I was thrilled to be featured in Femynynytees, an exhibition curated by Renata Azevedo Moreira and Treva Michelle Legassie in Montreal, Quebec.
This was a new iteration of "The Menstrual Cup Project," one that encouraged participants to partake in shots across the whole of the exhibition, as opposed to a single performance the night of the opening. The efficacy of this approach is hard to gauge, but we were able to make a humble donation to a non-profit that serves LGTBQ+ youth to support access to menstrual care.
From the curators:
In 1476, the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer penned the word femynynytee for the first time. A term of Middle English origins, it described one who is free from evil – free, in fact, from all independent desire or autonomous action. We reach back in time, pulling into present this term in order to address that which has been built upon and decolonize our understanding of it.
For more information about the exhibition and to see other featured artists, check it out here.
If you've met with me in the last two years, I may have told you about my new art-making philosophy: I only make one new artwork a year.
This might not be the case for all artists, but when I'm not in the studio, I feel bad! I feel guilty for not culturally producing, guilty for not putting in the work that art-making requires, guilty for lacking rigor and experimentation, guilty for not selling work or making money, it goes on.
And the reality is that, as an art-ministrator and writer, I have relatively little time remaining to put into artworks. I'm not a maker by nature, it's something I work diligently at, and my projects are always planned years in advance, in order to allow me to troubleshoot them fully before they make it into the world.
In 2018, I had the pleasure of repeating "The Menstrual Cup Project" in Montreal (more on that later), but began the year with a new project entitled "One Year."
The premise is simple, inspired by ceramic's history of use and function, and recent projects like Jeni Hansen-Gard and Lauren Karle's Cups of Conversation and Ayumi Horie and Nick Moen's The Democratic Cup. I slab-built a simple coffee set, a pitcher and two cups, and left these on a table during the opening of the exhibition "Centered," my first curatorial project at the Lewistown Art Center that highlighted Central Montana artists and their global connections.
Participants were invited to sign up for a coffee date with me, every day that the Art Center was open, on hour before it opened. As someone who isn't a morning person, this project challenged me to wake up in service to others for a month, to make them coffee and comfortable, to ask questions and host.
March 2018 marked "one year" of my living in Central Montana, undoubtedly the hardest thing I've had to do. As a rural area with a low population, folks could immediately pick me out as "not from here," but I lacked that specific kind of sight, and assumed that most folks were from Central Montana, not an outsider like me.
The "One Year" project sought to connect me with my community in new ways, and each coffee date began with: How did you come to be in Central Montana? and I was shocked by the responses.
First, the majority of my participants identified as women (like Sandy (left) and Rosie (right)), and very few of them were from Lewistown originally. Many had moved for marriage, but just as many had moved for work.
Secondly, folks were excited to share their history, whether it was centered in Lewistown or not. I heard stories about breaking horses as a young girl, meeting the Poet Laureate Richard Hugo, earliest concerts, highschool hijinks, and tragic loss.
An hour wasn't enough for the majority of the conversations we had, although the pitcher perfectly held two cups of coffee for each of us. I was struck by how quickly the familiarity of ceramics, dishes, and ritual can set participants at ease, how difficult it is to wake up early consistently, and how diverse and multitudinous the Central Montana experience can be.
One of my favorite things about my work is its ability to transcend borders. In September of 2017, I was one of a lucky few to attend the Canadian Craft Biennial as a Writer-In-Residence with Studio Magazine (based out of Craft Ontario in Toronto).
The experience was challenging and complex, enlightening and confounding at the same time. My graduate program lacked focus in craft, as did my undergraduate program, so my writing (and I) have been in a sort of craft-writing-less vacuum, rarely encountering peers or mentors. To be suddenly confronted with the real, loud, and divergent opinions of young craft writers was the best kind of challenge, and the work was strengthened because of it.
In particular, our group consistently returned to the "defining of craft," whether it was in a van on the way to the Art Gallery of Burlington, in workshops with established critics, or in series of letters I exchanged with my new friend Andrew. I kept returning to this as a theme, the idea of defining craft, and the craft field's obsession with delineation and hierarchy. Having based a large portion of my research in the DIY-emergence of the early 2000s and having been educated in a contemporary, critical theory environment, these squabbles seemed outdated and less-than-useful.
If you know me at all, you know that I'm not skilled at hiding my emotions, and this topic is no exception. When I was approached by Studio Magazine editor Leopold Kowolick to write for the Fall issue in 2018, I knew what I wanted to address. Spurred to action by a facebook post (of all things), I wrote the first of a two-part piece for Studio entitled, "Why I'm Done Defining Craft."
You can find a brief excerpt and purchase the magazine here.
The image is from an Islamic Lustre Workshop that we were able to do with Scott Barnum, a potter in Ontario.
