Sunday, June 29, 2014

Collaborations: Lu Heintz and Asa

Collaborations is an ongoing series of critically-engaged projects undertaken by artists with their children. Kicking off this series is Learning to Letter, a video by artist Lu Heintz with her young son Asa. To see more of Lu's work (both solo and with Asa -- it was hard to choose), visit

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Anti-Guided Walking Tour of the Museum: Cultural ReProducers + The Art Institute of Chicago

Phillipe Petit's illegal tightrope walk between the twin towers, 1974
Cultural ReProducers is pleased to team up with The Art Institute of Chicago to present An Anti-Guided Walking Tour of the Museum led by art critic and art historian Lori Waxman on Saturday, July 19th, 11:00 am.

Walking is one of the most primary human actions, yet for the last 100 years artists have experimented with it as an art form. Consider the revolutionary and aesthetic potential of this everyday gesture as Lori Waxman presents a lecture on walking works followed by the chance to enact several pieces for yourself, in and around the museum.

An Anti-Guided Walking Tour of the Museum is presented in the Ryan Education Center, located in the Art Institute's Modern Wing. This event is part of the Art Institute's annual Kaleidoscope Festival, allowing families free access to the museum and its events.

Space at this event is limited. Pre-register to secure your spot!

Eventbrite - An Anti-Guided Walking Tour of the Museum

The Cultural ReProducers Event Series is a roaming series of free lectures, performances, and other events designed to allow parents with small children participate more actively in the art community. Events take place on weekend mornings and feature great artist-curated programming, on-site childcare and all-ages receptions.

Our goal is twofold: to give parents and their kids the chance to participate as critical members of the arts community, and to inspire cultural institutions to better serve artists and audiences, providing positive models for future programming. This project is made possible through support from the Propeller Fund.

Christine Hill, Tourguide? 1999
Frequently Asked Questions:

I’m not a parent. Can I come? Absolutely, and bring your friends. We hope these events will be of interest to anyone engaged in the arts - not just families. One of our goals is to include parents in the context of the broader art community, which means it’s vital to have non-parents there as part of the conversation too. Be sure to pre-register if you'd like a voucher for free museum admission.

I am a parent. Does my kid have to be in child care, or can I keep them with me? Parents who'd rather keep their children with them during the lecture are welcome to do so. We're just offering the option to participate without the distraction of wrangling small children.

Where in the museum is the Ryan Education Center? If you enter the Modern Wing of the museum on Monroe, you'll find it on the left-hand side, before the admission gates. Whether you're there with kids or not, entry to the Ryan Education Center (and this event) is free.

Why do I need to pre-register for child care? For safety and legal reasons, space is limited to 18 children per event, and we expect it to fill quickly. Registration is first-come, first-served.

What time should I arrive if I have children? Sign-in starts when the museum opens at 10:30 am. The event itself starts at 11 and will last about 45 minutes. Of course, timing with children is often a bit unpredictable. You’re welcome to sign in and quietly join us at any time during the event.

Who will be watching my kids? We’ve hand-picked a great selection of experienced babysitters and playgroup facilitators who will lead hands-on activities linked to the events that parents will be attending. These are people we know and trust with our own kids regularly. Keep in mind that this is a grassroots, artist-run childcare project, not a licensed daycare facility. You will be asked to read and sign a waiver before registering your child.

What about parking and public transportation?  The Art Institute is easily accessible by CTA train. The Brown, Green, Orange, Pink, and Purple lines all stop above ground at Adams/Wabash, one block west of the museum. The Red and Blue lines stop underground at Monroe, just a few blocks away. Parking downtown can be difficult, but the Art Institute offers reserved parking at several lots within walking distance of the museum if you pay ahead.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Cultural ReProducers Meet-up!

This Sunday, JUNE 29th, 2014
Cultural ReProducers Meet-up
Comfort Station, 2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.
10am - 12pm

Bring the kids and join us as Cultural ReProducers hosts an informal art/play meet-up this coming Sunday morning at the Comfort Station in Logan Square. Enjoy a casual walk through of the exhibition the Swing and the Wall, connect with other artists, writers, musicians, curators and cultural reproducers, blow some bubbles and make chalk drawings. There’ll also be a weekly farmer’s market going on right
John Preus's The Swing
across the street, and the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Fest nearby.

There’s metered parking along Milwaukee Ave., the Logan Square Blue Line Stop is a two block walk, and bikes and strollers are welcome! Bathroom on premises. No RSVP necessary.

Any questions?
Please contact Thea at:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Children Are A People

Artist and writer Lise Haller Baggesen presented the following talk as part of The ‘M’ Word, a day of panels dedicated to critical discussion about artists and motherhood, organized by The Feminist Art Project for the 2014 College Art Association Conference. It’s a remarkable piece that reconsiders the role of children both in her own practice and in the art world, and we liked it so much that we asked to share it here. Lise is the author of the forthcoming book "Mothernism," published by Green Lantern Press and The Poor Farm Press.

