“I purposefully leave questions unanswered. I understand that this can feel uncomfortable, but I think there is merit in complexity and dissonance. I believe that art should be challenging. Unfortunately, the film industry is still heavily male-dominated and I feel, at times, that sexism negatively affects opportunities for my work to be seen.”
My favorite kind of film is interdisciplinary and is inspired by questions, where the narrative is non-linear, lives within a surreal in-between tension, and struggles to be defined by a genre. That is partly why I love the handmade films from artist Kiera Faber. I connect with the intricate, meticulous and dreamlike nature of her films. I am also in awe of her aesthetic abilities and the themes she explores in her work. Her films are haunting, raw, and complex. It’s hard to categorize her work which I think is exciting and compelling.
Kiera Faber is an artist working in animated film, photography, and drawing. Her work explores the repercussions of loss and trauma through enigmatic abstract narratives. Faber creates the entire world and experience of a film; from concept and design to image and sound. Her auteur, award-winning films are entirely crafted by hand and are internationally screened and exhibited at film festivals, galleries, and museums, most notably the Museum of Contemporary Photography, George Eastman Museum, and the Walker Art Center. Faber received her MFA from the Visual Studies Workshop after completing a BA in Psychology from the University of Rochester. In 2018, Faber received a McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts. She has received numerous regional grants and a film production grant from the Jerome Foundation. Faber currently is in pre-production on THE GARDEN SEES FIRE, creating the surreal and fanciful characters and sets for her next animated film. She is a dual national of Luxembourg and the United States and resides in Minnesota.
T FOR TURNIP was the first film I had seen of Kiera's and I was immediately enamored. In this film, 3,467 hand painted 16mm frames metaphorically explore three siblings’ collective childhood trauma. It took Kiera 1,000 hours to hand paint the film, using the smallest paintbrush available to apply silk dyes to the film’s emulsion, while looking through a stereoscopic microscope to see the tiny objects on the film. After I watched T FOR TURNIP, I saw her film LIVING ORGANICS, and I was like, yessssss, Kiera, thank you. You can say that I am a big fan of her work!
I am delighted that she let me ask her some questions. I always want to know more about Kiera and, as the years have passed, I am glad that our paths continue to cross! In this interview, she discusses her hand-crafted film, her path as an artist, and the new film she is working on. She also touches on what challenges she faces as an artist.
Enjoy! Admire on!
Jes: I have been enjoying your hand-crafted film, animation, and photography for quite a few years now. Your style is unique. How do you describe your creative approach and how do you make your work?
Kiera: Foremost, I consider myself to be a traditional fine artist; where materiality and texture are essential components of my work. I want my films to look visually complex and richly textured, referencing the emotional complexity embedded in the work. Creating films by hand, evinces the makers mark, and produces imagery that is raw and imperfect, rather than overly clean or slick. My films involve extensive drawing, sculpture, and painting for sets, puppet stop motion animations, and other forms of frame-by-frame animation. Before I was introduced to artistic, experimental film, I would envision completed paintings in my mind, now I do this within the medium of film. I think of my films as surreal paintings that animate in the viewers unconscious through the transitory intermingling of image, sound, and meaning.
My cinematic process starts organically by snippets of a shot or a portrait of a character presenting itself to me. The remainder of my process is more deliberate, laborious and organized. I spend a lot of time writing; beginning with an initial investigation into what a film feels like and who and what the characters are. I research and experiment with a sundry of materials for character and set constructions. I create detailed drawings of the film’s characters, sets, and write a linear script describing scenes, shots, and characters’ interactions. I love designing and creating a whole world and spending hours working alone on drawings for characters and animations.
I have only one assistant on my films, my partner Ben. The intimacy of working with my partner suits my creative needs and personal expression in my work. My left hand is paralyzed, making two handed activities impossible for me. Ben constructs and animates the armatured puppets for my films, while I create the two-dimensional animations. The valence of sound is important to me, how it emotes and complicates a film: Designing the soundscape for a film is an integral component to my work. Since I work with only one assistant, my films take a significant amount of time to produce, but I find the direct engagement, creative agency, and intensity very rewarding.
What is it that you are most interested in expressing with your art?
My work addresses themes of loss, isolation, and trauma. I am interested in deeply seeing; creating work that is disturbing and validates traumatic experiences by drawing viewers attention to aspects of human behavior we would rather ignore. I create enigmatic abstract narratives; entrusting the viewer to bring their own perspective to their reading of my films. I ask the viewer to watch, listen, and have an experience. This is an interaction; a combination of the world I create, referencing my own psyche, and how it affects the viewer’s affect. The viewer and I meet in a middle space of a shared emotion.
Tell me about your latest film project, Obscurer. What is that film about and where did its inspiration come from? Where can folks see the film right now?
OBSCURER (2018, 19:00, DCP, 4K) explores the fragile microcosm of a reclusive children’s author and her figmental companions where reality, illusion, and madness intermingle. Stop motion animation seamlessly interweaves with live motion to create an abstract narrative where themes of isolation, mental illness, and loss are enacted through characters that evade trust. Obscurer questions agency, power, and vulnerability within a framework of dysfunction and ambiguity.
Two women were the inspirational roots for OBSCURER; the children’s author Sylvia Cassedy (Behind the Attic Wall, 1983) and a curious individual I observed trimming a tree in her front yard with scissors while wearing welding goggles and red coveralls. I molded these women into a fictional depiction of a solitary writer who lives a constrained existence that blurs the line between reality and delusion. She hypnotically writes in an indiscernible script. The language appears linguistically plausible but is semantically meaningless. Her animated companions are psychological manifestations of innocence and malevolence, disparate traits also present in the main character herself.
OBSCURER took three years to complete, was supported by a grant from the Jerome Foundation, and currently is being submitted to film festivals, galleries, and museums worldwide for screening opportunities. It will be screening at MassArt on October 3rd with the Black Maria Film Festival, at Alfred State College on October 7th and then traveling to the Gwen Frostic School of Art in Michigan on November 5 as part of an exhibition titled 17 days curated by Adriane Little. OBSCURER’s trailer can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/244418412
I am very curious about your path as an artist. What helped start your career and what has sustained it?
I have made art since childhood, drawing at the kitchen table, while my mother, a ceramist, worked close by. I remember visiting her studio; light streaming through the windows, illuminating the aromatic clay dust hovering in the air. It was a place of autonomy, possibility, and exploration. My early experiences with art fostered the value of being an artist. After surviving a deadly car accident, but suffering a stroke, I studied Psychology to understand the mind, brain, and cognitive effects of emotional and physical trauma. I returned to art after meeting my partner Ben, who took an interest in my artistic ideas and offered the use of his hands to help me make my work. A pivotal movement in my career was seeing the hand crafted animations of Stacey Steers and the animated worlds of The Brothers Quay while in graduate school: I knew I wanted to make films that incorporated fine art materials to construct an abstract narrative.
