Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mothernism: An Interview with Lise Haller Baggesen

Lise Haller Baggesen left her native Denmark for the Netherlands in 1992 to study painting at the AKI and the Rijksakademie. In 2008 she relocated to Chicago with her family, where she completed her MA in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the meantime, her work evolved from a traditional painting practice toward a hybrid practice that includes curating, writing, and installation work. Her ongoing transdisciplinary project Mothernism (2013-) stakes out the mother-shaped hole in contemporary art discourse through writing and installation that radically reframes the language of the mother-artist. The project includes a 152-page book expanding conversations about intergenerational feminism, art, career, and politics, with essays that double as personal letters from an artist to her daughter, sister, and mother.  Embodying this work is Haller Baggesen’s nomadic audio installation camp, complete with tent, library, and revisionist protest banners that reference both color field painting and feminist slogans. 

Mothernism has toured Europe and the US extensively, including exhibitions at London South Bank University (UK), Upominki (NL), Vox Populi (PA) The Elmhurst Art Museum Biennial (IL), The Elizabeth Foundation (NY), A.I.R. Gallery (NY), and a solo project for The Contemporary Austin (TX), where it’s currently on view through May 22nd. We caught up with Lise as she wraps up a new body of work for her solo exhibition HATORADE RETROGRADE, which debuts at Chicago’s Threewalls from May 6th through June 11th, 2016.

Cultural ReProducers: So Lise, could you briefly describe your kids?

Lise: My son Adam (16) is a super mellow, gentle, human being. Even as a small child, when I was getting in a tiff over something, he would take my hand and pat it and go “There, there, Mom. This too will pass.” I have learned a tremendous amount about patience, compassion, and endurance from him, if only by osmosis. His favorite subject is physics, which also just demonstrates how entirely different he is from me.

My daughter Eleanor (10) on the other hand, is so like myself it sometimes seems like she was born from immaculate conception. She is whip-smart, precocious even, and she will tell you what is on her mind. Her favorite subject is art, and she wants to be an author. They are both competing slam poets, which is a lot of fun and also puts their combined talents to good use. 
CR: You grew up in Denmark and then relocated to the Netherlands to study art. Both countries provide generous paid family leave and affordable childcare for their citizens, whereas in the United States… well, here we have nothing even approaching that level of support. What was the transition like when you moved to the US? Do you notice broader implications within the culture of motherhood?

Lise: Both my kids were born in Amsterdam. In the Netherlands there is (still) quite an ingrained “motherhood cult” and mothers are generally expected to stay home until their kids start school at age four, and also to be around to pick school-going kids up for lunch at home and such. As a result, a lot
of Dutch women work part time. It was something I frowned upon at the time, but not so much now, as I am getting more critical of the neo-liberal notions of “lean in feminism,” for women –and men—to be at the disposal of the work market at all times.

However, when I became pregnant with Adam, I had just finished a two-year residency the Rijksakademie, which has a highly competitive and professional environment. I did not count many parent-artists among my friends, and I, too, bought into the idea of child-rearing being at odds with a creative practice, so I sent my own kids to child care from pretty early on (about 9 months).  There was not much economic reasoning behind this but I really wanted to get back in the studio, and my painting practice at the time was not entirely child proof. 

too often are mothers expected to check in their motherhood at the door and instead don some kind of “male drag” to be granted re-entry to the arty-smarty-party of art and academia.  


Coming to the United States wasn’t much of a culture shock in that regard – but it did take me a while to find traction with my work here, as you (still) don’t meet many artists hanging around the playground after school. Being at home with my children (again) during this transition reminded me of ways that spending time with them was not only a hindrance, but also an inspiration with regards to my creative practice. It was something I had started touching on in the Netherlands, where it had not been entirely positively received – but which reconfigured itself over here through writing etc. It must be said that this didn’t happen overnight, though; it wasn’t really until I went back to school –initially with the intent of shaking myself of the “mother-artist syndrome” –that I fully realized how profoundly the child rearing and care work I had been engaged in the previous decade had changed not only my practice, but also my critical thinking related to it. That realization was the impetus for writing Mothernism, which originated as my MA thesis in Visual and Critical Studies.


CR: In Mothernism, you argue that regardless of childcare, studio time, etc. nothing will really change for mothers in the arts until we reframe how motherhood is perceived, inserting ourselves both within and in opposition to the canon of art history.  This is an important idea, and it’s no simple task. Do you have any thoughts on how more mother artists might take up this charge?

The art world – as I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve hung around in it for longer than a minute — is not always as forward thinking as it would like to think itself to be. Despite its obsession with “the shock of the new” some pretty old-fashioned notions on creativity are still doing the rounds in contemporary arts education, for example. It’s all very Freudian and tied to the idea of creativity as sublimation, Lacan’s idea of the gaze etc. While enrolled in the MA program in Visual and Critical Studies (VCS) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago I became aware of psychoanalytical theories by people like Lou Andreas-Salomé, Bracha Ettinger, and Melanie Klein, who linked the creative impulse to what has been coined a “non-pathological narcissism;” a reparative state connected with prenatal and early mother-infant relations and bonding.

As you suggest, to make that paradigm shift is no easy task: matrophobia (which means not only fear of mothers, but also fear of becoming like your mother) is rampant in the art world. Like other forms of (self) oppression – such as racism, sexism, homophobia etc — it is both institutionalized and internalized to the point of becoming invisible.  It passes under the radar, and is perpetuated in particular by those most likely to be affected – in this case female artists.