“Children are a People” implies the perspective that children are not only fellow human beings but also members of a group with its own cultural significance, and that collaborating with children would therefore imply navigating a shared (psychological) space with diplomacy and curiosity.

I borrowed the title from an exhibition held at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (In Humlebæk, north of Copenhagen, where I grew up) in honor of the International year of the child, 1979. Its vision was as simple as it was profound: real art by real artists for real children! Works in the show included a winged contraption on which you could hang from the ceiling and pretend to fly, and a grass-clad Volkswagen Beetle. But what I remember most vividly was a giant MOTHER, (pictured here) - that you could lie inside and pretend you were back in the womb. My visit to this exhibition as a 10 year old was seminal to my own education as an artist, as this was the first time I was addressed at eye level as a museum visitor, not with belittling “kid friendly art”, but instead as an “art friendly kid”.

In order to raise “Art Friendly Kids” -- and by this I mean Children who are interested and invested in art, which in my view is what you look for in a collaborator of any age --instead of conforming to ideas of “Child Friendly Art,” we need to accept the premise of a bilateral knowledge transfer, based on trust. The intersection of family life and artistic practice is contested territory rife with cultural anxiety, but can be fertile ground which can serve as starting points for new artistic strategies.

Here I'll examine some of the “rules” of critical play, knowledge, transfer and trust, as it relates my own experience from collaborating with my son Adam when he was about 4 years old:

The first of these collaborations came about in rather a mundane way: One day after dinner my husband was joking around with Adam, pretending to eat him, and I recorded the event with a digital camera, as one does. When Adam felt that his luck was running out, he introduced an inflatable plastic crocodile into the game, to eat his dad - and let him win the game. When I looked at the pictures afterwards, I couldn’t help feeling a slight pang of jealousy: “Damn, if I could only draw something like that,” followed by “…why not?”

In the following months, we acted and recorded a number of short scenarios, resulting in the body of work 'Stories for Boys' from 2004: simple narratives consisting of 7-8 drawings each. Most of the storylines were triggered by everyday experience - Daddy Chainsaw Massacre is a tale of jealousy and woe in which Adam takes revenge on his dad for ignoring him while playing with his nephews, while the purchase of a Halloween skeleton suit inspired the adventures of “Skeleton Boy” -an orphaned skeleton baby who is found by “Mummy Death” one day as she roams the forest; an alter-ego invented to make his fears, inherent to growing up, a subject of conversation and jest.

Young children’s fascination with scary things can be disturbing for parents, but it is nevertheless important to them. Sometimes what one is afraid of has to be wrapped up in something more comfortable in order to cope. Hence the theme in many of these role playing games of ‘playing dead’. Like the classic game “you are the monster mummy and I am the monster baby”, they reinforce the parent/child relationship and serve as affirmation of the recurring question “would you still love me if...”
Mummy Death & the Skeleton Baby, 2004, pencil on paper

Tellingly, there is also a parallel development to the obsession with morbidity in this age group: the development of humor. Not only are we facing the blind wall of our own death, we also find the jib door to get us out of this cul-de sac: the joke! And so, to me at least, these stories are also very funny. As an example, Mommy and the Hoover teaches you how to deal with the sheer feeling of disempowerment that makes you want to hoover up your mummy if she doesn’t behave. Either way, you don’t have to be 4 years old to sympathize. This last story came about as straightforward bargain: One day when I was telling Adam off for something he’d done he turned to me and said, "Mom, when you talk to me like that I just wanna throw you on the floor so you break and then hoover you up in the hoover." And I said, "Ok, you get to do that if I get to photograph it! "

What fascinates me in these stories is the way children conquer the world through play, and how they manipulate the world in order to make sense of it and to get to grips with the sometimes frightening truths you encounter in recognizing the limitations of your own individuality.

from the series House Arrest, 2005
In terms of narrative structures children’s logic and solutions are often surprisingly elegant. An example of this is 'House Arrest,' a story I developed partly in frustration over my at times homebound existence, in which I play the guitar thief which is arrested and driven off by two police officers. It ended on Adam’s suggestion of a lighter, playful note with an air guitar session at the police station, which in turn became the next series, 'Electric Motherland.'

Through our work with these stories I (re)discovered what I already knew, namely that children are deep — sometimes disturbingly so — and they don’t shy away from big existential problems if given the opportunity to delve into them. Their wild and weirdly fantastic narratives are not a threat to their sense of reality, but serve as reaffirmation of, and ongoing commentary on, same reality. And this intersection of fantasy and reality is where play, and art, can happen.

