Friday, December 20, 2013

Residency Report: Dylan Miner at the Santa Fe Art Institute, New Mexico



work in progress in Dylan Miner's SFAI studio
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.

Because of the relevance of the Santa Fe Art Institute's new Family Residency Initiative, we're pleased to feature a special dual report from Dylan Miner and Helen Knowles, two artists who were among the first to participate in the program. Here the artist, activist, curator and historian Dylan Miner shares his perspective.


This past summer, I spent time at the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) as both an Artist-in-Residency (AiR) and Visiting Artist (VA).  SFAI has an interesting two-tier system that invites a Visiting Artist each month.  The VAs give a public lecture, receive a small stipend, and usually hang a solo exhibition. The AiRs are selected from a pool of invited artists, as well as those who apply for a residency.  Once at SFAI, both residents and visiting artists have the same access and privileges.
Since I was both an AiR during July and a Visiting Artist during August, I was able to string together two residencies with a brief family trip in the middle.  As artists with children know, trying to do a residency can be quite difficult while trying to balance family obligations.  While some residencies will allow families, most specifically ask that artists not bring their families.  Those that are more open are not generally equipped to handle the extra needs of children or artists with children.  I have even experienced, on occasion, situations when artists without children were unkind to those who did bring family.  After all, a residency places various individuals in an immersive residential experience.

I have always been interested in letting my daughters experience the positive and negative

realities of being an artist.  My partner, Prof. Estrella Torrez, and I have always felt that our daughters (Reina, age 15 and Mexica Tiahui, age 11) should be integrated into all aspects of our lives. Reina was born when we were young undergraduate students and Mexica born during graduate school. As parents we have always desired to include our children in our academic and artistic lives.

It is common for me to use the small stipends I receive from exhibitions and lecture to purchase extra plane tickets so that my children and partner can be involved in my life as an artist.  Much of this has to do with my artistic practice, which focuses heavily on social justice and employs cross-generational pedagogy as an artistic mode. While exhibiting in Australia in 2012, the four of us traveled across Queensland working with urban and rural Indigenous communities.  That same year Estrella traveled with me for a solo exhibition in Tromsø, Norway, where I exhibited in a gallery in a building owned by the Sámi Reindeer Herder’s Association.   Unfortunately, Reina and Mexica were unable to attend because of their school schedules (their grandparents stayed with them while Estrella and I were in the Arctic).  On each of these experiences, traveling and working as a family was paramount to the artwork itself.
I share this information because I think it is crucial that residencies like the Santa Fe Art Institute offer space for artists with children.  Chiracahua Apache curator Nancy Mithlo writes about the way that Indigenous arts infrastructures offer collective and mutually-beneficial components that do not exist in the mainstream.  For Mithlo, this Indigenous practice includes ‘work that is long-term, mutually meaningful, reciprocal, and with mentorship—all collective constructs.’[i]  Inherent in these Indigenous constructs are multi-generational practices.  For me, including my children in my practice is part-and-parcel to my identity as an Indigenous person.  For SFAI to create a space where artists can live and work with their families is one of the most powerful decisions that the institution could make.  For this, we must former Residency Director Katie Avery (Iñupiaq) who advocated that SFAI try a residency just for artists and their children.

During our month long family residency there were four residents who brought 1-2 children each.  Two of us also had our partners stay with us for parts of the residencies.  Importantly, SFAI conducts arts education camps during the summer and allowed the residents’ children to attend for free.  This decision was doubly meaningful.  It meant that artists could work for 6-8 hours while their children were also working on arts projects.  This established long-term relationships between the children, who still stay in contact via social media.  The children would hang out in the evenings, using the Institute’s computers or walking to the gym facilities on the university campus where SFAI is located.  All said, this left lots of time in the evening for exploration and family time, as well as time for the children to play together and the residents to develop projects relationships.  Meals were often communal, which felt open and not a requirement.  I have been in residencies where this felt like a burden more than a privilege.  During the family residency, it was definitely time well spent. 


Since I stayed for the family residency as well as returning without my family for a shorter stay as the AiR, I was shocked to recognize the very real group dynamics that existed between the different residences, even in the same institution. I am always surprised at the way that group dynamics develop and during my three residencies at SFAI can say, without a doubt, that the family residency was the most enjoyable.

The rooms are comfortable, while the studios are quite large.  SFAI offers two vehicles for resident usage. Santa Fe and nearby Albuquerque are great places to stay and work on one’s art.  As a printmaker, it would have been nice to have access to a print studio, and access to large-scale digital printers would likewise been beneficial.  That said, the staff at SFAI were great, and their willingness not only to accommodate families but to make us feel welcome was something that SFAI must be commended for.

[i] Nancy Mithlo (2012).  ‘No Word for Art in Our language?: Old Questions, New Paradigms.’ Wicazo Sa Review (Spring), 120.

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Dylan Miner (Métis) is Associate Professor at Michigan State University, where he coordinates a new Indigenous Contemporary Art Initiative. He holds a PhD from the University of New Mexico and has published more than fifty journal articles, book chapters, critical essays and encyclopedia entries. In 2010, he was awarded an Artist Leadership Fellowship from the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian Institution). Since 2010, he has been featured in thirteen solo exhibitions and been artist-in-residence at institutions such as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, École supérieure des beaux-arts in Nantes and Santa Fe Art Institute. His work has been the subject of articles in publications including ARTnews, Indian Country Today, First American Art Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian and Chicago Sun-Times. Miner is descended from the Miner-Brissette-L’Hirondelle-Kennedy families with ancestral ties to Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, Prairies and subarctic regions.

Residency Report: Helen Knowles at the Santa Fe Art Institute, New Mexico

Helen Knowles and family in Santa Fe, NM
Residency Report is an ongoing series of posts from artists who've undertaken creative residencies with their families. Find out about programs that support artists with kids, and see how other artist-parents balance the residency experience.
Because of the relevance of the Santa Fe Art Institute's new Family Residency Initiative, we're pleased to feature a special dual report from Dylan Miner and Helen Knowles, two artists who were among the first to participate in the program. Here artist and curator Helen Knowles shares her experience at SFAI:
I travelled from the UK to the wild west of America last June and July to carry out a research project and a family artist residency at the SFAI in Santa Fe. Originally, I happened to find myself in this part of the world when I travelled there in 2012 to meet and interview the artist Judy Chicago, and to hand-carry back to the UK two art works from her 1980’s Birth Project which she had donated to the Birth Rites Collection I curate. I immediately found myself in awe of the landscape and the people, the vast open spaces and Native culture. It was this experience that catapulted me to actually apply to the SFAI as I heard that they were thinking about a new kind of residency whereby we artists could bring along our families. Well that seemed like an absolute first in the art world!

