Monday, May 18, 2020

CR Favorites List: Pandemic Edition Part I

Christa Donner, Two Interiors (installation view), 2014
Sheltering in place with the complex dramas of young children doesn’t exactly lend itself to thoughtful article-writing or transcribing interviews. But there are so many great projects coming out now that are relevant to this community, we wanted to collect some of them together in one place. Whether you’re looking for inspiration, or just something that’s interesting to watch with the kids in your life, we hope there’s something on this list you’ll like. We'll keep 'em coming. And if you’re on Facebook, please join the Cultural ReProducers Network, where parenting artists are actively skillsharing and posting great things like these from around the world all the time.

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Experiment 120: A Playlist of Short, Experimental Films for Kids
Looking for something interesting to watch with your kids besides Netflix cartoons? Look no further than this great playlist. After watching, introduce your kids to one of the many free stop-motion apps out there, and see what they come up with while you dedicate some time toward a short creative project of your own.

Labor: Motherhood in Art 
Joey Fauerso, “You Destroy Every Special Thing I Make” (2017-2019),
installation view, Labor: Motherhood & Art 2020 (images by Trey Broomfield
courtesy of New Mexico State University Art Museum)
I think most of us would agree that it's tough to replicate the experience of a physical exhibition online.
However, there are some advantages, including the chance to see (and document!) a show you might never otherwise know of or travel to see in person. So perhaps it is in everyone's best interest that this exhibition, co-curated by museum director Marisa Sage and artist Laurel Nakadate, has been meticulously documented, reviewed, and shared virtually. The show features an outstanding collection that includes pieces by Yoko Ono, Patty Chang, Amy Cutler, Hồng-Ân Tru’o’ng & Hu'o’ng Ngô, Wendy Red Star, and many others.

The exhibition also features two smaller exhibitions: one collecting of Mexican mother-and-child Retablos organized two curatorial studies MA candidates, and a gallery dedicated to the creative output of MFA students Katrina Chandler and Maggie Day. The two mothers applied and participated in Lenka Clayton’s Artist Residency in Motherhood, thanks in part to childcare support offered through the museum to support the development of new work, artists statements, and bios to support their studio practices.

Artist Residency in Motherhood
Speaking of which... maybe now's a great time to apply? This generous and generative ongoing project grew from artist Lenka Clayton's own struggles to reshape a professional identity and creative practice as she entered into motherhood (twice), and has built an active and international community of exchange between mothers, using the challenges of life at home with children as a creative prompt.

Parenting Artists Singapore #2: Meetup with Christa Donner on May 22
Parenting Artists SG is a new group generating conversations about caregiving and creative community in Singapore. On Friday, May 22nd, Cultural ReProducers founder Christa Donner will present to the group about the work she’s been doing at home as an Artist-in-Residence at Yale-NUS in Singapore with her family, as well as the strategies of other artist parents and family residency experiences she’s learned from along the way. Depending on where you are in the world, be sure to check your time zones before signing up (Singapore is roughly 13 hours ahead of Chicago). Registration will be capped at 30 participants.

Shaun Leonardo and Mckendree Key paint on tree bark with their children
in Vermont during quarantine. (photo courtesy Mckendree Key)
During Pandemic, Artist-Parents Reflect and Get Creative with their Kids
Hyperallergic is posting all kinds of interesting things about artist-parents these days. This article features in-progress work by parenting artists Edgar Arceneaux, Shaun Leonard, Mckendree Key, and others getting creative with their kids during the Pandemic. They also shared a great Mother’s Day review of the book “Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity.



 
A Mother Uses Art to Ease Her Sons' Pandemic Fears

If you could use something inspiring and hopeful, take a minute to watch this beautiful New Yorker video about photographer Elisabetta Zavoli, and the work she’s been making with her two sons in the garden at night, as a way to work through their collective anxieties during Italy's quarantine, and an opportunity to reconnect with them in the process. The NY Times recently shared this photo essay by conflict photographer Paolo Pellegrin on the choice to stick with his family instead of covering the pandemic, and the work that has resulted. And if you haven't yet, take a look at our recent interview with Amber Dohrenwend, who developed her creative practice during time spent in the apartment with her small children in Tokyo.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity

Reviewed by Chrissy LaMaster

Rachel Epp Buller begins her introduction in "Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity" by posing a question to readers: is maternity appropriate? The answer (I don’t think I’m giving anything away here) is both yes and no. “Maternity is both a cultural ideal and a cultural taboo, both appropriate and inappropriate” she writes as she goes on to explain how she and co-editor Charles Reeve went about deciding upon the overarching theme for their book. The result of their effort, 20 texts by practicing artists, designers, curators and academic scholars, is an amazing collection of both essays and conversations and an invaluable addition to the field of maternal studies.

