Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Interview: Kelly O'Brien

the O'Brien Family, 2018


Kelly O’Brien is a Toronto-based independent filmmaker and a mother of three whose autobiographical work often features her children. In 2007 she left behind her career as a TV producer to care for her second child, Teddy, who was born with cerebral palsy. Three years later she returned to independent film, pursuing an MFA in Film Production and eventually creating the documentary Softening, about her family’s experience having a child with a severe disability. The film won the grand jury prize in the shorts competition at the 2013 DOC NYC festival. Two of her shorts were presented as Op-Docs by The New York Times online, where she wrote, "Having children has transformed my creative life in ways that constantly surprise me. Sometimes I wish I could approach the world from a less personal perspective, but I can’t. Instead I try to make work that captures the poetry of the everyday and finds universal themes through my family’s experiences.” 



Kelly O’Brien’s films resonate with many, and have been especially important to Allison Ellingson, an artist finding her footing while raising two young children, one of whom also has cerebral palsy. She interviewed Kelly for Cultural ReProducers, and their conversation explores systems of support, grief and joy, and the choice to share all this through artmaking. 



Note: italicized photo captions below represent text O'Brien used when sharing on social media.



Here's another failed attempt at a family portrait. I'm starting
a collection. I listened to an interview with Anne Carson
recently and she said, "That’s what you discover when you look
at your old family photographs — a lot of them are pictures of
nothing, very evocative pictures of nothing."

That slight difference between nothing and something is why,
I guess, I keep trying.


Allison Ellingson / Cultural ReProducers: Briefly describe your kids - and how parenthood has changed your creative practice.

Kelly O'Brien: I live in Toronto with my husband Terence and our three kids: Emma (14), Teddy (11) and Willow (7). If I had to reduce their temperaments to a few adjectives I would describe Emma as intense, curious, creative and moody; Teddy as joyful, mysterious, sweet and challenging; and Willow as fun, defiant, warm and imaginative.

It’s not like I wasn’t creative before motherhood, but I would have to say that the experience of having children has enriched my artistic life in ways that constantly inspire me. If I wasn’t a documentary filmmaker interested in personal storytelling I think it would be much harder to find that motherhood/career balance. I’m glad those stars aligned.

Whether mothers can make “good” art about their children and whether or not it’s even valued by the culture at large seems like a hot topic these days, evidenced by a slew of recent articles on the subject. The truth is I don't spend enough time in any professional art world context to know how difficult it really is for other artist mothers. At this point in my life, I’m grateful for one creative burst a day!

During our emails back and forth for this interview you wrote something about your life that resonated so deeply with mine. “Some days,” you wrote, "I feel like I am falling through an abyss and nothing makes sense or matters, while other times I have total clarity that making something beautiful is all I need to do in life.”  I feel like we're kindred spirits.

Allison: That's how I felt when I first saw Softening. I'm so glad to talk with you about the beauty and heartbreak of our family lives. My son, Hans, has cortical visual impairment and as a result, can’t see patterns, which makes the textile artist in me so sad. How does Teddy experience your work?

Kelly: That’s a tough question. If you asked me a few years ago, I wouldn’t be able to answer without crying. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be able to answer at all. Teddy has cerebral palsy of the “severely disabled” kind, both physically and developmentally. He’s also legally blind and deaf, although he can see and hear a little – more than the medical tests account for. All this to say I don’t think he experiences my work as a viewer. But sometimes he has fun with the process, which really is the most important part. Because I make work about my kids, our family and everyday life, Teddy is often one of the subjects, and there’s nothing he likes more than being with his two sisters. I’ve found, at first quite unexpectedly, that making films or taking photographs opens up different opportunities for us to spend time together and Teddy loves that.


Allison: I love this picture! It reminds me of Hans, whose favorite place to be is sitting with one of us on the couch. He also has severe cerebral palsy, of his own variety, and my question to you today is: how do you make sense out of the caregiving role of "special needs" motherhood, and how do you find time to make work given its demands (appointments, therapy etcetera)? 


Kelly: For the first few years of my life with Teddy, I made zero work. I actually didn’t think I would make anything again. It was enough to make it through a day with Teddy and his various appointments without sinking into sadness and worry. If someone had told me then that I would go on to make a film about the experience and that a short version of it would end up on the NYTimes website, I never would’ve believed them.

