Sara and Angela with their sons
Extended Practice, founded by artists Angela Lopez and Sara Holwerda,
is an artist-led curatorial project focusing on creating family
accessible events, exhibitions and screenings that support and make
visible the work and needs of artists who are also mothers. Upcoming events include the one-night exhibition Ways We Make - Mothers of Color Nurturing and Building Our Creative Communities. This is the second event lead by Wisdom Baty and it takes place on November 7th (5:30 - 7:00pm) at Experimental Station. Also at Experimental Station on November 19th, Extended Practice will host Empowered Production: An Afternoon for Artist Parents with Selina Trepp,
which includes an artist talk and discussion by Selina Trepp, a brief
break-out session and networking lunch, and a family-friendly
performance by Spectralina (Dan Bitney and Selina Trepp). In Summer
2018, Extended Practice will host a new artist moms group at Roman Susan
Park. This will be an activated exhibition that rotates with work
featuring and curated by participating artists. In this way, new moms
will get direct social support, as well as an immediate space and time
to show and discuss their work. Angela and Sara both live, work and
parent in Chicago.
OtherPeoplePixels: How did the two of you meet and what led you form Extended Practice?
Angela Lopez: We met at a networking event at Chicago Artists Coalition. They set up something that was like a speed dating scenario, where the participants hopped from person to person with brief five minute introductions. Someone in that group organized a critique group with us and other participants that lasted about a year. We fell out of touch, then ran into each other again at a prenatal yoga class. It was a surprise because I didn't know that Sara was pregnant. Our kids are only a month and a half apart.
Sara Holwerda: We’re both a part of EyeSplice Collective, and the artist who founded that collective, Megan Hildebrandt, is a mom. She reached out to see how many of us that were moms wanted to organize an exhibition of artist mothers. It was literally a one sentence email that sparked this, and since Angela and I were both in Chicago and somewhat isolated brand new moms with infants, we decided to start meeting to work on it (and to get outside and talk to another adult!). The exhibition idea lead us to think about other kinds of programming we wanted to see, which lead to our DCASE grant application, which lead us here.
Megan Hildebrandt working with her daughter, 2017
OPP: How did you go about connecting with other mother/parent artists?
AL: We started with people we knew then began to branch out from there. Selina Trepp, for example, was someone I went to when I was pregnant so she was one of the first people we connected with. She then connected us with Christa Donner. I met Tracy Marie Taylor and Emily Lindskoog at a new moms group and was so happy to learn that they are also practicing artists. We have a growing list of more people that we want to connect with in the future. Some we already know through our artist networks and others that people have refered to us.
SH: Selina and Christa, who started Cultural ReProducers, have both been amazing resources, especially at the beginning of this project. Also, several of our artists are, or were, a part of EyeSplice collective, and these artists live outside of Chicago. Angela also had some connections to other moms in Chicago that she met at a new moms group that we started doing studio visits with. I stumbled on a manifesto by Wisdom Baty about being a single mother of color, so we reached out to her and she’s now leading an event series with us. We’ve got our ears to the ground and we’re slowly branching out. We have plans to connect with people we know in Kansas City, Detroit and New York City, to potentially do events in those cities. We’ve made some international contacts through our latest animation screening, including with some women that are active in the artist/mother groups in the UK.
Wisdom Baty with her daughter
OPP: Talk about how you highlight the artists on the Extended Practice website.
AL: A big part of the project for us was making artists who are mothers more visible. In a very literal sense we want to have actual images of artists with their children in the studio. There are not many images of this kind, and they can be very impactful to young parents or artists thinking about having children. Equally important, these images ideally bring attention to how many artists are mothers.
We plan on growing this page with many more artists. Before adding anyone, we really want to get to know the artists, visit their studio and understand their practice. These are artists that we feel are making strong and challenging work while balancing parenthood.
SH: Angela and I are like loudspeakers for our artists. We hope more artists who are parents see this work and read these stories, and we’re glad to help facilitate this growing network. We act as curators, in that we’re making a lot of decisions—on and off the website. Most of these decisions revolve around presenting the artists’ work in the best light possible and making sure we’re aligning with our EP mission and best practices.
Christa Donner with her daughter
OPP: Why isn’t your own work as artists highlighted on the website? That seems like a very intentional decision.
AL: We actually do plan to add ourselves. We just haven't yet. Sara will select images and quotes from me, and I will do the same for her. Although there are many curatorial aspects to EP, it started with wanting to create what we needed at the time. We wanted to feel connected to and supported in an art world, that is not very receptive or understanding of the particular challenges of being a mother. In many ways, we really started this for ourselves but know that it needs to be much larger to work well. We will add ourselves because we are not separate from the people that we are working with.