Divided into the three sections of “Body Politics,” “Family Practices,” and “By Design,” one finds scholarly essays interspersed with personal testaments, conversations and interviews. Contributors seek to “examine maternity’s centrality as a defining term of female identity” for all women, regardless of whether or not they have chosen to have children. In addition to Epp Buller herself, featured are many artists, writers, and collectives familiar to the Cultural ReProducers community: Courtney Kessel, Lena Simic, Irene Perez, Jill Miller, Lise Haller Baggesen, Miriam Schaer, and many others. These contributions are significant, thought provoking, and at times inspiring. One piece that stood out to me was a a conversation between the curator, artist, and scholar Natalie Loveless  and "mamactavists" Martina Mullaney (Enemies of Good Art), Christa Donner (Cultural ReProducers), and collaborators Andrea Francke and Kim Dhillon (Invisible Spaces of Parenthood). Many things have changed since that initial conversation, which took place in 2016, from the “#MeToo" movement to the global pandemic that has thrown the complex expectations of working mothers into sharper focus. It is interesting to reflect on the shifts that have taken place and what they may (or may not) mean for mother's rights, mother's bodies, mother artists, maternal studies, and mothers in general. I also appreciate the exchange of letters between Rachel Epp-Buller, Lena Simic and Emily Underwood-Lee for many of the same reasons. "Discussions" like these are rare in most books on maternal art, but it is this collective approach that makes the book engaging to a range of readers, from those seeking scholarly documentation of maternal art practices to any creative person thinking through their own dual labor as artists and caregivers, and perhaps seeking solidarity.

Lise Haller Baggesen, Mothernism, 2013-ongoing. Audio
Installation. Copyright Lise Haller Baggesen
As a feminist and an artist who is interested in a more authentic representation of motherhood within both contemporary art and society in general, I found the book particularly relevant. Although several excellent texts concerning the maternal in contemporary art have been published in recent years, "Inappropriate Bodies" has quickly become my favorite. It is a wonderfully diverse combination of critical theory and personal perspectives. Intentional in its design, it is at once academic and approachable, which allows it to be accessible (and I feel more useful) to anyone interested in issues surrounding the maternal in art. 

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Doreen Balabanoff, Birthing Room conceptual model, bird's
eye view, 2016. courtesy of the artist
"Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity" is published by Demeter Press,
an independent feminist press committed to publishing peer-reviewed scholarly work, fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction on mothering, reproduction, sexuality and family.

Chrissy LaMaster is an artist currently living in Billings, Montana. Chrissy holds an MFA in Photography and Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies from Illinois State University and an MA in Studio Art from Bradley University. Her primary areas of interest and research include the history of photography, gender studies, historical and contemporary representations of motherhood, and the history and theory of craft. Chrissy has experience in teaching, curating, and programming in a variety of arts related settings. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and can be found in both public and private collections.


   








Friday, April 17, 2020

Interview: Amber Dohrenwend

Amber at work in her home / studio. photo: Yuki Sato

 
Amber Dohrenwend
is an educator and self-taught artist who grew up in the US and is now based in Tokyo. We first met Amber through a shared interest in Adventure Playgrounds: open-ended spaces where children shape their own environments using repurposed materials. Amber’s artistic practice – which developed in her small apartment with kids at home, using simple tools and recycled cardboard to make amazing things – feels especially relevant right now, as so many parenting artists find ourselves working to restructure creative time at home with what limited privacy and supplies we can manage.

This interview is the second in a series of conversations organized through Cultural ReProducers Tokyo, thoughtfully conducted by artist, art researcher, curator, and CR Tokyo organizer Catherine Harrington. These conversations explore some of the culturally-specific challenges of working as an artist-parent in Japan, and the fundamental questions we are all working to sort out together.


Cultural ReProducers Tokyo: To start, tell us a bit about you and your daughters.
 

Amber Dohrenwend: I am originally from Michigan in the U.S. and I grew up on a farm there. In 2018, my husband and I moved to Japan. Previously we were working in Egypt and Pakistan. My two daughters were born here (now nearly 8 and 10 years old.) We all have been deeply influenced by our time living in Japan. My daughters go to Japanese schools, and are really rooted in this place. I still feel like a foreigner, but Japan has also come to feel very familiar to me.

CR Tokyo: First as a parent and then as an artist, how did you begin to find community and connection here in Japan?

Amber:
My husband teaches science here, so when we came there was a community of foreigners, but I was one of the few women at the time who was not working a day to day job, and was at home as a caregiver. This was a difficult time because I lost my identity as a professional. I really felt that because I wasn’t “making money” in many ways I was invisible. I had to build a new identity for myself from the ground up.

Amber working on a sculpture with her daughter. Photo: Peter Dohrenwend
I started studying Japanese at a nearby community center, then I started to make some Japanese friends through some of the early learning programs for children, and also by going to local adventure playgrounds. There were usually always a few people that spoke English, and would very generously help me navigate difficulties. It has taken a long time to build the patchwork community that I have here, and it’s very special to me. I know and spend time with a very diverse group of people.

In terms of the art community, I am a self-taught artist and I am still trying to find my place in the art world here. I mostly began my art practice in isolation, and until recently didn’t think I would be able to easily connect with artists in Japan because of the language barrier, but I am just now realizing it might be easier than I had thought. I’m excited about meeting people through Cultural ReProducers.

 CR Tokyo: During our conversation today, you said your journey into art practice began after you became a parent.  Can you tell us more about this journey, and how your art practice emerged in the midst of parenting?

Amber:
I started working with cardboard as a material because it was easy to collect. I would just ride my bike around on recycling day and find interesting pieces of cardboard that other people in my neighborhood had put out. I didn’t need many tools or much space to work, and we lived in a small apartment. Even now I mostly work on the floor in my tatami room with just a pair of roofing shears and a stapler. It took me about 6 or 7 years of engaging with the material to get enough skill to be able to communicate my ideas.

When my children were very small, I was immersed in their worlds. We spent a lot of time playing together, and it was this time of engaging in the act of play again that really ignited a spark in me. As they grew and played, I played too. The play turned into making things for them, and then making things for myself, which became my current art practice.

