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.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Mothernists, Rotterdam

Mothernists and children at Upominki - image courtesy of Weronika Zielinska

Last summer Cultural ReProducers took part in not one but two international gatherings exploring the role of motherhood in creative work. A little while ago we shared our report on Part I, the Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference in London, England. Now at last we're sharing Part II, on The Mothernists in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

From June 5th - 7th, 2015,  a group of artists, curators and scholars came together in Rotterdam to take part in The Mothernists, a remarkable three-day conference on cultural reproduction and creativity in caring labor.  The event was organized by the Dutch based m/other voices foundation, and sparked by the work of the Danish artist and writer Lise Haller Baggesen, whose recent book, “Mothernism” and its interconnected installation work reframe the language of the mother-artist.

a shared meal before the event at PrintRoom
In contrast to the large-scale Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference in London earlier the same week, the Mothernists was an intimate gathering, emphasizing the exchange of ideas. It featured thirteen presenters from eight countries, a gallery exhibition, a reading / book launch event, and a roundtable discussion, all free and open to the public. Since several presenters were invited to extend their stays in the region to present at both conferences, we had the chance to catch highlights we’d missed in London along with plenty of new material. The Mothernists also offered an important opportunity to process it all: over homemade meals and a shared bottle of ouzo, women from across Europe, Israel, and the Americas had some of the most complex and provocative conversations I’ve heard on artist-parenthood to date.

m/other voices began as a research project initiated by artist, writer, and curator Deirdre M. Donoghue in 2013, and has since developed into a full-fledged organization supporting critical writing, creative projects, and a range of events reflecting on the crucial role of the maternal figure as a thinker and maker. From the m/other voices website:

m/other voices considers maternity as a verb, as a type of labor, rather than as a noun pointing to
presenters at Printroom (from l to r: Lise Haller Baggesen, Karin de Jong,
Christa Donner, Deirdre Donoghue, and Andrea Francke.
a fixed, physiological state of being, the notion of maternity will be examined here as an attitude and as a discipline in the production of art and knowledge. 

This approach was present in every aspect of the conference, resulting in a unique hybrid of critical thought, generosity, and creative exchange. Active participants included not just mothers but also fathers, m/other voices followers, some of whom are not parents themselves, and caregivers of many kinds. Between presentations, participants were offered free massages by local doulas, those women skilled in caring for women first entering motherhood. And instead of congregating in a hotel, (m)other voices coordinated a network of local artists to host out-of-town visitors in their homes (and for a lucky few, a fully-outfitted camper van).

The Mothernists opened on Friday night with a potluck meal and a book launch/reading at PrintRoom, a vibrant bookstore and risograph workshop piled high with small-press, artist-made publications from around the world. Lise Haller Baggesen kicked off the evening with selections from “Mothernism”, followed by dynamic presentations by Andrea Francke on her project “The Invisible Spaces of Parenthood,” Christa Donner on “Propositions, Manifestos and Experiments,” and actress and writer Terri Hawkes on “Performing Motherhood.”

Andrea Francke (top) and mothernist doula care (bottom)
Saturday offered a full day of lectures by curators, writers, and artists including Natalie Loveless, Courtney Kessel, Irene Perez, Shira Richter, Rachel Epp Buller, Mirjam Westen, and many more. For those who couldn’t make it to Rotterdam, video of these presentations are now available online! The sessions took place at Lees Zaal West, a remarkable volunteer-run reading room, book exchange, and community event space created in response to the closure of many of the city’s local libraries.  The presentations were unified in supporting the vital role of motherhood in cultural work, though it is interesting to note that what this means may depend on where you live. The US is exceptionally poor in its support of working parents, with no paid maternity leave and a standard cost for childcare that often exceeds that of rent. In comparison, the Netherlands (as well as Denmark, Japan, Germany…) provides sliding-scale childcare and paid parental leave that encourage mothers to return to work. So while Dutch presenters focused on the re-valuing of maternal caregiving, American and British participants sought support in the form of supplemental childcare to find time for their work. Beyond this point, however, the stigmas and other challenges surrounding motherhood and career seem to be universal, profoundly impacting the type of cultural work that is produced, experienced, and supported both critically and financially.

In the evening, a group meal at the Ethiopian restaurant M'n Schoonmoeder or “My Mother-in-Law” offered space for further conversation before overflowing out and across the street to the nonprofit gallery Upominki for a richly interconnected exhibition curated by Gallery Director Weronika Zielinska, who we learned had just given birth to her second child just a few days before the opening!

