VCUarts Research Timeline 2013-18

Request for Clarification on Research and Service:

This is a letter written in response to questions posed by my tenure and promotion peer review committee in October 2017. It is reproduced here to allow me to provide audio/visual documentation.

October 4, 2017

Dear Peer Review Committee,

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to clarify specific items listed in my tenure and promotion Curriculum Vitae. As a social practice artist, the lines between research and service are sometimes hard to define. My Free Hot Coffee bike for example, has a substantial service component in the direct support of the Collegiate Recovery program at VCU. However, the project itself, is a social practice artwork in its own right that creates space for people to have face to face conversations over Recovery Roast coffee. Similarly, my project Free Ice Water is an iterative work that takes place in multiple sites including galleries, non-traditional events/venues and sometimes on the street with accidental audiences.

Below please find the answers to your individual questions.

1) There are 11 guest lectures listed under Research in your CV. In your opinion, do they all count as lectures related to your research? Or do you think some of them count as service? If there is a distinction, could you specify which ones count as research and which ones count as service. If you'd like the committee to count them all as research as per your CV, that's fine. We just needed clarification.

When I present my research to a venue such at TEDxRVA (2016 - Opening Speaker at TEDxRVA), the underlying understanding is that I am speaking as an artist about my research practice. My interdisciplinary presentation with Thomas Bannard at the National Collegiate Recovery Conference (2017 - Art & Advocacy: Changing Campus Culture One Conversation at a Time, Washington, DC), is also a research presentation on two lines of inquiry, the first being my engagement of non-artists in conceptually based social practice artworks and, just as importantly, Mr. Barnard's reporting of the positive effects such participation plays in supporting young people in recovery.

In my presentation to the Research to Rehab Town Hall event (2016 College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute at VCU) I spoke about the unique interdisciplinary partnership that I forged between the VCU School of the Arts and the Collegiate Recovery community, again emphasising the role that conceptually based interactive artworks could play in support of persons in long term recovery. My presentation to, and interactions with, national recovery researchers helped shape and expand the scope of my solo exhibitions/installations later that year at 1708 Gallery in Richmond and at the Liverpool Biennial Fringe in Liverpool UK. My cross disciplinary practice demands my direct engagement with venues/researchers/artists both in and outside of traditional art venues. On the surface, this engagement may appear to blur the lines between my research and service as it relates to my tenure and promotion Curriculum Vitae. I am very appreciative of this opportunity to further clarify these distinctions, however, I interpret all of these lectures as central to my research practice.

2) Could you also clarify the number of creative projects you have completed since starting at VCU. It would help to have the title of the project, a brief description along with completion date.

As a social practice artist whose research practice is iterative in nature and ongoing, it is difficult to set specific completion dates for any given project. I think the best way to address your question is to provide you with a list of my major projects with brief descriptions in the order of their origin rather than completion. I will also list the dates and venues of exhibitions and performances as they relate to each project.

Free Ice Water, Pop-Up at Tang Museum at Skidmore College with Tracy L. Adler & Amber Geary from the Wellin Museum at Hamilton College.

For example my Free Ice Water project was started in the Summer of 2013 which included pop-up events at the the University of Iowa, and the Tang Museum at Skidmore College. It wasn’t until the Spring of 2015 that the piece took on its current form, which evolved from a project about conversations over ice water with me as the artist, to creating time/space for other people to have conversations on their own. The Free Ice Water project was first installed in the windows of the Institute for Contemporary Art offices at VCU and then in a more realized version as part of a curated, group exhibition at Mixed Greens Gallery in NYC in 2015. The project has taken many forms including providing water and conversation during the UCI bike race, hosting the Free Ice Water Recovery Ride (supported by a Culture Works grant), the inclusion of the project in Washington DC’s Figment Festival and in 2016 as part of the Liverpool Biennial Fringe. The project is continuing on into 2018 when a distinct location specific iteration of Free Ice Water will be featured as part of my Tate Exchange project at the Tate Modern in London.