CR Tokyo:  How do you manage to find a balance between your art practice and parenting? Do you schedule time to make artworks?

Amber:
When my children were younger it was more of a struggle to work. I was mostly just exploring the material, but nevertheless I needed time to concentrate. I remember at one time I got a pair of overalls, and would try to wear them so that everyone in my family knew that when I was wearing the overalls, they couldn’t disturb me... but it didn’t really work. Sometimes there were times when my husband would take the kids to the park, or my children were napping that I could work, but mostly I had to wait until they entered school to have more time. Because I don’t have a studio, I wear headphones and listen to music when I work and my family is present, and sometimes I put the doors on the tatami room so I have more privacy. I sometimes even wear headphones at home without music when I am by myself, because I guess I have conditioned myself to know that’s a time to focus.

Detail from cardboard installation. Photo: Amber Dohrenwend
CR Tokyo: You mentioned that cardboard was a medium that was easy to come across in your area, and also that it was an easy medium to use in a small apartment space. Can you say more about why cardboard has continued to be a key part of your practice?  Has this medium taken on new meanings for you?

Amber:
As I have reflected on my practice, I realize that collecting cardboard; foraging for it, makes me feel human. It takes me back to my childhood cutting willow branches and weaving them. I feel more connected to nature in this way than actually going to the park and walking through the forest.  Honestly, it’s a real puzzle to me, and I always wonder why green space doesn’t do more because I feel so intrinsically connected to nature. Collecting and making, and particularly communicating something  sculpturally through the use of a found material, it just feels good to me.

…I also feel very connected to the ephemeral nature of making things with cardboard. I don’t have a desire to make something that would physically outlast, me, in fact just the opposite. I am very devoted to the idea of impermanence, of making things that can be recycled and then made into something else; more paper, soil, staples that can be melted again, art, and on and on. Cardboard is a byproduct of consumerism, so I also think it is particularly interesting to show work in a consumer context, both subverting and promoting it at the same time. That tension feels very interesting to me.

I love that when you hold cardboard and shape it with your hands, you are actually leaving marks on the cardboard with your fingertips, much like when working with clay. This is something I find infinitely interesting; what cardboard looks like in this bent and twisted, softened state. This is the way I like to work with cardboard, and how I hope to keep making discoveries, and playing with this material.
"At one time I got a pair of overalls, and would try to wear them so that everyone in my family knew that when I was wearing the overalls, they couldn’t disturb me... Because I don’t have a studio, I wear headphones and listen to music when I work and my family is present"

CR Tokyo: How did you begin exhibiting your artwork in Japan?
Amber:
Before showing my work, all along I was hosting pop-up cardboard play days, and teaching classes about working with cardboard. Before I started my current work, I was an elementary school teacher. Teaching is also about communicating ideas and engaging with people, so I’m sure that teaching people, making things and “playing” with others will always be a part of my practice.

 Through teaching, I got to know the designers Mike and Yuri Abelson who own Postalco, a Tokyo-based business and they really encouraged me. They asked me to do a workshop at their shop and then, later, create an installation for a window display. After that, I started to get some commercial work and the opportunity to do exhibitions and workshops.

Builders of all ages at Adventure Building Camp.
Image credit: Amber Dohrenwend
CR Tokyo:  You run a summer camp in Michigan and you run workshops on using tools for very young children.  Can you tell us more about these projects and practices?

Amber:
Adventure Building Camp is a program I run in Michigan in the summer. It came about from spending time working with Gever Tulley who helped start a small educational movement in California, out of his experiences working in Silicon Valley.

His project, Tinkering School, was focused on an approach where children would learn tools in context through tinkering and experimentation rather than a step-by step: learn this, and then you can do that approach that we mostly find in education today. It’s very much process-based. When you need a tool, that’s when you learn how to use it. It was a counterpoint to technology and high stakes education and all of the simulation that kids face in learning, where they don’t actually get the experience to really do things, make things, try things out, make adjustments, and keep working. Tinkering School is a lot about removing the barriers that children face, so they can see for themselves if their ideas work. This is what inspired me to create Adventure Building Camp, which is based on the same philosophies as well as some of the guiding principles from Adventure Playgrounds where I have spent a lot of time here in Tokyo.

Working with kids in this way really surprised me, and also inspired my art practice. Teaching a 6-year-old to use a power drill and start building something out of wood and screws that they sketched, is a truly wonderful experience.

CR Tokyo:  When we talked earlier, it seemed that “tools” themselves have special significance for you.  I wonder if you could say more about this.

Amber:
Yes, I love tools, I love really good tools. They are usually at the forefront of overcoming barriers. I could talk about this for a long time, but let me say that, one day when I was taking a shower, I had a kind of light bulb moment when a lot of the things that I had been thinking about and wondering about for many years came together, as a kind of unifying idea, and that idea was about understanding “barriers to making.” That has really become my “question,” even though it’s not really a question. I don’t know if many other people experience this, but I can’t really get away from the fact that most of what I do is always about engaging with this idea of thinking about barriers and how to remove them, both for myself and others, in all kinds of contexts.

So tools have this significance for me because they are often the things that I turn to when confronting barriers. For example, when I work with children, the main barrier they face is getting access to tools and materials because parents think the tools are too dangerous, or the kids can’t handle them. So I give them tools and materials, and I am there, and we slowly and safely work together and amazing things start happening.

This is also what I experienced working with cardboard, developing a relationship with tools so I could communicate my ideas. I think it’s about making space for the ideas and the connections.