I sustain my career intrinsically by believing that to create is to be fully human. Art celebrates our intelligence and apical cognitions that realize creativity. Art is a collective signifier; exercising personal expression and simultaneously impacting audiences profoundly by challenging perceptions and convictions. I am an artist to honor our unique humanity.
Extrinsically I sustain my career by receiving support and recognition through exhibitions, screenings, grants, and most recently The McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts to validate the merit of my practice. I reach out to other artists and curators to share my progress on projects, discuss ideas, and stay connected. A past mentor of mine once said, “take care of the work and the work will take care of you.” This phrase sustains me after rejections and reinforces me to keep working.
Can you tell me more about your McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts? What was that experience like for you? What type of commitment is a fellowship like that?
It has been a great honor to be awarded a McKnight Fellowship; to have my work recognized by the Foundation and curatorial panel. Through the Fellowship, I have loved working with FilmNorth and meeting current and past Fellows for connections. FilmNorth is a wonderful resource in Minnesota and genuinely wants filmmakers of all genres to succeed by having their work seen and celebrated. For me, the most lasting effect of being awarded a Fellowship has been the validation it grants. This helped me reach out to well known artists around the world for conversations, something that I normally would not have done, as I am an introvert. Since the Fellowship is a recognition of artistic accomplishments, and not a production grant, its scope and meaning extends beyond a specific project and advocates continual exploration, development as an artist, and encouragement to keep creating your work. A short artist profile film created by FilmNorth’s students about my practice can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/315714095
Are there challenges that you face as an artist? What do you feel you need more of as an artist?
I feel the biggest challenge I face as an artist is that my work is not easily classified, making it difficult to program for film festivals. My films are not advocacy and have a loose narrative structure rather than telling a direct or clear story; they span across the genres of Experimental, Animation, and Avant-garde. I purposefully leave questions unanswered. I understand that this can feel uncomfortable, but I think there is merit in complexity and dissonance. I believe that art should be challenging. Unfortunately, the film industry is still heavily male-dominated and I feel, at times, that sexism negatively affects opportunities for my work to be seen.
I would love for there to be a broader acceptance of artistic film and more venues to share these productions with the public. For me, an audience concludes the artistic process, by sharing in the experience.
Do you have any new projects you are working on?
I am concluding pre-production on a new film, THE GARDEN SEES FIRE. Conrad Richter’s novel, The Trees (1940) and my family’s hereditary struggle with bipolar disorder are catalytic inspirations for the imagery that will inform the film. THE GARDEN SEES FIRE is the second installment in a trilogy exploring mental pathologies and loosely inspired by specific literary works. It will be an armatured puppet and drawing stop motion animation incorporating hand manipulated 16mm film frame-by-frame. The film will explore the untamed wildness of the land and mind and a burning desire to besiege and control both. I hope to release the film in early 2021. Original character drawings and plasticine sculptures for mold making can be seen here: http://www.kierafaber.com/The_Garden_Sees_Fire
Would you like to share anything else?
Thank you Jes for your enthusiasm and support of my work. It is meaningful to me to have my practice recognized and appreciated.
Thanks for answering my questions, Kiera! You’re amazing!
All images courtesy of the artist.
"Many of the things that I find myself doing - writing a song, making up a recipe, creating a story, drawing pictures, taking photos, filming a silly movie with the kids - leads to unintentional creative practices."
Steph Budge is hesitant to say she is an artist. But as she read in the interview with Laura Brown, anyone can claim the title of artist and that is a beautiful thing! The funny thing is that I personally have always considered Steph an artist. I have admired her work as a musican and most recently I have been addicted to her visual art, checking in on her Instagram account daily!
Steph played in a number of bands over the past twenty years. Bands I have loved! She has recently turned her focus to drawing and painting. While she works mainly with pencil and watercolor, she is now also exploring digital illustration using Procreate.
Steph lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with her two young sons and works full-time as an editor.
Enjoy the interview. Steph is amazing! Admire on!
Jes: How would you describe your creative/artistic practice?
Steph: My creative practice is a crucial component to my overall health and happiness. I have a daily craving to bring something to life that has not previously existed. The creative process itself feels joyful and rewarding. Many of the things that I find myself doing - writing a song, making up a recipe, creating a story, drawing pictures, taking photos, filming a silly movie with the kids - leads to unintentional creative practices.
For many years, I played in rock/punk bands - which are obviously collaborative efforts. When my children were born, I transitioned into solo creative endeavors due to the time constraints that naturally occur for new parents. Right now, I am mostly drawing and painting. I am also slowly starting to work on music again. I would love to do some creative writing in the near future as well.
So much of what I know of being an artist came from being involved in local music communities - and I am not even a musician! Maybe it’s the values of punk and independent music that has shaped my outlook on creativity and expression. For example, I think I am a collaborative artist because of the community building components I learned through punk rock. Have you had a similar experience with being involved in punk and the music community? Has it influenced your overall creativity?
Yes for sure! I have spent the majority of my life with people in the local community who are constantly creating. Like yourself, not everyone in the community is a musician - a lot of people play music, but some are visual artists, screenprinters, woodworkers, painters, some write poetry or short stories, some take photos, write jokes, or direct time traveling plays in the basement of a bar. It leads to a comfortable cozy feeling that anyone can create things while not knowing exactly what they are doing. People can try new things without having the fear of being perfect or refined. Perhaps because the community is typically not a group of trained professionals, it feels like anyone can teach themselves, either learn things on their own or from their peers that are experienced. I am lucky to have a community that really supports each other in their artistic endeavors. I participated in my first art show/sale this past summer - I was invited by someone who I met playing music and my table was next to a person I met playing music. The camaraderie is really special to me and I am very thankful for the community.
Are there particular interests that you have when it comes to making music? Do you have a preference over what themes or sounds your bands explore?
My interests have changed over the years. For many years, I wanted to create angry, aggressive, and heavy music. I played in several rock and roll guitar/bass/drum three-piece groups with loud amps and shouty vocals. While I still enjoy listening to that style of music, I am not interested in creating it at the moment.
Lately, I have wanted to increase my piano skills and go back to writing electronic pop music like one of my old groups called Finger Pressure.
You come from a very creative family. Have you always been involved in the arts?