By the time Teddy was around three years old, I started to feel a little less overwhelmed and a little more restless. I couldn’t go back to my old job as a TV producer because the hours were too long, so I applied to do an MFA in film production. I knew that if I could find the strength to make a film about my experience, I might be able to reach other parents and siblings in a similar situation. Most days it was too hard to make that film – it took a certain distance that grief doesn’t give you – but eventually, over time, little bits of recorded life turned into a diary film about our story. (I must point out here that I couldn’t have done this without the emotional and financial support of my husband Terence. His jobs as a teacher and art writer have kept us afloat – although with very little subsidized government help for kids with special needs, it hasn’t been easy.)

My Brother, Teddy, a short Op-Doc version of Softening, from The New York Times

The film I made, called Softening, took a long time, almost five years, and then Willow was born so I was back to full-on childcare, with even less time to make films. But back in 2009 I reluctantly joined Facebook. We were having a benefit to help with Teddy’s therapy and care costs. It was a way to get the word out about the event. I didn’t have much to do with Facebook again for the next few years until I somewhat spontaneously started posting pictures and stories about my kids. I’ve always been interested in trying to capture the everyday, the poetry of it, and Facebook became an unexpected way for me to do that. I didn’t have the time, energy, money or patience to make a film, and I wasn’t into social media at all (I still don’t know how to tweet!), but looking back I must have been desperate to make something, anything. I liked the immediacy of Facebook. I never saw what I was doing as “art” per se. I never referred to it as an art project. It was more of a daily experiment, a way to make sense of what was happening around me. In an interview with Marguerite Anderson about her memoir, La Mauvaise Mère, she said, “The relationship between a woman and her children is I think the most intimate relationship one can have in life. I really believe that, very deeply, so it's important that we write about it and truthfully.” I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I used Facebook as a way to do just that.

For the past two years, all three kids have been in school during the day so I’ve had more time for my work. Last fall I started a PhD in Environmental Studies, with the hope of turning my dissertation into a personal essay film that tries to find some beauty in this time of environmental crisis.

The truth is though, even before Teddy, I never had the confidence in what I did as a filmmaker to think that I could turn it into a full-fledged career, and over the years I’ve become less ambitious — my priorities naturally shifted after Teddy was born. But slowly, but surely, I just kept making small things.

After having a kid with disabilities, and coming to terms with the painful truth that life doesn’t always work out the way you thought it would, you don’t take as much for granted, at least I try not to. There are still long stretches of time when I make nothing, or when I feel like whatever I make is terrible, and who cares about me and my family and what I think anyway?! But mostly, I’m just so grateful I have a way to express how I feel. It’s less lonely.

 
"What are inside trees?" she asks.

I think she wanted an anatomy lesson but it made me think that maybe if we thought more about the insides of things we would care more.
 

Allison: What drew you to environmental studies?

Kelly: I grew up on the West Coast just outside Vancouver, near the ocean, a forest and mountains.  When I moved to Toronto over 20 years ago I thought it was the ugliest place on Earth. I’ve come to love many things about it, like my friends and the cosmopolitan-ness of the place — everything but the landscape — which, if you’re from beautiful British Columbia (the province’s license plate slogan), is pretty significant!

Anyway, when I had kids I felt like they were missing out on the idyllic childhood that I had in proximity to nature. They got traffic, pollution and urban density instead. But when Emma was about six she attended an elementary school downtown that was beside a street endlessly under construction. I’ll never forget this one cold November afternoon after picking her up. We got to the crosswalk and she cried, ”Look mom!” She was pointing to a tiny tomato plant growing up through the cracks in the cement. In the middle of the city, in the ground beneath our feet, I was reminded that there’s resilience and beauty. That moment was kind of a turning point for me, and since then, whenever I can, I try to expose my kids to nature in the city. Turns out it’s not that hard to find once you start looking for it.

So my interest in environmental studies extends backwards to where I grew up, but also forwards, because like all parents, I’m worried about the world we’re leaving behind for our children.

Allison: Beyond your husband, where did you draw emotional support as you began to make work about your experience with Teddy?

Kelly: When I went back to graduate school I was the oldest student by decades and the only mother, but because I’d been part of the art community in Toronto for a long time, many of the professors in the film department knew me a little. If it wasn’t for their unanimous, unwavering support I never would’ve been able to finish Softening. They pushed me along in the most gentle way. There are so few personal films about kids like Teddy, especially ones outside of mainstream portrayals like movie-of-the-week happy-ever-after narratives, so I think my professors knew the value of what I was doing and did everything they could to facilitate it, both emotionally and creatively. 