CR Tokyo: Have you had any role models for artist-parenting/parent-artisting?

Amber:
Images of Ruth Asawa weaving wire sculptures with her children at her feet have definitely been an inspiration to me.

CR Tokyo: What advice would you share with other artists struggling to be both a parent and an artist?

Amber:
Parenting is a season of your life.
Do what you can. If you can’t make the art you want to make right now, put as many ideas down, and leave as many bread crumbs as you can for later. Live in the moment with your children and learn to play again.

If you are afraid of losing your career, or your identity, or of facing discrimination in the art world as a parent, all those things, I would say are very real. But, if we can make art we can make a new culture too, and there are more side roads in, and fewer gatekeepers now than there have been in the past. I want to be a part of changing the culture for parents making art and I hope you will too.

Amber introducing her work to the next generation. Photo: Minoru Nomura



Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Interview: Natsumi Sakamoto

Natsumi Sakamoto in her studio in Glasgow, UK
Natsumi Sakamoto is an artist exploring the relationships between memory, history, and mythology through a range of media including video installation, painting, and animation. Her work has been exhibited in London, Tokyo, Seoul and beyond - including shows at PlaceMAK, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and the 13th Gunma Biennale for Young Artists. Sakamoto is also a member of the feminism-focused artist collective Back and Forth Collective

This interview is the first in a brand new series from Cultural ReProducers Tokyo, thoughtfully conducted and translated by artist, art researcher, curator, and CR Tokyo organizer Catherine Harrington. These conversations explore some of the culturally-specific challenges of working as an artist-parent in Japan, and the fundamental questions we are all working to sort out together.



Catherine Harrington (CR Tokyo): To start, tell us a bit about you and your son. 

Natsumi Sakamoto: I’m an artist, mainly working with multi media. Focusing on untold histories such as individual’s and women’s histories, and everyday customs and beliefs, my aim is to examine the possibility of preserving the ephemeral, as a way to recover a loss. One of the documentary films I made in 2014 took me to places in Japan and the UK that were connected with my grandmother’s significant, personal memories.  I have been developing this project in my more recent work, and in 2019 I am going to start a new project in Scotland about Scottish superstitions and witch hunts.

My son’s now four years old and he’s very active and inquisitive - curious about everything.  Now, at his age, he asks why, why about everything. That was something I was really looking forward to. I wanted to answer those questions, even if they are sometimes silly questions, or really huge questions. For example he asks, “Why do you see the moon everyday?” and I try to be respectful to him as a person and I try to answer everything, even the little questions.  Sometimes I need to Google them.  He’s opened up a new world for me and made me more curious. Life has become richer than before, I would say. On the other hand, he’s stubborn.  He doesn’t easily change his opinions.
 
CH: What kind of identity shift did you experience when you first became an artist-parent?

NS:
I didn’t really have a clear shift because I was working all the time.  When I came back to Japan from the UK, I was pregnant and I really wanted a chance to network and show my work again in Japan. I kind of knew that it is going to be difficult to do an exhibition for maybe another year once our little one had arrived. So I thought I should plan something in advance, and decided to curate a group show just before the baby arrived. That was my first experience organizing an exhibition by myself – from getting the funding to finding a venue, and it took over a year and a half. The exhibition title was Everyday Fiction, and included work by artists from Japan and the UK dealing with two different worlds: reality and fiction, and the flexible boundaries between them.

I applied for several open calls and funding applications a few months after the baby was born - I was trying to keep on doing as much as I could in my spare time such as during the baby’s nap times. It was very tough! I probably did that purposely so as not to make a clear transition point between being an artist and being an artist-parent. It was thanks to support from my parents, my partner, my friends, and temporary childcare that I was able to do it. 

I tried not to change my everyday schedule and attitude to life.  You physically change and you psychologically feel that you have to be a good mother. It’s not like I became someone else, but more like I have a mother-identity and my artist-identity, and I shift between them, instead of trying to combine both. So, I don’t think about art when I spend time with my son; I become just a mother.  If I can switch easily between these two identities in a given moment, I can enjoy them. But sometimes it doesn't work and it becomes a bit of a mess. Exhibition time is very stressful because sometimes the switch doesn't work, and I’m always thinking about art while I’m talking to my son.

Natsumi Sakamoto, still from Rowan Wards off Witches, 2019


CH: With that in mind, do you feel that parenthood changed your art practice in some way?


NS: 
Before becoming a mother, my art practice was all about me and the environment around me. But after becoming a mother, I started to see the structure of society and the mother’s position in society. I guess I started to be interested in feminism more, and began to think about these questions through my art practice. I wouldn’t have been able to think this way without the experience of being physically incapable of certain things while being pregnant and while looking after a small child. You suddenly become so powerless in society. This was probably my first experience of becoming seriously aware of gender equality issues in real life.

In that first year I had this very concentrated time of being with my son twenty-four hours a day. I went to parks or the jidokan* with my son almost every day. It was a happy time, but when I saw other parents in those places, I started to become more aware of this unequal situation.

Note: *Jidokan(s) 児童館 and hiroba(s) 広場 are playgroups or play spaces where children and parents can play or socialize with other children and parents.  These spaces or groups can also involve organized singing or play activities.