Yes to a certain degree. My sisters and I were encouraged to play piano, listen to music, daydream, read lots of books, write stories, and draw. My mom took me to a used music store to buy my first acoustic guitar when I was fourteen and drove me to a weird musical flea market to buy my first electric bass guitar when I was fifteen. However, my parents started our family when they were both pursuing artistic careers and it was financially difficult for them. Because they found it difficult, they were understandably not as encouraging when my sisters and I wanted to pursue creative careers as well. While I did not study art or music in school, I always played music during my free time. I love playing music and making art and I cannot imagine I will ever stop. But it is also difficult to refer to myself as a “musician” or an “artist” since neither have ever been my part of my jobs, career, or studies.
I know you are a mother of two (very cute) boys. There’s this horrible myth that artists, especially women, can’t be parents while also maintaining a career. So many women have been debunking this myth. What’s been your approach with parenting and being an artist?
It is definitely a different world maintaining a creative practice as a parent. In some ways, it is almost easier because my free time is defined and usually short, so I am extra excited to have the chance to work on something creative. It is easier to stick to a schedule. Sometimes I feel the most productive that I have ever felt. The hard parts are feeling too tired to work on anything. Or feeling a certain amount of guilt when I take a night to draw rather than do laundry or clean under the couch. There is always something that needs to be cleaned!
The kids themselves are a great source of inspiration. Since kids are always drawing or painting or making up stories, a parent’s mind can easily slip into a creative place. Sometimes we will sit down at the piano and I will try to learn a song and they participate as well. It is a lot of fun.
Lately, you have been making visual art under the moniker Tootooalso. Your drawings and paintings are colorful, playful, and cheerful. Animals tend to be your subjects. What has inspired this line of art for you?
I have always drawn in a very cartoon-like style. I enjoy drawing animals and plants because they are universal and inclusive. Creating a colorful, playful, and cheerful world is a bit of an escape from real life. Recently I have wanted to create cute, jolly, and pastel drawings. When my sisters and I were young, my dad sculpted a set of alien creatures. I remember him getting really into creating the different characters’ personalities, backstories, and their universe. I can see that same path happening to me at any moment!
Where can we find Tootooalso online? Do you sell your work at events?
I am on Instagram as @tootooalso and I have a small number of works on Redbubble. I also have an Etsy shop but I haven’t set it up very well yet. I am new to selling visual art and I am still brainstorming the best way to go about it.
Are you currently playing in any bands right now? If so, where can we find your music online? Do you have any upcoming shows we should know about?
I am not playing in any bands right now. I am tentatively calling my new project Side Text and I have an Instagram account @sidetext but nothing booked or online yet!
Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
Thanks for considering me an artist and bringing artists together in the community. All the interviews in this series have been inspiring and very enjoyable to read!
All images courtesy of the artist.
"I'm working to approach my art practice like I do meditation, as a connection to the present moment, because it is this space I am less confined, more open, less likely to question myself and just go for it."
This past Saturday I met artist Toni Gallo and I viewed her multimedia solo exhibition, I CAN FEEL TRUTH SOMEWHERE OVER THERE, HERE BEYOND FURTHER, showing at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis. After immersing myself in her art, I participated in a special meditation she lead in the gallery. Ten minutes into the meditation, I felt my closed eyes begin to water, thinking that maybe teardrops where forming. I touched my face and felt dry skin. At that moment, I felt the very essence of meditation - the feeling of being connected to the self, the body, truth, and the inner mind. I felt present and moved. I also felt a release that I think created the sensation of tears. It was transformational. I hadn't experienced anything like that during any of my previous meditations.
So, thank you, Toni, for letting me enter that place - though your art and openness.
You can participate in her next meditation session this Saturday, August 24th at 2 PM at SooVAC. Toni will be available from 1-3 PM to talk about her art as well. You'll see so much and feel so much!
Toni Gallo grew up in Minnesota drawing dinosaurs and pond life, graduated from Perpich Center for Arts Education and headed to California where she received her B.A. in studio art and was awarded a scholarship to attend California State University intensive painting program in Italy following graduation. After returning home she continued making and exhibiting art in Minneapolis and between 2008-2012 was a member of Rosalux Gallery. Over the past 6 years, integrating yoga and meditation practices and eventually becoming a yoga instructor now compliment her studio practice. This combination of practices has formed a body of working exploring consciousness on an aesthetic level. Toni currently lives and works in NE Minneapolis with her husband and children. Toni is also a fiscal year 2019 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
I feel fortunate that Toni answered some of my questions about her art and practice, featured here in this special interview! Read and admire on!
Jes: I am excited about your exhibition with Soo Visual Arts Center. It’s strongly interdisciplinary. Can you talk more about your show and the themes behind the work?
Toni: Originally, I had proposed to make 8-10 new paintings and offer meditation sessions in the exhibition space. I ended with 11 paintings, some much larger than I had originally imagined, an audio component, and a few scheduled meditation sessions.
The project is about practice. Developing the habit of awareness.
A combination of practices have converged in the studio, which have formed paintings exploring consciousness. The paintings express captured experiences of connectivity. Although it may be fleeting, the momentary connectivity that occurs to make the art is present moment awareness. Being awake and engaged to the current moment is access to self under the ego; your vital energy permanent and connected to past future and everything in between. It’s the state you’ve been pining after. Here beyond further.
The works are suggestive, figurative, landscape abstractions, naturally uncovering paradox through a balance between polished and raw, busy and calm, intuitive and intentional. Each painting is a different path to the same place.
The idea of the paintings talking to the viewer came later. It made so much sense. Writing, teaching, yoga and meditation are so integral to where I am with painting, because of the stretching of myself it demands, which has empowered my life beyond measure. People want to know the why and how behind art and I would absolutely not have been able to unearth this expression in paint without exploring these other practices. It made sense to find a place for this expression.
I am interested in how you explore impermanence in your art. Can you talk more about this and how it relates to the body as well as the mind?
It seems fitting that I answer this question with one of the pieces I recorded for the show [above image].
THE WALLS SEEM SURE OF THEIR SEPARATION EVEN IN THEIR STATE OF DECAY.
You think you don't have an impact, but everywhere you are leaving a trail.
Nothing is permanent, but all leaves a mark.
The moment of construction is the beginning of decay.
Notice the intricate structures you've built around yourself.
Let go after you build up.
Become aware by observance at the seat of consciousness
Awareness is illuminating, is knowing.
Once something is known, let go, because it has already changed.
The challenge in letting go lies in our belief of the importance of forms holding everything together.
The walls come down, by practicing non attachment, what's left is THE stuff.
