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Civic Exchange Society

May 4, 2018 – December 31, 2018

close up of a hop garden installation
Image: Meg Mitchell, Tenacious Numismatic Hops Exchange (TNHE): a hop garden for unyielding people, 2017. Photo by Nicholas Sadowski.
close up of a hop garden installation
Image: Meg Mitchell, Tenacious Numismatic Hops Exchange (TNHE): a hop garden for unyielding people, 2017. Photo by Nicholas Sadowski.
hop garden installation on the Rooftop Sculpture Garden
Image: Meg Mitchell, Tenacious Numismatic Hops Exchange (TNHE): a hop garden for unyielding people, 2017. Photo by Nicholas Sadowski.


Civic Exchange Society (CES) is a multi-faceted and collaborative project initiated by artist Meg Mitchell, Octopi Brewing, Art & Sons, and the Museum. The purpose of CES is to call attention to the art of creative exchange—the multiple ways individuals and organizations can combine talents, resources, and innovative thinking to encourage human connection through shared experiences. An outcome of this effort is the development of a new line of craft beverages, the first of which will be released at MMoCA on May 4, 2018. A hazy IPA packaged in an interactive can, CES-001 Juicy Return IPA signals the public launch of CES’s joint endeavors.

Civic Exchange Society evolved from Meg Mitchell’s large-scale sculptural installation, Tenacious Numismatic Hops Exchange: a hop garden for unyielding people, which MMoCA commissioned and installed in the spring of 2017. Mitchell’s Hops Exchange is composed of six identical aluminum beams extending up the brick wall in the Museum’s Rooftop Sculpture Garden. It is also a trellis system, a living artwork seasonally covered by a wild tangle of hop vines. The need to find a functional use for the rooftop hops prompted Mitchell and MMoCA to pursue the possibility of brewing beer—an idea that became a reality when Art & Sons and Octopi Brewing signed on as creative partners.

In the spirit of Allen Kaprow’s pioneering “happenings” of the 1960s and Joseph Beuys’s Fluxus-inspired “action art,” CES blurs the line between art and everyday life. In doing so, this group of Madison-based creative producers playfully taps into the social function of beer drinking as a means of bringing people together. Brewed by Octopi and based on flavor profiles developed by the brewery and Mitchell, CES’s specialty line of beer will be available first at MMoCA in conjunction with an interactive performance. Much like Kaprow’s expansive vision of art, these events extend art into the realm of daily experience where human interactions are themselves the work of art. CES-001 Juicy Return IPA, the first of three hop-based beverages CES will release this year, is a hazy IPA with tropical aromas and a citrusy taste.

Mitchell’s overarching project narrative is intended to spark imaginative thought about the economic, political, social, and creative systems of exchange that currently govern our society. She worked with Art & Sons to develop a product design for the beer that complements this larger concept and hints at a parallel society where self-sustaining communities are built on barter and trade. Taking Sir Thomas More’s fictional “Utopia” (1516) as a starting point, she questions what a more civically oriented culture might look like. Perhaps, as envisioned by More, it could be a place where “Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich—for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?” At the same time, Mitchell, the design studio, and the brewery embrace the irony of their commercial venture. Satisfying aesthetic and consumer impulses through the common exchange of buying and consuming beer, they simultaneously encourage us to reexamine our consumptive habits and desires, and to probe our relationship to labor, capitalism, and each other.

About Meg Mitchell

Mitchell, whose artistic practice is grounded in a multidisciplinary approach, works in various media, often combining the sculptural with the performative, and the handmade with the digitally rendered. She designed the sculptural installation to resemble architectural trusses—rigid building structures used in engineering and construction. Hinged at the bottom of the wall and anchored at the top, the trusses can be manually lowered and raised with a winch and pulley system, which provides functionality while also visually referencing the history of labor and industry. As these artist-rendered beams serve as the foundational structure for the hop vines’ growth, the project hints at Mitchell’s larger artistic interests in engaging discourses of power and control as applied to gender, nature, labor, and technology.

By designing her installation to function as a simple machine that can be manually operated with relative ease, Mitchell prioritizes the experiential and participatory over the self-contained, static object. The lowering and raising of the trusses allows the hops to be safely accessed for harvesting each autumn. The Hops Exchange harvest will become an annual MMoCA tradition. Mitchell’s plan to choreograph the annual harvest as an interactive performance tied to the actual history of hop-related labor and material exchange enables her to cleverly address food as commodity and explore the poetics of desire and control. Combining the visual language of industrial architecture, the socio-economic history of the hop plant, and the conceptual concerns surrounding ownership and control of natural resources, Mitchell’s installation provides a forum to discuss complex contemporary issues.

Meg Mitchell is Associate Professor of Digital Media in the Department of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions, at venues such as the Evergreen Museum and Library in Baltimore, MD, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Conner Contemporary, the DC Art Center, the International Waldkunst Zentrum in Germany, and most recently at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the Wisconsin Triennial. Her work has been featured in many publications, such as Art Papers, Art in America and the Washington Post. She was awarded an Expanded Artist’s Book grant from Columbia College Chicago for her collaborative project with Denise Bookwalter, “Rain/fall,” a data driven artist’s book and mobile application.

Exhibition Support

Exhibitions in the Henry Street Gallery are generously funded through an endowment established by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.