At jidokan, I rarely saw fathers and mostly saw mothers, because the fathers were working on weekdays. Most of the mothers I met were unable to get a place for their child at a nursery. We talked with each other about how difficult it is to get a place in a nursery, how to make a successful application, and how hopeless our future careers would be if we couldn’t get a full-time nursery place for another few years. I actually met a mother who was thinking of a ‘temporary divorce’ from her partner so she could change her condition from ‘married’ to ‘single mother’ and strengthen her nursery application. The situation is so desperate. I hardly ever met fathers who had taken paternity leave, and whose partner had gone straight back to work after their child’s birth.

I was disappointed and angry about this situation. Japan has a declining birthrate, which is a big social problem, and the Japanese government encourages couples to have children as well as encouraging women to work more to help with economic growth. This is a contradiction: how can you encourage women to work without offering child care? There were many women who felt the same at this time and took part in protests. All this made me really aware of the issue of gender inequality. I felt I should do something – so I started to work with a few of my artist friends as part of a group we call the Back and Forth Collective.

CH:  Yes! The practice of the Back and Forth Collective is really important and valuable, and I hope you can continue to pursue this project.  When did you form the Back and Forth Collective?

NS:
We met at a workshop called Feminism for Everyone at Kosaten* in Tokyo around two years ago. I met Asako Taki and Mei Homma there. We all graduated from the same art university in London, but at different times. So we had known each other, but this was the first time we actually met altogether. We hit it off at that meeting, and started to talk about working as a collective.

Note: Kosaten* is an intersectional community space in Tokyo. Events such as discussions, conversations and workshops are held there with people from different backgrounds, and for instance; of different nationalities, ethnic identities, religions, sexualities, genders and (dis)abilities.


The core members are three artists at the moment, but we often collaborate with different artists and researchers. Each artist has a different area of interest but our common interest is feminism, so we started by working on this topic together. We’ve held workshops, exhibitions, and had a meeting with invited female artists. Last summer we had an exhibition at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum called Quiet Dialogue – Invisible Existences and Us.  Artists from Japan, Austria, Turkey and Indonesia showed work responding to the theme. The topics explored included Japanese women’s suffrage, the history of home economics, immigrants and minority ethnic groups, witch hunts, the issue of female labor and sex trafficking in East and South East Asia including Japanese girls serving as sex workers called Karayuki-san, and so on. To show the wide range of each artists’ research, we made a library in the exhibition space, which also functioned as an open space to talk.

If I didn’t have that intensive first year as a mother, I might not have joined.  I’m not sure how to put this, but I think that experience I had has given me stronger opinions about solving these problems.

 filming on the Isle of Bute, UK
CH: Did your experience with the art community shift when you became an artist-parent?  What kind of changes would you like to see in the art world?

NS:
Tokyo is quite big and there are many galleries and museums. It’s also an expensive place to live, so it is not easy for artists to have a studio in the city. I always feel that working in a local artists community has a good energy, with a lot of encouragement and exchange of ideas. But there are a lot of artists like me, working with digital media or small-scale work, who work from home. There are groups organizing events and meetings for artists and curators such as artist talks, screenings or discussions, and reading events. I met quite a few people through those events, and we often ended up doing projects together.

There is a certain difficulty to taking kids to art events. I’ve never tried. I would probably leave the room every time he gets fussy or cries. I just always think, “oh, I have to find somebody to look after my son.” My partner is very helpful and supportive with what I want to do, and always looks after my son so well. I need that help. But I feel bad every time I do this.

There are some changes recently: I’ve seen more and more baby-friendly event descriptions, including childcare services, on museum websites etc. This is a great improvement, but it is still not enough at all. If I go to events in the evening, everyone always asks me “What is your son doing?  Who is looking after your son?” I’m just thinking, if any fathers go to these events, probably not everybody is going to ask them this.  Probably they think that the mother is looking after their child.

Natsumi Sakamoto, still from unforgettable landscape (ROWAN TREE), 2014
CH: Have you had any role models for artist-parenting?

NS:
I don’t think so, no, because those stories are quite hidden, I don't know anybody personally.  Most of the successful female-artists I know are either single or they don't have a child.  Maybe the situation is different in the UK or other countries, so I hope I can meet some more artist-parents there.

CH: One issue that has been raised a lot in Japan – which is also a wider issue - is that of childcare. You had that first year when you were with your son for 24 hours a day.  After that, did you continue working alongside your son at home, or did you use childcare?  What was the next step?

NS:
The first year I didn't get childcare, so I had to wait another year.  From two years old, he went to nursery. He goes five days a week, so I could work on my art as well as working at my part-time job. I became more financially stable and I have a lot more freedom now than in the first two years.

In Japan you can only apply for the nursery if you have a job. It’s very competitive. So I was teaching two days a week. For those two days [before getting a nursery place], my mum helped out by looking after my son. That was such a big help. I put my condition down as freelance artist, editor, teacher and translator, working two days outside, and three days at home. I made a schedule with all the details such as who I work with, what kind of project it is, and where the funding comes from.

Basically I tried to combine all the types of ‘work’ I do – no matter if it’s paid or not – to fill up my working schedule. Other mothers were working full time, five days a week, and more than 40 hours a day. I needed to make my schedule equivalent to this, even though my work schedule isn’t a fixed one. The reality is that I often worked in the middle of the night and between nap times, so it was almost impossible to count how many hours I actually worked.


CH: So you found another way to apply for a nursery place ‘as an artist’?