The event closed on Sunday with an informal roundtable discussion to process the weekend’s events. There was a sense of urgency to the conversation, and a commitment to continue it in various forms. I packed my bags to return home feeling inspired, supported, and that with collaborators like these, a whole lot is possible. The revolution may happen slowly, organized via Skype after our children are in bed or off to school, but it’s underway. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Interview: Rusty Shackleford

Born in Montgomery, AL in 1978, Rusty Shackleford creates vibrant hybrid images that merge the oozing materiality of painting with the crisp flatness of digital media. His work is represented by Cindy Rucker Gallery in NYC, and has been reviewed in Modern Painters, Beautiful Decay, Flavorpill, NewCity and Art F City. He has been a resident at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Vermont Studio Center and Harold Arts.  He’s also the primary caregiver for his young daughter, Margot. While men and women increasingly share the work of parenting, the assumption persists that it will be mothers - not fathers - whose careers will be reconfigured as their partners return to work. This is not the case in Rusty's family: over the past two years his artistic practice has been shaped in part by the unpredictable time-space of intensive fatherhood, and we're very lucky to have him share his perspectives here. Keep an eye out for his recent projects in two upcoming exhibitions at the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art and at Glass Curtain Gallery, both in Chicago.

Cultural ReProducers: To start, tell us a little bit about your daughter.

Margot Rae Shackleford is a little over 2 years old. She is curious and hilarious. Open and accepting. Empathetic and fearless. She likes to jump off of things and dance. I have been her primary caregiver since she was 3 months old.

Cultural ReProducers: How have you found a workable balance between your artistic work and raising Margot? Any strategies you’d recommend to other artists in the same boat?

Well, honestly, I’m not sure that I have. I think I’ve just chosen to accept that things will always be evolving, and disorder is just the name of the game. I don’t take a lot for granted and when I get the chance to be in studio I try to be as efficient as possible. Every time I think I have some kind of structure nailed down something explodes in my face… whether if it’s by my own doing or life just giving me the finger.

Practically speaking, however, we hired a nanny for two mornings a week. This was really crucial and it allowed me to build a fairly consistent schedule. I would set up tasks that I could accomplish in a single sitting by focusing on making a specific number of images. I would just plow through them and try not to make judgements about the work until a couple of sessions afterward. I let the images sit and marinate and would edit them down later.

top: work in progress
bottom: Floating Orange (installation view)
image courtesy of SideCar Gallery
The problem was that this didn't leave a lot of room for play, which is super frustrating for me. This is something I am still working out. The nanny situation ended and we are now in the process of relocating the homestead to North Carolina. So as it goes, things are ever changing and I’m gonna roll with it and see what it brings.

If I could recommend anything, it would be to cut yourself some slack and don’t have expectations. Children have
their own personalities that you are going to have to adapt to. Try to be nimble and don’t burn it at both ends. Get rest and understand that it’s a process that takes time to figure out. Most likely you will feel a little crazy and that ol’ art guilt will set in. Most of the artist/parents that I know passed through some kind of darkness. It’s normal. Ride it out, keep swinging, and know that this is gonna make you a stronger artist in the end.

CR: Who have been your models for artist-parenting / parent-artisting?

There are so many! I think I associate more with artists who have kids than artists who don’t! Justin Witte and Olivia Schreiner, Heather Mekkelson, Selina Trepp, Craig Yu, and Cole Pierce. If I had to name a few who had an impact on me it would be these. It has been encouraging watching these artists deal with the challenges of parenting and making art. Everyone responds to it differently, but one solid characteristic that seems to connect them all is that everyone seems relentless. Just soldiers. Art is hard enough as is but making art and having kids puts another level on it. I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to glean information from their battles. We didn’t get to hang out a lot, but when we did I always walked away feeling recharged and a little wiser. Parenting can be isolating, and sometimes friends and colleagues drop away. Having a solid community to fall back on is really necessary, even if it's for short periods of time. 

 CR: Beyond time-management, has parenthood impacted your creative practice or the processes you employ in any unexpected ways? If so, how?

Not specifically. However, even though this might sound a little cliche, I absolutely love watching children draw. There is such a positive energy in their mark making. It really is pure. We have this chalkboard that Margot draws on and she just goes to town. Sometimes I’m really envious. It’s really made me want to draw more. To just let go and make marks. I’m hoping after I get through this move and the next couple of shows I can make some time for this. In the meantime though I’m really just enjoying watching Margot draw.

