Thoughts and New Work From My First Year in the ICP-Bard MFA Program

As many of you know, I enrolled in graduate school to pursue my MFA in photography. After speaking extensively with class of 2010 alumnae Holly Bynoe (publisher of ARC magazine), I chose ICP-Bard because of what I describe as the program’s liberal arts philosophy towards studying photography, which reminded me of my academic experience as an undergrad.

For me, this past year has been a joyful challenge. It was a huge shock to go from work mode (meeting with executives, graphing web analytics and generating spreadsheets) to art mode (doing assignments like presenting who I considered to be the “worst” artist and using psychoanalysis to talk about contemporary art). 

It was even harder to embrace the new role of artist/photographer while being a mother. I quickly learned that I had to prioritize art making which meant working after my son was asleep, often between the hours of 8pm to 4am.

I entered this MFA program with very strict rules for thinking about how my work should be created and presented. Yet each course taught me to loosen up: whether it was listening to Nayland Blake’s command of asserting the values behind our art, seeing work that pushed the camera’s boundaries in David Deitcher’s Photoconceptualism lectures or heeding Moyra Davey’s command to write about our work…

This past year I experimented with video, sculpture and installation, bookmaking, papercutting and for the first time ever I broke free of previously self-imposed limitations and started making work using appropriated imagery. Aside from the family work that made up my daily practice, I also took the opportunity to go back to making work about identity, exploring my curiosity with skin and hair.

At orientation, I was pleased to know that I wouldn’t be the only mother in the program. There was another first-year mom and one in the second-year class. This year the 3 of us have bonded on how hard it is to balance art and motherhood. This past May 11, 2012, the three of us artist mothers spoke at the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement “Histories of Motherhood” academic conference in Toronto, Canada. Our presentation focused on how we’re able to walk the tightrope of art making and motherhood without falling off.

We presented our own stories and to compliment our presentation, we distributed a self-published booklet featuring the personal accounts of contemporary artist mothers Marina Berio, Katharina Bosse, Moyra Davey, Rachelle Mozman, Deborah Willis, Justine Kurland, Joelle Jensen, Penelope Umbrico and Joanne Leonard. Soon we will launch a website/blog on the topic of art and motherhood and we hope to have newly printed, limited edition copies of the booklet available at the New York Art Book Fair this Fall.

I’ve been told year 2 of our MFA program is that much more intense. Aside from the regular readings and assignments for class; our thesis requires each student staging their own solo show, participation in the class’ group show and self-publishing a thesis book typically of images and writing. I’m anxious but very much excited and brimming with ideas that I will probably trash last minute but it’s great to feel so inspired. Per the excellent suggestion of my professor, curator and writer Marvin Heiferman (follow him @whywelook), I’m hoping to incorporate Dodge & Burn into my final thesis… so stay tuned!

And without further ado, here’s a preview of the books (they exist as 2 volumes) I self-published for my finals this year. Also, if you haven’t already, check out the recently re-launched Qiana Mestrich website for more work – photography and otherwise.

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