It took me so long to finish the film that when I was done, I needed a break from making work about that experience. Every image of Teddy carries such weight and I constantly wrestle with how to transcend the burden of representation so he isn’t just seen as a disabled child but as the happy-go-lucky and challenging kid that he is. It was a lot to take on, especially as his mother. I was also spending more time with my youngest, Willow, because Teddy and Emma were at school during the day, so I became immersed in her world and ended up photographing and writing about her. The short NYTimes Op-Docs film, How Does Life Live? was inspired by all the questions that Willow asked me. Recently though, I’ve been approached by a film producer to make a follow-up film to Softening, so I’ve been thinking more about that. I don’t think the process will be as intense. Life is lighter now. I mean, not always, but the sadness is bearable and there is more joy.


Emma paints Willow. Willow paints Emma. Emma and Willow paint Teddy.

Summer’s rare moment of sibling togetherness.

Allison: What is your relationship like with the disability justice movement and culture?

Kelly: When Teddy was born, people always wanted me to meet their friend, or their friend of a friend, who had a child like Teddy. I also heard a lot of miracle stories — you should meet so and so because they did this with their child and now he or she can walk, talk, hear or see …. The gesture to connect me with others was kind and well-intentioned — the hope always being that introducing me to the right person would make me feel better, less alone — but the truth is, it rarely did.

Early on, a social worker suggested that Terence and I go to a play group for parents with special needs babies. We went once, but no baby there had as many needs as Teddy and we left feeling even worse. And then Teddy’s physiotherapist put me in touch with another mom with a special needs kid. I’ll never forget meeting her for the first time and telling her how lost and grief-stricken I felt. When I asked if she felt the same way, she basically told me that wallowing in sorrow was no way to move forward. “I just willed myself to move on,” she explained. But I was falling apart. I had no idea how to will myself into any place other than the one I was in, and no amount of practical advice from a stranger, no matter how much we had in common, was going to help.

Years later I was screening Softening at a hospital event and I told the story about that woman, more as a way to talk about my own slow process. I wanted to reassure other parents in the audience that some of us need time, possibly years, to make sense of their new life as a parent raising a child with disabilities. Coincidentally, the woman was at the event. She came up to me afterwards and apologized. “I’m so sorry I made you feel worse,” she said. “I should’ve known better.”

Those early encounters definitely made me less interested in reaching out to others like me, but I was also so overwhelmed by what had happened that I wasn’t interested in connecting with anyone outside my very tiny world, period. Retreating became my way of coping.

In the last few years I’ve tried to identify more with the disability justice movement because I’ve felt like I need to be more of an advocate or spokesperson for kids like Teddy. For example, I admire one of Teddy’s teachers so much and recently made a short film called Walk With Me based on a short story she’d written about working with kids with special needs for over a decade. It’s more polemical than other work I’ve made, but it felt necessary.

Allison: How do you navigate the terrain of making your children’s lives public?

Kelly: I’m going to begin my answer to your question with another one of my Facebook posts:


"I like this picture you took," Emma tells me, "but it's the opposite of Willow." 

"What do you mean?" I ask. 

"I don't know, it's just not her."

I know lots of people who would never post pictures of their kids on Facebook. The whole idea makes them uncomfortable. I totally get it, but it still makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. I want to say my kids are my muses, they’re amateur actors, occasional collaborators, but I’m not sure this is a good enough answer. When asked about her photographs of her family, Sally Mann replied, "The fact is that these are not my children; they are figures on silvery paper slivered out of time. They represent my children at a fraction of a second on one particular afternoon….These are not my children at all; these are children in a photograph.”


I have a harder time separating my kids from my pictures of them.


Now that Emma’s older, the posts with her have become more collaborative. She’ll say things like, “Take a picture of me, Mom!” or if Willow says something wise or funny, Emma will encourage me to write about it. It’s like I have another pair of eyes and ears helping me. I also ask Emma for permission before I post something about her, but I feel less comfortable sharing her life publicly. Willow is still a bit young to understand what I’m doing, but she likes scrolling through the pictures even though she sometimes tires of me taking them! Teddy will never really get what I'm up to, but I try my best to represent him in a way that's accurate, in a way that's true to his sweet and complicated being. More than anything, I feel like the process has opened up communication between all of us, given us insight into the different ways we see and understand the world. I also know that my time with them is limited and one day they'll be telling stories about me. As British novelist Rachel Cusk writes, “Children are characters in the family story we tell – until, one day, they start telling it themselves."