The Birthing of Azheyo Aeoro, from the YouTube Series
I managed to fund the trip through an Arts Council England grant to carry out the project Birth Online:Birth Offline, a cross-cultural participatory arts project exploring varying communities contemporary and shifting perspectives on birth in the digital age. Over the past ten years childbirth has become increasingly visible via television, print and online media. Women’s need to document and publish their own birth on online platforms has exploded and I wanted to meet with Native women and midwives to see how they might feel about this phenomena. I have also been working here in the UK with communities around the northwest of England and elsewhere to gauge their responses and ideas about birth in the digital age. This work is directly linked to a recent body of work which I produced called Youtube Portraits series whereby I appropriated imagery from the vast library of birth films found online to create seven large-scale screenprints. Exposing a screen with a digital projector, I created images that oscillate between the figurative and abstraction. By selecting footage that portrays the women’s euphoria, I captured the intense emotion through a heightened colour contrast, challenging the separation between women as mothers and women as sexual entities.

Native-American birth imagery etched into the Puye Cliffs
The point of this research in the US was to find material and ideas for a new exhibition of artwork on the subject. What was so incredible about being at the Santa Fe Arts Institute was the opportunity to meet other artists and their families and learn more about American culture and Native culture by living and working alongside the adults and kids. The super modernist space of the Institute was inspiring and practical. On arrival we were given our rooms: the kids were able to share a fantastic double room right next to me and my partner Ivan’s room. Our studios were allotted around the other side of the central quad to our living quarters. Huge and airy – quite unlike anything I have ever used in the UK bar my initial studio when I was student at the  Glasgow School of Art.

But the best thing ever (and I say this not because I wanted time away from my kids) was that Olaf and Leo were genuinely excited every day to attend the summer school. Each morning we would wake up with the New Mexico sunshine and eat breakfast around the table with all the families, it was comical to see how we all parented our kids! Then there would be a period of time where all the kids ran around the giant space together, sometimes climbing the trees in the quad, sometimes teaching each other how to use Instagram, sometimes skating on the near-perfect concrete pavements just outside the centre.  Around 9.30 am we would share in taking the whole cohort across Santa Fe to the where the summer camp was based. Amazingly, the Institute also had a fleet of cars we could use and this was an absolute life-saver. This meant I was free from about 9.30am to about 4.30pm to explore the landscape and meet up with various individuals. And frankly, despite an incredible studio, having the chance to be out in that desert is what really stays with me. In the evenings after dinner either in or outside of the centre, when all children were finally shattered from all their hip hop, puppetry, installation making and dance, I would saunter along to my studio in the evening quiet.

Being around other artists who are similarly parents was particularly conducive as we all connected with each other fundamentally. The staff at SFAI were also brilliant and seemed to enjoy the probably quite different atmosphere of having families around. Above all, it was the opportunity to spend an extended length of time abroad without having to be away from my family. I felt proud to have given them that experience and know it will stay with them as much as it has stayed with me.

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Helen Knowles (b.1975) is an artist and curator of Birth Rites Collection.  She studied at Glasgow School of Art and lives and works in Manchester. Recent exhibitions include; 'Private View : Public Birth', GV Art, London, Women’s Art Library, Kingsway Corridor Programme, Goldsmiths University (2013); Life is Beautiful’, Galerie Deadfly, Berlin (2012); Digital Romantics, Dean Clough Gallery (2012) and Walls are Talking, Whitworth Art Gallery (2010). A recipient of awards from Arts Council England, The Amateurs Trust and winner of The Great Art Prize, Neo Art Prize (2012). Her work is held in public and private collections including The Whitworth Art Gallery, Tate Library and Archive, Museum of Motherhood, New York and Birth Rites Collection, Joan Flasch Artist Book Collections, Gallery Oldham and MMU Special Collections. Helen has carried out artist residencies at Jodrell Bank Science Centre in 1999-2001 as part of the setting up scheme, AA2A at UCLAN in 2002 and recently she went to New Mexico in the summer of 2013 to carry out a research project called Birth Online: Birth Offline and to undertake an artist residency at the Santa Fe Arts Insititute.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Participate: Artists Raising Kids Project


Here's a chance to exchange artist-parenting experience with artists from everywhere: Artists U, a free professional resource for artists working in any discipline, is working to compile a free PDF booklet of advice and parenting hacks by and for artists raising kids, and they want to hear from you. Click HERE to participate through their short, two-question survey.

For those of you in or near Philadelphia, PA, this survey will also be part of an upcoming workshop and conversation on Artists Raising Kids next week! Here's more information on the event:

Artists U will host a workshop/conversation
for artists raising kids AND artists thinking of having kids
. Come together with other artists for a look at challenges and possibilities raising kids as a working artist.This is not a gripe session. We will look realistically at the challenges facing artist parents, always with an eye toward possibility and solutions.

Artists Raising Kids Workshop
Monday, December 2, 5:00 pm-8:00pm
Christ Church Neighborhood House
N. American St and Filbert St, Philadelphia 19106
RSVP here (and let us know how many kids/what ages you will bring)
Artist Parent? Take our two question survey to help us gather information for the workshop
Childcare and Pizza will be provided!

UPDATE: you can now find a report from this event and a link to the free, downloadable booklet right HERE.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Interview: Lenka Clayton

Lenka attempts a portable "walking studio" with Otto
Lenka Clayton considers, exaggerates, and reorganizes the accepted rules of everyday life, extending the familiar into the realms of the poetic and absurd. In 2012, after the birth of her first child, Lenka founded An Artist Residency in Motherhood: a structured, fully-funded artist residency that takes place inside her own home and life as a mother of two young children. For the duration of the residency she has embraced the fragmented mental focus, exhaustion, nap-length studio time and countless distractions of parenthood as well as the absurd poetry of time spent with young children as her working materials and situation, rather than obstacles to be overcome. Lenka's work been shown internationally, including at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; FRAC Le Plateau, Paris; Kunsthalle St. Gallen, Switzerland and the Tehran International Documentary Festival, Iran. She was recently named Emerging Artist of the Year by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Lenka's work is smart, engaging, full of humor, and incredibly important. We're so very pleased to interview her here.

CR: Briefly describe your kids in your own words:

Lenka:
Otto is two and a half. He is interested in order and with it creates chaos. His books are in piles (divided by read/not read yet, or by size, or type, or providence; “from Davey”, from the “toy shop”, etc). Downstairs, long lines of cars wind around the living room in traffic jams, each driven by a different animal or small object. He is crying now because he doesn’t want to nap.