The reach to achieve another version of yourself dissolves, authentic expression flows, fleeting, impermanent and perfectly as it is.
these are the rough parts,
the fluidity in between, puts union in focus
Connect to your knowing. Your intuitive validity
It is housed in an inward focus rather than an external search.
As you observe the endless waves of change unfolding, it increasingly becomes easier to practice non attachment, knowing that this too will morph, transform.
Just when the habit of awareness is developing, serendipity becomes the current wave.
It carries an ease. Along comes change, without care and space, attachment to the experience emerges and the push and pull sets in, the search is on again.
Away from self the naming begins
Roles are confining.
Get out of your own way.
Identities are the product of naming, these forms are limiting to infinite potential.
To understand what is divisive becomes the force of unification.
To let go is the only way in.
growth turns towards decay
the fade becomes the build
I appreciate your poetic and mindful response! I feel this moves nicely into my next question: How would you describe your art practice? What’s a typical studio day like for you?
I'm working to approach my art practice like I do meditation, as a connection to the present moment, because it is this space I am less confined, more open, less likely to question myself and just go for it. When I get too tripped up in my thoughts and start looking too far ahead, I remember to notice my breathing as it is happening. These moments of connectivity are for sure fleeting, but the habit of awareness is building strength.
During the preparation for this exhibition I worked longer stretches of time, more often than I can EVER remember. It was amazing!
Most of the time I'm working on more than one piece. It's important in the moments where I hit a block to have something else to turn to, otherwise I start to force it, which usually causes more problems. When I'm inspired by a new piece, I get the materials right away to keep the connection strong and stay open minded. I write a fair amount too. My meditation cushion is in my work space. I don't have a specific time or structure around when I sit or for how long, it's a gentle, resonant reminder of the power of practice. And, I listen to music, so much music. Although, this last few months I spent hours listening to the Ram Dass Here and Now podcasts, which I highly recommend.
You recently received the Artist Initiative Grant through the Minnesota State Arts Board. What was that process like for you? Do you have any recommendations for other artists who are interested in applying for this funding source?
Writing the grant was so hard for me. Honestly, a few times I wanted to give up, but I kept questioning the truth out of myself. I’m so glad I did, because the process and the experience have been transformative and I am so grateful.
My best advice for artists interested is to make it another practice, go through the exercise of challenging yourself. Even if you don't receive the grant it's important to stretch out of your comfort zone and articulate things in another way. I was able to look back at a previous attempt and consider the strengths and weaknesses. They offer valuable resources, it’s helpful to read the other recipients’ proposals as well.
Now that you have this show under your belt, do you have anything on the horizon that you’d like to share?
I'm so inspired right now. I'm planning on applying for another grant. I've got a handful of short-term plans/projects and a long-term dream to have a large studio space outside of my home to work, experiment, teach and exhibit from. I'll continue building the body of work that is on display, exploring what is expressed from the habit of awareness.
I had never before done anything multidisciplinary and now I'm really curious about creating spaces and happenings that offer people an opportunity to view and experience art gallery spaces with a different sensory component. And different, meaning closer to home rather than far out. At home people are raw with a greater tendency for the intuitive spirit to permeate, while outside there is a more calculated presentation.
This fall I'm planning to do a series of smaller still life paintings tentatively named, My Living Museum. The intent to continue exploring the power of expression through documentation of external accumulation, personal aesthetic and design; the visual materialism/make-up of home. I've never previously painted subject matter for the purpose of documentation in time and place, but I was reminded of the intrigue that looking into a record of how things appeared in times past held, by looking through art history books, the recognition of sameness and contrast in living then and now.
"I view fun as a catalyst for change and believe in the importance of providing immersive spaces where people of all ages and demographics are given permission to play."
I love Robin Schwartzman. Not just because she is my friend but because she is truly inspiring. I have never met another artist that explores color, play, and place in such a way. I have been admiring her for years! From outdoor art installations to mini golf, Robin invites you to explore, have fun, and connect with others!
Robin Schwartzman is a Minneapolis based artist, educator and lover of mini golf. She works as a Research Technician for Drawing, Painting, Printmaking and the XYZ Lab in the University of Minnesota Department of Art. She also teaches a class on 3D Modeling and Digital Fabrication. Outside of her day job, Robin is one half of A Couple of Putts as well as a professional caricature artist.
Robin’s sculptures and installations use 3D digital fabrication mixed with a colorful and playful aesthetic to create participatory and immersive experiences. She has worked on commissioned projects for the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar, Northern Spark, Made Here, Artscape Baltimore, Canal Convergence Scottsdale, and the Art Shanty Projects, to name a few. She received a BFA from Syracuse University in 2008 and an MFA from the University of Minnesota - Department of Art in 2011. Robin has received honors including: ArtPrize 10 Juror’s Shortlist for 3D; Award for Innovation, American Institute of Architects, Spartanburg 2015; Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists, 2013-2014; Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, 2012.
In this interview she talks in more detail about how she makes her work, what Holey Moley is, and how you can hire her do caricatures at your next event!
Read and admire on! You'll love Robin too!
Jes: Your artistic interests and art projects in leisure and play have brought you all over the world. I also notice that the idea of place is important to your work too. Can you talk about your what attracts you to these themes and how they appear in your art?
Robin: This story will start how many do - childhood memories. I grew up on the east coast and every summer, my family would take an annual, week-long trip to the Jersey Shore. For me, the best day of vacation was when we got to go to a small amusement park called Fantasy Island. The visuals of bright lights, moving colors, a cartoon alligator dressed in a dapper top hat and red and white striped vest and trash bins topped with smiling clowns stuck with me. Between the ages of 4 and 11, there would be countless trips to the plethora of amusement parks, large and small, that dotted the tri-state area of NY/NJ/PA. Every carousel ride, hand painted ice cream sign, cloud of cotton candy and scream of pure happiness that I shared with my sister and cousins became the ultimate distraction to my parents’ tumultuous, 7-year divorce. I turned the focus of most of my childhood back to those moments of joy.
And as I got older, I found ways to continue to surround myself in fun environments. I spent my summers through high school, college and grad school drawing caricatures at amusement parks and fairs across the country. After school, I spent time working in a fabrication shop that makes oversized props for waterparks, cruise ships and theme parks. After spending a lot of time with themed spaces and researching their history, I realized that many, many people have fond childhood memories of them. That’s when I became more interested in the idea of leisure space, collective nostalgia and the power of using signs and symbols to tell a story and sell an experience.
