Friday, July 19, 2013

Interview: Jennifer Reeder

Jennifer Reeder is a filmmaker and visual artist who constructs very personal narratives about landscapes, coincidence and trauma. She has made over 40 film/video projects and written 12 scripts, which have earned her international acclaim for screenings in the New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center, the 2000 Whitney Biennial, P.S.1's Generation Z, and the 48th International Venice Biennale, among many others. Meanwhile, Jennifer has been actively raising three amazing sons. We were thrilled to get her take on being an artist and a mother.

CR: Briefly describe your kids in your own words:

My oldest son is 9 and his name is Jedidiah. He is literal. His father is Shane, who is also an artist. My second son is 6 and his name is Levi. He is empathetic. His father is also Shane. My third son is 17 months and his name is Atticus. He is a lazy bum. His father is Nate, who is an artist sympathizer.

CR: How do you find a balance between parenthood, artmaking, and day job? How has this balance evolved as new kids entered the picture?

I was an artist before I became a parent, so I already knew how to hustle. The hardest adjustment was with the first kid, Jed. He was a tangible disruption to the creative routine but he was portable so I took him everywhere. I refused to accept the idea that I could not do it all. I got ballsy, or more accurately….I got vadgey.

on the set for "A Million Miles Away"
When Jed was 14 months old, I moved the two of us to San Francisco for the summer to make a film via a residency at SFAI. When Levi was 6 months old, I moved the three of us to Ohio for the summer to make a film via an award from the Wexner Center for the Arts. When I returned from maternity leave with Levi, I became the Director of Graduate Studies. I made a film while I was pregnant with Atticus and just accepted the position as Head of the Art Department. In two weeks, I start post-production on another new film, which I shot this past spring. I also just founded an organization called Tracers Book Club, which promotes feminism as a means toward social justice.  I am busier now with three children than I was with none.

For me its not so much about balance—that term suggests a false sense of serenity and order. The way it all works in our house is more like packing for a vacation at the last minute—we cram as much as we can into a backpack, trying very hard not to forget or damage anything (or anyone.)

CR: What has your process been like for returning to a studio practice after having a newborn? Any strategies you’d recommend to other artist-parents for getting through that phase?
Jennifer: Work your ass off while you are expecting—make a ton of work and secure some postpartum deadlines so you don’t have to rush directly back into the studio with a newborn. I nursed all three of my kids and so those first several weeks were crucial for attachment. The reward for 40 weeks of pregnancy is obsessively falling in love with your newborn without distraction—this is true for both moms and dads. If you have lined up some shows or screenings or a residency you have a deadline(s) for getting back into the studio. I gave a lecture at the MCA when Jed was 3 weeks old and resumed search chair committee duties when Atticus was 2 weeks old (I conducted Skype interviews with short list candidates while nursing off camera.) Trust your instincts but don’t abandon your ambition and do not let anyone shame you for either spending time with your kid(s) or spending time in your studio.

CR: When you were pregnant with Atticus, I remember you saying that you were nervous that there were so few examples of successful artist-mothers raising multiple kids. Some of this is surely generational and some is visibility -- when successful artists do have families it’s just not something that’s discussed. What’s your take on this now? Who are your models for artist-parenting / parent-artisting?

I am inspired by all working moms, from my own mother to Hilary Clinton to Angelina Jolie--we are all thriving in spite of the patriarchy. For the artist-mom in particular, there is pressure to stay active and visible which is not as significant for the artist-dad. That is, from my own experience, there is an expectation that the artist-mom will take a break from her studio practice, slow down at least or quit altogether. This assumption is not made so immediately for the artist-dad. We still live in a culture which assumes that women raise the children and abandon all professional goals in the process. This is a harmful assumption which both parents are responsible for refuting. I am all in favor of a radical re-formation of the system or a bypass altogether.

CR: Has having children affected your relationship with the art world? What alternative structures might make that world more inclusive for artists with families?

The most successful living female artist is Cindy Sherman, and she has no children. She is perhaps from a generation of women who felt compelled to choose between an art career and motherhood and although more women today choose both, the bias still exists. Art-making can be a selfish endeavor and motherhood is the antithesis of that but they needn’t cancel each other out. We must have supportive partners, families, friends, gallerists, curators, dealers, etc. which does not always happen without a mandate. Ask for what you want, not just for what you need.

Levi watching a video. image: Marianna Milhorat
I am less social now, but much more productive. I don’t like to take my kids to many art-related events, which means that I don’t go to many art-related events. I don’t want to be the woman chasing her kids around the gallery at the opening. I also don’t like to take them bar-hopping for a similar reason (jk). I love my children and I love exposing them to art but I feel comfortable leaving them at home when I want to be seen as an artist FIRST. This still means that I have it all, just not all at once. 

CR: Time management aside, has parenthood affected your creative practice / the work itself?