Early is six months old. She is wide-eyed and wide-grinned. She needs only four hours of sleep a night and is woken by the faintest wing-flappings of birds outside. She recently sat in her car seat crammed in a New York City subway carriage in the rush hour with the quiet contemplation of the Dalai Lama. She is crying now also.

CR: How did you decide to undertake a “Residency in Motherhood?” Did it develop entirely out of the postpartum experience, or was it percolating before that?

Maternity Leave (installation view)
Lenka: An Artist Residency in Motherhood is the second project I’ve made that takes questions and conflicts I experienced around parenting and working as an artist and uses them as a structure to work within. The first, Maternity Leave, started before Otto was born and was carried out when he was between 2 and 5 months old. It consisted of a live audio feed from a microphone placed above his cot that was transmitted directly into the Carnegie Museum and broadcast in an empty gallery, via a white plastic baby-monitor. For the duration of the exhibition the museum publicly paid me the weekly equivalent of the government benefit the “Maternity Allowance” that freelance artist parents receive in England, where I’m from.

The idea for An Artist Residency in Motherhood developed out of this project. It started when Otto was one and I was pregnant with Early but didn’t know yet. It took a while for the idea to fully reveal itself, then a while longer to secure the funding (from The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Sustainable Art Foundation) that I needed both to buy myself the time and resources to carry it out as well as to “legitimize” the project as a real residency.

CR: You note in your artist’s statement something that resonates with most of us: “I find now that many aspects of the professional art world are closed to artists with families.” What changes or alternative structures would you most like to see in the art world?

Lenka: I would like that young women absolutely committed to developing their careers as artists who also want kids to not feel like they had to choose between being a serious, engaged artist and being a (serious, engaged!) parent. For that decision to not even occur to them, as it hasn’t for so many generations of young men. Whatever structures, role-models, and cultural shifts that it takes to make that occur.


Early in the studio
CR: Who have been your role models for artist-parenting / parent-artisting?

Lenka: I think the lack of role models that I found while I was pregnant and home with young kids (still) is what created An Artist Residency in Motherhood, and especially projects within it such as Mother’s Days. That project, a collection of one hundred accounts of everyday life by one hundred mothers around the world, came from a real sense of isolation I was feeling, and a realization that the things I wanted to talk about or hear about weren’t what I was hearing other people talking about. I am interested in the tiny details, the routines, the furious love and surprising rage, the poetry of time with people learning to talk, and the monologues that adults alone with kids narrate to themselves all day long. One of the women who took part in Mother’s Days describes googling “Husband doesn’t share nighttime baby." Another googled “benefits of working moms vs. stay at home moms." It is beautiful to me to know this. I am interested in the questions, confusion and poetry around parenting and working as an artist. I found lots of answers to things but relate to the uncertainty more and didn’t come across role models for that.

CR: One of the goals of your residency is to publish the experience as sort of a blueprint for other artist-parents. How has this document evolved, particularly once child number two arrived on the scene? 

studio window
Lenka: The website is the blueprint. It records the foundations of the residency, my process, studio practice, funders and manifesto as well as the responses of others to it. It is slowly evolving. Since Early was born, even more so (slowly). I’m still doing the same amount of thinking, it just takes me longer and longer to find a pen.

My goal now at the end of the residency in May 2014 is to pass it on to two other parents who are dealing with parenting and trying to maintain and develop their practice. The residency will take the form of a small grant and website space. At the end of both their tenures, they will pass the residency on to two further artist/parents each, and so on and so on, forever.

CR: Any strategies or advice you’d pass on to new parents struggling to maintain a creative practice while raising a family?
from the series "Dangerous Objects Made Safer"

Lenka: There is so much advice, that is one of the problems. How you choose to or are able to navigate babyland and keep a studio practice going has so much to do with personal circumstances. Our current situation is that my husband Seth (also a ceramic artist) works as a freelance carpenter and also currently teaches in the week, and I look after the kids and do occasional paid gigs. At the weekend we try to take one day each as a studio day. The conflicts I personally feel about my roles are both an essential part of my experience and a limitation that I love and also complain about often. I’m much happier having this situation be my material to work with though, rather than something that stops me working.

Otto looking at madonna and child
Some of my tricks are – to try to have a feeling of things going on in the world when I’m unable to be in the studio. In my studio time on a Sunday I order materials, or write up an idea, or post new work online, or apply for an opportunity. Over the week when I’m with the kids I daydream about these things going on behind the scenes. I meet one dear artist friend every week to check in about our art progress which helps me focus on the things I’ve done, and not all the millions of things I haven’t. I try to write a little every few days to capture thoughts that are otherwise lost in a sleep-deprived haze. I let a lot of things be unfinished, or uncertain. I have a lot of projects in my "to do one day" file.

In moments of despair and having no time at all, when I can’t remember what I’m doing or why, I like to think of the millions of other mothers covered in sick all around the world at the exact same moment too. Read Mother’s Days! That helps, I promise. And of course, remember Kurt Vonnegut’s famous phrase “and this too shall pass”. I had a rubber stamp made with that written on, for those kind of moments.

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An Artist Residency in Motherhood is funded by the Robert C. Smith Fund and the Betsy R. Clark Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation & The Sustainable Art Foundation. It is also supported in kind by Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.





Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Residency Report: Frans Masereel Centrum, Belgium

Cultural ReProducers introduces Residency Report: an ongoing series of posts from artists who've undertaken creative residencies with their families. Find out about programs that support artists with kids, and see how other artist-parents balance the residency experience. 

Artist Laura Berman kicks off this series with her report from the Frans Masereel Centrum in Belgium:

In the fall of 2011, my husband and our 19-month-old son accompanied me for a three-week artist residency at Frans Masereel Centrum in Kasterlee, Belgium. We arrived in late August, thankfully missing the summer crowds. FMC was about half-full during our stay, with resident artists traveling from France, Italy, Canada, Brussels and Antwerp.

Frans Masereel was an influential Flemish graphic artist who published woodcut books and illustrations throughout his life, and Frans Masereel Centrum honors the spirit of his work to support contemporary graphic arts. Resident artists at FMC often have printmaking backgrounds and specific projects to execute in print media. Working in a media-specific setting gives the artists uninterrupted studio time and FMC does a great job staggering their artists’ schedules so that only 1-2 artists are using studio areas concurrently and everyone has plenty of room.

FMC has excellent printmaking facilities with multiple and extensive areas for resident artists, technicians available for questions about the studio or equipment, and a gallery on-site. Production and focus came easy to me at FMC, and I was supported, comfortable and creative during my entire time there.

