What do you do when you really want to work with a specific artist? For Junior Fine Arts major Elizabeth Griffin, it was as easy as sending an email to British conceptual artist Lenka Clayton.
“I wanted to be her studio assistant,” Griffin said. “How can I make this happen?”
Griffin was looking for artists who were doing progressive things and contributing to society, and she found Clayton’s website. Clayton is the founder of a project called An Artist Residency in Motherhood (ARiM), in which she produced works that focused on her life as a mother of two young children. She now shares the blueprint of her residency with other parents to help them replicate it in their own homes, and there are now 450 artists that are in residence in motherhood all over the world.
As luck would have it, Clayton, who’s based out of Pittsburgh, Pa., was scheduled to be the artist in residence at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia in the summer of 2017. Griffin received Moore’s 2017 Sis Grenald Leadership Fellowship, one of the fellowships available to sophomores. Clayton answered Griffin’s ‘cold call’ email, the stars aligned, and in March 2017, Griffin began helping Clayton facilitate her workshops at the Fabric Workshop.
One of the forums focused on making art available to visually impaired people.
“There was a sculpture from Constantin Brâncuși that was in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and it was called Sculpture for the Blind,” Griffin said. “But people who identify as blind could not see it, obviously – it was enclosed in a glass box, it was not available to be touched. So Lenka was like, ‘How can we make these sculptures available to those who cannot see them?’”
Clayton invited artists from the Philadelphia area who identified as blind to come to the Fabric Workshop to make their own Sculpture for the Blind.
“We worked together to make a sculpture out of molded plaster that we verbally dictated to them,” Griffin said. “They could make something that seemed similar to what we described, and they could feel it, and they could mold it, and it would be available to be touched by everybody during the show.”
The pieces were displayed on the same style of pedestal on which Brâncuși’s sculpture was displayed.
Griffin helped Clayton coordinate a workshop for mothers from the area who are fans of Clayton’s ARiM project. She also created a spreadsheet of professional contacts who Clayton met through her shows, helped search for and apply for grants, and maintained all the associated paperwork.
“If I didn’t have the experience of applying for my own grant or fellowship, I would have felt a lot less confident doing this work for Lenka,” Griffin said. “But I felt really confident – I know how to write this, I know how to propose money, I know how to ask for it because I had so much help from Moore in writing my fellowship.”
Griffin continues to work with Clayton on maintaining an internet database of the ARiM participants around the world, facilitating meetups and get-togethers for artists who live near one another, but don’t realize it.
“They can invite other mothers to their studio, and they can bring their children, and they’ll be like, ‘My child is also here, because I’m a mom and that’s 24/7,’” she said.
Clayton’s art work, much of it about her home life and domesticity, has influenced Griffin.
“I’m definitely working with material of the home and thinking about familial narratives,” she said. “I don’t have a child, but it’s that level of play that I became interested in, also.”
Griffin, who attended the all-girls preparatory high school Villa Joseph Marie in Holland, Pa., wanted the all-women’s experience at Moore after studying environmental science for two years at Penn State.
“I’d always been interested in art my whole life,” she said. “I think, originally, in my senior year of high school, I didn’t think of art as a career situation, but I do now.”