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:

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