Here is an annotated timeline of my significant research practice to date since accepting my appointment to VCUarts in 2013.

1) Signed Sealed and Delivered - 2013

    • Photographic portfolio of images produced during my artist residency at Light Work in Syracuse NY. The pigment based inkjet prints are on Hahnemühle Photo Gloss Baryta and are non editioned of variables sizes. The images were accessioned into the Light Work permanent collection and reproduced in 2014 in their publication Contact Sheet 177. The work was accompanied by an essay by Berlin-based artist Christine Hill. The photographs explore the role of photography in the preservation and documentation of the strategies of the Readymade. The objects from thrift shops, dollar stores and IKEA are insignificant objects that I collected and signed and hired a professional product photographer to document. Finally I discarded the objects leaving only their photographic trace and their shifting contexts.

2) Live IKEA - 2013

    • Live IKEA was a performance/exhibition at the IKEA Tampines in Singapore in April 2013. My artistic collaborator, Swedish anthropologist Dr. Johan Lindquist, and I moved into the first model apartment on the main showroom and transformed it into a fully functioning portrait studio using only materials available within the store itself. We used rugs for backdrops, desk lamps and paper shades for studio lighting, and created a photographic softbox light using a white patio sun umbrella. Johan and I lived in the store for three days making portraits of shoppers and asking them to track themselves as they navigated through the store on tabletop maps of the store. We met people who planned to spend the day there and people who couldn’t wait to get to the exit.

3) Free Ice Water - 2013 - Current

    • Free Ice Water is a relational art/ social practice project comprised of the sharing of ice water in a blue Ball mason jar, one-on-one conversation and a memorial token (form variable). The project paradoxically deploys networked connectivity to encourage people to disconnect and engage in real conversation around difficult subjects. Free Ice Water transfigures this personal and social act into a process of experiential art-making in which sharing ice water acts as an agent of connection and conversation. As stated above Free Ice Water has evolved over multiple iterations to include performance events with more that 60 conversants at a time, gallery installations and site specific events nationally and internationally.


A. University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, Iowa.

B. Tang Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga, New York.


C. Institute for Contemporary Art Office - Displayed 25 jars completed by attendees at first annual Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Recovery Conference at VCU.

D. New Dominion at Mixed Greens, curated by Lauren Ross. Free Ice Water installation which enabled self service participation in the project without the artist present.

E. Free Ice Water Recovery Ride and installation at 1708 Gallery as part of the curated Going Somewhere exhibition. Free Ice Water stations were installed at satellite locations across the city including at the Visual Arts Center, the Institute for Contemporary Art, the VCU office of Sustainability and Sediment Gallery. The Free Ice Water Recovery Ride was supported by grants from the VCU Office of Sustainability and Culture Works.

F. Figment Festival, curated, Washington DC.


G. Free Ice Water, Performance, Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar - 30 Participants, Doha, Qatar.

H. Free Ice Water, Performance as part of Fifty/Fifty Projects, 5X5 Summer Studio Sessions, 1708 Gallery, Richmond VA.

I. Free Ice Water, Performance as part of Fifty/Fifty Projects, Liverpool Biennial Fringe, The Brink, Liverpool, UK

J. Free Ice Water, Keynote Event, Performance, Mid-Atlantic Recovery Conference, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.


K. Free Ice Water, Performance, Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art (MICA) Baltimore, MD, invited by Nate Larson


L. Free Ice Water, Performance, Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, London UK.

4) Recovery Roast Coffee Project - 2016 - Current

    • The Recovery Roast Coffee Project is a direct service component to my research practice and comes out of my own experience as a person in recovery and my service work with students in collegiate recovery programs nationwide. Recovery Roast Coffee is a custom roasted coffee whose flavor profile is determined by local populations of persons in long term recovery. Working with site-specific, local artisan coffee roasters, Recovery Roast introduces local recovery communities to the rich history of coffee and the complexities of roasting, tasting and preparation options. Recovery Roast served as the inspiration for the Free Hot Coffee Bike (see 7.) Each listed event generates a custom roasted coffee product for ongoing use by the local recovery community.


