a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"
Interview with Calder Kamin
Jonah Criswell: How has your UCP Residency affected you?
Calder Kamin: I am grateful the Charlotte Street Foundation for the Urban Culture Project Studios on the 13th floor of the pARTnership place. I knew it was time to leave my 5 year stint in ceramic studios for the UCP residency in order to introduce interdisciplinary approaches to my portfolio. UCP mentors, Kate Hackman and Jarrett Mellenbrunch, have been supportive of the new directions I am taking that are both educational and public. 8 months into my residency I have completed body of work that is innovative and informative, and scheduled a solo exhibition in Austin this summer. I plan re-apply to the UCP program, so that I may continue my exploration.
My project Impact Proof will prevent urban bird deaths caused from collisions with high-rise windows. During the day, windows reflect the landscape. We may see clearly inside, but what birds see is a reflection of endless sky. With the help of the Lakeside Nature Center, I recently attempted to save a kestrel after she hit translucent plexi glass on a covered bus stop a block away from my UCP studio. Kestrel silhouettes will be cut into vinyl decals for installations on windows in downtown, and on the bus station where I discovered the injured kestrel. Birds respond to the decal kestrels as other birds in flight giving the illusions that there is no room to pass through, and therefor avoid running into the glass. For the May open studios I will welcome a volunteer from the Lakeside Nature Center to give presentation on what to do if you find injured wildlife and kestrels. I have also sculpted a ceramic replica of the kestrel, which will be up for auction with 50% of the proceeds gifted to the Lakeside Nature Center.
JC: You are a current resident, have you had any contact with former residents?
CK: Absolutely, Jonah, including you! My studio space has quite a history of colleagues past. Before I moved in a former collaborator, Julie Malen, worked in my studio, and before her my partner and current collaborator, Kurt Flecksing, was in my space. Pat Alexander had also acknowledge this lineage when placing me in pARTnership. I know Charlotte Street has contributed to many of my peers careers and are a big part of why we have all chosen to stay in KC.
JC: How do you feel that the UCP Residency helped you further your work?
CK: For almost 6 years I had committed myself to a ceramics studio. I always felt a little out of place since the community predominately focuses on the work of art being completely clay. In my UCP studio, I’ve finally allowed myself to consider the other ways I work including drawings, blogging, design, and photography to be a part of the final presentation rather than limit it all to just my process.
JC: For your project, Impact Proof, seems like a significant extension of your previous ceramic works, how has your thinking about animal, natural, and human changed over the past year?
CK: Limiting myself to one material also limited the message and the audience. I will continue to work in ceramics, since it is profitable, and implement the important foundations I gained from my ceramic education: craft, design and function, into my new work. My work has always illustrated the creative affects of mankind’s impact on nature, but now I have the confidence to produce work that manifests in other ways other than in the privacy of my studio. Moving forward I want my work to take an ‘artist as activist, educator or designer’ approach since my experiences with wildlife in the city are not passive, as explained in the story of the kestrel. After I sculpted a ceramic version of the fallen bird, I felt the project was incomplete, so I continued to think of how I could creatively give back to the nature center, educate the public about wildlife rescue, and prevent other animals from a similar fate. I have also completed public works that take creative approaches to concerns with trash and bird nest building. Hopefully this will also expand my audience into other communities, especially organizations in the life sciences and environmental sustainability. Through the rigorous programing UCP provides I have a venue to create my own public programs such as welcoming Lakeside to speak at the May Open Studios.
JC: You mention that you wanted to take some of your work “outside the privacy of your own studio” could you talk about how your role as an artist changes when your work leaves a studio environment?
CK: In my wildest dreams I hope to benefit humanity, or at least the people around me. I feel like my art career has been in the ‘public’; for two years I was the gallerina on saturdays at the h&r block artspace, and almost three years I was the front face of red star studios. Currently, I present weekly lecture series called professional practice, a mandatory program out of career services at the kansas city art institute. administration has been an effective way for me to contribute to the art community.
I am absolutely fascinated by animals, especially the birds in my yard. The feeders Kurt built have generated a vibrant community of native songbirds. As a couple kurt and I obviously influence each other’s work. we worked together on the synanthrope station after my observations of bird behavior. I found the kestrel on my walk to
pARTnership studio, and brought it home until the NC could help her the next morning. That experience fueled the desire to be proactive with my creative influence on nature.
JC: Given that your subject matter, the animal, generates so much interest, do you find viewers and patrons more receptive to a political demeanor in your work?
CK: Well, there are big problems in the world today. Cute critters are an easier pill to swallow.
JC: From my experiences with ceramicists, they usually have a fantastic relationship with their community and patrons, how has this informed your public art projects?
CK: I’m spreading my wings.
JC: How has the scientific community responded to your projects, especially the kestrel project?
CK: Birders love me. I’m certainly an amateur nature photographer. I hope to get better. Academia hasn’t been too receptive to the collaboration invitation. Rule number one, to go public the project has to ready for the general
public to digest, otherwise you are an artist with kooky ideas. Persistence is always good too.
The NC was very accommodating to me as a concerned wildlife enthusiast. I received daily updates about the kestrel’s progress from the President of the Friends of the Lakeside Nature Center, Sharon Goff. Sharon will present animal safety and raptor artifacts in my studio, Saturday, May 19 during open studios from 11-12. The half of
the proceeds generated from the sales of a ceramic replica of the kestrel I sculpted will go to the NC. This is my gift to the community.