In my own creative practice, I borrow playful visual and social elements from leisure culture and transform them into new ways to experience ourselves, our communities and each other. Tropes such as Burma Shave style signage, classic marquee letters, hand-painted type, specialized color palettes, anthropomorphized characters, larger-than-life objects and chasing lights are inspired by memorable aesthetics of a bygone era and my own enthusiasm for lo-fi fun. Working at the intersection of art and design, I create interactive games, large scale installations and participatory performances that encourage play and re-imagine place. I view fun as a catalyst for change and believe in the importance of providing immersive spaces where people of all ages and demographics are given permission to play.
I am often asking questions about how theming can function outside of its commercial roots. Can a giant marquee transform a familiar urban landscape into a Wonderland? Can the game of mini golf highlight a community and celebrate its history? And can a flashy façade be used to entice people into finding value without money, being kind to strangers, and collecting and memorializing moments of generosity?
Many of your projects fall within the public art realm. You also build a lot of your art from scratch. What kind of tools do you use and what’s your creative process like?
For years, it was challenging for me to turn the ideas I was imagining into physical objects and to the quality and scale that I dreamed. But that challenge is what motivated me to learn how to use digital fabrication technologies to help produce my work. Every idea always starts in my sketchbook with quick scribbles and fragments of ideas jotted down on the page. I often pull together many visual references and inspirations, whether its historical photos, my own photos or works by other contemporary artists. From there, my ideas move to the computer. I use programs like Adobe Illustrator and Rhino to digitally illustrate my ideas, either in 2D or 3D space. With Computer Aided Design (CAD), I am able to quickly work through iterations of concepts without any commitment to material or scale. Sometimes, it takes up to five or six drafts of playing around with an idea to finalize it. Being able to see a scaled and dimensional version of my idea in digital space is so helpful to its realization. Once it’s time to actually make/build it, the hard work is done. I can pull dimensions or curves from my models and use those to help me cut structural wood and metal or to use a laser cutter or CNC router to cut organic shapes and forms. It’s all like one big puzzle, where I use different tools to make the pieces and then use my digital model as a map as a guide for how to put it all back together.
Once assembly is complete, I always like to go back in and do hand finishing work to bring the artist touch back in, whether it’s drawing, painting, using a jig saw or hand sanding.
What kind of advice would you give to an emerging public art artist?
Always leave room for error. Both in your timeline and your budget. Public art takes a lot of work and a lot of people coming together to make things happen. In fact, sometimes I feel like being a public artist is more about managing people and schedules than it is about actually making the art.
That being said, between weather, durability, scale and scope, things that you could never have planned for inevitably will go wrong. There’s no way to prevent them from happening, you can only anticipate that something will happen and be ready for it. Stay patient and flexible (two things I’m admittedly not great at myself) and be kind and grateful to everyone who helps you make it happen.
What kind of resources have you used as an artist?
I look on mnartists.org all the time to scope out new opportunities. I use Google Drive for everything, from budget sheets to folder and file sharing. Especially when working with collaborators, having a living version of everything is so helpful. I’m also addicted to Instagram, sometimes to share my work but more so to get a daily look at work by hundreds of so many different types of talented artists from across the globe.
I love the Barter Boat. Tell me more about it, RADAR Art Collective, and how the project lead you all to be part of ArtPrize 2018. What was that experience like?
RADAR Art Collective consists of myself, Anna Abhau Elliott and Desireé Moore. The three of us met during our six-month Artist Residency at Hub-Bub in Spartanburg, SC back in 2015. We kept in touch after the residency and accidentally stumbled into the idea of Barter Boat together back in 2016. It started as a different project, really. It was originally called Minnesotan Ice and was made for the Northern Spark Festival themed around Climate Chaos. The idea was to freeze tiny objects and trinkets, what some may consider trash, into ice pops (made of literally ice) and exchange these with people for their own stuff out of a giant and brightly lit carnival-inspired facade of a boat. The logistics of making thousands of ice pops was insane, so instead we transitioned to just putting the stuff into the eco-plastic bags we were using to package the ice pops, except without the pop. And the title of the piece evolved into Barter Boat.
We got invited to bring the project to the IN Light IN festival in Indianapolis later that year, and things just sort of snowballed from there. People love trading their things and telling us stories. We love collecting things and curating them into packages, or we like to think of them more as handheld assemblages. And we found that it all becomes more meaningful as we travel from city to city across the country, collecting small treasures and connecting strangers through their stuff. Since 2016, the Barter Boat has been to Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Atlanta, Scottsdale, Breckenride, Grand Rapids, MI and Spartanburg, SC. This October, it’s headed to Bentonville, AR for an event at The Momentary and then onto Cincinnati, OH for the BLINK Light-Based Art Festival.
Barter Boat was fortunate to make the Juror’s Short List (top 5) in the 3D Category at ArtPrize 2018. Juror Rebecca Carbin said this amazing quote about Barter Boat:
"It uses humor and lightness as a way of introducing and unpacking some pretty complicated questions about commodification and consumer culture -- the things we value, the things we throw away, and how those things, those little pieces of nothing, actually become a thread that connects people."
Many of us know you love mini golf and co-founded A Couple of Putts with your husband Tom. Can you talk more about your background with mini golf and how you’ve built a career around an activity that you love so much?
Tom and I had both played mini golf growing up. He has memories playing at LilliPutt in Coon Rapids. I have memories playing in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA as well as at the shore. I always enjoyed the game, but it wasn’t until I met Tom when our passion for mini golf moved to another level. Our first date was at Big Stone Mini Golf in Minnetrista, MN. It was a magical place that was the perfect backdrop for a magical day. After that, we kept dating and playing mini golf together. The more we played, the more we realized that there weren’t a ton of great resources out there for the game. A lot of courses had super dated websites or none at all. It was hard to find good photos or history of the game, aside from the one mini golf book that was published back in the 80’s. So we decided since we were playing anyhow, that we’d start documenting and reviewing courses and put them on a blog. We came up with the name A Couple of Putts while waiting in line for a water slide at Noah’s Ark in the Wisconsin Dells.
From there, things just sort of took off. Later that year, the Walker Art Center put out its call for Artist-Designed mini golf. We designed and built our first hole called Can You Handle This? and it all just came so naturally to me. I was able to mix my cartoony aesthetic with my growing fabrication skills all in the name of something unapologetically fun and playful. Since then, we’ve played and reviewed over 200 courses as well as designed, fabricated and/or consulted on holes for the former Indianapolis Museum of Art (currently known as Newfields), Virginia Commonwealth University in Doha, Qatar, ArtCourse at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Bull City Mini in Durham, NC, Sparkle City Mini Putt in Spartanburg, SC, and have contributed designs for the last six years at the Walker Art Center.