In May of 2017, I traveled to Toronto to participate in Nouveau Reach, a conference on luxury. Originally, I had been thinking about the role of luxury aesthetics in craftivist work, often used as a "hook" and then subverted to encourage dialectical exchange. Using the work of Roberto Lugo, I looked to the ways in which luxurious aesthetics can be used as "decolonial gesture," as defined by Mignolo.
Please do not use or copy without appropriate credit.
I first conceived of "The Menstrual Cup Project" during my thesis work at OCAD in 2015/2016, but lacked the time and resources to execute the project within the CADN program.
Instead, I waited for a collaborative exhibition with my friends in the Socially Engaged Craft Collective at NCECA in 2017. "Social Objects" was held in collaboration with the c3:Initiative in Portland, Oregon.
The premise of the projects is relatively simple. I spent the early months of 2017 creating a ceramic, menstrual cup positive and then creating a series of molds for slipcasting. The positive is based on the Diva Cup, but due to the shrinkage that occurs during the drying and firing of the clay, I needed to make the cup at about 1.5 scale in order for it to hold more than an ounce of liquid. I cast about 150 menstrual cups. Each had a fact about menstruation or menstrual stigma written on the side. The facts were from a "de-gendered" perspective and make quite clear that not all women menstruate, not all those who menstruate are women, and that menstrual stigma is a human issue, not a feminine one. My partner, Jack, built me a carrying tray (above) since menstrual cups don't have a flat bottom, and can only hold liquid when held.
On the evening of the opening of "Social Objects," I swung by a liquor store and picked up locally made, Oregon-raspberry vodka. I had considered not having a red liquid, but the fact of the matter is this. "Decency" laws prevent advertisers from using menstrual blood in ads (look up the Thinx subway campaign in NYC), and instead, companies use a sickly blue liquid in its place, sanitizing and dehumanizing a bodily function, and I don't agree with that. Secondly, if I had used a color other than red, everyone would have asked why it wasn't red.
I loaded the cups into the tray, 24 at a time, and began my first performative and participatory artwork, "The Menstrual Cup Project."
"The Menstrual Cup Project" is a performative and participatory Socially Engaged Craftwork (or Craftivism) that leverages ceramic tradition (cup making and shot taking) against societal taboo. Participants were given free shots and ceramic menstrual cups (with information) to encourage dialogue around menstrual stigma. Special edition cups (with gold luster) were sold through the gallery, and 100% of the proceeds went to "Transition Projects" in Portland to buy clean underwear for menstruators facing homelessness.
"Would you like a free shot?"
It was rare that someone said "no," and I kept cranberry juice on hand for non-drinkers. Participants were incentivised to participate with the promise of a free drink, and free cup. The vodka and act of taking a shot call to mind the celebratory "whoo!" of a souvenir shot, or evening out with friends. The buzz, feeling of comradery, and free gift work to temper the social taboo of discussing menstruation. Sometimes, I stayed to ask questions, or answer them, but often, I left to offer more shots, only to return and overhear an ongoing conversation about menstruation. The following are small quotes and experiences that I remember from the evening, two years later.
I remember a woman who was in her twenties, and not menstruating due to an autoimmune disorder, talking about menstruation and breastfeeding with her peer.
I remember little old ladies using their fingers and tongues to get the last drop of raspberry vodka, then telling me that their lack of education around menstruation had affected their lifelong health care, up through menopause.
I remember hearing about someone's first period.
I remember how many people would exclaim "I'm menstruating right NOW," once they realized what the project was about.
I remember peer to peer education about menstrual cups and period panties, reusable pads and applicator-free tampons.
I remember selling a cup that read "Trans men menstruate, too," to a trans man, talking about how rare it was for menstrual dialogue to include him.
OH MY GOODNESS
edited my first book, and what a process!
Social Objects is the first book dedicated to Socially Engaged Craft (SEC), and features the writings of Namita Gupta Wiggers, the Socially Engaged Craft Collective, and friends.
Divided into three parts, this text journeys through and engages with SEC in a variety of ways, beginning with the theoretical approaches to SEC. I cannot recommend Namita Gupta Wigger's essay enough, it's a MUST for anyone interested in the field.
I had the opportunity to discuss the differences (and similarities) between SEC and Craftivism with my friend and colleague, Shannon Herbert Waldman. Our conversation touched on feminism and politics, and waded through the institutional barriers and opportunities in these two areas. It was a chance to contemplate nomenclatures and language, efficacy and potency. Believe me when I say it's very edited down, and our conversation lasted more than an hour!
Reflecting on the exhibition with the same name, Social Objects, at the c3:initiative in Portland, OR, members of the SECC discussed their motivations, strategies, and difficulties with SEC, discussing works within the exhibition and previous works.
The final portion of the book may be my favorite. We've been calling it "the workbook" behind the curtain, and it features stories, meditations, assignments, instructions, and prompts regarding SEC. There is something for EVERYONE here, from making cricket flour to working with elderly populations to poetry to cake decorating.