The center is located on the outskirts of  Kasterlee, a picturesque town in the Northeastern corner of Belgium. Each artist receives an A-frame house on the premises of FMC, as well as dedicated use of a bicycle during their stay. There are ten houses for artists and each is simple and straightforward with two bedrooms, two studio/drawing areas, a lounge area, outside porch, full kitchen and bath. Laundry facilities are on-site in the silkscreen studio and there is a large courtyard deck between all of the houses for potluck dinners and other meetings. Because the houses each have two bedrooms (and 4 beds total), artists can bring their family, collaborator, or even a grandparent.

Every day I worked in the studio from 9am-12pm while my husband and son shared adventures in and around FMC. We spent lunch together as a family, and I got our son’s nap underway before returning to studio for the afternoon. At 4pm I relaxed and played with our son for a couple of hours while my husband took a daily bike ride to Kasterlee to grocery shop and have time to himself. We shared evening duties, taking turns cooking, playing, and visiting with other artists. Because FMC is a federal program, the studios close precisely at 8pm each night, with lights and power turning off automatically. We enjoyed this structured schedule because it benefitted our toddler, and also because the residents work and play on similar schedules, so socializing after hours was inevitable and easy.

Much of our time at FMC was spent outdoors. Our son explored every porch, bush, tree, rock and pine needle on the premises. He met and enjoyed everyone who was there, artists and staff alike. Behind our house at FMC was a pasture with a horse, across the street was a cornfield growing high, and behind the screenprinting studio was a path that led to  “Kabouterberg,” a nearby-forested park we visited often – sometimes even twice a day. This park was a world onto itself, containing sand dunes, enormous trees with aerial roots that kids could climb on and into, ice cream trucks at every cross path, open areas for resting and playing, and small statues of gnome-like goblins peppered throughout. Kasterlee is a self-declared “ideal destination for children”, and in my family’s experience this was certainly true.

Our time at Frans Masereel Centrum was simultaneously productive, relaxing and bonding, and inspired us to create a small and private artist’s retreat of our own this year in Matfield Green, Kansas, named Matfield Outpost. We are renovating the 8-acre property this winter, and plan to open for artists/visitors and their families in the spring of 2014. The town of Matfield Green (pop. 46) is nestled in an art-friendly community in the geographically distinctive Flint Hills region of Kansas. In and around the region are countless flowers, grasses, rocks, clouds and stars for people big and small to explore through creativity and connection.

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Laura Berman's color-saturated works investigate the relationships and recombination of forms tied to her nomadic history of endless relocation and travel. She has exhibited her work at numerous galleries and museums around the country and internationally, and is an Associate Professor of Printmaking at the Kansas City Art Institute. To see more of her work, visit www.laurabermanprojects.com

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Guy Ben-Ner at the MCA and beyond

stills from Guy Ben-Ner's video, "Stealing Beauty" (2007)
The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibition Homebodies closes on October 13th, and with it a chance to see curator Naomi Beckwith’s multifaceted and thoroughly engaging look at the concept of “home” through the work of more than 30 artists from six continents. If you haven't seen it yet, go.

The show features some important early feminist works addressing domesticity (including Martha Rosler’s deadpan “Semiotics of the Kitchen” and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ “Washing/Tracks/Maintenance”), but given its thematic focus you'll find it surprisingly hard to find any work in Homebodies that references child-rearing. The void of parenthood exists even here, in part a reminder that while the tension between women’s domestic roles and art careers may have diffused some since the 1970s, it still impacts the kinds of work we make.

The two works in the show that do address parenting by the artists themselves are both by dads: a group of playful interactive installations by Alberto Aguilar (interviewed for Cultural ReProducers here), and Israeli artist Guy Ben-Ner’s video, 'Stealing Beauty,' which I’d been wanting to see for a long time.

Guy Ben-Ner became a father while he was still an art student, an event that profoundly
still from House Hold (2001)
impacted his life and his art practice. In an unpublished interview with artist Boaz Arad, he said “I had to choose between being a bad father away from home a lot, and being a good father, staying at home and making concessions. To work at home is a type of compromise.”  His feelings about these compromises are clearly mixed, as evidenced by work like 'House Hold' (2001), in which Ben-Ner films himself trapped under a crib by his kids. Nonetheless his family has become an integral part of his work, their presence adding complexity and humor to his explorations of exile, property, and private versus public space.

In 'Stealing Beauty' (2007), currently on view as part of the Homebodies exhibition, the artist and his family take over the display rooms of an IKEA store as the stage set for their own awkward anarchist sitcom. Filmed with hidden cameras and without permission, the fictionalized family in Stealing Beauty argues issues of ownership, inheritance and authority around stylish dining room tables and living room couches with the price tags dangling and shoppers browsing around them. After a series of scenes in which Ben-Ner’s capitalist patriarch is challenged by his family, the son and daughter deliver an earnest manifesto, urging viewers to steal both public and private property.

It’s hard to imagine a similar project being undertaken with anyone but the artist’s own family. For one thing, how would you negotiate such a project with anyone else’s kids? The presence of children here adds charm and also an edge of discomfort. What do the children make of all this? How do they feel about participating in such a public spectacle? It's worth noting that a woman artist making similar work would probably be criticized for being a delinquent mother.

Ben-Ner is now divorced (a process also documented in his work) and has a third child with his current partner. His recent video 'Soundtrack,' which recently screened at Chicago’s Aspect Ratio, features his toddler gleefully responding to fire, broken dishware, and other domestic disasters created in tandem with the opening soundtrack of the film "the War of the Roses." The work also includes great performances by his older two kids, now both in their teens. They all seem to be having an awful lot of fun. In a complicated sort of way, Guy Ben-Ner’s work demonstrates that while there are plenty of risks and challenges, making art while parenting can be a satisfying and fruitful endeavor.

excerpts from Guy Ben-Ner's "Stealing Beauty"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cultural ReProducers Event Series

It's official -- Cultural ReProducers has been awarded a grant from the Propeller Fund to support a series of four exciting art events at art spaces throughout Chicago in 2014!
weekend artist lecture or event (kids welcome)
FREE on-site child care with related creative activities
All-ages reception afterwards

If raising children who value and engage with art benefits not only them but also culture as a whole, then raising such children is a profound cultural act in itself. Despite this, both young children and parents are usually left out of the dialogue of the art community because of how its institutions structure the possibility of participation.

The Cultural ReProducers Event Series is a simple project that allows parents with small children participate more actively in the art community. We'll host events at four different art venues throughout the city on Saturday mornings, during hours that make it possible for most families with small children to attend. 

We're working with each venue to curate an exciting lecture, performance, or other event in conjunction with their existing programming.
Unlike your average adult art event, free professional child care will be provided throughout the event in a nearby room, with creative activities linked to the event their parents are attending. There will be a limit of 18 kids in the child care area at each venue, but parents are also free to keep their kids with them - and of course non-parents are also welcome. Each event is followed by an informal all-ages reception with light refreshments, allowing for the possibility of dialogue, connection, and tasty snacks.