As a mother/artist you are expected to get “back to normal” as soon as possible after childbirth – disregarding that this entirely transformative experience you have just gone through with your body, and your mind, is also entirely normal. Way too often are mothers expected to check in their motherhood at the door and instead don some kind of “male drag” to be granted re-entry to the arty-smarty-party of art and academia. While identity politics have been crucial to the art and academic debate since the culture wars of the eighties, and various sexual and demographic groups are represented way better than just a decade ago – and considering what this plurality of voices has brought to the table in terms of form, content and context—I think not only mothers but also others could benefit from the maternal voice being heard. It is astounding to witness the degree to which pregnancy, childbirth, and care work, is trivialized as sentimental and unworthy as subject matters (or at best: as women’s matters) in the arts, literature, philosophy etc. –something Julia Kristeva touches on in her inquiry “is there a female genius?” and her statement that “we need a new philosophy of motherhood.” I am perhaps not suggesting that everybody need to journal “baby’s first year” by way of an art project –although Mary Kelly has done that to great and minimalist effect in Post-Partum Document — but that your art may benefit from this new vantage point from which you now may view the world.

But wait, this was all about “why” should we take up this change, and you were asking “how” …okay so, first we need better childcare, and studio time, and a fifty/fifty division of labor, and gallery representation… no wait… okay so, I think one thing to keep in mind is to be unafraid of ghettoization, by which I mean that the art world has become obsessed with the mainstream since the turn of the millennium; whereas in the seventies they would build a Woman House and get on with it, we are now debating “are all-woman-shows good or bad for art?” But, what is this “art” of which you speak? Changes in the conversation will happen on the fringes before they reach the center, and nobody is a more deserving (or receptive) audience than the people in a similar situation to your own.

I think it is important to pick your battles, and to keep asking yourself: where do I want to go with this? Who do I want to reach? Would the next stop on the Mothernism Tour be a Mothernist Base Camp at Art Basel? Now, Art Basel, if you are reading this, I would totally Mothernize the hell out of you! But would it be the end game of Mothernism? I don’t think so.

Which brings me back to why and how I wrote Mothernism. “Why?” is because I became increasingly frustrated that in this environment that was the VCS department, where we were talking art theory, queer theory, feminist theory, intersectional feminism, body politics, etc. I found little willingness to consider my experience of mothering, and how it had affected my view on these matters. I felt like I was being sent “back to the Mommy-blog” with my musings –like it wasn’t academic material. So I thought alright, if nobody in this room wants to have this conversation, then I will make it the subject of my thesis, and then we will have this conversation! But, (and this is the “How?”) since I was still convinced at this point that nobody in- or out-side of that room wanted to hear about it, I just wrote it to impress a handful of people, including my three thesis advisors and some future version of my daughter (the fifth being myself, I suppose)… I was really taken aback when Michelle Grabner offered to publish it, and again when Caroline Picard got onboard and offered to help editing it, and again when so many people (mothers and non-mothers) wanted to read it. I had never imagined it would find the audience it did. But then again, if you choose wisely the first few people you want to impress, that will set the bar high enough. So I actually never doubted that the book was “good enough” once it was out in the world.

CR: You taught a course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago based on Mothernism that I’ve been dying to ask you about. SAIC isn’t exactly teeming with young parents. Were there mothers in the class? How did you go about framing this content for a population for whom motherhood is an abstraction?

No, I had no mothers in my class, but as I had written in my “elevator pitch,” you don’t need to be a mother to take this class, but it helps to have one. Riffing off of what I just said, Mothernism at its core touches on new ways of understanding the creative practice –and through that, a
fundamental institutional critique. You don’t have to be a mother to sympathize with that. 

One another level, the term Mothernism relates directly to both modernism and feminism –both of which I understand as positive connotations—but could also imply negative associations along the lines of sexism, ageism and abled-body-ism; a certain “othering” projected at the maternal body/mind, which I have certainly felt on my own body, but could equally well be experienced by a colored body, a trans body, a queer body and so on. These are not abstractions, but directly felt and lived realities, which we navigate on the daily.

I have to say that although there were both generational and cultural divides to be bridged, my students went all the way in and responded to my ideas and the primary text with I shared with them, with amazing work and challenging critical thinking and writing. I am very grateful to have worked with them and I hope they feel the same way –it was a leap of faith from both sides, but well worth it.

CR: For the past few years your Mothernism project has continued to evolve as it tours the world. In the meantime I know you’ve been hard at work on a new series. What has been happening in the studio?  

Lise: Yes, Mothernism is touring and is currently up at The Contemporary Austin (TX). For this iteration of the show, the museum commissioned a new work from me, namely The Mothernist’s Audio Guide to Laguna Gloria. It is a glorious walk in the park, during which I talk about the sculptures on the grounds and the history of the site in relation to (art) history, personal anecdote and (pop) cultural lore. It is very much about regarding the art of (m)others in this particular point in space and time –something I keep returning to in my writing. I was a very rewarding experience to get to do this in collaboration with a team of museum staff, who helped me research their collections, and something I would love to do again in the future.

In May Mothernism will travel to Canada for the exhibition and colloquium New Maternalisms Redux / Mapping the Maternal  organized by Natalie Loveless at the University of Alberta. I will be the visiting artist for the symposium, which means that I will get to hang out in my installation with some of my most favorite (and some of the most brilliant) mother-minds in the world—something I am obviously thrilled about.