Even so, to many of those in support of art education for kids, the notion of kids as a topic or as participants in the ‘real’ art world remains an uneasy notion. Part of this reserve, I believe, stems from the fact that mothers -- not the mythological creatures, but the real ones and their very real experiences — are still a rarity in the contemporary art museum and in academic discourse.

In ‘The Family Track: Keeping your Faculties while you Mentor, Nurture, Teach and Serve’ Coiner and George offers this explanation: “the fear of children [in academia] specifically extends from adults’ distinct awareness of the capacity of children [...] Children embarrass us because they point ever too cleverly and clearly to our denial of personal, material, and maternal history.” Motherhood, it seems, is still too embarrassingly feminine a topic for the art establishment to embrace.

But outside of that, I am convinced that the latent issue of “exploitation” in relation to children as collaborative art producers arises because we, collectively, do not children seriously as (critical) cultural agents, alongside adults. In other words, even when we invite children to contribute to the production of artwork, we still assume that they do not have a stake or an interest in the art world for which these works are conceived.

The implied knowledge being that children don’t “get” art, and so if they are involved in any
matter of art production, this innocence must have been taken advantage of -and they can therefore only participate in cultural production as “nimble fingers”, their “nimble wits” left unexplored.

Added to this is the fact that the art market values a steady art production, in order to ‘market’ an artist, whereas a (true) collaboration with your child will develop with it –which in
Eskimo Kiss of Death, 2004, oil and acrylic on panel
turn might mean that just as you have “struck gold” with something that resonates with your professional support system (gallery, museum or whatever), your collaborator might already have moved on… at which point you need to make clear to yourself where your loyalties lie and who you are advocating for!

I decided to end my presentation with a picture from last summer’s Great Poor Farm Experiment in Wisconsin, where Adam assisted me in installing my Mothernism tent. Although this was not strictly speaking a collaborative work, I was very happy when he referred to it as our installation. The week we spent building there together, reminded me of one of the cardinal rules of collaboration: Shared investment involves shared decision-making.

In the works with 'Stories for Boys' I used as my example, our respective roles were fairly clear-cut: Adam being the storyteller and I the illustrator, with a clear distinction between the home and the studio. But if I ever wondered about it, Adams investment and authorship in these drawings became apparent, when on the day of the opening, he ran ahead to the gallery space and opened the door to me and my friends with the greeting:

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Swing and the Wall

John Preus's The Swing, made from discarded public school chairs
This Saturday is the beginning of The Swing and The Wall: Envisioning new autonomous learning, Rethinking school, Reimagining Chicago, a collaborative project put together by several artists and artist groups at the Comfort Station, an art space in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.

The Swing and the Wall features a temporary stage set made from discarded Chicago Public School desks and chairs, prototyping an everyday free theater, housed in the cozy space of the Comfort Station. Designed as a test site for ideas about programmed and unstructured play and learning, the exhibition's minimal built environment will be activated by an ongoing series of events and performances, including the upcoming chocolate meditation (!), bookbinding workshop, and comedy showcase.

These learning-based social events are all focused around the central theme of education, a topic that resonates with most parents. By experimenting with various modes and philosophies of education and openly discussing public education and school reform, The Swing and The Wall tries to challenge and empower viewers of all ages to exercise agency over their own education.

Don't miss the opening is this Saturday night from 7-9pm, as artist & parent Laura Shaeffer performs with her kids to music played by artist parent John Preus. It’s a potluck, so join us for food, music and frightening statistics!

I am 9 and Southside Hub of Production proclaim four Sundays in June for creative idleness and pleasurable learning, inviting everyone to participate in both a programmed and drop-in way.

Projects Include:
The Swing, created by John Preus 
The Wall, created by Kevin Reiswig
with a mind map by Jim Duignan
and contributions by Jerry Marciniack,
North Branch Projects,
Sammuel Petrichos of Spice!,
Eleanor Ray, Clive Tanaka,
Kate Hadley Williams, David Yontz,
You, and many more to come!

Curated by Thea Liberty Nichols

For a full schedule of events see their Facebook page.
Drop by or contact to get involved

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Aguilar Family on Open Engagement 2014, Part II

