2008 / Lenka Clayton meeting the mayor and townspeople of Lenka, a small village of 202 people in Slovakia
Lenka Clayton is an artist and founder of An Artist Residency in Motherhood. Her interdisciplinary work considers, exaggerates, and alters the accepted rules of everyday life, extending the familiar into the realms of the poetic and absurd.
In previous works she has hand-numbered 7,000 stones; searched for all 613 people mentioned in a single edition of a German newspaper; filmed one person of each age from 1 to 100, and reconstituted a lost museum from a sketch on the back of an envelope. She and writer Michael Crowe are currently in the middle of writing a unique, personal letter to every household in the world. For three years she was the world’s first Artist-in-Residence-in-Motherhood after she founded a fully-funded artist residency that took place inside her own home and life as a mother of two young children. On Mother’s Day 2016 An Artist Residency in Motherhood became an open-source project, there are currently almost 300 Artists-in-Residence-in-Motherhood in 31 countries on six continents.
In 2017 Clayton and collaborator Jon Rubin debuted a major new work ...circle through New York commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum that takes place at the Guggenheim and in five other locations in a circle throughout the city including a pet store, a church and a Punjabi TV station.
Clayton’s previous work has been widely exhibited including at FRAC Le Plateau in Paris, Kunstmuseum Linz in Austria, Kunsthalle St. Gallen in Switzerland, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Anthology Film Archives and MoMA in New York City, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, the Tehran International Documentary Festival, and on BBC Radio 4 and Channel 4 Television in the UK. Her work has also appeared in Frieze, Creative Nonfiction, Esquire Russia, The Daily Telegraph, The New Yorker blog, The New York Times, and in the publication "Typewriter Art" amongst others.
Clayton has received a Pittsburgh Foundation/Heinz Endowments Creative Development Grant, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award and in 2014 was presented a Carol R. Brown Award for Creative Achievement. She has taught at institutions in the U.K., US and Sweden and in 2008 was the Theodore Randall International Chair at Alfred University in New York. From 2014 - 2017 she was Artist in Residence at The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, and in Summer 2017 will be artist-in-residence at Headlands Center for the Arts in California.
download C.V. (pdf) (updated February, 2017)
Essay and index to works (click each title to view) by Dan Byers
Lists of Lenka
by Dan Byers, Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Carnegie Museum of Art & co-curator of the 2013 Carnegie International. Essay originally published in June 2013 by MOCA Cleveland for the exhibition Realization is Better than Anticipation, June 28–October 13, 2013. Reprinted here by kind permission of the author and MOCA Cleveland.
Lenka Clayton makes use of people, places, and things. By counting, alphabetizing, employing the possibilities of the post office, local newspaper, and the most common domestic objects – and doing all of these things often almost to their utmost – she transforms both the world around her, and the way we see that world. It’s no surprise then that museums are often the site of her exploration, being that they purport to provide order, but often end up accumulating and displaying with the same levels of subjectivity, exaggeration, and subtly-laced playfulness and even wonder, which are the hallmarks of much of Clayton’s work. What follows is an inventory and classification of many of her projects.
Number of times Lenka counts things (and sometimes puts them in order): 12
Essay by Megan Lykins Reich
Mustaches & Motherhood
by Megan Lykins Reich, Curator at MOCA Cleveland. Essay originally published in June 2013 by MOCA Cleveland for the exhibition Realization is Better than Anticipation, June 28–October 13, 2013. Reprinted here by kind permission of the author and MOCA Cleveland.
“Our baby is due tomorrow. I forgot this strangest of feelings of waiting quietly for everything in the world to change.” — Lenka Clayton, Studio Diary entry, May 19, 2013
Lenka Clayton became a mother when she gave birth to her son, Otto, in April 2011. Five months later, I welcomed motherhood for the second time when my son Jasper was born. Motherhood changes you. Yet, you are still so much the woman you were before motherhood that it is often hard to reconcile the two realities. Right after my daughter Piper’s birth in 2009, I existed in a liminal space filled with joy, confusion, pain, and anxiety. This dramatic haze lifted when my daughter and I had a “moment”—a kind of intimate exchange, an unspoken affirmation of a new world—and something fell into place. A shift at the core. Perhaps the moment I accepted motherhood.
In September 2012, Clayton began an official Artist Residency in Motherhood, created by the artist and supported by The Pittsburgh Foundation. It was originally set to last until Otto’s second birthday, but was extended by the birth of Clayton’s daughter, Early, in May 2013. A steadfast experiment in combining two seemingly incompatible experiences, the project pushes together the open, autonomous freedom of artist residencies and the often isolating, bound routines of motherhood. It provides for things like materials and a travel allowance but also requires accountability. Through the residency, Clayton has produced numerous musings, artworks, project ideas, and collaborative activities. Reviewing this output as a curator, the work is prolific, smart, sensitive, relevant. Reviewing it as a mother, it is authentic, tender, bewildering, accurate. Clayton works within the physical and emotional spaces surrounding her, often starting with a simple idea or mundane object. Nearly everything, from the items her son places in his mouth (an impressive range) to discarded ephemera in a tiny thrift store, is fodder for Clayton. She applies an intense, compassionate focus to these materials in order to draw out hidden, lost, or new meaning. Clayton’s subtle mediations yield significant, often transformative outcomes, as revealed in the suite of her found text works featured in Realization is Better than Anticipation.
Ta Da (2013) is a small blue spiral-bound notebook Clayton found at an estate sale in a child’s magic kit. The cover is hand-decorated with two pieces of electrical tape that form wonky vertical black lines. Inside, an unknown author hand-wrote only two things: an underlined header, “Magic Show,” and one bulleted phrase, “Find the Card.” Clayton had a tiny mechanism mounted to the book so that its cover slowly opens and then quickly shuts, allowing only momentary glances at the content within. Ta Da emphasizes the excitement and magic of discovery, both for the original author, finding a new hobby, and the current viewer, glimpsing the book’s “secret.” The work also signifies the struggle to maintain the energy and commitment required to transform curiosity into expertise.
Museum visitor looking at Ta Da! MOCA Cleveland, 2013