Interview Series: Where are they Now?
Featuring: Alison Postma, written by Laura Vautour and Amy Hanstke
Alison Postma, a University of Guelph Alumni, is a multidisciplinary artist who focuses on objects and the body. Along with being one of the 2020 winners of the Emerging Digital Artists Award, Alison is also one of 15 artists who opened an artist-run gallery space in Toronto called the plumb where they can each curate a show during different times of the year.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself as a student entering your first year of the Studio Art program?
I think that I would give myself two pieces of advice: the first would be to not take your time at school for granted. Being in school gives you access to so many resources. I didn’t fully appreciate this until I had graduated and was trying to make art in the world outside of school. This includes things like equipment and studio access for sure, but also the help and knowledge of technicians and professors. Ask questions and ask for all the help you need! There are so many great people in the faculty, staff, and there are student peers!
The second piece of advice I would give is to not worry about creating perfect and elaborate projects. I think that the structure of school and the quick turnaround on projects doesn’t necessarily foster the greatest creativity when you are trying to create cool work for your portfolio and get good grades. Experimentation without an end goal has always been a better way of working for me, and I think there is room in school to have a healthy balance between experiment and finished project.
How has your practice evolved throughout your degree and post-graduation?
My art practice has changed a lot since being in school and is continually shifting and evolving. I love learning new skills and ideas and incorporating them into my practice. Learning so much in school so quickly meant that the art I was making was a bit all over the place. I’m not much of a long-term planner, so graduating and getting out into the real world was a bit of a shock for me and my work. When I graduated I moved to Toronto. A small apartment and no money for an external studio meant that my art had to adapt. I found myself figuring out ways of working that were quick, didn’t take up a lot of space, or could be cleaned up and put away once I was done working. My practice has always been flexible in this way, reactive to the situation that I find myself in. I’ve lived in Toronto for 5 years now, and my living/working/studio situation has changed a lot since I’ve been here. I find myself constantly re-learning how I can make work depending on what space and resources I have access to.
This past year I decided that I needed a bigger change, and I started back at school in September. I’m doing another undergrad - this time in Furniture Design at Sheridan! I still am pursuing a career as an artist, but thought that learning new skills, having hands-on education, and taking a break from the 9-5 grind would all be helpful in taking the next steps with my art.
What has been the most insightful lesson you have learned working in the arts since graduation?
The most important thing I’ve learned is that there is lots of time, and it’s ok to be a human instead of an art-making machine. Art can be so personal and such a liberating way to work through whatever’s going on in your life or in your brain - but often it can end up feeling like any other career. Capitalism has us believing that we need to compete with each other to make the best art and whoever works harder/sleeps less will come out on top. I think it’s important to remember that we are humans and not just workers. In that sense, I try not to beat myself up if I miss the deadline for something I wanted to apply to, etc. It doesn’t have to be a race!
You and several other artists from the University of Guelph initiated a collaborative studio space in Toronto called the plumb (congrats!). Tell us more about how this idea became a reality and any updates you have in terms of programming.
Yes! The plumb is a really exciting new gallery space that has been the collaborative effort of myself and 15 others. The idea was really started through the efforts of Emma Welch and Daniel Hunt (both Guelph grads) who found the space and started the initial conversations. It has been a huge collaborative effort getting the plumb off the ground - we had to clean, build walls, paint, find furniture, etc on top of the piles of admin work that go into starting a gallery. The plumb has really emphasized the power of collaboration for me. I could never run a plumb-like project by myself, but with the collaborative efforts and resources of 16 people, it can be pulled off pretty seamlessly.
I’m not sure how much I can or can’t share about upcoming programming, but we have a pretty packed schedule of shows in the works. (Also, if you haven’t, check out our archive of past shows on our website: theplumb.ca - we have full documentation available to view). I am co-curating a show that will happen at the end of August with Emma Green (also a Guelph Grad!) that I’m incredibly excited about. I’ve never curated before and having the support of the whole plumb team behind me makes it a much less daunting task.
The first six months of the plumb have been a steep learning curve. I think that as we go forward and reflect on what worked or didn’t work, our programming can only get better.
What was the best piece of advice you received from a studio art professor at Guelph, and how has it impacted your creative practice?
A piece of advice that has really stuck with me is something that I *think* Monica Tap said. It was about keeping track of rejection letters and using rejections as a measure of success. Essentially, receiving rejection letters means that you are putting yourself out there in the first place. I really liked this reframing because I think it could be easy to feel defeated by rejection. The reality is that there are so many great applications/submissions to calls and yours might just not make sense with the project. I try to view sending in submissions as skill-building exercises. Writing proposals helps you get better at it, and it can help you brainstorm for work that can be realized outside of the call. To add to this, a lot of calls for submissions will offer feedback on your application if your work is not selected - take them up on this!!
Your project NOT ALL FAILED STRUCTURES ARE STRUCTURAL FAILURES flips an unconventional space into a compelling and professional gallery exhibition. Would you speak to the idea of accessible gallery spaces during this time and your involvement with the plumb?
NAFSASF was a fun project - basically, it came about because I was moving from one apartment to another and there was an overlap where I would have a lease on both places for a month. I had a bunch of ideas that I was having a hard time putting into a proposal because they were fairly different from the work I’d shown in the past. My old apartment turned out to be a really great environment to show that work - both physically and conceptually.
There are some great DIY spaces and shows happening in Toronto (and elsewhere!) - a couple of garage art galleries, backyard exhibitions, smaller artist-run spaces, etc. I think DIY shows can make art-making more fun than the cycle of writing proposals for more professional spaces.
The plumb is a more permanent fixture than a temporary apartment show, but it exists in a similarly weird under-utilized space. It was a bit grungy when we got the lease and it's amazing how art can transform a room.
I think that we all benefit from DIY art spaces and making art that is relatable and not intimidating.
Do you have any other nuggets of wisdom or encouragement for Studio Art students, especially during this time of COVID-19 and restricted access to studios?
The world is in shambles - don’t push yourself too hard or beat yourself up for not making things, or staying in bed all day, etc. Online learning is hard and not what any of us signed up for. Always make time to rest and to spend time doing things you love.
Thank you, Alison Postma, for sharing your experience in the Studio Art program and what you have been up to post-graduation.
Laura Vautour is in her fourth year of the Studio Art program with an English minor. When she isn’t writing or creating art, she loves to take care of her plants. Through the interview series Where Are They Now? Laura’s goal is to inspire current students by showcasing Studio Art alumni who work in the arts.
Amy Hanstke (she/her), is a fourth-year Philosophy major and Creative Writing minor. Her special interests include Writing fictional and poetic prose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Recently she has taken over the interview series Where Are They Now? And plans to continue and expand on Laura's goal of inspiring students.
If you are an alumnus from the College of Arts at the University of Guelph and are interested in sharing where you are today, please email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org to be interviewed.