Here in Chicago I am cramming in a few more weeks before my solo show opening at Threewalls in early May. The show is called HATORADE RETROGRADE, and as the title implies it is somewhat darker and more dystopian than Mothernism. I see it as my “Coming to America” show and it is a sartorial and satirical vision of the US anno 2033, where everything is covered in glittery pollution. It is very much related to my experience of American material culture, and it is as American as tie-dye, but is also revisionist view of a European avant-garde, seen trough an American vernacular.

The upcoming show consists of a collection of costumes against a backdrop of “lipstick formalist” revisionism – paintings inspired by female avant-gardist Sonia Delaunay, and her retrospective, which you and I saw together when we were in London. What I really loved about that show was how entirely un-hierarchically artistic and fashion production was presented, with her paintings, costumes, and textiles completely level pecking. A lovely baby blanket is credited as her first “abstract” work, for example. It reminded me how much I always enjoy a good costume in a museum setting, but also of my love of dressing up, which was one of my favorite games as a kid, and still to this day. I found it very stimulating to see how the costumes and paintings engaged in a figure/ground relation, so I really wanted some of that in my next show.

This new body of work relates directly to Mothernism, as it is the third installment in a trilogy on female genius (the first being So Deep in Your Room, You Never Leave Your Room, an allegory on studio practice from 2012), but instead of speaking in an internal voice (So Deep in Your Room), or in a direct 1st person address (Mothernism), HATORADE RETROGRADE speaks in a cachophony of voices, for which I have commissioned an all female cast of poets, writers, and artists to write the audio for the show.

CR: You reference so many important mother-artists through your work. If you had to pick just a few, who has most deeply impacted your approach to combining parenthood with creative practice?

It may sound weird, but that is not something I think about a lot. When I think about my own artistic heroes, I don’t think about them so much as being great mothers, as being great whores. In the essay Mother of Pearl I asked the question “if all our heroes are whores, maybe whoring is heroic?” But I also lash out at Simone de Beauvoir and her truism that “housewives are prostitutes” with a “Don’t Ho Me If You Don’t Know me, Simone!”

In other words: the people who inspire me are often folks who “do whatever you gotta do, in order to do what you gotta do.” Some of the people I mention in the book, like Louise Bourgeois and Niki de Saint-Phalle are probably not the finest examples of how to reconcile mothering and art making in an inspiring way… but then again: the book was never intended as a manual for how to combine a mother/artist practice and make the best of both worlds.

Looking a little closer to home, of course there are people who have inspired me: my thesis advisors Michelle Grabner and Romi Crawford are the first who come to mind. In the world of pop, I like how Yoko Ono performs with her son on stage, or how Björk defends hers against the paparazzi. I like it when Kate Bush makes a comeback album on which she sings about washing machines and her loverly-loverly Bertie, or how Patti Smith, when asked by an interviewer how it feels to come back to the stage after more than a decade of “doing nothing” answers “Nothing? What do you mean, nothing? I was raising my kids and writing poetry, that is not nothing!”

Lise Haller Baggesen inside Mothernism

Friday, April 22, 2016

Cultural ReProducers Reading Group

Yes! Cultural ReProducers is organizing a monthly Reading Group to discuss writings on parenthood in the arts, artist-child collaboration, expanded concepts of motherhood, art and everyday life. If you’re looking to flex your cultural-critical mind from home and think through ideas like these with us, consider yourself invited.

The goal here is that no matter where you live or what your family situation is you can participate through live chat, a dedicated Facebook group and (coming soon) visiting artists and live conversations through Skype or other online video programs. We’ll be figuring things out as we go along, so your feedback is always welcome.

We'll discuss our first selection of essays live via Facebook on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016 at 8pm Standard Central Time. If you’re in a time zone where that’s not ideal, the conversation will continue through our private Facebook group. Interested in joining the discussion? Join the CR Reading Group and we’ll get you a link to the readings.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Interview: Oubria Tronshaw

Oubria Tronshaw is a writer, a mother of four, a collector and circulator of human experience. She received a BA in creative Writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and several years later earned her MFA at Chicago State University, a degree she began while raising three small children on her own and struggling to make ends meet.  An incredible tenacity and pragmatic optimism ground her writing practice, and in sharing experiences with other women she's discovered a new creative direction.  Her current project, Marrow Women, is an evolving archive of anonymous interviews that dig deep into poverty, sexuality, abuse, transformation, and everything between. 
CR: To start out, could you briefly describe your kids?

Okay, well first there’s Nzinga. She is eight, and she is very sweet, and very helpful, and also grown as hell and I just always feel like I’m never good enough for her (laughter).  Othello is seven, and he keeps lying about brushing his teeth in the morning. He tells me he loves me all the time, gives the best hugs, and … I don’t have a favorite, but if I did... it would be him. Free is four. She runs my life. And If Nzinga’s like a teenager then Free is the naked grandma who doesn’t give a shit. (more laughter) She’s done everything she needs to do and she’s ready to just have fun now – she doesn’t give a damn what you think. Amun is eight months, and he lights up my life. Just lights it up. I mean, even when I’m mad at him, his smile is just…. oh! So juicy. I love him to pieces.

CR: You pursued an MFA in creative writing when your children were little. Graduate school can be a challenge even without kids. How did you make the decision to go, and how did you make it work?

