The Positions and Situations Project

The Positions and Situations Project: Back-to-the-Land Letters

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Full project site: www.backtothe.land

The Positions and Situations Project is a series of 100 letter correspondences between artist Alex Arzt and individuals who placed classified ads in 1970s magazines published as resources for back-to-the-landers such as The Mother Earth News, whose classifieds were called “Positions and Situations.”

The magazines are a product of what is known as the Back-to-the-Land Movement of the 1970s. After the tumult of the 1960s counterculture, many young people were disillusioned with the political system, the Vietnam War, consumerism, and pollution and were looking for both a way out and an alternative. Many were seeking land and a community to test out the ideals and experiments they cultivated during the counterculture and hippie years. From the late sixties through the mid seventies, one of the largest urban to rural migrations in American history occurred. Progressive minded twenty-somethings left the cities in droves for rural areas to start homesteads and join communes.

The ads were “designed to help would-be back-to-the-landers get in touch with folks already out there” and were required to have a “country slant.” The 100-word P&S ads are vignettes into the dreams, goals, and desires, both practical and impractical, of a cohort of people in their twenties seeking the lifestyle The Mother Earth News promised. Full names, addresses, and ages of the ad-placer are often listed, and Alex used that information to search for their current address on public records search sites. Her initial letter form to the ad-placers has evolved as her own situation has changed and as the project developed, but from the beginning, it has asked two questions: What came of the ad? Did you find what you were looking for the year the ad was placed? The letters encompass the failures and accomplishments of the back-to-the-landers in imagining and creating alternatives to a society they understood as fundamentally broken.

The books are printed on a Risograph, whose lineage comes from the Mimeograph and Gestetner, two processes once used to print underground and alternative newsletters, magazines, and posters. Looking a lot like a copy machine, the Riso offers a do-it-yourself process that prints one color of ink at a time using a thermal cut screen from a digital image. 

Given the size and scope of The Positions and Situations Project, it will be printed in three separate volumes. Volume 2 will cover years 1974 to 1975, and Volume 3 will pick up the rest of 1975 and finish up in 1976, the final year of the Positions and Situations section and the beginning of the end of the Back-to-the-Land Movement.

The Positions and Situation Project, Volume 1: 1968-1973. 2017, 142 pages, printed on a Riso RZ390UI in 9 colors, 9.5 x 11.75 in, perfect bound, Cougar Natural Smooth paper, edition of 60 + 2 artist proof

The Positions and Situation Project, Volume 2: 1974-1975. Fall 2018, 190 pages, printed on a Riso EZ590U in 5 colors, 9.5 x 11.75 in, perfect bound, Cougar Natural Smooth paper, edition of 200.

The project books were made possible by grants from The Puffin Foundation and The East Bay Community Foundation and by individual donors through the East Bay Fund for Artists Match Grant fundraiser in fall 2018.