Our goal is twofold: to give parents and their kids the chance to participate as critical members of the arts community, and also to inspire cultural institutions to better serve artists and audiences, providing positive models for future programming.  

 If you have ideas about venues or events you'd like to see us partner with in 2014, please be in touch! You can follow posts about upcoming and past events in the series HERE.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Playground Party and the Terrain Biennial

Last weekend Cultural ReProducers held its first two public events, so here's a quick recap for those who couldn't make it:

Saturday was our informal Playground Party at Chicago’s Winnemac Park, on what turned out to be one of the most sunny and beautiful days of the year. About 20 parents showed up for this cultural worker playdate, with kids ranging in age from seven weeks to 6 years old. It was lovely to relax, play, and talk with many interesting people in one place, including curators, gallerists, radio and podcasters, and artists of all kinds. Matt Baron from the indie children’s band Future Hits even stopped by to talk with potential collaborators and hand out flyers for upcoming shows. We look forward to more events like this in the coming months. Let us know if you'd like to help organize one in your area!

The very next day, we hit the opening block party of the Terrain Biennial, where we were invited to host an hour-long Optimistic Architecture workshop as a part of fellow Cultural ReProducer Alberto Aguilar’s Minivan BOOTH project. The weather was undeniably lousy: cold rain poured down from morning til late afternoon. But that didn’t stop a good crowd of enthusiastic biennial-goers from coming out anyway. Everyone mingled over popcorn and potluck inside the home of artist and organizer Sabina Ott, and chatted around Robert Gero’s porch-specific installation out front. Claire Ashley’s gigantic inflated sculpture made the gray street outside more colorful even if the rain thwarted its planned performances. Given the weather, we weren’t expecting much of a turnout at our BOOTH, but the sight of homemade playdough and drawing materials drew a steady stream of participants -– parents, non-parents, and lots of kids -- all crowded under a tarp and various propped umbrellas to stay dry. The speculative architecture premise was quickly lost in the excitement of making pretend food and animals and then squishing them, but the conversation was great, and we got one excellent proposal for a structure featuring art about the Avengers, designed by the young son of a museum curator.


Want to join us next time? Want to help plan or host an event near you? Get in touch and ask to join our mailing list: culturalreproducers @ gmail.com

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Suburban Peculiarity For a Teen

There always seems to be some amount of angst out there that the passionate pursuit of artistic interests will somehow damage one's kids. In reading up on The Suburban, the legendary independent artspace run by artists Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam in their suburban back yard, I came across this lovely short essay written by their oldest son, Peter, about growing up surrounded by art and artists. It seemed an appropriate thing to share here:

One of the first things my Advanced Placement European History teacher, who I have grown to thoroughly respect, said to us, came in a class discussion about about the children of historical figures. "I want each of you to go home and thank your parents for not being artists," she said. "The children of artists are the ones who lose their minds, fall into madness or commit suicide, and I wouldn't want any of you to turn out that way."

Her commentary was obviously striking: I am not only the child of two artists, but I am constantly surrounded by art and its supplementary activities (its viewing, selling, and making). The nucleus of this part of my life lies in the tiny yellow building formerly attached to my garage. My parents call it The Suburban.

photo by Zachary Johnson from his  Suburban review and interview
The Suburban is a social peculiarity that I have not yet learned to cope with. Since its conception in my preteens, The Suburban has created a varying array of effects on my life, the majority being positive. I have dissected my entire record collection with a British artist named Simon, I have shared fruity non-alcoholic drinks with my friend Sam at a fully functional tiki-bar-cum-art-installation, and developed to some degree, an understanding of what constitutes contemporary art.

However, life within intimate proximity to an art gallery is not entirely beneficial for a self-conscious teenager and his ten-year old brother. While awkwardness does arise when sharing a house with half-a-dozen large, unshaven Scandinavians, the major difficulty of living with The Suburban is explaining the idea and function of it to the more traditionally "suburban" mothers of my friends.
"Were your parents throwing a party at your house on Saturday?"
Yes, it was an art opening."
At this point I try to convince her that The Suburban is a serious pursuit of my parents, and that is has a "real" significance in the art-world. What this significance is I do not know.
Among my peers, The Suburban has brought me neither recognizable fame, (I can't imagine "My garage is also an art gallery" would serve as a successful pick-up line) nor overwhelming scorn. My general rule is to discuss the gallery and its work only with close friends or those who question what "The Suburban" means on our household's telephone answering machine prompt. My reasoning for this is simple; debates about the artistic merit of a fictional Swedish Citizen Recruitment Center are not something I enjoy taking part in, let alone fully understanding.

Because of The Suburban and my parents' choice of career and life style, I have seen and learned to appreciate art on levels unknown to my peers. From Marfa, Texas, to Budapest, I have traveled the world to see it. I have eaten bratwurst in my yard with those who make it. I have traded my bedroom away for weeks to Englishmen for duty-free tubes of Toblerone chocolate. For this uncommon exposure, it should have been the request of my history teacher to come home and thank my parents for becoming artists.

- Peter Ribic

Interview: Michelle Grabner

There’s hardly an area of cultural production that Michelle Grabner isn’t immersed in: for starters, she's an accomplished artist whose work has garnered international acclaim over the past 25 years. She also happens to be co-curator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial. She is the co-founder and director of two remarkable independent art spaces with her husband and fellow artist, Brad Killam: The Suburban, a tiny and vibrant art venue located in the backyard of their home for well over a decade… and Poor Farm, an artist residency and publishing program in rural Wisconsin. Since 1996, she has been a professor in the Department of Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her critical writing has been published in Artforum, X-tra, Frieze, and Modern Painters. She has parented through pretty much all of it (her two oldest children are now adults), and generously shared her perspectives with us.

CR: Tell us a little bit about your kids, who I realize are no longer all “kids” per-se…

Michelle: Well my youngest is still a kid. Ceal (8 yrs old) is in the third grade and she is the love of my life. I was older when she was born so my theory is that her easy-going, sweet and eager-to-please disposition was culled from the fact that she realized early on that I wasn’t willing or capable of entertaining any sassy antics in my old age.

My second kid, Oliver (20 yrs old) is in his junior year at Northland College in Ashland WI. He is the kid with the big empathic heart but he also finds himself in loads of trouble as he challenges every injustice that crosses his path. However he is maturing and I trust he will have a great hand in social change when he learns to direct his profound sense of fairness at the true injustices in our world.

Oliver is also a Kantian, so says my oldest son, Peter (25 yrs old). Peter is a PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is writing his dissertation on the concept of planetarity. Do ask me to explain it, all I know is it is not the same as globalism. As the oldest he has always been dutiful but despite his academic inclinations, he is still an NFL fan.