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Allison Ellingson is an artist working primarily with textile processes and the social fabric. She received a B.A. from St. Olaf College in 2002, a Master of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary in 2007, and in 2015 earned an M.F.A. in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Originally from Chicago, Ellingson recently moved to rural Minnesota. She is the mother of two human beings.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Interview: Laura Shaeffer

Compound Yellow Workspace, drawing by Madeline Aguilar


Laura Shaeffer
is an artist-organiser cultural producer, and informal educator based in Oak Park, Illinois since 2016. Over the past 20 years, she has worked alone and in collaboration on numerous projects housed within unconventional and often underutilized spaces on the South Side of Chicago, including Home GalleryThe Op Shop and Southside Hub of Production (SHoP) and now, in Oak Park, Compound Yellow. 


She specializes in developing collaborative networks in the arts and other creative endeavors.

"Her approach is a combination of activism and common sense; community building and home-making. She honors domestic spaces as sites of radical, informal pedagogy, and this manifests itself in an important through line that runs across her projects; they act as platforms for kids to express their creativity and imagination, and indulge their curiosity. Alongside immersing them in art and cultural production, an important byproduct of this is kids’ engagement with other kids, families, neighbors and neighborhoods. By remaining open, nurturing organic expansion and leveraging intuition, Shaeffer stewards growth rather than shoehorning artists into rigid themes or mapping them onto discrete timelines."
                                                                                           - Thea Liberty Nichols for Bad at Sports


Cultural ReProducers is thrilled to share this interview with Laura conducted by artist and art historian Rachel Epp Buller, whose recent research has led her to investigate care, correspondence, and domestic art spaces as creative practice.

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CR: As a 'Cultural ReProducer,' what would you like to share with us about your family?

Laura Shaeffer (third from the left) and family.
Laura: My husband, Andrew, and I have two sons, Jasper now 16 and Sebastian almost 14, and a very sweet but challenging Bull Terrier, Shelby. I think most every project I’ve been involved in since becoming a new parent has been inspired by my children's surprising perspectives, needs, and honest responses to the conditions of their lives. They are both introverts like their father, extremely creative and critical people who have more or less gone along with my crazy ideas and strategies for how to work with whatever you have to create a world in which you want to live.

When I moved back to the U.S. from Berlin, where I had been living for many years, I experienced culture shock and felt very isolated, and having children initially increased that sense of isolation and feeling alienated from the art world. To address this issue, we decided to open our own home in Hyde Park as a “gallery,” a place to gather, meet other artists and get to know our neighbors.

It was at that point that I began to see my kids and other kids as collaborators: with their spontaneous and unbridled curiosity, their ridiculous gestures, and their brutal honesty, they became at times Fluxus mentors, instigators, guinea pigs and my hardest critics. I realized the more I tried to be a “good” parent and do what “good” Moms are supposed to do, the worse it was for my kids. I had to find a way, or multiple ways,  to combine creative practices with parenting, and this led to HOME, our first project together. 



Hoyun Son (stairs) and Samantha Hill (photos) at HOME, 2013


CR: You've experimented with a number of different types of alternative arts spaces. Can you tell us about the different motivations behind HOME, The Op Shop, SHoP, and Compound Yellow?

Laura: I think finding creative ways of meeting unmet needs in our neighborhoods as well developing strategies for finding collaborators and new connections between people is the common motivation behind all these projects for me. Also, I love art experienced in unconventional places.

 The first project space we opened in 2000 was in a dilapidated old department store above the Arc Thrift Store; we called it CAN Gallery. For one year we invited local artists (mostly young students) to exhibit and interspersed these local shows with exhibitions of Berlin-based artists. The motivation here was to ease the culture shock of moving back to the U.S. after 13 years in Europe and to find new connections with artists in Chicago.

The second project, HOME, we started 3 years after moving to Hyde Park and after having two small boys. The motivation was to build a creative community where you live. I invited all of my neighbors, kids, families, older people and artists from all over Chicago and beyond. We ran HOME for 7 years and had at least 12 exhibitions. Through this experiment we met so many people living in Hyde Park and so many artists living all over Chicago. In this sense it was a very fulfilling experience.

