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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Motherhood and Creative Practice, London

the inimitable Griselda Pollock addresses the audience at the Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference.

This June, Cultural ReProducers took part in not one but two international gatherings exploring the role of motherhood in creative work. Here's our rundown of Part I:  the Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference in London.
Stay tuned for more about some of the great people and projects we encountered, and for Part II: the Mothernists, a three-day event in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

For anyone still harboring doubts that great artistic and scholarly work can go hand in hand with the labor of raising a child, this year's Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference, presented from June 1-2 at London South Bank University, offered a resounding affirmation of critical maternal thought.

Rachel Epp Buller presents on lactivist art intervention
During the past five years there has been a groundswell in work exploring the intersections of artmaking and parenthood. As soon as the call for abstracts was announced online, news of the  Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference spread rapidly despite its modest online presence. Organizers Dr. Elena Marchevska and Valerie Walkerdine had expected interest from a small group of local scholars, but soon found their inbox filled with more than 100 proposals from around the world. Being the skilled improvisers that mothers often are, they rose to the occasion and organized two jam-packed days of multimedia presentations by more than 60 leading feminist scholars, psychoanalysts, curators and artists, complemented by a rich program of film screenings, performances, and small exhibitions.

With so many presenters on the schedule, three panels ran simultaneously every hour in different parts of a labyrinthine LSBU building. Unlike more broadly-themed conferences in which deciding which panel to attend depends on your area of specialty, here it was often painfully difficult to choose. To get a sense of the options you can check out the full program online. Philosopher, artist, and psychoanalyst Bracha Ettinger opened the event with a heady discussion on carriance and the matrixial gaze accompanied by a projection of her hypnotic video work (I have since decided that all future lectures involving dense theoretical language should be presented this way). Faith Wilding and Irina Aristarkhova launched the second day with their riveting exploration of the real and speculative ramifications of surrogacy, IVF tourism, exogenesis, and the global market for
Christa introducing Cultural ReProducers
human tissue and egg donation. And prominent art historian and cultural scholar Griselda Pollock miraculously wove everything together into two smart and thoughtful session summaries.

Efforts were made to offer on-site childcare during the conference, albeit for a fee, but unfortunately - whether due to cost, ambivalence, or lack of information - not enough participants signed up to make this option viable in the end. A few mothers bounced, rocked, and fed their babies through sessions, while others worked out arrangements with family members. Several had to rush off before the day was done to collect their kids from local creches or schools.

Those of us visiting from out of town fit in time to visit some of London's great cultural institutions, and parental art seemed to be everywhere, from the abundance of 19th century maternal imagery at the Victoria and Albert Museum to Jaan Toomik's "Dancing with Dad" (2003) at Whitechapel Gallery to the Tate Modern's remarkable Sonia Delaunay retrospective, which highlighted Delaunay's first work of abstraction: a blanket created for her newborn son in 1911.

Mary Kelly was there in spirit, and on video
Like any really good party, not everyone could make it. One notable absence was Mary Kelly, matron saint of mother-artists and a scheduled keynote speaker, who had to cancel at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict. A video was screened of her lecture earlier that week (though technical difficulties made it hard to decipher), followed by a response by scholar and MaMSIE co-founder Dr. Lisa Baraitser. There were noticeably few women of color present, a reflection of another imbalance in academia and the art world that will be important to consider as this conversation continues to evolve. On the intergenerational spectrum of things, though, the conference was incredible. Nursing mothers in the midst of their graduate studies exchanged experiences with seasoned feminist grandmothers. The discussion was also enriched by the voices of artists without children, including Miriam Schaer, who spoke eloquently about cultural bias against childless women and the challenges of “reverse mothering,” or caring for an aging parent.

processing some serious maternal thought over drinks
Beyond the formal presentations, this gathering brought together an incredible number of like-minded artists, curators, and scholars to meet in person for the first time. Catching a quick bite to eat between sessions we connected with members of Dublin’s Mothership Project, Rotterdam's m/other voices, London’s Enemies of Good Art and Invisible Spaces of Parenthood. Informal convoys took over nearby hotel lounges and restaurants to talk late into the night. After closing remarks on Tuesday, LSBU’s Edric Theater buzzed with women exchanging contact information, taking group photographs, and planning future projects. It seems clear that these conversations are just getting started, and we look forward to seeing what’s to come.