Single MAMA, MFA STUDENT AND artist EMMA talks about time and space, the importance of being your boldest self, HAVING MANY SEATS AT THE TABLE, and why her son is her greatest artwork in the making



What’s the first thing you remember creating?

One of the first things I remember being proud of creating was a card stock stroller for my barbies. It was constructed out of brads, weird green fabric and stiff paper. I was eight years old and this was at a time when a DIY barbie mansion took up about a fourth of my bedroom floor. I made it out of a singular piece of paper, using brads and snips to let the paper hang and dip. I remember the moment I showed it to my aunt for the congratulatory “good job!” Somehow the process wasn't complete before that.

What’s the most recent thing you created?

A photo shoot of (my son) Raymond’s lincoln log assemblages, which I will use to accompany a text I wrote about how/where Portland’s landscape performs accumulation by dispossession.

Are you a kid or a grown up?

Neither and both: I have an adult understanding of systems and a childlike improvisational relationship to them.

What are you most proud of?

My son.  And myself for nurturing his body, mind, and spirit at the same time.

When are you your most creative self?

Creativity is like an overflowing stream of consciousness - I feel it when I converse with my collaborators, listen to an instrumental track, look at the moon, walk in the forest, or cook a meal for my family.

What does freedom mean to you?

Freedom is the knowing of who your truest self is, combined with the ability to inhabit spaces (the space of the body as well as rooms, street scapes, neighborhoods) without challenging your body’s safety or belonging.

Three words that describe your take on motherhood

My Greatest Artwork.

What have you learned about yourself since becoming a mother?

That my body can reproduce itself - become plural - and that all of humanity comes from that basic growth pattern.

What role does creativity play in how you parent?

I see the chance to parent as an opportunity to create the most beautiful brain - not alone of course.  But my son is the most meaningful creation that I will put into the world. I see the artwork that I create as paving the way for him and his peers to experience the world and themselves in it - in a deeper way. At the same time, there is an incentive to create the cultural frameworks - languages of bodies, words, screenplays and lyrics, picture books, music videos, paintings - that will inspire the cultural atmosphere they grow up in.

Something you've learned as a mom?

The freedom that comes with (perhaps temporarily) taking myself out of the spotlight of my life.

Best thing about having a son?

Discovering the beauty contained by the physical properties of things that propel themselves centrically. I.e. balls and wheels.

Hardest thing?

Remembering to give myself credit.

Something Raymond has taught you?

When he was about a year old he taught me that the tune to the ABCs, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and Black Sheep Black Sheep is the same. I have been singing these songs my whole life and never put it together!

How do you nurture yourself?

Carving out the time and space to immerse myself in my own world - whether that be the world of a text, a dance, a song, a painting, a conversation - and go someplace transcendent for a little while, an hour, 24 of them, or even ten minutes. And then come back feeling refreshed and able to be present for otherwise 'quotidienne' household tasks.

What are you studying right now and what do you hope to achieve with your degree?

I am currently working towards an MFA in Art and Social Practice, a branch of the contemporary art department at Portland State. One of the things that this program challenges me to do is to redefine the role that curation plays, seeing the act of stimulating, collecting, editing, producing and curating artworks as the art practice itself. Continuing to explore this will take me to where I'm going.

Tell us more about maps!

Our children are growing up in an age when the tools we use to visualize space - the internet, Google maps, and all that is built off that, and similar, platform(s) - have the potential to expand the way we think about “here” in relation to "there," or “us” in relation to "them." I am passionate about exploring ways to document actual experiences of space that exist outside the typical two-dimensional projections of it.

How do you balance being active in the community, an artist, and a student all while being a single mom?

By giving parts of my tasks away to others and trusting that their effort and intension is even more enriching than my own. By making many seats at the table, knowing always that I am the one serving the meal. Or at least curating the timing of the courses!

What does the word community mean to you?  

The social sphere just beyond the space of the home. I am blessed to have an arts space where I can invite and host that community to create work and exchange ideas that is both separate from my domestic sphere but also informs it.

What would you do with more time?

Meditate to create more (or create a different relationship to) time

What’s a question you wish more people asked?

What inner intelligence is my child bringing to this conversation? And have I made time to listen, or even ask?

In this current political landscape, what role do you think we can play as creatives and as mothers in affecting positive change?

To be our boldest selves, and let our children experience the world through that example.

One thing you’d like to tell another pom pom mom trying to figure it all out

Remember that voice of intuition before the baby came and maybe even during birth, or the first few days when magic was all around? Remember that, find space for it every day, and listen to what it says to do - or the other people (especially your child) that it speaks to you through.

About Emma 

Emma Colburn is an artist founded in 1986 to investigate systems that structure micro and macro cosmic realities, while stimulating improvisational relationships to these ordering systems. Carving out the intersection of social art, urban geography, and property law, Emma Colburn uses text, paint, sound, moving image, performance research, collaborative mapmaking, and personal migration stories to expand linear perceptions of space-time. As a visual and performing artist, Emma Colburn works throughout the United States and internationally and is currently pursuing an MFA in Art and Social Practice (‘18) at Portland State University.  In 2016 Emma and her son co-founded PLAT, an industrial project space in SE Portland that features collaborations between adult and children artists.

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