"Give Me a Place to Stand, and I Will Move the World"

A conversation with MAKER Grant recipient, Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford

In 2013, the Chicago Artists Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels created the MAKER Grant, which provides two unrestricted cash awards given to Chicago-based contemporary visual artists who demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable artistic practice and career development. This year, Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford is the recipient of the $3,000 award.

Jeremiah is a visual artist and educator based in Chicago. His work has been shown at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The UCSD Art Gallery, The Glass Curtain Gallery, and The Hyde Park Art Center, among other spaces. He has held fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center and the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting. Jeremiah is currently in France after being awarded the Brown Foundation Fellowship based at the Dora Maar House in Menerbes for the month of July. 

In this interview, Jeremiah talks about his current projects, Floating Museum and Anachronic Objects, winning the MAKER Grant, and what it means to be a Chicago artist.

What projects are you working on now? How will the MAKER Grant play a role in achieving or affecting those projects?

I’m working on two projects right now—the first is a collaboration with Faheem Majeed and Andrew Schachman called Floating Museum that blends creative place-making, activism, and exhibition design to make a platform for conversations and community engagement. We’re designing a structural interpretation of the DuSable Museum of African American History that will move through Chicago and eventually float down the Chicago River in the summer of 2017. We’ve been thinking a lot about how architecture becomes the medium for exchange and how to make a radically flexible site for art and programming. Site responsiveness is important to us and we’re trying to use the idea of buoyancy to address complex and urgent questions like race and class in Chicago and beyond, in addition to thinking about new models for museum practices. 

The Floating Museum, to be completed in summer 2017.

Parallel to this I’m working on a body of work called Anachronic Objects that will include cast paintings, sculptures, hybrid works, and hopefully a robotic quadruped wearing a 3D-printed silicon version of the painting Hercules and the Nemean Lion by Peter Paul Rubens. The body of work deals with how objects and content move through time and how hybridity functions.  I started it after reading Anachronic Rennaisance by [Alexander] Nagle and [Christopher] Wood. It will also continue building on some work that I showed a few years ago at the Hyde Park Art Center that dealt with monuments.  

The MAKER Grant will play a big role in developing both projects. I’m going to be purchasing materials and also books for research.  Sculpture is expensive and the MAKER Grant is a great opportunity to experiment with new materials and ideas. 

What is it like to be an artist in Chicago?

I’m doing a fellowship right now at the Dora Maar house in France and one of the other fellows just asked me about this—hailing from another city on another coast. Chicago’s fundamentally shaped my practice—going to grad school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and then teaching, and working in Chicago afterwards. I like Chicago for its inventiveness, homegrown art scenes, and exciting work being done around creative place-making, and did I mention the funding opportunities, like the MAKER Grant?     

What is the most challenging aspect about being an artist in Chicago?

Maybe making ends meet or carving out studio time, but that’s not Chicago-specific. Chicago’s not supercharged in the same ways as some other major cities but this can function as a boon and create unexpected spaces for growth and visibility. Liam Gillick has a line about the rich being the only ones who care about him and support his art work. I wonder about that a lot—particularly about deciphering funding structures in the arts, benefactors and the possibilities of upending these through other strategies while still getting your work done. Chicago’s good at this. Chicago needs a more robust collector network, but I think there should be alternative visions, and I’m always struck by the state support for the arts in European countries. I want to give a shout-out to the Illinois Arts Council and the Department of Cultural Affairs; they’re a crucial lifeline in Chicago’s cultural production and their budgets should be tripled.           

 A sketch for an Anachronic Object.

Including the MAKER Grant you’ve received a lot of grants and fellowships throughout your career.  How have they helped you as an artist?

They’ve been invaluable. Both for working, funding projects, and recharging. They also form a support network that exists outside of market driven production, and I’ve been lucky to benefit from this.   

What advice/strategies would you give to artists who might want to apply for funding?

Well, to start, I’d like to throw out there that a good 70 percent of my applications get rejected. But I dedicate a good chunk of studio time to applications because many of the projects I’d like to do stretch way beyond the orbit of my finances. Another crucial thing to think about is clarity, good writing, and finding a second set of eyes to read your writing. My wife’s probably completely sick of reading my apps, but having a generous and patient proof reader look at your struggle to get thoughts into a neat, cogent, and exciting form is key.

A lot of your work is site-specific.  Why is that?  Do you find your surroundings a source of inspiration that fuels your creativity?

"I also like to repeat the Archimedes’ line monotonously in my head, 'Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.'"

Well, Miwon Kwon’s book One Place After Another had a big impact on my practice, examining site-specificity as an unstable relationship between location and identity. I think one of the privileges of having an art practice is walking around with your eyes open and being able to think about location, identity, and responsiveness. I’m really interested in the many artists who have worked on the idea that site can be something more than a place—inclusive of repressed histories, community-based projects, and the work to figure out what site-specific means after its rise as a genre category.  So, absolutely. It’s often about getting excited by something seen, heard, or written and following up on the initial interest with material exploration, research, and collaboration. I also like to repeat the Archimedes’ line monotonously in my head, "Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world."

Your installation Hall of Khan from 2013 featured live horses. How did you make the decision to have live horses in the gallery? 

Hall of Khan was presented at the Hyde Park Art Center in 2013, and I had been thinking about equestrian monuments for some time and how to make them performative after reading about a case of vandalism in Portland where some (probably-hammered) fantastical beast enthusiasts taped a unicorn horn onto a Joan of Arc statue. I was very interested in presenting a durational equestrian monument and building a stable in the gallery that interacted with Hyde Park Art Center’s roll-down doors in their main gallery.

What’s your favorite/song album to listen to while creating?

Equal parts Future Turn on the lights and the Cyril Hahn Destiny’s Child Say my Name remix right now.

Is there anything I forgot to ask that you’d like to add? 

I just saw a breathtaking Mona Hatoum show at the Centre Pompidou. It’s a must see.     

Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford is a visual artist and educator based in Chicago. His work has been shown at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The UCSD Art Gallery, The Glass Curtain Gallery and The Hyde Park Art Center, among other spaces.  He has held fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center and the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting.  His work has been supported by grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Harpo Foundation, the Propeller Fund, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship in Sicily. He will be a Brown Foundation Fellow at the Dora Maar House in Menerbes France in 2015 working towards a solo exhibition at the Schrott Center for the Arts at Butler University in the fall of 2015. Currently he is a DCASE/Joyce Foundation Studio Artist in Residence producing a collaborative public project with Faheem Majeed and Andrew Schachman called Floating Museum in partnership with the DuSable Museum of African American History slated to launch in summer 2016.

Published by Jennifer DePoorter on Mon, 07/13/2015 - 11:23am
Updated on Mon, 07/13/2015 - 12:24pm