Chicago-based, Virginia-located artist Kate Hampel uses sculptural objects to investigate unvoiced traumas implicit in our social constructs. Through her material-based practice, she seeks to unravel the underlying narratives that enthrall the public through the 24/7 media sensationalism cycle, but ultimately vanish from deeper collective thought, swept under the rug like just another dust bunny in passing. How are we all implicit in these cultural narratives of rape, murder, trauma and incest? Why do we selectively silence them in our day-to-day lives? In her artist story, Hampel discusses how the experience of part-time teaching works within the context of her larger studio practice.
It’s a privilege for me to be able to write this. Someone asked me a few months ago what I wanted to do with my life and I could, perhaps for the first time, say that I was already doing it. I’m teaching two classes a semester and working in my studio—on the surface an entirely sweet deal, and it is, but the reality of teaching is a little different than I imagined it to be.
Part-time teaching has a lot going for it compared to the other odd jobs I’ve held over the last few years (a collage of office work, retail, and freelancing). I have plenty of time off and access to equipment, facilities, libraries and online journals that I had to give up when I graduated. I don't know where I'll be next year, or if I'll even have a teaching job, but these insecurities are more than balanced by how central teaching seems to be to my art practice. The critiques, conversations, and skill-sharing come from my work but also go right back into it. There is, though, a particular drawback to the symbiosis of teaching and art-making that I didn't really foresee.
There’s a certain imperative to make one’s work, whether it comes from desire, ambition, anxiety, or whatever, that allows people to work a 9-to-5 job that has nothing to do with art and finish tired but ready to go into the studio. It’s a search for a particular kind of satisfaction that a job may not provide. Teaching, for me, works differently. In a way it becomes harder for me to get to the studio and make my work, because not only am I tired, I’m also saturated with other people’s work and my job doesn’t end outside the classroom. My students’ projects and concerns fill my head and I’m reading theory for them instead of for myself. It doesn’t feel empty because it’s a part of my practice, but it does mean I’ve been getting less of my own work done. Sometimes it works out well; for a student who wanted to incorporate a repetitive, metered text into her work, I pulled out my copy of Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry, which argues that "a text is a performance yearning to be set free." Her sentences and material choices were completely different from my long list installations, but in both there’s a concern for the flow of the reading process that is fundamental to poetry, and that Pinsky covers in depth, through line breaks and stressed syllables. Overlaps like this abound between my students’ work and my own, so it can be difficult (in a good way) to pinpoint who exactly I’m working for.
This has all made me really reconsider what it is that I consider to be my practice. Reading and other forms of research have always been a part of it, and now teaching is as well, which comes with its own research and preparation practices. But what about all the other parts of life that intrude? I used to think that making work was supposed to be my absolute priority and that everything else should come second—not that it did, necessarily, but I believed this enough to feel guilty about it. Lately, though, I’ve been finding myself getting home from school and making pesto and soup instead of working in the studio, and trying to reconcile this with what I hear from other artists, that they only have time for frozen food, that they have nothing in their fridges, that they haven’t made dinner in ages. This is the life of the mythical artist, I think. Why, then, do I feel like I have even ten minutes to spare trying to do something useful with that wilting basil? I realized that it actually comes down to the same material ethos that is present in my work. What things are, where they come from and what I do with them matters.
I don’t make work about food exactly, but I am interested in bodies and things that go into them and come out of them, and in having a physical body in a physical world. I’m fussy about materials, not surprisingly, and I try to teach my students to be as well (yes, it means something that you used bubble gum in your piece, and not just that it’s pink). If I’m conceptually committed to a material- and process-based practice, it only makes sense that this ethos extends to the rest of my life, teaching, eating, etc. While I was trying to figure out how to prioritize the different parts of my life and work, it turns out that they did it themselves, and they’re much more in agreement than I thought. It can still be a struggle to get into the studio when I know that I have class tomorrow, but in many ways the studio has become preparation for teaching, just as teaching brings up aspects of my own work.
Tips for artists teaching part-time:
- Set yourself up with some manageable studio work that you can get right into when you only have a few hours.
- Set aside a particular time each week (say, Tuesday mornings) for studio business like applications ,etc.
- The wheel is fine as it is—though it’s great to be creative and inventive with syllabi and projects, don’t feel bad about using what has worked well in the past for others.
- Find out if any work-study students are available to help with your prep work (scanning and photocopying in the office, mixing print pastes, setting up demos in the studio)
- Know when to say no to your students. When they’re emailing you at 11 o’clock on a Sunday night, it’s time.
Kate Hampel holds an MFA in Fiber & Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from Montreal’s Concordia University. She has shown her work in galleries, museums, and art fairs in the United States, Canada, and Asia, and has participated in residency programs across the United States. She is currently highly invested in teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where she holds a Fountainhead Fellowship in Craft/Material Studies. She will participate in the Spring 2013 ACRE Projects & Residency curated by CAR Visual Arts Reseacher Alicia Eler. More at www.katehampel.com.