NS:
Yeah, I was trying to find a solution. But I know it is not easy for everyone – another artist-mother friend gave up applying to nursery. She was making her artwork at home every day when she had time, and didn’t have a part-time job. She was a full-time mother-artist. The reality is that an application from someone working from home or as self-employed isn’t as strong as one made by a full-time company employee. So for her, there was almost no hope of getting a nursery place. From the government’s perspective, the occupation ‘artist’ isn’t as reliable as other occupations. I presume they don’t want to provide childcare for people who don’t make money, so it might be a bit different if an artist is only working on commissions. But the reality is that not a lot of artists actually make their living from only art!

Under these circumstances, being an artist-mother is very difficult in many ways, and it makes us feel guilty to work on our artwork. And when the baby is small, you have so much housework to do … there’s so much invisible labour that needs to be done. 

CH: This issue of what counts as labour and how different forms of labour are perceived is directly related to being an artist-parent in the art world.  And with all this invisible labour to deal with - how did you find time for your practice? What was your strategy in those first two years?

NS:
Before getting nursery care five days a week, I just had no time.  But I had this group show, so I had to make time.  So I got up super early in the morning every day.  Morning was the best time for me, before the baby woke up. If anyone else wakes up then a mess appears, or some other work - it becomes difficult to keep working or doing.  So I decided to wake up really early in morning, sometimes 4am, in the dark, and I just had to make a deadline for every little thing.  For example, “this writing has to be done in the next hour”, or something like that.  I made a super tight schedule.  And then when the baby cries I have to go and pick him up.  I’m like an athlete… running.

Natsumi Sakamoto, The Interview with a Witch, 2019.  Installation view at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

CH: So how did you deal with sleep deprivation?

NS:
Yeah, I can’t remember.  I think I went to sleep early with my child.  I often used social networks, just to show or prove that I’d done something. At the time I felt I was invisible in society.  I couldn't go to see my friends because I had to be in the house.  I wanted to connect to somebody.  As an everyday routine, I would make one small drawing and post it to Instagram – like a diary – it works, you see the progress every day.  You make a little bit day by day.

CH: I recently read about a parent and child- friendly studio residency at the Washington Project for the Arts in the US, where the children can stay in the studio while the parents work.  Would this kind of initiative be helpful here?  If this kind of studio programme existed near you, would you want to be part of it?

NS:
A studio, with childcare? It sounds interesting. But I do wonder whether they have a strong barrier between the kids’ area and the parents’ area. I can imagine my son often coming to interrupt me... so, personally, I’m not confident that I could concentrate on my work when my kid is with me. It is a contradiction, because I totally agree with this idea of making your workplace more accessible to kids, but then, I know how difficult the reality would be.

Not only workplaces, but public spaces like museums or theaters still have a strong separation between kids and adults, and the unspoken rule is that kids shouldn't disturb the adult’s world. Having a separation is definitely the most productive and less stressful way for adults. For example, I am always nervous when I take my son to the museum. He loves to make noise in a quiet space, so the other people’s evil eyes towards me make me really sad and upset. I can totally understand what they feel, so my feeling is complicated. I feel angry and I also feel bad to have disturbed the other people at the same time. This situation is probably more particular to Japan than the UK.

I think it’s definitely worth trying these kinds of new ideas – otherwise the situation is never going to change.

Note: At the time of this interview Natsumi Sakamoto was based in Tokyo, Japan.  She is now based in Glasgow, Scotland.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Events: Graham Foundation Series

Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, from Unraveling Modern Living, digital collage, 2019
Cultural ReProducers is excited to share a new series of events created in collaboration with the Graham Foundation this Fall, in conjunction with the exhibition Estudio Tatiana Bilbao: Unraveling Modern Living. The Mexico-City based architecture office transforms the former domestic space of the Graham Foundation's historic Madlener House to explore new forms of collectivity. CR and other groups will activate and intervene in these spaces throughout the season.


Alberto Aguilar, "Portal Court" (detail), sidewalk chalk, bean bags, rubber
balls, and public participation, 2019
Portal Court
Alberto Aguilar

Sunday, September 15, 2019
1:00pm
Graham Foundation, 4 West Burton Place
Chicago, Illinois 60610
To join us, RSVP HERE


Using pavement, chalk, bouncy balls, and bean bags, artist Alberto Aguilar transforms the sidewalks surrounding the Graham Foundation's Madlener House into a floor game court and participatory performance. This event is designed as an outdoor program for children and families though participants of every age are invited to join in.

Alberto Aguilar is a Chicago based artist. He has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; El Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana, Cuba; Palo Alto Art Center; National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago, IL; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Minneapolis Institute of Art: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; and The Art Institute of Chicago. His work is held in the collections of the National Museum of Mexican Art; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; Soho House Chicago; and the Chicago Cultural Center. Aguilar is the recipient of the 3Arts Award.

Cultural ReProducers, Making it What We Need at Glass Curtain Gallery, 2014

Making it What We Need
Christa Donner
Saturday, November 23rd, 2019
9:30am - noon

Graham Foundation
4 West Burton Place
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Help create the creative community you'd like to be a part of - in conversation with curators, artists, arts administrators, and others. Making it What We Need is a generative workshop considering alternate models for living, making, and making a living as artists, led by Cultural ReProducers organizer Christa Donner. Non-parents are welcome to join the conversation, which will be relevant to anyone working toward a sustainable life in the arts. Free, on-site childcare will be available through pre-registration. Space at this event is extremely limited. If you'd like to join the conversation, please fill out this Participation Form by November 7th.