Well, I already had Nzinga and Othello and I started looking at MFA programs when I was pregnant with Free. I never really wanted to be a teacher, but I've always known I wanted to be a writer. I had a Bachelor’s Degree and I had a job writing online, writing articles for and stuff at $15, $20 an article. I’ve done almost 1,500 articles now, and that was paying the bills. It was nice to work from home, but it wasn’t joyful – it was such a grind, you know?  And then I got pregnant again and I was like “now I’m gonna need MORE money. This isn’t going to work.”

My mom took me out to dinner for my 30th birthday. I was pregnant, I was super nauseous, me and my husband weren’t getting along and I was thinking about leaving him, and my mom said to me – and she’d said this to me before, but somehow I didn’t really hear her ‘till then – she said, “an MFA is a terminal degree.” People always try to push you toward a PhD if you’re black and you’re smart - it’s a thing - and I didn’t really know if that was for me. But when I realized an MFA is a terminal degree in my field… and I realized I could get loans and I wouldn’t have to work so hard at this internet stuff and then maybe we could move and get a fresh start, I really threw myself into the application process.

So how did I make it work? I got a graduate assistantship. I’d left my husband before I started the program -- we needed some time apart. I lived with my stepmom who had a home daycare. So that was, you know, I don’t know how I would’a done it otherwise because I certainly didn’t have enough money to sustain us at all. At ALL! My assistantship paid me $630 a month. So between that and writing as many articles as I could, that’s how we did it.

CR: But I mean, how did you make it work as far as your own writing? Paying the bills is a serious part of things, but doing creative work is so…

Oubria: Yeah. I wrote a hundred and sixty pages of a novel for my thesis, and lots of ten and fifteen-page papers. But don’t forget, for work I had written about 1,500 articles, so I was used to writing with people crawling on my head. And even more so with the motivation of “I gotta get this grade,” but I was already writing for “well I gotta feed you tomorrow, so I gotta write through you being on my head.” Once you can do that…

CR: So many of us struggle to prioritize a creative practice, but in your case writing was actually putting food on the table! Time management aside, has parenthood affected your approach to the kind of creative work that you do?

Oubria: Completely. I’ve always had a gift for writing, but before I had my kids and my husband I really didn’t have much to write about. I’d write about, like, failed relationships or that angsty “I don’t know what the fuck to do with my life” feeling. But to be honest, there’s enough of that in the world, you know? If you’re an artist you want to contribute something real, and I just couldn’t find – I just couldn’t tap a vein that was deep enough to think, “this is what I was meant to share with the world.” I think that if I hadn’t had children I would have been perfectly fine with this vague, distant disgust with my life. Forever! I would have traveled with it, and had affairs with it, and had lunch and taken selfies and looked awesome with it, but I just would’ve been this miserable, lonely, super smart and sensitive and creative… unmoored person with no real purpose.

 We have so many privileges that other women in history didn’t have, but they just made it work. We’re not the first women artists to be mothers.

For me, the way I had children and the way I got with my husband and the way I had to parent -- through eviction and poverty and swallowing my pride and living with my Mom and living with my Stepmom, and breaking up and gettin’ back together and then his ex-wife and all these things about motherhood that no one explains to you! Like how you don’t always want to… more and more you just don’t want to. How tired you are. How sometimes you just don’t recognize yourself or your life. How you don’t have any time for yourself…. Your kids will never give you permission to have a moment or be sane. Ever. You have to learn to be an advocate for yourself. All those things inform my art.

I was having these conversations with other women, like my friend Sagashus who’s doing “Infamous Mothers.” She’s a single mom with six children, she’s in a PhD program, and we talk about how motherhood is changing our lives and ourselves. And we talk about how there is really nowhere you can go when you’re having a breakdown and you want to read that someone else is dealing with this. So my art became to just be as transparent as I can for anyone else who might be feeling the same way. I stopped trying to make up stories, because all I could do was just be like “no, this is some real shit… realer than what’s in that book!” 

CR: How did your project Marrow Women evolve out of that, and how does it work as an extension of your writing, your creative practice?  

Oubria: Yeah, I think about that. Am I selling out because I’m not ‘writing’? But it’s more important to me right now to create a resource for women who want the real. We always give people a polished version of life and that’s not what we need. We’re starving for reality.

When I was in undergrad for creative writing we had to write an apology for why you do what you do. Mine was that I just always want people to know that they’re not alone. And that I really would like to create an encyclopedia of human experience. This was in undergrad – I had no idea how I was gonna do this, but I wanted a giant encyclopedia from A – Z, like Abortion, Abandonment, Adoption, Betrayal, Betrothal….whatever. Whatever you were going through, like you… murdered someone? Here’s a story of somebody who murdered someone, and they’re okay! Like, oh God, there’s a space for me! (laughter)

When I was a graduate student I was talking to other women I met there. We would just talk all the time about our husbands and everything we were dealing with. There’s all this emotional labor, physical labor that comes with marriage that no one tells you about. And then another woman I was talking to was telling me a story, and… I can’t tell you the story because I’d have to mention where she worked. These women would tell me their stories and they were super personal, and I’d be like "damn, her story would help you but I can’t tell you because…" fuck it. I’m just gonna type down people’s stories, and then whoever needs it can read it. I don’t have to be a gossip, I can just put it there and if they need it, get it. I see Marrow Women becoming a series of books in volumes. I look forward to seeing how many volumes there can be.

CR: Who would you say are your models for artist-parenting?