You’ve been pretty busy lately! What you’ve been working on? For folks out there who don’t know - what’s Holey Moley?
It’s been a busy year for me, but somewhat quiet in regards to my art-making. This past spring, Tom and I filmed Holey Moley for a week out in California, finished consulting on two different mini golf projects in Kansas City and Durham, NC, got married, and went on our honeymoon to Tanzania.
What’s Holey Moley, you ask? It’s a new extreme miniature golf game show on ABC Primetime. There are 10 episodes and on each one, 12 contestants compete head to head over three rounds for a chance to win $25k, the Golden Putter and the coveted Plaid Jacket. It’s like Best in Show meets Wipeout combined with Double Dare and mini golf. There are 25’ windmills and holes that stand 12’ over a pool of ice cold water where you get dunked if you miss your putt. It’s crazy and insane and we both got the amazing opportunity to be contestants on it. Tom’s episode aired on August 8th and mine is coming up on Thursday, August 22nd at 7pm EST/8pm CST. And if you miss it on primetime, it’s streaming on Hulu as well as abc.com.
On top of all of the cool things that you do, you are also an award-winning caricature artist! When did this part of your career start and can people hire you for parties and events?
This part of my career actually started first. I started drawing caricatures at a local amusement park near where I grew up as my high school summer job back in 2002 and I’ve been doing it ever since. I love this art form so much, as it allows me to go back to simple analog drawing with a pen and paper. I can also push my limits using digital drawing apps like Procreate on my iPad. It’s really a fun way to observe and connect with total strangers. Drawing the face is also like a puzzle. You have to observe all of the shapes and unique characteristics that make up one’s likeness and figure out the best way to stretch, skew and scale them on the paper. It’s a real challenge that I don’t feel like I’ve mastered as well as I’d like to, which keeps me curious and motivated to get better year after year.
There’s also a great caricature community out there called the International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA). I’ve been a member of ISCA since 2006 and try to attend the annual conventions whenever I can. It’s one giant family of caricaturists from around the globe who gather for one week each year to draw each other, share skills and push the limits of the art form. Plus, I have a killer collection of caricatures drawn of me from the last decade.
I still draw at parties and events when time permits! You can find my caricature services online at caricaturesbyrobin.com.
Where can we find you online?
You can find me on instagram @robinschwartzman or follow my mini golf endeavors online at acoupleofputts.com or on twitter/instagram/Facebook as @coupleputts
Thanks for answering all of my questions, Robin. I will be for sure tuning into Holey Moley on the 22nd, and I hope my readers will too!
All images courtesy of the artist.
"I have always strived to live an artful life. I believe you do this by connecting with an art-filled community."
Catherine A. Palmer received her BFA from the University of Minnesota. Her subject matter can be identified as a conversation with the world she lives in, influenced by feminism, personal circumstance and the on-going attempt to create a pure art object. She has been exhibiting in Minneapolis since 1997 in galleries, community colleges, and coffee houses. She actively volunteers for a variety of arts institutions too.
What inspires me the most about Catherine, beyond her intuitive colorful paintings, is her commitment to community and sustaining a career as an artist. If you were to ask me: Jes, how do you sustain your practice as an artist? I would say: To make sure that you fill your life with art. That doesn't mean only making art. That means knowing other artists, seeing art, appreciating art, supporting the arts, collaborating, and making your life full of art...as you make art...whatever that art is!
That's why I admire Catherine. When I think of folks in the Twin Cities that live a life dedicated to the arts, I think of Catherine. Please learn more about her practice and the projects she's been working on by reading my interview below. Admire on!
Jes: What’s your approach to getting a new piece going? What’s your process of creation?
Catherine: It really depends on what I am going for. But mostly I just like to get jiggy with it. I work very intuitively. I will have a loose idea and then I try to flush it out onto the canvas or paper. I am currently working on figurative abstractions. Step one was to go to a figure drawing co-op. Step two is to take those same drawings and try to make something cool happen.
Your work is abstracted yet often it is figure based. Can you tell me about your visual art and where you find inspiration for your images?
For the most part, I am trying to make still posed people look like they are dancing. The inspiration comes from my love of dancing and the love of mark-making. I loved to roller skate as a kid and as a young adult, I spent many years in different bars, raves and circuit parties. I would host and throw parties. Club, House, techno, trans, disco, funk ECT. It was all about dancing for me and this continues into my art.
I am attracted to how you use bright colors or high contrast in your paintings. Can you talk more about what leads you to select the color palette you work with?
I love color. My only rule is that I don't use phthalo green on it own straight out of the tube. I don't really have a philosophy about it. I just like it and use color as the color presents its need. I am really into fluorescent colors currently.
What’s your studio like? How often do you get to be in your studio?
I have a studio now at the Solar Arts Building. I try to get there as much as I can. I normally go to the studio two to three times a week. I work a 40 hour day job. I would love to be at the studio more often, but bills take precedence.
Since I have known you I have noticed your deep commitment to building community or staying connected to other artists. Can you tell me more about the artist communities you have been part of and why having community has been important to you?
I have always strived to live an artful life. I believe you do this by connecting with an art-filled community. I like to volunteer and dedicate my free time at art organizations. I currently volunteer at The Minnesota Museum of American Art (The M), Women's Art Resources of Minnesota (WARM), and on occasion with The Show Gallery. I am currently participating in The Show's CoLab project. I also help run a drawing co-op and an event called Fresh Art for WARM. I feel like giving back to the art community. It keeps me connected with it and also refreshes me. I get back just as much as I give out.
I read in your artist statement that you are influenced by feminism. I am interested in how artists explore or are influenced by feminism in their art. How does that present in your work?
Feminism - that is always tricky to explain. I'm sure that just the act of me pursuing my passions is feminist enough. I think I am more on the 5th wave feminism, which I basically believe that everyone is important and should be pursuing their best life and allowed to pursue happiness and be treated equally. I think art should be experienced and accessible to all.
What resources have you used as an artist?
I took classes through the library system that are put on by Springboard for the Arts. I was in WARM'S mentorship program in 2015-2016. I have done an artist in residence with Gallery 408 in New Mexico in 2010. I received my BFA at the University of Minnesota in 2001. I also participated in the Split Rock program in 1997.
Are you working on anything new or have events coming up?
My studio [at the Solar Arts Building] is new. We moved in April 2019. We are open the first Thursday of each month aside from July and January. I am working with my CoLab partner Mike for The Show Gallery. There will be a final exhibit and a jury selection for that. I just became a member of the Wyoming Creative Art Community.
Where can we find you online?
Thanks for answering my questions, Catherine!