Christa Donner is an artist, curator, and mother who incorporates drawing, participatory performance, and small-press publications to create multi-layered projects that are both intimate and community-centered. Donner’s work is exhibited widely, including projects for the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin, Germany); BankArt NYK (Yokohama, Japan); Chiaki Kamikawa Contemporary Art (Paphos, Cyprus); Yale-NUS (Singapore); the Museum Bellerive (Zurich, Switzerland), and throughout the United States. In 2012 Donner helped launch the collaborative platform Cultural ReProducers, providing skillsharing, critical dialogue, participatory events, and an international community supporting the dual work of artists raising children. 

Exploring the Grahamlener Bilbraoducers Commons
Hui-Min Tsen, view of the Graham Foundation, 2019
Hui-Min Tsen

December 7, 2019
10am

Graham Foundation
4 West Burton Place
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Come explore the Graham Foundation! Participants will be given a diverse range of prompts and sent out to interact with the historic Madlener House and Tatiana Bilbao's exhibition, "Unraveling Modern Living." What will you discover? How will you perceive the building? On return from your explorations your tales and impressions will be woven into the broader story of the building and some of Tatiana Bilbao's ideas.

 This intergenerational program is open to participants of all ages.


Hui-Min Tsen   is a photo-based, interdisciplinary artist whose work contemplates the spatial and mental landscapes residing in the gap between Here and There. In projects ranging from walking tours to boat building to works on paper, she uses research and observation to interweave stories of history and the collective imagination with our everyday experience of place and the unknown. Tsen received a BFA from the Tisch School of the Arts, and an MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited and published with the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago Artist's Coalition, MDW Fair, and Sector 2337, among others. Her book, "The Pedway of Today" was published by Green Lantern Press in 2013. She currently teaches photography at Loyola University.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Publications: Art Fair Adventure Book

Art Fair Adventure Book
Published in Chicago by Cultural ReProducers 2019
5.5" x 8.5", 11 pages

 It's Art Fair season, and we have just the thing to your keep school-age kids from getting bored while you chat with fellow art folks: our Art Fair Adventure Book. Drawn and designed by Christa Donner, this little zine has eleven action-packed pages of risographed fun for ages 7 and up, featuring a multisensory scavenger hunt, fair fashion design, comics templates, people-watching games, art review-writing, and more.

$3 US plus shipping

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Interview: Angela James

Singer-songwriter Angela James moves fluidly and collaboratively between the genres of alt country, improvised music, and indie rock. The Chicago Reader called her 2016 album, Time Will Tell, “smoldering and gorgeous.”

When Angela found herself struggling with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter, she turned to her music as an anchor.  Now she’s using it to celebrate and support artist-parents. Her forthcoming album, Quiet Night, is a collection of lullabies that evolved through the difficult days of early motherhood. As the songs became an album, Angela made a commitment to work exclusively with fellow parents on the project, from the instrumentalists and the sound producer to the publicist and the album artwork. 

Quiet Night debuts April 12th with a 3pm all-ages show on April 20th at the Hideout, the Chicago institution where the project got its start. If you’re in Chicago, bring your family! Cultural ReProducers sat down with Angela over hot mugs of tea to find out more about this labor of love.


Cultural ReProducers: Finding time for creative work as a new parent can be… complicated. How did you return to music after becoming a mother?

Angela James: After Hattie was born I did this month-long residency at the Hideout. I’d scheduled the residency before I had her, because I was like, “if I’m not back making music and performing when she’s nine months old, then I’m not relevant anymore.” (laughter) I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to reconnect.

The residency basically meant that I had to perform every Tuesday for a month, put together a bill every week. It’s an opportunity to do new material, which would be one thing if I just decided to play one show, but I was like “I’m gonna play a show every week!” These are the ideas you have when you don’t have a child yet. The first show of that residency was called Women of the World Take Over, with 18 different female performers each covering a different Chicago female performer. I got sick in the middle of it and lost my voice, and there were all kinds of things that happened. It was so much work. It was wonderful.

I had these melodies that I wrote while spending all these hours trying to get her to sleep. I was gonna go crazy otherwise. After the residency, I started making them into songs. I have no illusions that these melodies actually helped her sleep (laughter) - they were lullabies for me.

CR: That’s something I feel like people don’t talk about enough: that lullabies can be just as important to the parent as it is to the child being sung to. Singing creates this breathing and resonance that is so grounding for someone who’s exhausted and dealing with a baby that won’t go to sleep.
 

Angela: It’s also part of this whole arc of things. It’s what I’m going to play during a bedtime routine
at the end of the day, and the days are long. That’s also why I decided it would all be mid- to low-tone instruments, no percussion. The vibraphone and the bassoon, those are the instruments that just make me kind of … sit a little deeper. I can remember when I was first exposed to Peter and the Wolf as a child – the idea that instruments have their own personalities. It was huge for me. I’m a singer, but it gave me this internal sense that these things have voices just like I have a voice. The vibraphone just makes me feel… safe. There’s something about that bell-like chiming sound that is so soothing.

CR: You’ve made an intentional decision to work with fellow parents on every aspect of this album. How did that idea come about?

Angela: Well, I know some incredible musician parents in jazz or experimental new music. And then I was like, “Well, if I’m gonna have all the performers be parents, then …”

My friend Shelly usually does live sound, but she was a new mom and had just gotten a new job in broadcasting and asked me if I had a project that was fairly simple that she could record.  And I was like “Well yes, actually, I do.” And then I decided that whoever mixes it has to be a parent, and whoever does the artwork has to be a parent. And the mastering engineer. And now the publicist, she’s also a parent.