I'm so proud to have been apart of a publication that so readily embraced with complexities and diversity of this field!
You can pick it up online here. All proceeds benefit the Socially Engaged Craft Collective and our ongoing mission to exhibit and education about Socially Engaged Craft.
Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to review Miriam Griffin's residency exhibition at The Clay Studio of Missoula. A collection of pinch pots and sculptures, all delicately incised with Miriam's signature, exquisite drawings in a classic blue, white, and gold palette... Miriam's work is as aesthetically pleasing as it is delightfully touchable. Her interrogation of our relationships with animals extend beyond inquiry into these wonderfully lifelike textures.
I wrote about it on the fabulous ceramicartistsnow.com, a great resource for writers and makers alike. Check it out here!
Sorry, folks. This post was on the blog for a moment, and then I took it down.
I'm putting it back! This is a brief examination of a queer perspective in ceramics (and craft, more generally) using the "uncanny" as a point of entry. I'd love to hear what you think!
(PSSST: Please feel free to read and comment, but let's not share without due credit, mmkay? Thanks team!)
Like I said in my last post, I'm still super busy, and working with a bunch of great folks! I'm currently publishing a few different articles (and an Ebook! Sssshhhhh) with CFile! CFile is "a news and review journal edited by Garth Clark, [and] receives over 720,000 visits a year (and growing) from readers in 189 countries. Only two years old, it’s already the most influential champion for avant-garde ceramics." Isn't that exciting!?
Anyway, my first article for CFile came out last week. It's a review of NCECA 2016, specifically focusing on what I consider an emergent trend: cute ceramics. You can find the entire article (and some great comments and conversations) HERE!
Be sure to hang around there for a minute, it's such a great resource... maybe check out their catalogue library?
Here's a little taste of the review... be sure to read the whole thing!
"Cute has connotations of pity and possession. When we consider something cute, it’s because it is somehow less than equal, often of diminutive size, age, and complexity. Cuteness is something we assign to others, it is rarely self-assigned or appreciated by the subject. We pity a cute thing, because it’s not beautiful, it’s not complex. It is simply adorable and the subject of our well-meaning, possessive, and nurturing intentions.
More than any of this, cute sells. Cute is the aesthetic of kitsch, of mainstream, commodified culture that exists to placate and pleasure. It typically provokes little thought or introspection.
Cute invokes commodity, it leverages itself on the pleasurable grounds of kitsch, on baby animals in the pet store, adorable children’s toys, and syrupy sweet figurines.
This current use of cute, however, has a dark undertone, as Marta Finkelstein’s bunny weeps beneath a chastity belt in Guilt, and Molly Allen’s deer threatens to crumble off of it’s too-long legs in The In-Between. The influence of irony is felt, as cute is subverted, made monstrous, sexualized, or otherwise twisted."
It's dark, folks, READ UP.
Sorry for the lack of posts over here lately, but the good news is... I'm done with my THESIS!
yes. that's right, "Craftivist Clay: Resistance and Activism in Contemporary Ceramics" is DONE!
It's so so true. If you'd like to read a copy, feel free to email me at mcbaumstark[at]gmail.com. I'm currently looking to publish this bad boy (what WHAT) and so I'd politely ask that if you read it, you don't distribute it or share it widely. That said, hit me up! I'd love to chat about some craftivist ceramics with you!
Here's the thing, though. Finishing my thesis means I have a whole ton of time on my hands, and I'm lucky enough to be working with and writing for some excellent folks!
I'm currently working with the brilliant founders and members of the Socially Engaged Craft Collective!
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Wow, Mary, that sounds right up your alley and straight into your wheelhouse!"
And then I'm like, "What is a wheelhouse? Pick a metaphor."
ANYWAY, I posted my first blog post over there quite recently, and I'd love for you to check it out here!
Here's a quick teaser to wet your whistle (OK I'M DONE)
"A performance that would meet the conditions of “socially engaged” necessitates a willing and participatory public that engages with the maker/artist in a series of social intra-actions, such as dialogue, touch, affect, or direct participation. These intra-actions form a social bond informed by (ideally) ethical behaviours of the maker/artist, who considers the participants as much as themselves or their produced objects. Social practice, as articulated by Helguera and supported by a desire to increase the social bond, considers the ethics and positionaliy of the aforementioned participatory public, acting and reacting in real time."
Y'all. Read it. And check out some of the other AMAZING projects profiled there, as well as our roster of kick ass, socially engaged artists and makers!
Mary Callahan Baumstark is a maker, writer, and researcher with an M.A. in Contemporary Art, Design, and New Media Art Histories from OCAD University in Toronto, Ontario. She is interested in trendspotting in contemporary ceramics and organizing socially engaged or activist projects. She is the current Resident Art Historian for the Socially Engaged Craft Collective.