A. Recovery Roast Cupping at Lamplighter Coffee Roast Lab with persons in recovery and their allies from the VCU Collegiate Recovery Community.

B. Recovery Roast Coffee Cupping by Neighbourhood Coffee at the Brink Liverpool as part of the Liverpool Biennial Fringe in Liverpool UK. The custom roasted coffee profile was generated by persons in recovery and is now regularly served at the The Brink Liverpool.


C Recovery Roast Coffee Cupping by Bird in Hand Coffee and Counter Culture at Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art (MICA) Baltimore, MD.

D. Recovery Roast Coffee Cupping by 1000 Faces Coffee with the University of Georgia Collegiate Recovery Program and the Wilson Center for Humanities, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. (November 2017)

E. Recovery Roast Coffee Cupping by Blue Donkey Coffee with the Georgia Tech Collegiate Recovery Program. (November 2017)


F. Recovery Roast Coffee Cupping by Thomas Haigh, Chief Coffee Roaster at the Tate Museum, with SLaM Recovery College at the Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, London.

5) Free Hot Supper - 2016 - Current

    • Free Hot Supper evolved out of my desire to start a nationwide conversation about addiction and recovery, particularly as it relates to the Opiate Crisis and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s declaration of a public health emergency. I partnered with the Institute for Contemporary Art and the College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute at VCU and local chefs Greg Comstock and Lauren Jurk, to host a dinner for researchers and recovery service professionals. The one night event took place in the garden patio of the ICA offices and led to an ongoing dialogue and follow up iterations of Free Hot Supper at 1708 Gallery, the Liverpool Biennial Fringe, at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia and next year at the Tate Exchange.


A. Free Hot Supper, Institute for Contemporary Art Garden, Richmond, April 14, 2016.

B. Free Hot Supper, 1708 Gallery, Richmond, June 24, 2016

C. Free Hot Supper, The Brink Liverpool, Liverpool Biennial Finge, September 9, 2016, Liverpool, UK.


D. Free Hot Supper, White Tiger BBQ, November 16, 2017, hosted by Wilson Center for Humanities, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, GA.


E. Free Hot Supper with the Brixton People’s Kitchen at the Tate Exchange May 27, 2018, Tate Modern, London UK.

6) Fifty/Fifty: Toward a new Public Conversation on Addiction and Recovery, 2016 - Current.

    • Fifty/Fifty is an overarching umbrella title for my entire collection of interdisciplinary, social practice art projects, including Free Ice Water, Free Hot Coffee and Free Hot Supper among others. Fifty/Fifty creates and contributes to dialogue on addiction and recovery, through local, regional and national events. Inspired in part by Thoreau’s three chairs, the trio of projects start from the space of self and shared reflection (Free Ice Water), then migrate to active outreach and conversation (Free Hot Coffee), and culminates an opportunity for a larger dialogue with diverse and often unexpected audiences (Free Hot Supper). Part conceptually based performance art, and part turn-of-the-century medicine show, Fifty/Fifty engages multiple audiences including galleries and museums, research universities, and addiction and recovery communities. Fifty/Fifty consists of a series of public events and workshops, site-specific publications and custom-made “Recovery Roast” coffees unique to each site-specific community.


A. Fifty/Fifty, Solo Exhibition, 1708 Gallery, June 13-26, 2016. I hosted 15 public events in 14 days including Free Ice Water, Free Hot Coffee and Free Hot Supper. The exhibition was supported by grants and in kind donations from JHW Foundation, VCUarts Pollak Society, VCU Division of Student Affairs, VCU Office of Sustainability, Richmond Bicycle Studio, and Lamplighter Coffee Company


B. Fifty/Fifty, Visiting Fellowship, Wilson Center for Humanities, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. I will perform the complete suite of projects including Free Ice Water, Free Hot Coffee and Free Hot Supper.