Oubria: Tony Morrison. Buchi Emechata. She had a lot of kids, and her husband destroyed her first manuscript. Can you imagine? Lucille Clifton. They all talk about just writing when your kids are in the room. Lucille Clifton’s daughters talk about how the dining room table would just be papers everywhere, and the typewriter… I think it’s so important. You know, first of all, your kids are never gonna leave the room long enough. Second of all it is important for them to see that you’re an artist and not just a mom. And they may feel now that "aw, I should be the most important thing to you," but there’s gonna come a time in their lives when they have to [make themselves] the most important thing. And if they can see “oh, that’s what she was doing,” then they have a model for that. If you devote everything to them and you hide your art in secret… They’ve got to see that you’re a full person outside of them.

We have so many privileges that other women in history didn’t have, but they just made it work. We’re not the first women artists to be mothers, or even the first mothers whose art couldn’t be public but who had these artistic impulses. I think sometimes we say “I’m an artist and I’m a mother and that’s so important.” And it is important… but when you make it such a big deal I think you don’t make the art you might want to because it’s like “no, you have to take the children because we need to make art.” If you need to be an artist then you’ll find ways to do it.

CR: What was your process like for returning to your creative work with a newborn? Do you have any advice you can share with artists who are struggling with that?

Oubria: Do it right away. Because they sleep the most when they’re new. I know it’s hard for new moms because… you’re new. But if only you knew that this was the most time you were gonna get, then you would take advantage of it. As they get older you get your bearings, but what you realize is that damn, they slept 20 hours a day that first month! What did I do? Did I just try to invite people over? No! If you want to write, then write! When I look back at my journals when I started to write heavily, I have entries from when my babies are days old. You know, I’m sitting here with this newborn and then all this angst comes out, but it’s good writing. Don’t wait. Just do it.  Do it at the hospital if you have to, you know? Take your journal.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Making It: Aviatrix Atelier, Berlin

Making It
profiles cultural producers creating the systems of support they need in the art community. The events, spaces, and other projects here s
upport the work of professional artists while also being accessible to families.

kids take over the child-height mezzanine gallery overlooking Aviatrix's café
Just down the street from Berlin’s  Tempelhofer Park - an expansive public part that was once the city's main airport - it might be easy to pass by the modest Aviatrix Atelier without knowing what's brewing inside. Its name invoking the adventurous spirit of female pilots, Aviatrix is a vibrant little social club, an evolving all-ages studio, gallery, and café organized by and for creative parents and their families, as well as the local community.

When designer and artist Renata
flexible workspace during the week = gallery + event space on the weekend
Faccenda first became a mother, she realized that bringing her baby into a typical shared studio cooperative just wasn’t going to work. Instead, she joined forces with other mother-artists in the city to make something new. After some early attempts at configuring child-friendly collaborative spaces with others she met Sarah Salters, a clothing designer and teacher who shared her vision for an all-ages studio with space for work, play, and public events. The duo secured a multi-room storefront space in the Neuköln neighborhood, and Aviatrix Atelier was born.

Aviatrix operates in so many ways it’s a little hard to keep track sometimes. On weekdays, its core group of parents share a dedicated studio in the back, while up front a high-ceilinged room equipped with wide tables, lamps, and wifi is rented out as co-working space. On weekends, its custom-built furniture (designed by Renata herself) folds up and away to serve as a pop-up gallery for all-ages exhibitions, film screenings, performances, and dance parties with great musicians and DJs. You enter all this through an adjacent café that doubles as a sort of social club for the creative community, featuring simple but
tasty food and drink and a small boutique selling the creative work of Aviatrix collaborators.

children emerge from the mezzanine gallery over the café during an exhibition
I felt lucky to experience the magic of this place during a solo show of my work there this fall. It felt even luckier to get to share it with my four-year-old daughter. To be sure, Aviatrix is a pretty cool place for adults to hang out, but Renata and Sarah are also deeply invested in the creativity of children: all exhibiting artists are asked to lead low-cost workshops for kids, part of the atelier's multifaceted children's studio programming. A kid-height mezzanine gallery built over the coffeeshop is the perfect space for young creatives to showcase their art for the public, curate their own exhibitions, or (between exhibitions) just contribute to the washable graffiti covering the mini-gallery’s ceiling and windows, while keeping an eye on their parents in the café below.

Berlin is a pretty special city in its approach to integrating family life into the larger culture: childcare is affordable for all, playgrounds double as sculpture parks, and there's an amazing array of “Eltern-Kind-Cafés,” relaxed coffeeshops and restaurants that include built-in sandboxes, toys, or indoor slides, and even playgrounds with adjacent beer gardens (a concept we can only fantasize about in the US).  Still, what Aviatrix offers is unique. Billed as "Berlin's only kid-friendly atelier,"  it’s not just for families, but truly supports artists of all ages. For more photos, videos, and news about events past and present, check out Aviatrix's Facebook feed and explore their website for more information.

Balloons - Tartaruga Feliz Solo Show from Tartaruga Feliz on Vimeo.

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Christa Donner reimagines the human / animal body through a range of media including large-scale drawing, printmaking, digital animation, and small-press publication. Her process often incorporates public projects and collaborations around narratives of bodily experience. Her work is exhibited internationally, including projects for the Museum Bellerive (Zurich, Switzerland); the Horst-Janssen Museum (Oldenberg, Germany); Kravets-Wehby Gallery (New York, USA); BankART NYK (Yokohama, Japan); Chiaki Kamikawa Contemporary Art (Paphos, Cyprus); the ANTI Festival of Contemporary Art (Kuopio, Finland); and the Centro Columbo Americano (Medellin, Colombia).