Open Engagement is an annual conference exploring diverse perspectives in social practice. This year's theme was Life/Work, with keynote speeches by amazing artist-mothers Mierle Laderman Ukeles and J. Morgan Puett. The conference also featured Human Hotel, an evolving project by the Danish group Wooloo, providing free housing for conference attendees traveling with their families as well as on-site daycare. Needless to say we wanted to include a full report here. We got a great one thanks to the incredible Aguilar family, who between the six of them managed to participate in just about every aspect of the conference, from child care and housing to a group performance and conversation for the conference itself. We’re presenting their review in two parts. Here, part II:

registration materials, Open Engagement 2014

Paolo Aguilar, 11

When we first went to the Queens Museum we got our name tags to get in for the three days. The second day we went to the kid’s daycare. There we made a city out of blocks around the redwood trees that Martin gave us. Martin picked a great house and company and people for us to live with. Whenever we asked Joel and Avi for something they gave it to us, whenever we asked to help them they said no let us do it. They were super nice. They also had a cute dog named Daisy. Sometimes she was feisty and sometimes she was nice. She cared about Avi but not as much as she cared about Joel, her daddy. The third day we did our presentation. My dad sang a one-minute song. My sister talked about pictures of our family. My brother and sister sang together and then my mom sewed or something and I was barely in it. I just moved a remote control car during my sister’s talk and it was the end of our presentation. I did not really like it because I did not do anything. But everything else was great.

Madeleine Aguilar, 16

When the GPS read that there was only 1 minute until we reached our hosts’ house, we were all terrified. By that time, we had already walked around New York City and it was the most amazing place I had ever been. Everything felt so different -- like another country, but it wasn’t. That’s what made it so amazing; I didn’t know that a city like that could exist in America.

We were getting closer and closer to the house and it was night. The little destination flag
New York 3014, acrylic on brown paper
drawing by Madeleine Aguilar
was right in front of us, and we started driving really slow. We didn’t know how the house looked or how our hosts looked.  Every house we passed could be the one we were staying in. I would look at a house and tell myself “ok, that one wouldn’t be too bad,” or, “ I’d be fine if it was this one”. We’ve had many bad experiences staying in strangers’ homes - relating to shedding cats, dead bugs, and lots of dust- so I was just trying to make myself feel better. But when my dad pulled into the house, I didn’t need to try to be optimistic. Everything about it was welcoming and beautiful, and it was filled with light.

Joel was waiting outside to meet us with Daisy, their dog. We talked with him outside for a long time before he took us inside to meet his wife, Avi. They cleaned the whole house and swept the porches just for our arrival. They offered us Klondike bars and ice cream sandwiches, mangos and grapes. Joel was so happy when my dad taught him his special mango cutting technique. They set up mattresses in the basement for us to sleep on. They had a Ping-Pong table down there and we played it every night. Every morning we ate breakfast together. The light was so beautiful in their house in the morning because they had windows on their ceiling. One morning we ate bagels and smoked salmon outside on their porch. The salmon looked squishy and red so I didn’t think I’d like it, but I tasted it anyways and it was so good. On our last day together, my dad made mole and rice and beans. They loved it, especially the mole. That night my brother and I performed music for them. They were so happy, they asked for an encore. We all stayed up late that night talking because we knew that we had to say goodbye in the morning. It was really hard to say goodbye.

Even though most days we were busy with the conference and exploring New York, it was so nice to come back home to our friends in their nice, quiet neighborhood, far from the city, to hear their funny stories and to tell our stories as well. I loved spending time with Joel and Avi, and it’s weird to think that it was coincidental events that brought our families together so perfectly.

Alberto Aguilar (father)

Upon entering the Queens Museum to register for the conference the attendant asked for our names and was surprised to hear that we were all presenters and each had an assigned name tag. She then gave us each a canvas bag with a big OE on it that was filled with gifts and the conference program. This made my kids really excited.
eating Lunch at the Unisphere, Flushing Meadows
Corona Park outside of the Queens Museum

The Queens Museum is building is the site of the 1939 and later 1964 World’s Fair. 

From 1946-1950 this building also housed the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations.

The crown jewel of the Queens Museum is a miniature scaled model of New York City that was built for the 1964 World’s Fair.

On the second day of the Open Engagement conference their was a 75th and 50th anniversary festival of the NYC World's Fair that took place in the park outside of the Queens Museum and brought a great crowd into the building while the conference was happening.

We ate at a Mexican Restaurant in Queens that makes fresh tortillas daily and provides them for many restaurants around New York City. After enjoying our food there I gave our server a pack of El Milagro tortillas from Chicago that I had in the van as a gift for our host family. In exchange he gave me a free pound of his fresh tortillas in gratitude, which we ate at a meal that I made for Joel and Avi on our last night in their home.
redwood trees and blocks in the daycare

As a teenager Avi went to Denmark as an exchange student where she formed a strong bond with her host family there that continues until this day. On Avi’s advice, her daughter Dana also went to Denmark her first year out of high school. There she interned for Martin Rosengaard, the founder of Wooloo, the group that runs Human Hotel, which arranged our housing with Joel and Avi Kopel in New Jersey. They treated us with great hospitality and made us feel at home during our time at the conference. Our children love them dearly.

As part of the daycare in the conference each of our children was given a redwood tree to plant and imagine in the year 3014. We brought two of these home to Chicago, gave one to Joel and Avi and the other to my friend Clintel Steed whom we visited in Brooklyn.

Read Part I