It’s been a great opportunity to observe and honor what people are able to accomplish while raising young children. Most of our kids are preschool-age. I feel like everybody’s just trying to hold on, to maintain some kind of creative practice. And at the same time - I know in my case - that creative work keeps getting better. There have been some interesting articles about this in the past few years, whether it’s time-management, or because your world view has gotten more expansive because your love is… exploding, but you also have to focus. There is something better about my work, now. And it’s cool to see that in everybody that’s involved in the project in different ways. These people’s careers are blossoming at the same time that they’re raising a newborn. That’s so inspiring to me.

CR:  You’re open about your struggle with postpartum depression. How did that experience intersect with your work and your identity as a creative professional?

Angela: “Quiet Night” came out of this really emotionally fraught time. I think it is for everybody! Even if you have a great breastfeeding experience, or your child sleeps through the night at two weeks old, which is … impossible (laughter) but some people do have really chill postpartum newborn situations. Even then, it’s still kind of crazy. As an artist I just put all this extra pressure on myself, which was another layer to my postpartum depression. I thought, “I’ll never make art again. This is just the way it’s always gonna be. This is the child I have made.” You can’t see anything else.

I feel like everybody’s just trying to hold on, to maintain some kind of creative practice. And at the same time that creative work keeps getting better.

I remember having a panic attack – [my partner] Jordan was curating at Elastic at the time, and he had to go to an art opening. We lived a couple of blocks away, but I was panicking at the thought of being home alone with Hattie. She was two weeks old at the time. I thought that was just the way people feel. It took another week of that to realize that I was suffering. We don’t realize it’s a problem because there’s not a visible support structure for that. I went in for a checkup and my doctor said, “I don’t want to offend you, but you’re not okay.” And I was like, “No offense taken. You are correct.” She connected me with a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression, so I was able to address it with talk therapy and medication. Those feelings were a huge part of this project. The more I listen to the songs on this album, the more I think that maybe they’re really for me. That they will be soothing for parents that are going through this difficult and all-consuming time.

CR: I love that idea of using music as a way of caring for people who are going through something you went through.

Angela: I didn’t set out to do that, I guess few people actually do – but the lyrics of one of the songs is like, “I don’t know what you need, I don’t know what to do, I don’t see what you see, I can’t go everywhere with you… but I love you. The most.” I think the desperation is evident in that song

CR: It’s interesting because I don’t find that edge in most of the songs. Even knowing what you went through in the process of making it, the music itself is incredibly soothing.
 

Angela: Right, well there’s one other song that’s like, “we’re both really tired. Just, please go to sleep.” But everything else is just about love. That’s the real thesis statement. I didn’t write the lyrics when there was that edge. She was finally sleeping and I was finally starting to come out of it. I hear these mythological tales of artists who can create while they’re in a horrible spot in life… I had a very difficult decade in my 20s with lots of experience that could be material to write about, but there’s no way I could have written music and lyrics when I felt that way.

CR: How would you say this is album is a departure from your previous work?

Angela: Well, it’s all me. This is the first project that I’ve done musically without Jordan. That’s a new layer that I’m still processing now, the fact that Jordan doesn’t play on it. A lot of it is logistical: he has to be home with her while I’m doing these recordings. We’re not gonna pay for a babysitter. He wrote one song, but he’s not involved in the recording. I got a DCASE Grant to manufacture it, and I just received word yesterday that I got an Illinois Arts Council Grant to pay for the PR.

CR: Congratulations!

Angela: Thank you. I’m super excited about the publicist I’m working with. She specifically does kids music. I’ve never worked with a publicist before. Usually the people who need publicists the most don’t have them, because the good ones are very expensive. If I hadn’t gotten this grant, I don’t know if I could do this. I am committed to talking about postpartum depression in an open way, and this album is a vehicle for me to do that. It’s an experience that so many women have, but we’re not encouraged to talk about it. I think that’s important.


CR: Your daughter is two years old now. How has the reality of making music while parenting measured up to your expectations pre-motherhood?
 

Angela: All babies are different. Early on I had this idea that, you know, we’ll all go to shows… I’ll wear her, and she’ll wear those ear protector things. But that’s not the child I was blessed with. I have a child that likes to be in her own bed at 7pm, and then a 45-minute interval of alone time where she chats and sings. And if you don’t give her that time by herself she’s very cranky and won’t sleep. I respect that about her. She’s not shy or introverted, but she has a sense of self-awareness out of the gate that I really admire. It took me until I was in my 30s to learn how to create some boundaries for myself! (laughter) I choose to honor that this is how she feels about these things. She doesn’t like snow, which I’m disappointed about… but you know, she doesn’t have to like snow just because I do. She matches pitch really well. I’m constantly navigating my own pressures and expectations as a mother, but also of my child. To let her be who she is.

Sometimes I feel a lot of mom guilt, because any spare time I have, I’m just trying to maintain a creative practice in my own home. I have this career that really doesn’t pay me anything, and it’s separate from childcare, it’s just… extra. It’s desire, it’s pressure, it’s all of these things – but I need it to feel okay about myself.  That realization actually made me feel better. She doesn’t need to go to dance class, she’s two! She can dance any time she wants. We all live in a building together with my mother-, father-, and sister-in-law. My mother-in-law was a concert pianist, and there’s a baby grand piano in their apartment. Hattie has a pretty decent form just from watching her grandmother. The piano’s got weighted keys - it’s not this miniaturized kid keyboard - it’s the real thing. And that’s her normal. I just want my daughter to observe her parents as artists, and see that that’s possible.