Sara Holwerda. baby love, 2017. Mixed Media. 23" x 12"
OPP: Tell us a bit about each of your individual practices. Sara?
My work is part auto-biographical, part social commentary, and has
included performance, video, animation and performing objects. I am
interested in the very rigid and socially-constructed ways women—and
men—are expected to perform gender. It’s effectively a form of social
control. My work is definitely figurative and usually centers around the
female figure. I’m drawn to any hyper-feminine performing roles: the
chorus girl and pop star, food service roles, burlesque dancers, drag
queens. The fact that I’m raising a son now is making me think more
broadly about gender expression, and similarly constrictive expectations
for masculinity. In a lot of ways, gender expression for boys is much
more limited than for girls.
Right now I’m working on a series of hand-fans that I started before I was pregnant. I saw a show in Paris at the Museum of Decorative Arts a few years ago that was a massive private collection of advertising paraphernalia dating back to the Victorian era and the first printing presses. I saw a set of “portrait fans” that were functional objects as well as advertisements. There was one fan in which all the tines of the fan were a human figure. I was like, “it’s a chorus line!” The repetition, the flattening and the reduction of the human figure to a decorative object that you can manipulate are threads from past work that have carried into this project. I just made one that is a selfie I saw of Kim Kardashian while she pregnant for the first time that I couldn’t get out of my head.
Angela Lopez. Living Prosthetic, 2017. Ceramic.
OPP: What about your work, Angela?
AL: My work explores embodiment as a way to reveal primal instincts, desires and fears. The surfaces are often slippery, gooey, fleshy and in flux. They move between various states of metamorphosis, exploring the familiar and the unknown of embodiment. I work in watercolor, video and sculpture.
I currently have a show up, Magic Like Death, at Indiana University Northwest Arts and Science Gallery (Gary, IN). The work is heavily influenced by my son, although not directly about him. Watching his senses develop and his body grow—including new knee caps and a closing fontanelle—is fascinating to me and reinforces the concepts in my work in new ways. He is strong and healthy, but I am always aware of his corporal and psychological fragility. This has highly reinforced and further developed the concepts of the familiar and unknown of embodiment in my work. There are many living prosthetics and crystals growing on dismembered body parts in my newer works.
Angela Lopez. Paula's Thumb. 2017. Watercolor on paper
OPP: Although I’m not a parent, I can imagine the biggest
challenge for parent artists is having less time available for making.
Is that true or is that a simplification?
AL: Yes, it is true. I used to have what I'd call “ramp up time.” I'd get to my studio, leisurely clean up, move things around, snack, stare, think, and/or read before getting started. That is just a silly thought now. Studio time is very broken up and squeezed in. The “ramp up” time is now any time I'm not in studio. When I get the time to work, I know exactly what I'm going to do and just get started.
SH: I actually find lack of sleep to be the worst part. You can adjust to the lack of time, but there’s no substitute for sleep! The magnitude of exhaustion is not something you can know without experiencing it. I think Angela and I had the same sort of expectations—that now seem crazy—for parenthood, like our lives and art practices would continue and there would just be a baby chilling in the room that wouldn’t take up all of our energy. NOPE.
Sara Holwerda. Chair Dance (Adagio), 2013. Performance Still.
OPP: Aside from exhaustion, what changed in your practice after your son was born?
SH: The lack of time has forced me to contend with some of my self-destructive thinking habits. As a new artist mom, I was afraid to waste time on failures. I spent a few months just sewing baby hats and quilts for other people’s kids because I could complete them in a few hours. Finally, I had to confront that I was avoiding the part of the process when you’re making things that aren’t good. I had to convince myself that if I went to the studio for three hours and all I did was make a bunch of seriously terrible stuff that I would never show anyone, that it was okay. I’ve never been so happy to not have any shows lined up! My studio is filled with failures and I am kind of proud of it.
In terms of content, the experience of pregnancy and parenting is yet another area in which women are expected to perform a certain way. It’s like everything I’ve done has been reaffirmed and amplified already by this experience. I didn’t even know the half of it before. I will return to the performance part of my practice when I sort through all the crazy things that have happened to my body. I’m not sure all my bones have returned to their normal places, if that’s even ever going to happen!
Sara Holwerda. Homemaker (climbing), 2013. Inkjet Print. 14" x 20"
OPP: Were there surprising benefits to your art practice that you didn’t anticipate?
AL: I’m much more focused and use my studio time more efficiently. I am more selective with opportunities and applications. I didn’t expect—or even want—my work to be so strongly influenced by motherhood. I’m really glad that in many ways being a mother has reinforced existing concepts in my work.
