Have there been new developments in your work since your 365 interview?
I’ve had two opportunities to exhibit the performance placards I’ve been making and using in New Demands? which is an ongoing series of public walking performances exploring historical and contemporary working conditions. The placards are all hand made and they reproduce or adapt historical slogans used by workers in their struggles for better working conditions. So for example, I made placards calling for the right to collective bargaining, for a regulated 40 hour work week, for an end to sweatshop conditions, and for pensions and benefits. All the slogans are still very relevant today despite the fact that some of them come from actions waged over 100 years ago. Fifteen placards in total were exhibited at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and at the Center for Labor Generosity and Uniforms in Long Beach, California. Some had been used in performances, some had to be recreated (my performance placards are often ruined by weather), and some were newly made based on additional research I’ve been doing. It was very interesting to see them exhibited as performance ephemera of sorts… and to see them all together, operating very much as a larger message or warning about contemporary labor, as opposed to being deployed one at a time.
In my last interview I talked about creating cloth banners, and I have since made a couple of prototypes that I’m hoping to finalize and exhibit this year. I’m also developing a funding proposal to help support a future performance involving more participants. I have some research funding to travel to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union archives at Cornell, where I hope to see some actual banners from the early 20th century.
Something that the 365 Artists project has us thinking about is the power of collaboration. Are you involved in any projects with other artists or within your community?
Collaboration is becoming more important to me, and I’ve also been thinking a lot about community. I tend to do a lot of solo work, especially writing (which can be really isolating, it’s not like you can easily have someone come in for a studio visit), and I’m really grateful to have a community of colleagues and peers that I can talk to when it comes to figuring out problems or challenges in teaching, in the studio, or in stuff that I’m writing.
In terms of collaboration, it takes many forms in my practice. Right now I’m working on a collaborative editing project with a friend and colleague in Canada, we’re editing a journal issue that looks at collaboration and participation in projects that bridge fiber and social practices — very appropriate subject matter. As part of that project we’re collaborating with other artists and writers across the US and Canada. We’re in the initial stages of mapping out a book proposal, and we co-Chaired a conference panel last year for CAA. I do a lot of writing that’s partly collaborative — I say “partly” because the writing is ultimately up to me, but I don’t feel comfortable writing about other artists’ work without having ongoing conversations about their work, getting their input on the direction of the text, having them read it before it goes to publication, etc. I’m not into being a detached “critic” in that sense, it’s much more important for me to have insight into the artist’s ideas, motivations, concepts, etc. So maybe it’s not the most traditional kind of collaboration. I also tend to write about artists’ work in a fairly focused way —starting out with a conference paper or shorter essay, and then developing it into a longer book chapter or catalog essay. Which also means having more extended and in-depth conversations with the people whose work I write about over time. I’ve become friends with many artists I’ve written about, so those connections have become more ongoing as well. Because I write about and teach classes on collaboration it’s important to also enact that knowledge, creating real life community and support systems. I teach a social practice class and each year the class collaborates locally to do a participatory project — in 2013 we collaborated with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, and this semester we’ll be collaborating with other SAIC students and faculty on issues of adjunct faculty labor, student debt and working conditions for emerging artists.
What advice can you give to those who are just starting out in the arts? What do you wish you would have known when you set out on this path?
Always have a good community of people around you, even if it’s just a small number of people you can really trust. Make sure to have real, in-person connections and conversations. Also, don’t compare yourself to other people or to other people’s accomplishments. Be generous when you have success, and try to make time for people. Shannon Stratton of Threewalls Gallery wrote a wonderful piece that everyone should read: http://www.chicagoartistsresource.org/articles/little-things?20Little+Things
As for the second part of the question, I’m not sure that there’s anything I wish I’d have known. When I was doing my PhD I spent a lot of time stressing out about my future career and worrying about things beyond my control. I could have used that time on my own work. So I guess I wish I had known that I’d actually end up getting a job.
Are there any upcoming shows or projects that you would like to talk about?
Since last year, I wrote two book chapters and a catalog essay, and they are all due to be published in 2015. I’m finishing up co-editing a journal issue with a colleague and that should also be out this year. I’m working on developing those banners, and in the very early stages of co-editing a book with a colleague of mine. I’m also doing some research for another book chapter that I have to finish over the summer. And I have work in a show at the Portland Museum of Contemporary Craft next fall.
Read Lisa Vinebaums 365artists365days interview here.