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Cultural ReProducers in NYC and Chicago - join us this week!

We have been quietly busy working on some exciting projects in Chicago and New York, and here’s news on a few that are coming up soon. We'd love to see you there.

Who's Holding the Baby? the Hackney Flashers, 1978
EFA Project Space
323 w 39th Street #3, New York, NY
Saturday, Jan 27, 3 - 5:30 PM

If you’re in or near New York you’re invited to participate in an open forum with Christa Donner from Cultural ReProducers, Maiko Tanaka from The Grand Domestic Revolution, Marisa Jahn from The CareForce, and artist Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen for Wah-wah, shh, chomp, munch, nom, burp, poot, slurp, yum, toot, mwah. But who's holding the baby?

This open forum explores the intersection of cultural work, arts institutions, and caring labor. …But Who’s Holding the Baby? is presented in conjunction with the exhibition "The Let Down Reflex", curated by Amber Berson and Juliana Driever, at EFA Project Space in Manhattan. Come join the conversation on February 27th between 3:00-5:30pm.
Free childcare will be available.


School of the Art Institute of Chicago

37 S. Wabash, 1st Floor Neiman Center
, Chicago, IL

Saturday, March 5, 
drop in between 12 pm - 5 pm

Why are some of the most important mamas in art and design missing from Wikipedia? Well, because you haven’t added them yet. Cultural ReProducers is pleased to team up with Art+Feminism and Tracers to participate in the Chicago 2016 Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, and we need your help to expand its content and scope.

Everyone's welcome, and you need not have any previous Wikipedia editing know-how to take part: facilitators will offer 10-minute training sessions every hour on the hour and offer individual support as needed. Library staff will offer resources. Free childcare is in the works... get in touch if you can use it!

So: mark your calendars, pack up the kids, and please bring a laptop and a photo ID (for building access). To make the most of your time at the event, we recommend you create an account before you arrive. For more information, check out the Chicago meetup page.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Interview: Ana Álvarez-Errecalde

Simbiosis / Symbiosis (Serie Las Cuatro Estaciones, 2013-2014)
Ana Álvarez-Errecalde is an Argentinian artist based in Barcelona.  In her work she delves into personal experiences such as vital cycles, immigration and motherhood. She has exhibited throughout Europe and South America, including solo projects for the City of Women Festival (Liubliana, Slovenia), Centro Cultural de Espana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), and the Centro Cultural Drassanes (Barcelona, Spain). Her work is part of the 2015 exhibition Critica De la Razon Migrante, which has traveled to venues in Paraguay, Honduras, and Guatemala. Ana is passionate about issues of childbirth, which she has addressed in the projects The Birth of My Daughter (2005) and Cesarean: Beyond the Wound (2009). Cultural ReProducers is honored to share this conversation with Ana Álvarez-Errecalde brought to us by artist and mother Irene Pérez.

Cultural ReProducers: Briefly describe your children in your own words.

Ana: My eldest son is pure contemplation, beauty, and a mixture of fragility and strength. He inspires us by pushing our limits, making us face humility and embrace the lack of control, while letting us appreciate sublime mysteries. My daughter and my younger son are joy, curiosity, creativity, wit, endless possibilities, strength, assertiveness, freedom, collaboration, beauty and genuine empathy.

Anunciación / Anunciation (Serie Las Cuatro Estaciones, 2013-2014)
CR:  What was it like for you to become an artist-mother? What kinds of support or lack of support did you encounter?

Ana: I became an artist when I became a mother. My first son was born with a severe neurological condition, and with that experience I saw all of my certainties crash around me. We were in New York City and I was spending a lot of time caring for him and trying to do a very exhausting early intervention program while living far away from friends and family. Everything was so overwhelming and I was feeling so lonely that I started taking photographs as a way to cope. I needed to focus on the beauty of my son regardless of his challenges.

Combining my family life with my art has become something organic. My children are around during most of my photo shoots, and they also take part in my husband's projects (he is also an artist). We have decided to create a life together where there is no delineation between the art creation and family life. We travel together, mount exhibitions with the children around, and discuss new ideas at the dinner table.

The arts community and market has offered very little support. I have submitted a few of my projects to open calls which offer funding but curiously enough all the money had to be spent on the art production, so there is never money left for personal and family needs.  My immediate community (which lately is mostly online) supports my art by giving visibility to what I do and by taking part in my projects. Over the years, with a broader recognition of my artwork, I am starting to participate in art festivals and exhibitions that have given their support not only economically but also logistically.

CR: At what point did you begin incorporating your children and other family members directly into your work?

Ana: Before focusing on photography and installation, I was working as a producer for Buenos Aires Television and also at PBS in New York City. I was mainly involved in the production of documentaries, so I was always intrigued by the recording of personal stories. 
From the moment I became pregnant for the first time I started documenting this transformative process. I was not pursuing any specific artistic or aesthetic goal, but the shift in priorities, learning about myself under a completely different perspective, was intriguing. Documenting that change was a tool to understand what I was going through and who I was becoming.

Sombra / Shadow (Serie Las Cuatro Estaciones, 2013-2014)
CR: Do you consider parenting as part of your artistic practice and vice versa? Would you say including your children in your work plays a role in their upbringing?