CR: You’re critical of existing art world structures and as a result have done a lot of creative reconfiguring on your own terms, particularly through the art spaces you run with your husband, Brad Killam. Has the experience of motherhood impacted your ideas about the art world? If so, what decisions were made in response? 

Michelle: Indeed. Raising children since 1987 meant that we had to invent structures where the outside world would come to us. The Suburban is a good example of that. Artists come to our house in Oak Park to make an exhibition every 7-8 weeks. And they have for the past 15 years. The Poor Farm, our other project space is down the dirt road from our cottage in Northeastern WI. We spend much of our summers in WI so we joined art with our rural life. Basically we attached art and artists to a very conventional family model — nothing extraordinary, a Midwestern, middleclass, K-12 relationship to the artworld.

CR: I’m really curious to hear more about CAR (Conceptual Artists Research), the collaborative you formed with your husband and two young sons in the early ‘90’s. Could you describe that process, and the kinds of projects that came out of it?

Michelle: Brad came out of UIC in the early 90s. I graduated with an MFA from Northwestern. Pregnant with Oliver, we decided to move to Milwaukee for a more manageable and affordable life as young artists with a young family. Cast far from our peers and the discourse we became accustomed to in school, we started working together on conceptual projects. To be more specific we examined the family as a social structure, the aesthetics of childhood development, and the pressures of consumption on families and kids. I remember CAR doing a two-person summer show with David Hartt at Zolla-Leiberman right out of school. At that time our boys were starting to consume the Goosebump book series (the popular Goosebump television show wasn’t launched yet). The books had incredible spooky and alluring covers so we purchased hundreds of books and stacked them on a table in the gallery. If Felix Gonzales-Torres could give away candy, then we could give away kid’s pop culture. As parents we just wanted our kids to read, so the question of what they read was confusing to us. In another project we gave Peter, then 9 years old, $100 to shop at Toys R Us. The money came without the restrictions we typically imposed on the kids: no violent toys allowed in the house, share with your brother, etc. It was a kind of parent field test to see how well we did instilling these values in our children. Let’s just say he filled his shopping cart with all sorts of guns and bought nothing for Oliver.

CR: Women artists have long been advised to choose between motherhood and a serious career in the arts, and criticized for raising their kids badly if they managed to do both. Was this ever a concern for you when you first decided to start a family? Have you seen attitudes toward artist-motherhood change much since your first child was born?

Michelle: Defining oneself as a mother or as an artist (or as both) is a cultural abstraction. They are iconic and static narratives. To be perfectly honest, sometimes I think I am solely a teacher, a crafter, or a dotty administrator. But regardless, I want to be able to choose and change who I am AND to be able to play with how others frame me. Because I started a family young, I was idealistic enough not to even question the fact that I couldn’t do both plus more. Along the way when I was told not to bother at being an artist, I would happily flip those men off and work harder. That said, I am still hearing horror stories about pushback on women who choose to have children in the professional artworld. It is my guess however that what once was a power + fairness struggle is now a power + money struggle. Capital makes little room for distractions and big business defines much of the artworld.

CR: Any strategies or advice you’d pass on to new parents struggling to balance parenthood, career, and a creative practice?

Michelle: Think long form. Work to balance a whole life, not the day. My eight-year-old daughter will not be eight forever. And I will not be the same kind of artist I am now as when she is twenty-one. In other words, don’t fight the arc of behavioral or creative development because it changes fast.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Boulevard Dreamers at The Franklin

This weekend I took my small family to check out Boulevard Dreamers, a collaborative project organized by Kirsten Leenaars and Cultural ReProducer Lise Haller Baggesen at The Franklin, one of Chicago's many unusual alternative artspaces. TF is a year-round outdoor art venue created by artists Edra Soto and Dan Sullivan in their small backyard. It's located in the East Garfield Park neighborhood, far off the beaten track from the usual gallery scene (you can read more about it HERE).

In Boulevard Dreamers, studio photographs of participating groups hang in the Franklin's pavillion space like celebrity portraits in a popular restaurant, serving as a preview (and now the residue) of the night's events. The backdrop of these portraits, and the pavillion itself, is  dotted with paint-splattered LPs.  Baggesen and Leenaars describe their project as an exploration of "how we are moved by the agency of desire and the magical allure of being in the spotlight," and instead of showcasing high-profile celebrities the work makes celebrities of performers who are known mainly within their own local communities, including seasoned storytellers, teen poets, dancers, and young singer-songwriters.

On opening night, Boulevard Dreamers incorporated a fantastic lineup of short performances from different disciplines and neighborhoods throughout Chicago, including Re-birth, Marvin Tate, Najwa Dance Corps, Dan Sullivan, Anni Holm, Dasha Filippova, Emily Lansana, Charlie Redditt & Jim Dorling. We arrived a little after 6pm, just as things were getting started. The audience included a nice mix of members from Chicago's many art communities as well as people from the neighborhood. There were plenty of kids in attendance - our daughter danced in the grass alongside two other toddlers while older kids made runs between the performances and the refreshment table, which instead of wine and cheese held an impressive banquet of takeout pizza, homemade popcorn, and Edra Soto's famous pineapple upside-down cake

The performances and the location felt intimate and magical in a way that seems unique to
Boulevard Dreamers: Kirstin and Lise
Chicago's brand of domestically-linked alternative spaces, though Leenaars and Bagessen are both relatively recent transplants to the area (Leenaars hails from the Netherlands and Bagessen from Denmark). A custom marquis and holiday lights lit The Franklin's pavillion with a warm glow as Madeleine Aguilar - the amazingly talented daughter of Alberto Aguilar - played banjo and sang her own lovely indie tunes about Joan of Arc, accompanied by violinist Michael Soto. Next up were Emily Lansana and Zahra Baker, who mesmerized the audience with traditional African storytelling set to music, followed by Re-birth, a team of young spoken-word artists who delivered smart poetry about the state of the world and their neighborhood. There was so much more to see and hear... but we had to make our exit early: it was already way past our daughter's bedtime. 


The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd, Chicago (West Side, East Garfield Park)
Opening Saturday August 31st 6-10 pm
Show runs from 08/31 – 09-/21
Open hours: Fridays 4-6 pm, Saturdays 4-6 pm, and by appointment

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Lauren Weinstein's Mom Comics

Lauren Weinstein's wonderfully bizarre comics have been winning acclaim and awards for years. I was excited to stumble across her autobiographical mom comics, an ongoing series of loose sketches and single-pagers documenting the messy process of it all. Expanding on the theme is "If This is All You Get...", a four-page comic about motherhood and artmaking created for the compilation The Big Feminist BUT: Comics About Women, Men and the IFs, ANDs & BUTs of Feminism. Check out more of her work at http://www.laurenweinstein.com.



