Graduate Division: Grad Journal
Edes Foundation Prize: a professional and creative boost for MFAs
Each year, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago awards a number of scholarships and fellowships to exceptional MFA students in their final year of study. The Edes Foundation Prize for Emerging Artists, made possible by the Claire Rosen and Samuel Edes Foundation, is one of the most coveted awards. $30,000 is granted to a graduating MFA student for the purposes of furthering their artistic practice and to aid in the development of their career post-graduation. MFA students are nominated by faculty, and are thus invited to submit applications for the award.
In anticipation of the impending selection process, the Grad Journal will profile previous winners of the Edes Foundation Prize. We had the opportunity to speak with Meghan Moe Beitiks, an alum from the Performance department, who won the Edes Prize in 2013. Since the award, Beitiks has gone on to participate in a number of collaborations, exhibitions and residencies both in the United States and abroad.
Amie Soudien: How would you describe your current creative practice?
Meghan Moe Beitiks: I have a research-based practice that is rooted in philosophies and methodologies of performance. I look for ways to explore human perceptions of landscape, and use those findings as prompts to create site-specific work. Ultimately I see my work as a series of exchanges of meaning, a reflection on relationships between humans, non-humans, site, words, memes—with the goal of creating greater understanding between all entities. It emerges in video, installation, live performance, or some combination, often in multiple iterations or "versions."
AS: At the time of the award nomination, what kind of work were you producing?
MMB: At the time, I was focused pretty exclusively on a project called "A Lab for Apologies and Forgiveness." In it, I attempt to create dialogues between uranium-reducing bacteria, accidents within the Manhattan Project, public apologies, the idea of safe distance, the words of a microbiologist, materials and cultural memes. It had already been an installation in the Sullivan Galleries New Works Show, a performance/installation at Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery, and an installation at 2nd Floor Rear. I was working on a live performance "version" of it for my thesis project in the IMPACT Performance Art Festival. The puzzle pieces included seed bombs, clips from mainstream movies, tape measures, and a lot of research. I was lucky to be working with the amazing Sarah Knudtson, who was a graduate in Art and Technology at the time, and who contributed her presence and tape-line blast-maps to the work.
AS: What did you do to prepare for your fellowship application?
MMB: I created a proposal that was a practical, but ambitious, plan for how I would use the Claire Rosen and Samuel Edes Award for Emerging Artists. It was my theoretical 'dream year', and had a number of people I respected and admired give me feedback. I made sure that my portfolio demonstrated my ability to carry out the goals outlined in my proposal, and that the entire application represented an extension of my artistic practice and process as an artist.
AS: Do you have any advice for current MFAs preparing for their applications?
MMB: Don't try to tailor your portfolio exclusively to what you think expectations might be: ask yourself how best you can represent your own practice. Remember what drives you to make art, and what you think is the most important work you could be making right now, without getting too bogged down by theory or concept. A professor once told me "Those who keep making work do well. Those who don't, don't." I think this is true whether you are fellowship winner or not.
AS: How has the fellowship assisted with your artistic practice?
MMB: It has had a tremendous impact on my work and my understanding of myself as an artist. "A Lab for Apologies" was a very new process for me, and while I was driven to make that work in that way, I also felt like I was prioritizing my own process over art-world "legitimacy" (whatever that means). Getting the Edes was a total surprise. It was deeply validating, and forced me to reconsider the merit of my own process and my own role in this community.
On a practical level, the award allowed me to collaborate on an international project in the United Kingdom (subsequently displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum). It also enabled me to work in residence at SymbioticA with Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, who are pioneers in Bio Art. Afterwards they hired me to put together a video for an exhibition at the University of Western Australia. At La Trobe University, I got to finally work with the actual uranium-reducing bacteria upon which the "Lab for Apologies and Forgiveness" was based. That was really exciting, and afforded me the opportunity to build my own sculptural apparatus for the cultivation of anaerobic bacteria.
The award also funded a road trip to the Center for Land Use Interpretation Desert Research Station, and gave me the courage to invite several amazing artists to join me, to think beyond my own process.
The spring following my award year, I received a MacDowell Colony Fellowship from the Leon Levy Foundation, something that I believe was made possible in part by the award. The award connected me to communities and programs through which furthered my process and personal relationships. I have solid friendships with places and people I might not have developed without the Edes. While I think I would still be making work, I would be in a very different place right now both personally and professionally were it not for the award.
AS: What are your plans for the future?
MMB: I'm currently in residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska, and will to develop my work and process within residencies. I am, simply, going to keep learning and making work.