Ana: My mothering is not a performance. The relationship I have with my children exists even if no one is looking. The reason I expose certain aspects of my mothering to the public is because I think that motherhood has been idealized, and only a very constricted version of birth and parenting has been exposed. I feel that it is important to contribute these experiences that have been banned or silenced, and that can expand the references that as a society we have about mothering. In my artwork I not only portray myself as a mother but as a daughter as well.

I have learnt a lot through each one of my empowering respected births, mothering a child with special needs and total dependency, having a late gestational loss (at home), raising a pre-teen girl,
and committing to freedom not through a selfish pursuit of independence but through the exercise of
chosen responsibility and generous love. I have met wonderful people who have told me they had abortions because they knew that their babies had certain anomalies and they could not imagine themselves coping with these difficulties. Although I am pro-choice, I also feel that in order to choose you need to have as much information as possible. You need to know that life can be wonderful and meaningful even when you are facing difficult challenges, and this is something that is not usually
told. The lack of horizontal and empathetic information makes for an easily manipulated society.

Including my children in my work and my husband's work plays a role in their upbringing in the same way that it did for us to go to work with our own parents when we were young to help them in their non-artistic jobs. The importance is not in the kind of job that they are participating in, but in the quality time we share. The importance for any child is in realizing that their contribution is useful and appreciated. That they are part of something bigger. That they are important.

CR: The body, mostly but not exclusively female, has a central role in your discourse. Where does your interest in the body as a vessel and communicator of ideas come from? Do you think this interest has a direct connection with your motherhood?

Ana: I photograph the body, mainly female, to re-appropriate something that is ours and which has been used, ridiculed, violated, admired, judged, exploited, and objectified throughout history. How I relate to the  body is a mirror of my fascination with life. I am accepting of my changing body, amazed by how my children grow, and intrigued by the aging process. I have enjoyed my pregnancies and have had joyful, intense home births. The blood and nudity seen within the context of my artwork is linked to this authenticity and undiluted sensuality.

I am interested in the body as territory: a place in which each life leaves its trace, not for its aesthetic value. Culturally, female bodily functions have been concealed and treated as something shameful. I expose blood in order to show that we are not objects, and to denounce the debilitation, domestication, and exploitation that women are often subjected to.

Ana Álvarez-Errecalde, My Parents, 2003
 CR: Some of your work documents events that are private and intimate - for example the birth of your daughter or the caring labor for your eldest son. What has it been like to bring these to the context of the exhibition space?

Ana: I took the photographs for El Nacimiento de mi Hija (The Birth of my Daughter, 2005) because I had a profound need to see this sort of maternity represented. While I was pregnant with my daughter, every time I would close my eyes to go to sleep, I had this recurring image of being connected to my baby by my umbilical cord. When I took these photographs it wasn't my intention to include them as part of my artistic work. I didn’t know if the home birth would allow me to capture these moments, I just wanted to do my best to create an image like the one that had enchanted me in my mind. When I saw the contact sheet (at that time I was still shooting film) I soon understood that these photographs had a universal importance that transcended the personal documentation of my experience. I was healthy, happy and lucid to the extent of being able to do a self portrait! I felt that these photographs could help others rethink the idea of the fragile, painful, out of control and overly medicated birth that is considered the norm, but it also goes beyond the occurrence to delve into deeper issues of our understanding of society, fear, and life. This is why it was important to share this and other projects in the context of the exhibition space.

El Nacimiento de mi Hija / Birth of my Daughter, 2005

CR: The photograph of your daughter’s birth has provoked strong reactions, for and against. What did you want to convey or express? Do you think people have understood?

With this diptych I wanted to contribute my experience to expand on the constrained social imagery of motherhood. My experience of childbirth is not unique: throughout history many women have had enjoyable, unmedicated, independent, and free births. However these stories have rarely been told. Circulating these self-portraits through arts and media contexts is my way of refuting the idea that childbirth is a divine punishment, an imminent danger, and a painful burden, which we need to free ourselves from. The intensity of labour has a purpose. The pain is proportional to the fear. Childbirth can be a rite of passage. Often I get messages from people from different parts of the world who thank me for sharing this intimate experience. There are also those who feel distaste and compare giving birth to other physiological processes, like defecating. For me this is indicative of the value we give to childhood and maternity. There are people who have had horrifying, abusive, or simply misinformed experiences of labour, and seeing these photographs can confront them with what their experience could have been but wasn't. Sometimes we hide away our sorrows and these images can act as a trigger to something we wish we could forget.

Though I am proud and thankful for many of the positive changes gained by the activism of the Feminist movement, much of this feminism from the last decades was responsible for putting motherhood in the closet. Maternal desire became seen as a failure and a weakness that hindered our creativity, intelligence and development. The natural expectations of babies, as mammals, were not taken into account. Medicine and the pharmaceutical industry rushed forward to offer anesthetized births and milk in bottles that freed the mother from the intrinsic dependence of her young.  For me, violence towards women begins with the repression of sexuality, the appropriation of childbirth, the interference with all vital cycles and the creation of manipulative roles. A negated mother will also negate her body and her presence to her children, so they will all ultimately conform to our unattended, unloved, and unnourished society. This violence consists in promoting shortcomings that trigger a disproportionate consumerism that is perverse and unsustainable. A fulfilled woman who accepts her body and finds pleasure in sharing it with her offspring is a revolution in her own right, because she stops being part of a establishment that feeds the enormous unsatisfied needs of future men and women.

from the series, CESAREAN, beyond the Wound, 2009

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Irene Pérez is a visual artist now living and working near Barcelona, Spain. She shares her life with a passionate physicist, their vibrant five-year-old daughter, and a black cat named Nit. Irene is currently working on the project New Universe; a series of works that explore the learning processes occurring within a family. New Universe will open in fall 2016 as an exhibition, lecture series and workshops at the Documentation Center and Textile Museum of Terrassa, Spain.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Residency Report: Family-in-Residence, Three Ways

Residency Report is an ongoing series of posts from artists undertaking creative residencies with their families. Find out about programs that support artists with kids, and see how other artist-parents balance the residency experience.