Lauren Weinstein's award-winning comic books include Inside VineylandGirl Stories and The Goddess of War. Her work has been published in Kramer’s ErgotThe GanzfeldAn Anthology of Graphic Fiction, and The Best American Comics of 2007 and 2010. She currently teaches comics at the School of Visual Arts in New York and is working on a sequel to Girl Stories.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Family Residency Initiative: The Santa Fe Art Institute

If you’ve ever tried researching artist or writing residency programs as a new parent, then you know your options are limited once there's a baby on the scene. Most programs are only set up to support single artists working alone, and many explicitly state that partners or children are not welcome. There are exceptions (see the Residency section of our Resources Page), but for the most part residency programs are off-limits to nursing mothers, single parents, and anyone unable or unwilling to leave their family behind while they work.

This summer, the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico began a new family residency initiative, quietly but radically changing the landscape of access for artist-parents and creating an important model for other programs originally designed for single artists.  On their site, you'll find the following statement:

The SFAI recognizes the lack of residency opportunities for artists to be able to take advantage of residencies without having to leave their children behind. We are taking responsibility in doing our part to close that gap by offering an environment that supports both creative opportunities and the needs of artists with children.


The family residency was initiated by Residency Director Katie Avery, who talked with us about the development of this new project. Katie realized the need for a program supporting artist-parents while sitting on a panel discussion called Beyond Time + Space: Making the Impossible Possible, organized through the Alliance of Artists Comminities:

“...one of the panelists spoke specifically to the issue of family residencies, and the lack of opportunity for parent artists. It immediately planted the seed, particularly after having a brief discussion with an artist who was part of a performance piece that opened the panel discussion. I left the conference convinced that SFAI would begin a family residency opportunity.”


At first her idea was met with some resistance, including understandable concerns about privacy and overall noise level. Like most residency programs, the facilities at the SFAI were originally designed to support single artists. The living spaces are dorm-like, with individual rooms for sleeping combined with larger communal living spaces that encourage community sharing and exchange. Noise travels throughout the building. Katie suggested they host all family residencies during a single month, allowing families to take over multiple bedrooms as needed and minimizing conflict with single artists expecting a quieter experience.

There were also concerns about childcare, an issue that's not currently addressed at any other residency program I know of. Childcare is a huge obstacle for artists who are parents, especially those who don't have a partner / family member who could take a month off to come watch the kids. Katie had the idea to connect residents with the SFAI’s existing educational programs – and because there were multiple families doing residencies there simultaneously, the artists worked out their own systems as well:

“My solution was to schedule the family residency during a summer month. This meant that all of the residents would be coming in with children, and that their children would be able to participate in our Youth Education and Outreach Summer Camp (if they so choose). This is indeed what played out during our initiative, and the response was really positive… They meet five days a week from 9-4, so it gave a fairly generous amount of time for the residents to focus on their own practice. It ended up that the residents would also take turns babysitting for each other to allow for more individual/partner or work time. “

Both the connection with children’s activities and the scheduling for multiple families to work
there simultaneously is something that makes the SFAI’s program particularly remarkable, and is a great example for other organizations looking for ways to update their residencies
to include artists who happen to also be parents.   

Katie Avery leaves the SFAI this Fall to pursue graduate studies in film directing, but feels hopeful that the family residency initiative will continue to thrive under the leadership of the SFAI’s new Executive Director, who is enthusiastic about the program.
photo by Alexis Brown Photography for SFAI

The Santa Fe Art Institute’s month-long Family Residencies currently take place during the month of July, when the facilities and art camp can be coordinated to specifically support artists with children. Their residencies are not free, but accepted artists can apply for scholarship support. If you’re interested in applying, visit the SFAI residency website for more information. http://www.sfai.org/applications.html

Related Posts:
* SAF’s Residency Grant Program for organizations
* FoAM’s Family-in-Residence Program
* Our Resources Page includes a growing list of residencies that allow partners and children.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Taking Custody: The Double Life of the Artist Mother

a sketch of the panelists by an unknown member of the audience
In 2012 the School of Visual Arts hosted a panel discussion entitled "Taking Custody: The Double Life of the Artist Mother."  Organized by Cathleen Cueto and moderated by Sharon L. Butler, the panel included six artists at various stages of motherhood Suzanne McClelland, Katherine Bernhardt, Rachel Papo, Amy Stein, Renée Cox, and Danica Phelps. Thanks to SVA, you can watch the entire conversation on Vimeo. At an hour and a half long, it's well worth listening to in the studio or watching after the kids are tucked away in bed.

This conversation is just one of many public discussions on the topic, including an upcoming panel scheduled for the College Art Association Conference this Spring.

You can find Sharon Butler's introduction and the questions she posed on Two Coats of Paint, right HERE. What would your own responses to these questions be? What questions still need to be asked?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Interview: Alberto Aguilar

Alberto Aguilar, 'Preparing the Surface'  2006
Alberto Aguilar’s practice merges his various life roles in an attempt to capture fleeting moments, personal discoveries, and his interaction with others using whatever medium is at hand. As the father of four kids, family often plays a major role in this exploration, whether it’s through the invention of musical living-room sports, sculptural reconfigurations of household objects, or a collaborative performance with his daughter’s class at school. In the face of an art world that generally dismisses the presence of children, Aguilar enthusiastically includes them as active participants in his work. HomeFieldPlay, a series of Alberto’s multilayered interactive installations, is on view at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art through October, 2013 -- a great show to check out with your own kids along -- and he has new projects in the works for galleries in Chicago, Kansas City, and Boston in the coming months. We caught up with him to ask about the intersections between his work as an artist and his life as a parent.

CR: Briefly describe your kids in your own words.

Alberto: Joaquin, 9: He is moody and attached to his mother. Being the youngest, he fights for his rights. He asks for things over and over again  (which was my technique for getting things as a kid). He has been trying to get me to give him the real axe in the garage for a long time. I finally broke down and said he can have it at the first sign of an apocalypse.

Paolo, 10: He is protective of all of us. If we have to go outside at night for something he comes with or watches through the window. He regularly naps in the car making him an early bird and a night owl always ready to make stuff. He has a fascination with miniature things. He likes money and always thinks of ways to get it from his handmade creations.

Isabella, 11: She is my princess. My sons claim that she never gets in trouble. She is intense, sometimes she talks by herself making up different voices. I guess it’s called acting. I used to pretend not to see it because she would get embarrassed and stop doing it if I brought attention to it. Now I sometimes join in and together we become other people and go to new places. She also sings beautifully and has a current obsession with learning new languages.

