Artists in Conversation: Amy Berk and Georgia Horgan.

The week starting March 28th saw the inaugural Spring Break Intensive for youth aged 13-18 at the David Ireland House. In this interview, participating artist Georgia Horgan talks to SFAI City Studio Director Amy Berk about why 500 Capp Street is such a rich resource for youth and artists alike.

Amy Berk pictured here with teens in the dining room of the house. Image courtesy of Christian Casillas.

Georgia Horgan: From your perspective as an educator, why do a program aimed at teenagers at the David Ireland House?

Amy Berk: Thank you for that question Georgia!

GH: It’s big isn’t it…

AB: It is a big question, but it’s one I feel really passionate about. When I walked into that house for the first time I thought it was magical; it offers a counterpoint to the rigidity that many teens and tweens experience at school or in day-to-day life. They often exist in environments where there is a right answer or a wrong answer. There’s no answer in the house. It’s extraordinary in its ordinariness and that’s why it offers a portal to really think about what art can be.

GH: And I think this offers a path to question everything, right?

AB: Absolutely. It opens up a path to criticality in general, giving them the tools to question the status quo. It’s not necessarily about art-making, it’s about thinking differently. And that’s my whole ethos with City Studio. I’m not out to make artists. I want thinkers.

GH: I completely agree. My own practice is based on how we know things, how we learn, the methods through which this is achieved, and how, in turn, this impacts society. Art offers new approaches to these questions; from its very foundation in language to how we interpret popular culture or apply teaching methods. I think the house is an amazing resource to prompt these questions. This leads me to ask: why do you think David Ireland offers this gateway versus any of his contemporaries in the Conceptual art movement?

AB: I think it’s the house itself. It’s a really intimate space, a space that everyone can connect to. Everybody has a home, or we hope so, at least. This extraordinary ordinariness makes the house very approachable. A lot of Conceptual art is pretty austere whereas, David Ireland’s work has a warmth. Even literally speaking, the golden color of the walls has warmth in a way that embraces you rather than pushes you away. There is often something tomb-like about the environment other Conceptual practices are shown in; the David Ireland House is almost womb-like.

GH: Right! I think that’s a really interesting observation. Many of the artworks from this era are presented in institutional settings on epic scales. They’re edifices, whereas the domesticity of David Ireland is part of what makes his work so approachable. I think this is the case from multiple perspectives. From my own observation of youth education projects, there tends to be a bit of a pervasive attitude that only certain types of art practice lend themselves to education programs. I think we’ve established that David Ireland’s practice indeed does, but it’s so multilayered that there are many ways to enter the work. I think this creates a nice opportunity for artists that maybe aren’t such obvious choices for youth projects to come in and do something, using David Ireland’s work as a lens.

AB: I love that! And I know that the David Ireland team has worked really hard to facilitate that. David Ireland is very multifaceted, so you can access his work in a lot of different ways, be it through different media, perspectives, or capacities. It’s a challenge for artists and educators to create workshops that represent their work and David Ireland’s, kind of honoring him rather than copying him. I think that’s when teens can see that they’re being given the agency to form their own interpretations, as opposed to being told what’s right or wrong.

GH: Right, and ultimately, I think this further exposes them to different ways of making art, to different ways of thinking, encouraging this criticality that we already identified as key. 

AB: Exactly. It’s empowering them to think differently.

GH: Before we wrap up, anything else you’d like to add?

AB: Yes – it was really great to see institutional support, not just from the David Ireland House, but from the new partner Park and Rec. It’s a pretty out-there collaboration from a city department, so it’s amazing to have them on board. It bodes well for the future of San Francisco, at least in regards to art education.

Image courtesy of Stephanie Dolores Rose

Amy Berk is an artist and educator based in San Francisco. She is the Director of City Studio, SFAI’s program to engage underserved youth in their own neighborhoods through art classes that are both rigorous and joyous.

Georgia Horgan is a British artist based in Mexico City. She makes videos, textiles, and texts that explore feminist methods of writing history.