Sarah Neville is an Australian chorographer, theatre director, and multimedia performance maker whose current work examines climate change, the effects of which are rapidly impacting the landscape she calls home. Her recent practice incorporates an ongoing series of Family-in-Residence projects together with her two young daughters and her husband, scientist and musician Matthew Thomas, to creatively explore the environment, human impact, and the next generation. We’re thoroughly pleased to share her thoughts on family residency here, a process that continues to evolve and change.

Until recently I spent most of my time researching new projects, applying for grants and leading teams of collaborators in a creative process. Over the last two years I have been sustaining my arts practice through a ‘family in residence’ model. Having young children has changed my perception of work and life. I realised that this was not just a phase of life I needed to manage but that my life can positively inform my creative practice. My husband’s field is music and visual arts, but his primary work is in the science of Human Factors, and together with Miranda (now 6) and Florence (2) we have pursued research on the artistic project Weather Lore / Speculative Culture over a series of family-focused residencies.

'Changing the world will always require action and participation in the public realm, but in our time that will no longer be sufficient. We'll have to change the way we live, too. What that means is that the sites of our everyday engagement with nature - our kitchens, gardens, houses, cars - matter to the fate of the world in a way they never have before.' - Michael Pollan, “Cooked”

Family in Residence I: FoAM
How we live matters to the fate of the world. Our first residency was facilitated by FoAM in Brussels, Belgium, who explore ways of living and working as creative processes. They are also committed to the concept of the ‘family in residence,’ and so were a great fit for us.
Working as an independent artist means I can organize work around my own availability and creative focus. Thanks to FoAM and their very generous family in residence program, in 2012 I travelled to Europe with five-month-old Florence in tow. We spent a week in a mini castle in Istria near the legendary city of Motovun, participated in a futurists meeting at Time’s Up Austria, and ended by consolidating our residency at FoAM headquarters in Brussels. Throughout, Florence was great company.

The residency was structured to include our whole family. Collaborating remotely from our home base in Australia, my husband Matt experimented with sound and Miranda sent drawings and stories in response to the creative content generated there. FoAM founders and collaborators Nik Gaffney and Maja Kumonovic not only contributed creative ideas, but picked up the ‘hard to do with a baby in your arms’ tasks like note taking and documenting. I am not sure what I would have done without any of them.

In my experience, working in the performing arts cannot by design be a selfish pursuit, so there has been no giant shift in life perspective now that I am responsible for a family. It goes without saying that without a sense of others in the world then collectives would fail, partnerships dissolve and collaborations would bomb. During my residency, Florence’s smile, giggle and attentive observation of the world were a delight.

All in all we arrived home with much gained. For Florence, a sense of herself in a larger world. For Miranda, that wherever I am I cherish her involvement in my work. For Matt, that creative collaboration is part of the glue of our relationship, whether that is formalized in an artistic collaboration or the creative stuff of flexible parenting. For me, high quality artmaking takes fabulous teams of people working together seamlessly; the same goes with creative parenting and a workable family life.

Family in Residence II: Adhocracy
The following year we trialled the Foam model at the art lab Adhocracy at Vitalstatistix in Port Adelaide, Australia. Here I found that my creative drive was by necessity directed into being active in daily life: cooking, playing with the children, caring for our plants and talking to our visitors. Whilst I was frustrated at not being able to focus on my work in a way I was used to, by bringing my domestic life with me and living the artistic questions that came up, I found a new method of working. We also had challenges with visibility. Our residency was the only event not reviewed, and there was little documentation taken of our presence by the arts organisation. This raised the question of whether a domestic space can be perceived as a public space and whether family life/ artistic work can possibly co-exist in the spectators’ expectations.  

Family in Residence III: Oratunga Sheep Station
Our most recent iteration of Artist-Family-in-Residence finished on the first week of November at Oratunga Sheep Station in the Flinders Rangers, facilitated through Open-Space. Here Matt, Florence and I were alone, without outside arts facilitators, at a large sheep station. Interestingly, though we were based in a house, domestics were not as in focus as the last residency, which was housed in an arts organisation. The home was not ours, and the landscape and weather immediately dominated our experience. Our presence as a family definitely softened our relationship with the larger community and, as in our first residency, Experiencing the world through Florence’s senses certainly heightened our observations of the world around us and fed into the richness and depth of our artistic enquiry. 

To Be Continued
I am still uneasy with my new method of artistic practice. Sitting alone researching, sorting, and speculating is an old habit to kick. However the Artist-Family model is similar to contemporary dance/ performance studio practice in the short time of practical creativity that comes after the millions of hours of planning, grant writing and imagining. Whilst you enter with a depth of knowledge and a handful of expectations, what happens ‘on the floor’ is what really matters. Managing energy, personalities, co-operation, and synergy of ideas becomes the main state of play. With a family this state of play is the full focus of the creative journey, and what is really exciting is that creative outcomes become grounded in family history.