CR: How has fatherhood affected your own relationship with the art world and/or career? What kinds of barriers or expectations have you encountered that need to be addressed?

Rusty: Fatherhood has slowed me down a lot, in a positive way. There is a demand for presence and structure that has resonated well with me. It didn’t happen overnight and on occasion I fought it tooth and nail, but once I started to fully embrace it I found that a lot of the noise that was rummaging around in me started to subside. I am more aware of what I need to maximize my creativity now that
Margot is in my life. And also I’m just not as concerned with proving my creative abilities to everyone anymore. I have begun let go of strict notions of success, which I feel are terribly destructive to my creative process and spirit. I take more comfort in knowing that art is bigger than me and that I am in this for the long haul. So I have been focusing more on where art fits into this larger formula for my entire being.

work in progress
Also, detours have pretty much been a constant in my life. I have gone through a lot of mutations and changes in my career. Whether it was forsaking art altogether for a stint in undergrad or working a crappy day job 40-50 hours a week, my practice has been built around this sort of structure of resistance. Before my daughter was born, these roadblocks felt overwhelming and detrimental. I was pretty much ruled by anxiety because of them: I often worried about things like not getting into shows, not making enough work….you know, the typical BS that comes with the territory. I’m not saying that I don’t still have those anxieties, but my responses to them are much more measured. I have learned that ambition has its place but my practice is contingent on the stability and health of my family and my personal well-being, which is actually nurtured more from sources that are outside of art culture. I feel fatherhood brought about this revelation in me. It is also still very much unfolding.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Interview: Jill Miller

artist's rendering of 'the Getaway Van,' part of a new project by artists Jill Miller and Marianna Taylor.. a
Jill Miller is a visual artist who creates socially engaged art works centered on maternal practices and creativity. She has searched for Bigfoot in the Sierra Nevada, inserted herself into the art historical work of John Baldessari, engaged homeschooling as a lens for artistic production, and launched The Milk Truck, an eye-popping emergency vehicle for breastfeeding mothers, in Pittsburgh, PA. This year the Milk Truck gets a makeover as part of ArtReach Studios, a reinvention of the artist residency program created in collaboration with writer Marianna Taylor.

ArtReach is a radical revision of the artist residency that supports the creative work work of families, who are often excluded from typical residency opportunities. The project is fully mobile, incorporating both a vintage camper and the former Milk Truck, both fully outfitted with custom cabinetry, workspace, tools and materials. The project offers two innovative programs: a Family-in-Residence initiative fostering projects by artist-families working collaboratively with local neighborhoods, and the Getaway Van, offering 3-5 day micro-residencies for artists who are primary caregivers. ArtReach offers a level of support previously unheard-of, working with each artist to coordinate meals and childcare or eldercare so that residents can focus on their creative work. Needless to say, we’re pretty excited about this new project, and had plenty of questions for Jill about ArtReach, her life and work.

Body Configurations from the "Homeschooled" series
Cultural ReProducers: First off, could you briefly describe your kids in your own words?

Jill Miller:
Paxton, age 9, intense, brilliant, a better artist than I! Argo, age 5, incredible sense of humor and obsessed with sharks and other water animals. We gave him the right name.

CR: Your work has playfully engaged family life since your kids were very young. Who have been your role models for artist-parenting/parent artisting, or more broadly the intersection of art and everyday life?

I have been most influenced by feminist artists, especially groups like Mother Art, who made art about motherhood when that was not popular in the feminist art circles. I’m also influenced by Mary Kelly, who was my mentor in graduate school. And of course Mierle Ukeles, who was engaging in social practices before we had a name for it.

The Milk Truck mobile breastfeeding unit (top image)
in-progress view of its transformation for ArtReach residency (bottom)
CR: The Milk Truck tackled issues of harassment and access for nursing mothers. Your newest project, ArtReach, reframes the format of the traditional artist residency – something artists often feel is out of their grasp once they become parents - to create a program supporting the work of artists who are also caregivers. How did this project come about?

The true germination happened when my first child was born, just two years after I finished my MFA. I was exhibiting regularly until he was born. He was such an intense little human that I had to say no to a lot of opportunities that came up, and it became clear to me that the traditional model for an art career (travel, residencies) wasn’t going to work. Years later, when I met Marianna Taylor, who is my collaborator on this project, we started having conversations about motherhood and creative practices. She has an MFA in creative writing and an intense first child, so we connected over that. We talked for years about wanting other mothers to have a space for their work in a way that we didn’t.

CR: What's your own relationship to artist residencies, before and after having kids?