In 2009 Hyde Park was riddled with empty storefronts; I wondered why there were no independent galleries or independent cultural projects here so I decided to find a public space to make one. I approached Mac Realty with an offer to clean up and care for an empty space for one month for $1, returning it in better condition when I left. This was the start of a series of experimental cultural projects that moved all over Hyde Park. The Op Shop had a sense of freedom and fluidity: each Op Shop had a strategy or theme, and for most of these I worked in partnership with a different artist. It became a way to informally research the neighborhood of Hyde Park and the broader South Side.

 Soft Shop, a participatory installation by Chris Lin and Kayce Bayer at SHoP, 2012

Op Shop opened the door and paved the way to a bigger and more ambitious project that developed with the opportunity of renting a 16-room mansion, the Fenn House, near the University of Chicago campus. In 2010, SHoP (Southside Hub of Production), was conceived by a small group of forward thinkers and artists including John Preus, Eric Peterson, Mike Phillips, and myself as a place to stimulate local cultural activity, provide spaces for artists and neighbors to work, perform, exhibit, collaborate and socialize, and for relevant community programming.

SHoP became a vital cultural and social hub for all ages. For the 15 months of its existence, SHoP continued to enjoy that fluid, flexible and organic quality of the Op Shop but the question of sustainability loomed over us as Hyde Park became more and more gentrified. Fenn House was put up for sale in 2014.



Sebastian, Jasper, & Andrew at HOME w. work by Shawn Greene and Katrin Asbury 
 CR: How did your children react to living with art in their home and to having their home double as a gallery space for the public (at least periodically)?

Laura: I think they had mixed feelings about all of it. Their views and memories change over the years. On any given day, they may say something like: "I don't know, it was fun I guess," or  "No, I loved it, it was cool being around all of those artists and doing crazy things," to other less favorable responses that I have had to pay attention to, like "I just want to have some privacy and I don't care about art or any of this!"



CR: I read that part of your vision for SHoP was to offer an after-school space for kids - a kind of community maker-space. Can you tell us more about that, and how it worked? And does that element, of serving younger audiences as well as adults, continue in Compound Yellow?

HOME SCHOOL kids visit Dibs Garden, by Curtis Myers
Laura: We set up a space in the Fenn House that we called the Autonomous Making Space.
collected donations of all kinds of materials and bought tools for the kids to use to make things out of wood and other stuff. We tried to set it up for families and latchkey kids to come in and work anytime we were open and put things back in their places to keep a sense of communal order. (That order part didn't work out terribly well, which became the impetus for a wonderful project by Jorge Lucero, educational prompts and placards for the Autonomous Studio).

Coming from a long line of teachers, I vowed that I would never become one myself. However, my
mother, a devout educator for over 50 years, inspired a love of and passion for education in me that is behind all that I do. She brought me to conferences with her on topics of multiple intelligences, alternative pedagogy and radical philosophies of education as a young child.  I used to volunteer in my son's classroom on Fridays, bringing unusual materials in for the kids to work with; they didn’t have art in school then. They loved making their own new worlds from straws, clay and broom bristles, for example. The results were unimaginable and wonderful. Later when the kids got a little older, I started an after school program that ran from 2011 to 2015. We used an empty apartment and called it HOME SCHOOL #3, part of much larger project with other iterations and locations. We also used the basement of the Quaker House for some time. The idea was to fill the spaces with donated materials and allow the kids to freely engage with them in an open and creative environment. The adults (artists, actors, writers, filmmakers) acted as facilitators and collaborators, allowing themselves to be led by the desires and ideas of the children. It was an awesomely inspiring time for us all. I also co-ran summer camps with artists like Matthew Searle, Jerry Marciniak, Spencer Hutchinson, Hoyun Son, Dan Godston, Nitsana Lazerus and so many more for years in Hyde Park. We had kids ranging from 3 to 13, a very diverse group; many of the same kids came every summer. It was a wild and memorable ride, and one of the most significant projects in terms of mothering as an artist. My own kids of course took part in these camps, which was also a way to be with them and provide for them when school was out.

high school students meeting at Compound Yellow
By the time Compound Yellow started, my kids were already teenagers and Oak Park was all new to us. Naturally, I am more interested in older kids and their needs and what they have and don't have to meet them. We did try a camp here last year called Camp Yellow, led by Raffa Reuther and inspired by the Self-Reliance Library by Temporary Services, Brett Bloom and Marc Fischer. The library and the camp encompassed all sorts of topics: “visionary architecture, desperate or wildly imaginative mobility, miniature buildings and nomadic living, self-publishing and design, skill sharing, everyday repair solutions, running a music venue, spaces for parenthood, toys and design for children, ecologically sound living, foraging, blueprints for fantasy worlds and alternate realities, pranks and mischief, technologies used in prisons and other restrictive or impoverished settings, survivalism, weapons for self-defense or recreation, and creative approaches to living radically.” It was nice for the kids but being new to Oak Park, we decided to wait until we really knew what we were doing at CY before launching another camp scenario. Also, I now have a full time job, and my kids do not want to do camp with me or anyone else.

