Civic Exchange Society
May 4, 2018 to December 31, 2018

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) is excited to announce the formation of Civic Exchange Society (CES), 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 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 Allan 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.

Meg Mitchell is an 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.