All images courtesy of the artist.
"My intention from the start has been to create multiple iterations of Yours in Sisterhood, both to be able to include many more voices and to make the project accessible in more forms to more kinds of people."
IRENE LUSZTIG is a filmmaker, archival researcher, and amateur seamstress. Her film and video work mines old images and technologies for new meanings in order to reframe, recuperate, and reanimate forgotten and neglected histories. Often beginning with rigorous research in archives, her work brings historical materials into conversation with the present day, inviting viewers to contemplate questions of politics, ideology, and the production of personal, collective, and national memories. Much of her work is centered on public feminism, language, and histories of women and women’s bodies, including her debut feature Reconstruction (2001), the feature length archival film essay The Motherhood Archives (2013), the ongoing web-based Worry Box Project (2011), and the performative documentary feature Yours in Sisterhood (2018).
Born in England to Romanian parents, Irene grew up in Boston and has lived in France, Italy, Romania, China, and Russia. Her work has been screened around the world, including at the Berlinale, MoMA, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Anthology Film Archives, Pacific Film Archive, Flaherty NYC, IDFA Amsterdam, Hot Docs, AFI Docs, BFI London Film Festival, Melbourne Film Festival, DocLisboa, and RIDM Montréal. She has received grants from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, Massachusetts Cultural Council, LEF Foundation, New York State Council for the Arts, and Sustainable Arts Foundation and has been awarded fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Flaherty Film Seminar, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Fulbright, and the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship. She teaches filmmaking at UC Santa Cruz where she is Professor of Film and Digital Media; she lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
I met Irene in October 2016 when I signed my friend Paige and I up to participate as readers for her new project Yours in Sisterhood, a film that explores letters sent to Ms. Magazine—the first national, wide-circulation feminist magazine in the US. I was inspired by Irene's feminist filmmaking approach, the topic of her film, and the potential of bridging history with the current day. I knew I wanted to be part of the project! I have stayed in contact with Irene over the last few years because she kept us readers and supporters updated along the way. Since Yours In Sisterhood premiered in 2018, the film has screened all over the world and continues to show, reaching new people all of the time.
Irene has been working on the next chapter of Yours in Sisterhood, expanding the film into an archival project so that she can share the many readings that didn't make it into the completed film. She recorded over 300 of readings! Below is the reading Paige and I read together!
I am happy to share this interview with you. Enjoy getting to know Irene and her project Yours in Sisterhood! Admire on!
Jes: I am moved by your work, Irene. I feel like everyone should see your most recent project Yours in Sisterhood, a film project that has toured the world, connected feminism with the past and present, and created a community among those invited to participate. When did this film idea first present itself to you? How long did it take you to complete it?
Irene: That’s kind of you! In some ways it felt like the project came together quickly (for me—some of my other films have taken 5-6 years, and this one took 3 and a half years, from research to release). But in other ways the ideas of the project have developed over a much longer time. Often things that feel unresolved to me in a previous film become the questions that lead me directly to the next film. After I had my son, in 2007, I found the experience of new motherhood to be really lonely (like many women). I started wondering about what felt, at the time, like an absence of feminist group, community, or public conversation spaces to discuss experiences that felt complicated or difficult. My research and search for role models led me to a bunch of 70s feminist documentary films that seemed to be doing a radical kind of work around making listening spaces (inspired very directly by the methods of consciousness raising groups) that I found incredibly compelling; and my viewing of these films set in motion a lot of thinking (and many questions) about the 70s, the kinds of conversations people seemed to be having, and how these spaces felt different (or sometimes not different) from conversations now. Some of these questions found a form in my previous feature film, The Motherhood Archives, but at the end of that film, I still wanted to do more thinking about the 70s, about speaking and listening, and about feminist conversation. So these personal questions about feminist conversation are what initially led me to the archive (most of my projects begin with archival thinking) to spend time with boxes of unpublished letters to Ms. I spent about a month during the summer of 2014 reading a few thousand of these letters. Once I started reading the letters, I immediately felt that they were amazing. There’s a powerful radical energy that I felt reading letters in the archive, and I wanted to think of a way to bring that energy out into the word—that’s how the experiment of remaking or restaging the letters started.
For those who haven’t seen Yours in Sisterhood, how would you describe your film and what is it about? How is this film different from your previous work?
Yours in Sisterhood is based on my archival research reading thousands of mostly-unpublished letters sent to Ms. Magazine—the first national, wide-circulation feminist magazine in the US—between 1972 and 1980. I collected a few hundred of these letters for my project—on a wide range of topics that are important to feminism—and then I traveled around the US for two and a half years, filming contemporary strangers reading these letters aloud on camera. Each letter was filmed in the city or town that it was sent from, and each participant had the opportunity to respond to the letter that they were paired with. I filmed these readings with over 300 people in 32 states, and the finished film gathers 27 of these readings to create a collective portrait of feminist conversation across time and geographic space. Most of my film projects begin with archival materials and a bunch of questions I am trying to work through—so in that sense Yours in Sisterhood is on a continuum with previous work and methods. But in most of my previous work I use a lot of archival or found moving image materials onscreen—in Yours in Sisterhood, I wanted the viewer instead to feel the archive only through the bodies and performances of the readers. Visually, the film never leaves the present tense. So that feels very different from some of my other work. It’s more performative, more durational, and more formal than my older work. I like to learn new ways of making with each project.
After watching the film, I am obviously struck by all of the voices represented. I replay many of readings of the letters in my head. I am interested in the pauses after the readings, where there is a prolonged moment with the person on screen after they are done reading. It made me think strongly about the passing of time but also how important moments are. With those pauses we, as in the audience, can consciously be with that reading, to acknowledge, reflect, and be in the moment with that reader and letter. Could you speak more to why you included these pauses and to how your film explores history, time, and the present?
Yes, the pauses are really important to the form of the film. Some audience members have called them “silences,” so it feels important to point out that, even though the pauses are non-verbal, they are really not silent at all—they are very sonically active spaces where the viewer’s attention can turn away from human speech to engage with all the other sounds of place (insects, birds, traffic). So one way that those pauses function is to foreground place. I also think of the pauses as spaces of time travel. I was reading a bunch of 70s feminist sci fi while I was making the film, and started to take seriously the idea that each reader in the project is engaging in a kind of time travel as they embody the voice of someone from 40 years ago. It feels appropriate to give each reader a few seconds to travel back to the present. I think there’s a lot of very active emotional work that is happening in the pauses. And finally, the pauses also give a pace to the kind of listening that happens in the film (both the listening that each reader does through reading, and the listening that an audience does). It felt important to give each encounter in the film a lot of time and space and to ask the viewer to listen with patience to each person (something we are increasingly bad at in our attention-challenged moment). I think the pauses teach the viewer how to attend to the film.