Madeleine, 15: People say she is the most like me. I agree to some extent - but she is the nicer, more considerate version of me. She over-thinks things, she draws, she sews clothes, she makes weapons, she loves soup, she makes music and plays any instrument at hand. Whenever she records her music she does not do it in a silent place but prefers being in the midst of things, including all the noises of our daily home life. Currently she is working on an album about Joan of Arc, whom she greatly admires.  She is very aware that she is destined for great things and accepts whatever pain may come with it.

CR: At what point did you begin incorporating your children into your work, and what are some of the ways it has it affected your practice?

Alberto Aguilar, 'Rest Area (Museo Picasso Barcelona)' 2011
Alberto: It began in obvious ways, like drawing with them, because you know how great and inspiring children’s drawings are. But then I started to become interested in their daily ways of being -- like the intensity with which they watch TV. First I started drawing them in the act of watching. Now I take pictures of them looking at this unseen source with the kind of sincere commitment that I desire to look at things with.

Another way that my children affected my practice was through music. I would always make up these dumb songs with them. At a certain point I realized that there was something of value to these songs, so I started to record them on a cassette recorder whenever they came about. After I had collected a bunch of them I noticed that each one marked a particular moment and that as a whole they carried some poignant universal truth about being human.

Parenting has affected my work by making me a more aware looker and a better listener to things we might normally disregard, things that take place in the between times.

CR: How do the members of your family feel about being part of the work? Does it just seem normal to them, or is there ever any rebellion?

Alberto: Never rebellion. When I started to use Madeleine’s music skills as part of my work she would get frustrated. She had the skills, and I understood structure and had endurance for long hours of hard work. Sometimes I pushed her to edge and she would break down crying and confused. As a result she learned discipline, structure and gained endurance which she still uses to this day. I learned a little bit about music and I became more aware of the potency and potential of the creative mind of a child. I also became more sensitive of how far you can push a child and the importance of encouraging them on the way.

If anything, they get embarrassed. I can barely get my wife to do anything in front of a camera or a mic, and Isabella is just now starting to get comfortable with it. There was a long time that I ignored her creative acts in order to build up her confidence. My youngest son was angry and cried one time because I made a Christmas Pageant video with him in his underwear and put it online. In the end they look back and realize the importance of what we did in capturing a particular moment and our time becomes legendary to them. My main thing is keeping things natural and real, so I kind of know how not to bring attention to the fact that I am recording. At this point it is a normal occurrence that I will drop everything and start recording, so they naturally ignore whatever camera or device I use.

CR: Your work often documents objects or events in the intimate, comfortable spaces of home. What has it been like to bring these to the context of a museum?

  installation view: 'Home Field Play,' Station 3 (image by Joe Iverson)
Alberto: When I started I could not imagine that this kind of work would ever be shown at a museum, so it comes as a surprise and it feels great. These are the things that have always been missing in art museums for me. In teaching art appreciation for so long to non-art-majors I was very aware of the division between contemporary art and the general public. I realized through my students that it is sometimes hard for them to relate to art with all of its inside art languages. Everyone can relate to “home,” because everyone has lived in one at some point in their life, and everyone desires certain aspects of home. What I did at the MCA is not all about making visually stunning objects, but rather creating situations that people can relate to, and bringing these objects and situations to a new light. Making people aware of how exciting everyday life can be and making the art museum more accessible.

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

Alberto: In 2001-02 I saw a video on Gabriel Orozco that started to change the way I thought about my home life. In it he spoke of the separation and conflict that exists between studio time/leisure time/work time and how he reconciled them by ridding himself of the studio, by not being a specialist in any particular medium and by making work wherever he is, even while taking walks. It all made perfect sense to me. I showed that video to my art appreciation classes over and over again until it began to set into my own life. It prompted me to let go of the traditional idea of studio and to think about integrating my various roles in life in order to make them work in harmony.

Sometimes I would show videos in class that I’d never seen before in order to learn about new artists. Between 2004-06 I happened on a video about Mierle Ukeles, which I initially resisted because It had the word feminism in its description. After running out of new things to show in class I decided to screen it. It resonated with me immediately. She talked about how after having a child she no longer had time to spend in the studio, and then one day as she was changing her baby’s diaper she realized that this act could be art simply by designating it as that. I took up that call by considering my parenting, my teaching and my daily house chores my art as well. I had just bought a fancy digital camera so I started to document myself mowing the lawn, cleaning, scrubbing down surfaces, painting the garage and I let go of my studio, which was a shared space with the laundry room.

CR: Any strategies or advice that you’d pass on to new parents struggling to maintain a creative practice while raising a family?
 

Alberto: First off, I would not be able to do what I do without the great and amazing wife that I have. I met Sonia when she was 17 and I asked her to marry me because I recognized greatness in her that would compensate for everything that I lacked. In terms of parenting she disciplines the kids and endlessly works towards keeping order. She teaches them to be as she is: good, responsible, considerate citizens of this world. Whereas I teach them about living a balanced life, considering pain a friend and a teacher, trying new things, and how to creatively navigate this world. So I guess the first thing I would advise is to know your roles and engage them fully.


rooftop soccer match (Image by Sonia Aguilar)
Another thing is to always realize that you are in an amazing moment. You become blind when you are in the midst of it, but being a parent is a great source of learning -- an opportunity for research and productivity. Never allow it to become an obstacle to getting to the studio, because that is when one of them starts to take prominence over the other, creating an imbalance. For me, integrating my various roles in life was essential in order for things to work together and for me to keep my sanity. I play sports with my children, which serves many functions: I learn the
sport, I exercise, I teach, I interact with them, it causes a stimulus in
my brain, it generates energy and stamina in my body, and I have fun. Since we are physically active with them and teach them to live creatively, we do not have the pressure of putting them in extracurricular activities outside of the home. This saves a lot of money, energy and time. I’m not saying that we never put them in programs -- if there is a good free/cheap program that they can be part of we will send them to it.  Then when they come home with new skills, abilities or knowledge, I steal them or incorporate them into my work in some way or another.

I see my kids as my arsenal, my army and my legacy, and this helps in not feeling that I am wasting my time or that my time with them is less important than my art production time.  They are an investment. In the obvious way that one day one of them may strike it rich and take care of all my outstanding debt…but more importantly, that one day they will use the wisdom and creativity that we shared with them and carry it on in their own work in an even greater way than we could ever imagine.

Below: 'A Family Christmas Pageant' (Part 4 of 4), 2012 with original music by Madeleine Aguilar


For more on the Aguilar Family, see Part I and Part II of their reports on the 2014 Open Engagement Conference.