I never did the residency circuit the way some of my friends did. I always worked in the summers between the academic years, and then right after I graduated I had a faculty position lined up at the San Francisco Art Institute. I did a residency at Stanford when Paxton was about 9 months old, and it was nontraditional in the sense that I had access to the facilities and got to go to campus as many times as I wanted. It wasn’t immersive, but it was what I needed at the time.

Jill nursing in Pittsburgh's City Capitol building during
a proclamation of "Milk Truck Day" by the City Council
CR: Like a lot of artists raising kids, you wear many hats. How do you find a balance between parenting, teaching, and an art practice that now includes running a nonprofit?

It’s taken years to align family life with my creative practice and teaching. When I’m teaching, my classes cover social sculpture or critical, participatory artmaking, which is aligned with my own practice. They feed each other. When we do community events with the Family in Residence program at ArtReach, I can bring my kids and they can participate. My eldest son has some special needs, so my artwork has to be flexible to work with my family. It seems like right now things are coming together in this very wonderful way. But ask me next month and things may have completely fallen apart!

CR: Right now ArtReach focuses on artists based in the Bay Area. I know lots of artists will want to know: are there any plans to make it available to artists from outside of the region? Or is this a creative model you’d like to see other institutions expand upon?

We hope to bring the truck across the US next year after we’ve piloted the program in the SF East Bay. This will require additional fundraising, and we are looking for partner institutions. I’d love to see The Getaway Van take a Transamerican tour.

We'd love to see that happen, too! To learn more about the project visit the ArtReach residency website, donate to help support what they're doing, and if you’re near the Bay Area, be sure to apply.
inside the new ArtReach residency truck, with workspace, storage, and chalkboard walls.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Artist-Run Events: Mather Seerlo's Hair Fair at the Smart Museum of Art

Saturday, August 1st, 1-4pm
Mather Seerlo’s Hair Fair

The Smart Museum of Art

5550 S. Greenwood Ave, Chicago

Join Chicago’s Official Ambassador for Hair Affairs, Mather Seerlo, for an intergenerational event exploring hair and art in the courtyard of the Smart Museum of Art. Wearing a triangular wig of hair from his ancestors alongside hair-like materials found along the streets of Chicago, Mather Seerlo is the creative alter-ego of artist M.T. Searle. Let him be your guide during an afternoon of wonderfully surreal hair-art projects including hair-mop monoprints and giant collaborative wig helmets, free haircuts by local artists (first come first served), a hairdo contest (you bring the style, we'll bring the prizes), an artist-run photo booth, the sweet harmonies of a barbershop quartet wafting over the museum's courtyard, and so much more. At this festival, the first of its kind, (EVER) you’ll have the chance to create surprising new images and objects using real hair, wigs, and magazine clippings while enjoying the hairlike Greek treat kataifi.

The Smart Museum and Cultural ReProducers will also provide an outdoor play area for small children, complete with grass, blankets, and shade.

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This event is the final event of this summer's Cultural ReProducers Artist-Run Series: free, intergenerational happenings designed with artists throughout the city of Chicago, organized in conjunction with exhibitions, residencies, and other projects. These family friendly events aren’t just for kids. Parents, non-parents, and participants of all ages are welcome.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Artist-Run Events: Sonja Thomsen at DPAM

Saturday, July 18th
, 10 - 11:30am
Sonja Thomsen All-Ages Gallery Talk

the DePaul Museum of Art

935 W. Fullerton Ave, Chicago

In conjunction with the solo exhibition ‘Glowing Wavelengths in Between,’  Milwaukee-based multimedia artist and mother Sonja Thomsen leads a family friendly gallery tour of her multifaceted photographs, sculpture and installation. Thomsen draws upon extensive experimentation and research into optical phenomena to create a layered body of work engaging “the very physicality of seeing.”  Thomsen’s studio processes, the optical qualities of her work, and the Saturday morning timing of this event (the museum opening its doors earlier than usual) will appeal to all ages.

You're also invited to join us for an informal artist reception with light refreshments will follow the talk. Space will be available for nursing mothers and families who need a break at any time during the event.

This event is part of the Cultural ReProducers Artist-Run Series: free, intergenerational happenings designed with artists throughout the city of Chicago, organized in conjunction with exhibitions, residencies, and other projects. These family friendly events aren’t just for kids. Parents, non-parents, and participants of all ages are welcome.

installation view, Sonja Thomsen: Glowing Wavelengths In Between,  image credit: Kendall McCaugherty