets in.

RG: I get paid to be a freelance graphic designer in Grand Rapids, Mich., but as an artist I have been using props to create installations that I then photograph. UFOs, Bigfoot, lake monsters, eyes in the night, black holes are a few of the projects I have worked on this year. I’m inspired by the absurd, unique and weird.

Cabin-Time was a concentrated effort for both of us to continue to grow our personal work outside of client relationships, and nicely fills both of our 5-to-9s.

What sort of difference do you see in your creative process when you are at a Cabin-Time residency versus working at your own studio?

GH: No emails, no social media, no internet, no running water, no electricity, no showers, no cell reception. All summer camp vibes, all new, all inspiring — dirty fingernails, bug bites, polar bear swims, waiting in the camp stove coffee line, scrolling down the AM dial for a look at the weather report. I have met some of the most inspiring people of my life during Cabin-Time, lifelong friends.

RG: The working environment at Cabin-Time is very different from the daily grind. You are closely surrounded by nature and new, inspiring friends that are destined to inform your work. No internet or electricity means a hands-on approach to research and development for ideas and execution of those ideas.

There is a positive, lively atmosphere of collaboration and support between the residents who each bring their proposed projects to Cabin-Time.

Cabin-Time operates completely as a non-profit. How can others help ensure that there are more Cabin-Time residencies to come?

GH: Cabin-Time is funded 100 percent by the crew and the artists that attend each residency. Cabin-Time is a labor of love, a project that we feel is very important to us and others and we don’t want to change that.

We are always looking to partner with like-minded groups — pooling resources to do more and go further. It’s our goal to grow those relationships to be able to offer the residency for free to each artist that attends, and for ourselves (the crew) to break even.

Oh! And buy a field guide, buy a print, or buy a t-shirt!

Tell me about one of your favorite experiences from Cabin-Time.

GH: Getting stick ‘n poke tattoos by the light of an oil lantern in a cabin off a winding 10 mile two-track from a best friend you met four days prior. Walking with a sled before dawn to fill and pack the water jugs and each being frozen by the time you’ve returned.

Good morning poetry. Arm wrestling. Woodstove cooking. Ghost stories. Camp chores. Midnight-thunderstorm swimming in a lake in a forest, a stone’s throw from the Canadian border. Candlelight dinners, always. Catching, cleaning, and cooking lake trout from the largest freshwater lake in the world. Collaboration. Professional-friend-making.

RG: On each trip there are moments that stick with you. Nights are usually spent arguing over telling or not telling ghost stories (some people are really afraid of ghosts).

We try to fit in a hands-on workshop into the itinerary. At CT Bogus Lake in Minnesota, we learned how to harvest birch bark and spruce roots to make birch bark baskets. It’s amazing to see something so beautiful created directly from natural materials that YOU harvested. On Rabbit Island in Lake Superior, we were lucky enough to catch a few fish and Andrew Ranville showed us how to clean and cook lake trout (remember to leave the head for an eagle). Dinner is always something you look forward to while camping, but at Wilderness State Park we ate by candlelight and enjoyed an amazing meal every night by our resident, Chef Nick Stockton. Truly magical evenings.

On all Cabin-Time trips my favorite part is seeing the hard work of all the residents come together. From carrying out simple chores to getting personal projects completed.

How do artists enroll for the next Cabin-Time residency, and when is the next residency?

GH: We’ll post an open call for proposals for CT5 soon. We encourage all creative people to apply: artists, designers, photographers, writers, musicians, craftspeople, scientists, cartographers, bird-watchers, wood-workers, planners, organizers, schemers and dreamers.

Where can people see and purchase the art that was made during the residencies?

All of the art is archived on the Cabin-Time site and by way of the Cabin-Time Field Guides that are published and sold by Issue Press. Field Guides are sold online and in art bookstores around the United States, Canada, and Europe.

To learn more about Cabin Time, please visit their website. Also, be sure to watch this short film by Carson Davis Brown documenting the Cabin Time x Wilderness experience.