C. Fifty/Fifty Program at the Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, UK. See accepted program proposal attached below this document.

7) Free Hot Coffee Bike - 2016 - Current

    • The Free Hot Coffee Bike was built during the Fifty/Fifty exhibition at 1708 Gallery and is used on a regular basis by VCU’s Collegiate Recovery Community. It is a physical extension of the my Recovery Roast project and I consider it to be a completed project, which is in active use and circulation. The Free Hot Coffee Bike radiates out into the community with a pop-up pour over coffee station where the general public can engage with with people in long term recovery and their allies, and learn about the project, over free hot cups of “Recovery Roast” coffee. The Free Hot Coffee bike has been deployed more that fifty times for local and regional events, including a visit with Governor Terry McAuliffe at the State Capital of Virginia. A new Free Hot Coffee bike will be built as part of the Fifty/Fifty Program at the Tate Exchange on behalf of Recovery Connections, for use in developing collegiate recovery programs across the UK.


A. Free Hot Coffee Bike, built and maintained for VCU Collegiate Recovery Program, Supported by grants from JHW Foundation, VCUarts Pollak Society, VCU Division of Student Affairs, VCU Office of Sustainability.


B. Free Hot Coffee Bike, will be built at the Tate Exchange on behalf of Recovery Connections, Middlesbrough, UK.

8) Jack and the Bag of Death - 2016

    • Jack and the Bag of Death is a radio piece about Master Storyteller Vixi Jill Glen from Boone, NC. I produced it for broadcast as a feature audio project at

9) Improvement Tea - 2017

    • The Improvement Tea project featured a tea making and brewing workshop with the coordinator of the VCU Office of Sustainability campus community gardens. The event was modeled on the coffee cuppings of the Recovery Roast project with the idea that Improvement Tea could be served in conjunction with Recovery Roast coffee, both in the VCU Collegiate Recovery Clubhouse and on the Free Hot Coffee Bike. No new iterations are planned beyond the current deployment.

10) #Exstrange - 2017

I was invited to contribute to this eBay exhibition/curatorial project and catalog. I contributed both a new artwork in the form on an eBay auction and a short text about my previous eBay work All My Life for Sale. The project site describes #exstrange as “a live exhibition project that used the online marketplace eBay as a site of curatorial operation, artistic production and cultural exchange; a project that operated within the geographical boundaries enabled by the commercial platform the curators, Marialaura Ghidini and Rebekah Modrak, appropriated—the various ‘national’ eBay sites.” My work was included in the final printed volume and an associated catalog essay.

11) Close Shave - 2018

Close Shave is 4K film commissioned by the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, for inclusion in an upcoming exhibition in 2018. I wrote, directed and produced the short in 2016 and we locked picture in May of 2017. Close Shave reenacts an event that took place on May 25th, 2013. The actors are the co-creators of the project. Tim Neville and I play ourselves four years prior. The film will be installed as a looping 4k video file, exact dimensions and equipment are not yet decided. This is a PASSWORD protected work in progress film, (PASSWORD is available via Request)

3) Your CV lists that you have served on 2 MFA committees. However I recall from your 3rd year review that you had served on 4 MFA committees. So doesn't that make it a total of 6 MFA committees that you have served on? Could you please clarify this.

The Third Year Review was completed in December of 2014, at which point I had not served on any MFA committees at VCUarts. They must have been referring to my previous academic service at the University of Iowa. At VCUarts I have primarily served on MFA committees of Photo + Film graduate students pursuing socially engaged, non photographic projects in line with my general research practice. Additionally, I have supervised graduate independent studies in the MATX and MFA in Creative Writing programs.

Please let me know if the committee has any additional questions or concerns.

Warm regards,

John D. Freyer