Chus Martínez on "Kids in the Art World"

Interview

Photo: Alberto Gamazo

What does it mean today to have a life with kids, to have a life in art, and to live a life? Why are children and the artist's life so hard to unite? Or is this a false assumption? Spike Art Daily dedicates a series of interviews to the problematic relationship that the art industry has with its offspring. In this interview, curator and theorist Chus Martínez talks about shared realities, competitive situations and why children always open us up.

Timo Feldhaus: How many kids do you have?

Chus Martínez: One – six years old. 

Did the way you work change since your child was born?

No, I don’t think so actually. 

Is it more difficult to have children in the art world than in other fields of work?

I can’t tell since I only work in the art world. However, there are very substantial differences depending on cultural context and culture that do affect the way an imagination of what is or is not possible when having children is produced.

Can you explain your last sentence please? What do you mean by “What is or not possible when having children is produced”? 

Well, every cultural context defines differently the “woman-at-work” situation. Rights are one thing, reality, and how reality is managed, another. During the 90s a series of legal but also social structures were implemented in Spain to assure full integration of woman at work. I must admit that I was shocked when I first came to Germany to see how motherhood and ambition at work were seen as two opposite things and how little effort was made to correct this perception. It also seemed difficult to find support and the correct structures to allow woman to work and have children, and I was surprised how happily it was assumed that for a woman family comes first etc. I think this has changed a little bit, but it is still a challenge for women, and if success in combining family with working aspirations is accomplished it is normally is due to her effort, and not a collective effort, to succeed in this. There is a very meaningful debate in Spain right now about “conciliatory” hours, meaning, trying to regulate the office hours and the school and also grocery and doctor hours so that having children and work and life would become more organic. The debate assumes also the different nature of parenthood today, without relying on conservative family formats. I just mention it because I know the Spanish case, and because in Northern Europe people tend to assume they have better conditions for woman at work, but I sincerely do not think so, even if there is a long way to go in every different geographical location. 

Do you have the impression that there are less kids in the art world than in other fields of work? To me it seems like you are only supposed to have kids at a time when you are "done", i.e.: successful. This makes having kids in the art world surprisingly hard.

I would be unable to judge this in numbers. I think that it’s not an easy decision to be made in general. The narratives at place are also quite miserable. From women to men, there is always a certain pleasure in stressing how your life is going to change; implying that freedom, and a certain form of youth, is over. Due to these constrains, the time for your work will also change resulting in poor performance or a worse competitive situation.

It is a collective effort to imagine women that are able to realize their career ambitions and have children. This is not a “woman-thing”, but a society question. Different social and economic imaginations imply a transformation in how we work, we talk and we act. It is a gender question that affects all genders, as well as all sorts of family models, and that is at the core of the question of the future. To properly address this question is crucial. 

When I interviewed Isabelle Graw on this topic she said: “You can argue that parents are ideal subjects of the new economy, since they are constantly working and even increase their consumption because of children. Even the daycare center can be used as an opportunity for networking, to make unexpected contacts that are also useful professionally. And even if you turn off your mobile phone at a kid’s birthday party, you are integrated into an economy whose creation of value begins with its subjects—and that includes parents and their children. Clearly, a child involves you even more in social relationships but at the same time enables you to distance yourself from them.” Would you agree with this statement?

I cannot see myself in any of the above provided descriptions. I personally think that what she is describing is a situation generated mostly and foremost by the parents, and that it has nothing or less to do with the “children”. But it’s true that children are the excuse today to fully realize some of their parents` unconfessed social, aesthetic and even racial ambitions. 

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How can, the other way around, “children” become a “chance” for parents? 

Children are always a chance. They open us up to a different way of sensing and interpreting realities. I mean this in an abstract way, but also in a social one. Children socialize differently than parents, and it is our decision to follow them or to train them in our ways. 

Do you bring up your child on your own? Could you work in the same way if, for example, you didn’t have enough money to hire babysitters? Can you understand why a lot of women in the art world, who have only temporary, low-paid jobs, give up their wish to have children?

No, I am not alone. It’s not just a question of babysitters though, but of a whole structure. My son was born in Spain and there my family took great responsibility in helping, which facilitated my life a great deal. Later, when I moved away, it was clear that I had an enormous responsibility and pressure to produce a structure that would allow me to work and be a mother at the same time. The economic pressure is big, but it could be reduced in many ways. The hours of schools and day care centers could help a lot to reduce the pressure, as well as alternative systems to babysitting such as a Tagesmutter [someone who looks after your child in their own home]. There are many ways to help and yes, it is clear that it is not easy for a woman to make that decision, which explains why many, such as myself, waited so long. 

Not long ago when we met for breakfast you told me that you find the way kids are educated in school is totally wrong, especially in the non-existent or false use of technology. Can you explain what you mean by that?  

Totally wrong was a little too fast of a “breakfast” statement. I just think that it would be great to find ways of integrating technology better in the learning process. I am under the impression that we still see computer and digital tools as big distracting devices and I just ask myself if we could imagine ways of organically seeing them as a crucial part of our children’s learning life. I am impressed by how the Indian and Sri Lankan community in the school my son attends are producing lists of programs to help children with certain subjects like reading and math. Not to generalize but I am learning from how free they are with technology verses how methodologically conservative we are in Europe.

How has your child experienced art until now? 

He listens to our conversations at home and knows that everyone around him loves art and work in the field. Otherwise, I do not particularly address the subject with him or try to bring him to openings etc. unless it is some special event where he is required, so to say, as a family member.

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Born in Spain, Chus Martínez has a background in philosophy and art history. She was the Chief Curator at El Museo Del Barrio, New York and dOCUMENTA (13) Head of Department. Previously she was Chief Curator at MACBA, Barcelona (2008 to 2011). For the 56th Biennale di Venezia (2015), Martínez curated the National Pavilion of Catalunya with Albert Serra. Currently she lives in Switzerland and is the Head of the Institute of Art of the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel. 

Timo Feldhaus is a writer and an editor at Spike. He lives in Berlin.

Read the other interviews from the series "Kids in the Art World" with Isabelle GrawHarm van den Dorpel and DIS Magazine