Jennifer: My films have always featured an unruly lone female, aggressively attempting to navigate her world and ultimately reinvent it. I borrow heavily from observation and personal experience: my work prepares me for my life and vice versa. In my earlier films, the protagonist was always a single woman, now she is usually a single mom -- parenthood has entered the narrative, and I think it’s made my work a lot more complicated. Aside from that, I steal ideas from my kids -- their minds are so weird and rubbery, I cannot resist.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Artist-Mamas You Didn't Know You Knew

One of the daunting things about motherhood for many of us is that there seem to be so few examples of successful women artists and writers with children. In fact, there may be far more than you think. Acknowledging the tricky nature of defining "success", it still seems relevant to compile a running list of widely-recognized female artists and writers who achieved acclaim while also raising one or more children. This list is by no means comprehensive -- corrections or notable additions are welcome! 

Shirin Neshat; Untitled (Mother and Child)
Rita Ackerman
Mequitta Ahuja
Diana Al-Hadid
Isabel Allende
Candida Alvarez
Janine Antoni

Ida Applebroog (4 children and the Macarthur Grant)
Diane Arbus
Ruth Asawa (6 children)
Margaret Atwood
Phyllida Barlow (5 children)
Vanessa Beecroft
Hilla Becher
Aisha Bell
Anonda Bell
Amy Bennet
Barbara Bloom
Monica Bock
Lee Bontecou
Louise Bourgeois (3 children)
Carol Bove
Gwendolyn Brooks
Cecily Brown
Joan Brown
Sharon Butler
Ingrid Calame 
Jane Campion
Janet Cardiff
Leanora Carrington
Sarah Charlesworth
Nicole Cherubini
Lauri de Chira
Susan Choi
Carmela Ciuraru
Lygia Clarke
Sophia Coppola
Sara Crowner
Melissa Dadourian
Jennifer Dalton
Katherine Daniels
Nancy Davidson
Lisa Corinne Davis
Sonia Delaunay
Joan Didion
Cheryl Donegan
Marlene Dumas
Artemisia Gentileschi
Mary Gordon
Kim Gordon
Michelle Grabner
Nicole Eisenman
Nora Ephron
Louise Erdrich (6 children)
Valie Export
Rachel Feinstein
Jane Fine
Kim Fisher
Jenny Saville
Pamela Fraser
Coco Fusco
Ann Hamilton
Grace Hartigan
Libby Hartl
Ellen Harvey
Kirsten Hassenfield
Rachel Hayes
Julie Heffernan
Barbara Hepworth (4 children)
Dana Hoey
Lisa Hoke
Jenny Holzer
Henriette Hulich
Jessica Hutchins
Yvonne Jacquette
Elisa Jensen
Natalie Jeremijenko (3 children)
Miranda July
Peggy Kaplan
Mary Kelly
Margaret Kilgallen
Barbara Kingsolver
Jamaica Kincaid
Sylvia Kolbowski
Kathe Kollwitz
Julia Kristeva
Maxine Kumin
Jhumpa Lahiri
Anne Lamott
Ellen Lanyon
Dorianne Laux
Louise Lawler
Judy Ledgerwood 
Annie Leibovitz
Simone Leigh
Laura Letinsky
Denise Levertov
Nina Levy
Maya Lin
Joan Linder
Sally Mann (3 children)
Gina Magid
Shawne Major
Tanya Marcuse
Caitlin Masley
Joyce Maynard
Myrium Mechita
Julie Mehretu
Jessica Mein
Wangechi Mutu (from her interview in Mater Mea)
Maggie Michaels
Berthe Morisot
Natalie Moore
Kristine Moran
Toni Morrison
Alice Munro
Ellie Murphy
Elizabeth Murray (3 children)
Wangechi Mutu
Amy Myers (baby at 43)
Nancy Meyers
Mira Nair
Alice Neel
Senga Nengudi
Louise Nevelson
Shirin Neshat
Alice Notley
Yoko Ono
Catherine Opie
Laura Owens
Lygia Pape
Laura Parnes
Chloe Piene
Danica Phelps
Sylvia Plachy
Sylvia Plath
Monique Prieto (3 children)
Annie Proulx (4 children)
Ana Prvacki
Jessica Rankin
Jennifer Reeder (3 children)
Adrienne Rich 

Faith Ringgold
Andrea Robbins
Roxana Robinson
Dorothea Rockburne
Ruth Root
Aura Rosenberg
Martha Rosler
Ellen Rothenberg
Mary Shelley (wrote Frankenstein as a pregnant teenager)
Bettye Saar
Jenny Saville
Anne Sexton
Katie Schimert
Jean Shin
Lisa Sigel (3 children)
Susan Silas
Laurie SImmons
Lorna Simpson 
Patti Smith
Zadie Smith 
Susan Sontag
Nancy Spero (3 children, 6 grandchildren)
Gael Stack
Olja Stipanovic
Jessica Stockholder
Julianne Swartz
Sarah Sze
Dannielle Tegeder
Austin Thomas
Yoko Ono with Sean Lennon
Elizabeth Tremante
Anne Truitt (3 children, 8 grandchildren)
Lorena Turner
Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Sarah Vanderlip
Ayelet Waldman
Alice Walker
Kara Walker
Carrie Mae Weems
Gina Werfel
Rachel Whiteread
Wendy White
Mary Wollstonecraft
Sara Wooster
Jennifer Wrobleski
Andrea Zittel