The ILSSA Research Institute (RI) publishes original material on subjects of interest to impractical laborers and the general public in the form of the ILSSA Quarterly, which is published less frequently than its name would suggest. In addition, the RI coordinates such programs as satellite Obsolete Technology Labs, a virtual Reference Library, and together with the Union, events and opportunities.


photograph of ILSSA printed materials

Publishing the Quarterly has been the core practice of the ILSSA Research Institute since its founding in 2008. Please visit the Quarterly page to learn more. Current ILSSA Members automatically receive new issues of the Quarterly. You can collect many available back issues as the ILSSA Box Set Vol. 1 (2008-2013) by joining ILSSA or supporting ILSSA as a Booster.


saving seeds for the Festival to Plead for Skills

Each year on the seventh day of the seventh month, ILSSA celebrates its own version of The Festival to Plead for Skills. The festival is derived from the Chinese holiday of Qi Xi and the Japanese festival of Tanabata, in which celebrants wish for the betterment of their own craftsmanship. Instead of wishing, the ILSSA festival is a holiday of PRACTICING. Join us as we observe this holiday by practicing a skill: using a tool, trying a method, honing a technique. Document your practice through a photograph and caption to share with your fellow impractical laborers.

2012 Festival to Plead for Skillls publication

Check out members' images from the 2016 Festival, or read more about the 2012 Festival over here at at Length Mag.


ILSSA Exhibitions focus on process over product: they seek to investigate the conditions and qualities of impractical labor rather than the end result. All current ILSSA members are invited to participate in exhibitions.

ILSSA It's About Time
26 March - 14 April at the Coburn Gallery, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO

ILSSA It's about time installation view

ILSSA It's about time installation view

ILSSA It's about time installation view

Time. What is it? How do you save it? How do you spend it? Can you make more of it?

ILSSA It's About Time: A Workbook for the Working Person, asks these questions and 24 more. All current ILSSA members received the 28 page letterpress printed workbook in the January 2014 Quarterly. In return, 50 participating members of ILSSA visually and verbally explored the questions. This workbook is the most recent in a series of projects that ask members to reflect upon their process, and to share this reflection with the public.

ILSSA Working Group
6-24 July 2013 at The Center for Craft, Creativity, & Design, Hendersonville NC

ILSSA Working Group at the CCCD

ILSSA Working Group at the CCCD

ILSSA Working Group at the CCCD

ILSSA Working Group at the CCCD

ILSSA Working Group at the CCCD

ILSSA Working Group at the CCCD

For this exhibition, The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design saw its galleries turned into a project space as ILSSA members converged to discuss issues raised by the State of the ILSSA Union survey; the workspace remained as an exhibition for three weeks following the meeting. Discussion topics included: Union as Model: Organization as Art Project; Art-Craft: Impractical vs. Practical; Obsolete Technology: Intrinsic Qualities & Embedded Values; Belongingness: Community-Building & Social Engagement; and Time: Shortages & Strategies. The Working Group occurred on July 6th, and the documentation of the meeting as well as the ILSSA Temporary Library were on display through the end of the month.

Surveying the State of the ILSSA Union
5 July - 31 August 2013 at Asheville BookWorks, Asheville NC

State of the ILSSA Union survey and report

Surveying the ILSSA Union at Asheville BookWorks

Surveying the ILSSA Union at Asheville BookWorks

In early 2012, as part of the ILSSA Quarterly, the ILSSA Co-Operators mailed a 8.5x22" letterpress survey (above left) to all ILSSA members, asking each to assess her labor conditions as an art worker. 42 members responded with great insight, clarity, and thought. The resulting report (above right) is an edited compilation of the returned surveys: a collective and contradictory voice recounting the State of the ILSSA Union. Issues raised by the Survey were investigated at the first ever ILSSA Convergence in Asheville, NC, July 5-7 2013, where the surveys themselves were also be on display at Asheville BookWorks. This exhibition consisted of the completed State of the ILSSA Union surveys, and an opportunity for gallery visitors to assess their own working conditions by taking the survey themselves and becoming part of the ongoing project.

Almost Metal Collective
10 January - 16 February 2013 at the A+D Gallery, Columbia College Chicago, IL

ILSSA at the Almost Metal Collective exhibition at A+D Gallery,
Columbia College Chicago

The first showing of the completed surveys was in this group show in Chicago. The completed State of the ILSSA Union surveys were displayed on a floating wall, and and gallery visitors were offered to assess their own working conditions by taking the survey themselves.

ILSSA Every Day Work
27 January - 2 March 2012 at Hammes Gallery, St Mary's College, South Bend IN

ILSSA installation at Saint Mary's College Notre Dame IN

Every Day Work chronicles one full year (January 1 - December 31, 2011) of Impractical Labor as practiced by a dedicated group of ILSSA members. On every day worked, members saved remnants of their process in a dated envelope. In early January 2012, members sent their envelopes and/or a representative tool to the Hammes Gallery at Saint Mary's College. One envelope is posted on the gallery wall for each worked day. On the gallery floor, the saved remnants are grouped by month, with remnants from each day organized in rows. The exhibition is a visual chronology of every day worked by union members, wherever they may have been. Together with the tools, the show provides a glimpse into the nature of such work.

Upon the show's closing, Saint Mary's College students were offered the remnants for their own creative reuse. On the 4th Annual Festival to Plead for Skills (July 7, 2012), the ILSSA Co-Operators chronologically collated and bound the envelopes into a collection of 26 books, each book consisting of 2 weeks of envelopes. The books were photographed and then distributed to all participating members.

ILSSA installation at Saint Mary's College Notre Dame IN ILSSA installation at Saint Mary's College Notre Dame IN


VSW cage, image by Dan Varenka

ILSSA encourages the creation of Obsolete Technology Labs, sharing surplus technologies and reinstating discarded tools and machines. Our first two satellite projects are the Cage (shown above) at Visual Studies Workshop (Rochester NY) thanks to Tate Shaw and Dan Varenka, and an Obsolete Technology Guide for the Citizens of St. Louis, a joint publication by ILSSA and All Along Press, sponsored by Washington University. Have an idea for an ILSSA satellite project and would like to talk? Get in touch! operator(at)

ILSSA REFERENCE COLLECTION: An Analogue Internet Project

ilssa reference collection

The ILSSA Reference Collection was a collaboratively generated annotated bibliography of ILSSA-relevant reference materials. Members and Boosters received the first installment and an invitation to participate in the spring 2010 Quarterly. While the Analogue Internet Project is now retired, a growing list of reference materials is offered as the ILSSA Reference Library.