What kind of resources did you use to make your film?
I’m lucky to have a “day job” teaching in a university. Through my job, I have access to (small) university research grants to keep my projects moving even during times when I’m not able to get bigger grants—the amounts of money are much less than a conventional feature film budget would be, but it’s usually enough to keep working in a small and scrappy DIY way. This film was especially hard to find outside funding for—it is both experimental in its form and about women—two things that have not been exciting to funders in the past (though the climate around funding women-centered work has recently been shifting in hopeful ways).
Through my job I also get to know a lot of amazing young filmmakers, so I was lucky to be able to hire my students and former students to help with shoots, with research, and with assistant editing. I had really wonderful helpers who traveled and filmed with me all over the country. I produced, filmed, researched, and edited this film myself (which is unusual for a feature length film), which means that my budget was a fraction of a feature film budget where other people are getting paid to do all of those things. My tiny feminist crew was always just me and one other helper driving from town to town. At the end of the project I did need a bigger chunk of money to get to a finished mixed and mastered film, so in the last month before the film’s festival premiere I had to crowdfund to finish the film. Asking people for money felt scary and weird at first, but people were really kind, and in some ways it felt true to the spirit of this very collective project to raise a finishing budget collectively through many small donations.
Where can folks watch Yours in Sisterhood now?
The film is still showing around in film festivals and other cinema venues—this month it’s showing in L.A. at Los Angeles Filmforum, which I’m excited about, because I did my first shooting for the project in L.A., over three weeks in the summer of 2015. I’ve been really invested in trying to find screenings in places where I filmed with people. It’s showing in Italy in September and is going to have a French theatrical release later in the year. I list screenings on the film’s website and Facebook page so that people know where it’s showing. The film also has a distributor, the wonderful Women Make Movies. Their website lists DVDs at institutional library prices, which are very expensive, but they will secretly sell reasonably priced home viewing DVDs by email request.
I know that you recorded over 300 readings for the film and a select amount was used for the final cut. I imagine you knew this when shooting for the film. As someone who is a participating reader, I always felt I was part of the project, regardless if I was in the film or not. You always gave us updates along the way, encouraging the community that was making up your film. What has been your plan or intention with the readings that aren’t in the film and have you envisioned sharing them?
I’m so glad to hear you say that. I definitely felt acutely aware of reproducing the problem of the magazine editor, making my own very tiny curated selection of voices and leaving so many others out (even as I was trying to think critically about that exact historical process of privileging some voices over others). It’s really nice to hear that you felt like you were part of a project community—this is something I worked really hard on. I realized as I was making the project that I was feeling this incredible sense of feminist community as I moved from town to town meeting so many people, but each person I met was only engaging with me for an hour or two (and maybe the hour or two happened a year or two ago by the end of the project). And the many people in the project didn’t really have a way to meet each other. So it felt important to me to try to share that feeling of interconnection with people—even though it’s hard to stay in touch with 300 people! Some people have been in regular contact since filming, which has been amazing—I have a bunch of new project friends all over the country—but there are also people I never heard from again after we filmed together.
I did know as I was shooting that I would only be able to include a small fraction of the many readings I was documenting, in part because I also knew all along that I planned to edit the readings in the film with very few cuts. It felt important for each reading in the film to feel like a full encounter with someone (as opposed to a very different style of film I could have made, intercutting lots of readings and moving from person to person more quickly). My intention from the start has been to create multiple iterations of Yours in Sisterhood, both to be able to include many more voices and to make the project accessible in more forms to more kinds of people. Now that the film is out, I’m working on an artist book (that includes close to 100 readings) and an interactive archive that will include around 200 readings. The interactive archive will be a more inclusive and more accessible (with captions!) form of the project that anyone with a web browser will be able to engage with. The archive interface is in progress, but in the meantime I’ve been releasing a reading a week from the “archive” on Facebook, Instagram, and Vimeo. So that’s another way that people can see the project.
I am very curious about your path as an artist. What helped start your career and what has sustained it?
Starting and sustaining creative careers are both hard! I have these conversations a lot with my students, who are just starting out with their creative aspirations. My parents are immigrants with math and computer backgrounds, so I didn’t really have family models for being an artist, but I always drew and painted and made things, and I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. Practically, I was able to become an artist because I lived in an affordable city with cheap rent for most of my twenties (Boston—sadly no longer an affordable city) and could afford to work very part time and spend a lot of time developing my ideas and skills. I was really underemployed until my thirties, when I started teaching full time, and had a lot of free time. Emotionally it’s also hard to become an artist—I think you need to be able to sustain a kind of internal grandeur about your own ambitions for yourself over many years. When I was younger, I felt like I was performing a radical act of imagination every day that I woke up and told myself I was an artist (years before the rest of the world took me seriously as an artist). This is really hard emotional work (especially for women and people of color who often have fewer role models, less support, and therefore less confidence) but also critical. In my twenties, my other wildly ambitious creative friends were essential—we built a mutual world of belief in each other together. Now that I have a teaching job and have been making films for a longer time, it is much less scary and hard to be an artist and I have a lot more institutional support (though I also have way less free time, so nowadays my struggle is to clear enough time to make work that is exploratory, open, and can’t be made quickly). I have creative and intellectual communities, and my work with students also sustains my work in really important ways.
I am a self-proclaimed feminist artist and filmmaker, so I wonder about your own artistic practice and how it is influenced by feminism. For me it comes out in the aesthetics of my work, my approach as an artist, as well as through my perspective. How does feminism present for you in your creative work?
At this point in my work, I think it is part of everything I do—aesthetic choices, political investments, ideas about care and listening, ethical frameworks, production processes, and how I work with and center collaborators. There is a long history of documentary work that is not very feminist, a long history of exploitative, extractive, and violent documentary looking, and entrenched systems of hierarchical structures in film productions. These are all legacies I am really aware of working against.
Is there anything else you would like to add? What do you think you’ll do after you're done with Yours in Sisterhood?
I’m just starting to research a new project this summer… but it’s so new and unformed I’m not sure I’m ready to share with the internet yet! I can say that it’s based on one of the towns I encountered while filming Yours in Sisterhood, a place I feel compelled to learn more about.
Where can we find you online? How can folks learn more about you?
(and also the YIS Facebook and Instagram accounts).
Thank you for answering my questions and letting Paige and I be part of Yours in Sisterhood, Irene!
All images courtesy of the artist.
Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.