Friday, December 20, 2013

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.

1 comment:

  1. Being with one's family at work and at home is more natural than being without them. I established my arts co-op in 1986 when my partner and I decided to try and have a family - the 2 things were inextricably linked. We wanted to be good parents and maintain our lives as creative beings and so the children were part of our whole ives. The arts co-op is still going and the boys are now 27 and 23 and we are all very happy. BTW - these same boys were also both born at home with the same midwife in attendance. She also came to their 18th birthday parties. I love your Birthrites project - it gives voice to things that it is hard to say elsewhere.

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