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