SH: This trajectory of EP is a huge one. We received the DCASE Individual Artist grant in the first few months of our sons’ lives, and I certainly hadn’t anticipated doing this kind of organizing and curating while my son was so young. Being able to connect to other artists through motherhood has been awesome. I love our studio visits and being able to extend the modest platform we have to help elevate other artists that I admire. In my personal practice, parenting has given me a bit more perspective. For one thing, I have been forced to place more reasonable expectations on myself. There are things I just can’t do, and it’s easier for me to not even try to do those things now.
Angela Lopez. Untitled, 2016. ceramic.
OPP: What challenges do artist mothers specifically face?
SH: Mothers still carry the majority of the burden of childcare, especially when their children are young. Even in more progressive parenting partnerships, this still happens. Same-sex couples have been shown to have the best chance at finding some equality within in their parenting roles. In the art world, there’s no question that a father who is an artist will continue to have a career, whereas motherhood is often still presented as a career-ender for artists.
We’ve talked to lots of women who were explicitly warned by colleagues, mentors and professors that having a child would hurt their art career. Luckily I didn’t hear this much myself, but I did hear that there was a “right time” to do this, which is basically when you’re already fully established (and maybe also at the age where getting pregnant is more challenging or riskier).
We’re also interested in supporting mothers in the current political climate. We are barely able to get health care, maternity or paternity leave. Childcare is so expensive, and preschool isn’t free everywhere. It’s crazy. The struggle lots of artists have to even get paid for their work and their time is combined with the struggle lots of working and stay-at-home mothers have to get any kind of support outside of their families.
We do our best to support our artists with childcare, opportunities, and stipends. The money we are securing through grants goes to mothers who are artists to pay for their work and time, to parents who own businesses or run arts spaces, and to childcare providers (many of whom are also mothers!)
Pop Up Exhibit: Accumulated Gestures and Speculative Futures, 2017. Present Place Chicago. Featuring artists and mothers, Christa Donner and Megan Hildebrandt
OPP: What makes an art exhibit or event “child-welcoming and family-accessible?”
AL: More daytime events are an easy way to be more inclusive
to people with young children. And to get
changing tables in all bathrooms. In an ideal situation , a venue would
provide a space for kids to play while parents look around and talk with
other artists. Even better, they'd provide a caregiver (with experience and
background check) in that space for younger kids. Oh, and kids are
seriously drawn to outlets! They will find them when you're not even
thinking about it. So put some covers on the ones that aren't in use.
I have a toddler, and right now every event I would want to go to is
dependent on my paying for childcare, coordinating with my husband’s
schedule or having family help. Maybe I bring my kid instead, but then I
have to plan around sleeping, eating and diaper changing. So many art
events fall right at a child’s bedtime. Some of this burden should be on
the venues and organizers to create spaces that are accessible for
artists with family obligations. The implications of not
making events accessible are far-reaching and contribute
to underrepresentation in the art world. The consequences
of not making events family-friendly are that it is exclusionary for
mothers, single parents, and low income parents.
Mock-up for Extended Practice: New Moms at Roman Susan Gallery
(Chicago), Summer 2018. The gallery space itself will be divided in two
“zones” from floor to
ceiling. The bottom half will be designed for children and the top half
will serve as the exhibition space for the artists. The installation
will show visually both the separation and interaction of the two
worlds: the art world and spaces for children and babies.
OPP: What’s different at your events and what would you like to see at other art events?
AL: Childcare is the biggest asset to our events. It gives parents the opportunity to focus on each other and the art. Simply showing up is a huge challenge when you have children. The art world, that we look to for critical thinking, new ideas and philosophies, excludes a large underrepresented part of the population. Taking steps to be more accommodating can significantly help with growing and expanding the points of view in art.
SH: We also explicitly welcome
nursing mothers, children and families with intergenerational events and
activities. We find venues that can accommodate families and children
with play spaces and changing tables! We offer real food and drink
options to help families plan meals. We also do our best to schedule
daytime events or have nighttime events start and end earlier to
accommodate bedtimes. Keeping parents in the room is huge! Sometimes
museums and galleries try to accommodate children and nursing mothers,
but end up shoving them way off to the side where there is no art and no
We have a super tiny budget for these events in comparison to many
organizations, and yet we have been able to offer many accommodations
for parents. Clearly, we are not able to do all of these at once, and
some events and venues do not lend themselves well to these
considerations, but we do it. It is possible, and it’s time for these larger
organizations to make better choices.
AL: Although we really want venues to change, a lot of our workshops and the upcoming talk with Selina, focus on strengthening the networks of artists who are mothers and brainstorming alternative venues and support systems. The work needs to happen on both sides. We want to find ways to support artists who are mothers and empower them to have a voice, position and representation in the art world.