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Faculty Spotlight: Anna Mayer

Q&A with Artist and Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts.

"It is rewarding to make and sustain connections with students over time in the McGovern College of the Arts.  I am honored to be a part of so many new artists’ first art worlds. I am very enthusiastic that the College is listening to its students, and working to support its faculty and staff to “meet the moment” during a civil rights movement led by Black Lives Matter. My colleagues in the School of Art are thoughtful, resourceful, and committed to further developing a culture of care at UH and in the larger Houston art world. This is inspiring and brings me hope." - Anna Mayer

Q: Please provide your educational history.

A: My parents read a lot of books with me from an early age, and I’ve learned a lot about human experience and consciousness from reading novels. I studied literature and women’s studies at Washington University in St. Louis, and then got my BFA in Sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My MFA in Studio Art is from California Institute of the Arts. Since that formal education, I have been learning from other artists, and from my work as an educator. I’m continually researching for the classes I teach, and I learn a lot from my students and the art works they share. Very recently I am learning from abolitionist teachers and other scholars, activists and artists who are educating about anti-racism 

Q: What are some fond memories from your journey in the arts?

A: I have many memories that were awkward or difficult at the time, but are now fond! For instance, doing multiple high contact performances in “social sculptures” where I couldn’t see or hear very well. Sharing a bunk bed in a windowless room with my collaborator for a summer. Sleeping performatively in a friend’s massive pyramid made of pallets. Just generally participating in other artists’ work! For some reason, installation periods for exhibitions are something I eventually feel quite nostalgic for—I think it’s something about working closely with preparators and colleagues to make it all happen. That’s when relationships get built (or unraveled?).

Q: Describe one thing that has surprised you during your career in higher education.

A: Realizing that the imparting of so-called “hard knowledge” or applied techniques is not where the most important teaching/receiving happens. The rest of it—all the context, relationship building, and somatic presence—is when the crucial knowledge gets built.

Q: What accomplishments in your career do you feel most proud of?

A: I’m proud of the progression of my work, how it’s become more complex and ambitious over time. I’m very proud of sustaining the collaborative practice I have with Jemima Wyman—we are called CamLab—for 15 years. I’ve learned a lot about ethics and relationships from cultivating this mutual survival relationship. I have learned to listen, compromise, celebrate and take risks as part of our collaboration.

Q: What specific skills or ideas, which you have cultivated in your area of expertise, do you find valuable in your career now? 

A: I find that my capacity to stay focused on a project for months at a time is very helpful. I frequently benefit from my ability to move from dreaming and working intuitively into a phase of researching and editing, and then back to dreaming. My understanding of intersectionality--of various social justice movements—helps me make sense of contemporary life, multiple histories, and the various possible futures we have before us. Listening and tuning into group dynamics is invaluable.

Q: What do you think are the most important attributes of a good instructor?

A:  I feel I’m at my strongest when I’m bringing energy from my own practice as an artist into the classroom, and am thinking of myself as one point in a web rather than a singular repository of facts.

Q: What are one or two of your proudest professional accomplishments? 

A: Very excited for my upcoming solo show at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft! It’s wonderful working with curator Kathryn Hall, and getting to share my work in the context of a craft museum for the first time.

Q: Has there been any press coverage that you would like to share? If so, list links in your answer with any helpful descriptions.

A: Just recently I was very honored to be on Air Talk, a radio program in Southern California that I’ve always loved, in conjunction with a group exhibition I am a part of the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, CA.

I did a long-form conversation about my work for X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly last year, with artist Candice Lin and editor Poppy Coles. It was a great opportunity to take a longer view of my practice and make connections between bodies of work.

In 2018 Georgia Lassner wrote a review of a solo show of mine that is very moving. She doesn’t pretend to be objective, but rather allows her feelings to surface and be a part of the experience she describes. I love for my work to be received in that way.

Q: What is coming up for you in the future that we should watch for?

A: I’m currently working on a large-scale solo exhibition for the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft opening in January 2021, called Forms of Inheritance. I will also have work in the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) annual exhibition, curated by Shannon Stratton, in February 2021.

Q: What advice would you have for incoming students who are focusing on a career in the arts?

A: I believe it’s important to build a practice that is both pleasurable and driven by your own interests and commitments. This is the only way I know how to sustain a practice long term, because “outside” opportunities will come and go. Start your own galleries, support your peers, and build horizontal networks with all different kinds of people. Consider how you are a citizen as well as an artist. What can you help to steward while on this planet?