Alberto Aguilar painting, Compound Yellow, 2016







CR: Your current space, Compound Yellow, is on the same property as was formerly occupied by the Suburban, a domestic gallery run by Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam, but it doesn't seem like you've just picked up where they left off when they moved. How do you see your aims for your space, and your motivations for running it, as distinct from what they did with the Suburban?

Laura: This is an interesting question and one that we think about a lot. In terms of our family, each person had a different vision for this move: Andrew wanted a hermit hut, a place of his own; Sebastian never wanted to leave Hyde Park in the first place, but being a realist, and after making a few friends, he’s decided to build a chicken coop on the side yard with his dad and get on with it; Jasper wanted to find a place to be himself and new friends who accepted him. I wanted a space to cultivate a project with time, to stop moving for a while. I also wanted to share space, to create a kind of art commune, and to work collaboratively with others. We have all learned a lot since moving here. This desire for collaboration and community seemingly differentiates us from the Suburban's aims; however, what we share in common is significant.

As soon as we moved here, we were welcomed by the art community in Oak Park. I'd like to express gratitude to artist and organizer Sabina Ott, who played a special role in connecting me with Lora Lode and Matthew Nicholas through her own domestic project, Terrain Exhibitions, and the 4th of July Terrain Parade. Thus began my collaboration with Lora and Matthew on this project, Compound Yellow. We're now in the process of applying for Not-for-Profit status.


What inspired me personally about the Suburban is the concept of an “uncurated” space where artists are in complete control of what they produce and the criteria for what made for a successful show, according to Michelle Grabner, was "if the artists learned something about their own work from their relationship with the space, and the suburbs." We also don't sell work here or charge money for events or workshops. We are most interested in using the site as a place to prototype ideas, to cultivate sharing economies, participatory art, and interdisciplinary explorations. There is a generosity here that we inherited when we moved in: the prairie garden is so wonderful, the studio, the windows, the light, the tree, the sweet side yard, the little cinder-block hut. All the decisions made before we came along are greatly appreciated by us every day. In many ways we are connected to the Suburban and are supported by Michelle. I am inspired by what I see happening at  The Poor Farm and see connections to what we are doing here as well.

Attendees at a talk by Miriame Kaba in Compound Yellow (L Studio), 2017

CR: What have you learned about yourself, your family, and/or your artistic motivations through these projects?

Laura: What have I learned about myself through these projects? I’ve learned that I am a natural connector, that I love watching things grow; plants, people, kids, fires... minds. I’ve learned to be more flexible, to listen more and to know when to let others take the lead. I’m just beginning to learn how to take care of myself, to be a participant, to support others’ projects by going out and meeting people where they are at, not just inviting them to my house!

What have I learned about my family?  I’m learning to give them space and to let them gravitate to what really resonates with them. To not push them to participate in what I’m doing if they don’t want that, and they usually don’t these days, but that’s okay. I’m learning to honor their needs as those needs change, and it’s not easy. I continue to be inspired by artists like Alberto Aguilar, Christa Donner and Jorge Lucero, for example, who work with their families creatively in their practice; this is my motivation.

What have I learned about my artistic motivations through these projects? I've learned about collective creativity and intelligence. I think these kinds of intergenerational spaces help us find in others an extension of self and family, to rely on collective creativity to raise consciousness around what it means to be in a community where we all participate in raising our children together and trying to find meaning together. I guess I want to make everything an art project: the house, the yard, the street, the subway, the grocery store, work, family and relationships.

Ad Hoc Playground, a collaboration between Laura Shaeffer, Raffa Reuther, and Verónica Peña for Gallery 400, 2016

Dr. Rachel Epp Buller is a feminist printmaker book artist art historian university professor and mother of three. Her artistic, written, and curatorial work addresses these intersections, focusing on the maternal body and feminist care in contemporary art contexts. Her books include Reconciling Art and Mothering and a forthcoming volume on Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity. She is a board member of the National Women's Caucus for Art and a regional coordinator of The Feminist Art Project, and currently serves as Associate Professor of Visual Arts and Design at Bethel College.