Caleb Churchill’s work has been included in festivals including Flash Forward Festival (Boston) the Brighton Photo Fringe (Brighton, England). He has participated in multiple group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including American Splendour (New York, forthcoming) Facing the Wall (Providence, RI) Certain Things (New York) Lines of Sight (Boston, MA) Good Light (Baltimore, MD) and DO IT! Houston, an exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hans Ulrich Obrist's exhibition do it and the release of do it: the compendium (Houston, TX). His solo exhibition Terra Incognita was presented at Settlement Goods (Houston, TX).
Recently named by Take Magazine as one of “New England’s 2018 Artists to Watch” and an “Artists to Follow IRL” by Humble Arts, Churchill has been the subject of numerous online features including A New Nothing, Ain’t Bad, Art F City, Boston Globe, Fisheye Magazine, HyperAllergic, If You Leave, Noice Magazine, Phases and Playboy. His work is featured in print in Noice Magazine, Memory Full, Forgotten to Agree and in his self-published debut, The Era of Hopeful Monsters.
Churchill’s work has been collected by The Contemporary Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, RISD Museum, as well as by many private individuals.
He recently participated in Satellite as a part of Miami Art Basil with his collaborative duo, Belleau + Churchill. Through this practice he has also participated in artist residencies and solo exhibitions across the Eastern Untied States.
Churchill, a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design also holds a Master of Letters in the History of Photography from the University of St Andrews. He received his BFA in Photography from the Glasgow School of Art.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: The Era of Hopeful Monsters
2016 – 2019
Everywhere you go on the internet you are dropping bits of data and personal information. Traces of your identity like digital bread crumbs. But you do something similar in the real world too. The oil stain on the pavement where you habitually park your car, the dirt path cut through the vacant lot that you take as a shortcut to the neighborhood convenience store. You leave marks of yourself and your movements everywhere.
The Era of Hopeful Monsters looks at the marks we make on our environment on both a personal and cultural scale. From paved pathways cutting through a cave turned national monument, the skid marks of someone turning donuts in a parking lot, initials and love notes carved en mass in an old growth forest to a marble sculpture of a female torso baring the smudges from accumulated fingerprints across her breasts and belly button.
In the places we consider natural, there have been human interventions, intentional and accidental. But there are also natural interruptions in the urban places we think we control. We have made unalterable changes to our planet but this planet also pushes back. No matter where you go, you will find breadcrumbs and fingerprints of our restless and egotistical species. But if you look even closer you will see tiny biological revolts cracking the facade of the built world. This project, and my book, from which these photos were selected, is a collection of just a few of the ways we have left our mark on our world and the ways nature has responded.
I leave these images to you for your consideration, amusement and contemplation.
I hope they find you well.
When and where did The Era of Hopeful Monsters begin?
The Era of Hopeful Monsters is, in many ways, the culmination of a project I once called Geography Lessons, Mostly Tragic and it takes the ideas that were nascent in that earlier body of work and brings them to the fore. I had also relocated to New England and before that, the UK. I think that there was something about living in such tightly packed and developed landscapes that gave me both a creative and emotional need to go West and also to take a closer look at the way we think about and transfigure our ideas of nature and the natural. In that respect the project started in Rhode Island but it actually happened in South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. There are a few photos mixed in from other locations that fit the theme- things that break out of our ideas of the beauty in everyday with something a little grittier but nevertheless whimsical.
Where do you see this project going?
I’m working right now to fit a few new images into the original edit of Era of Hopeful Monsters and find a way to publish it as a book. I did a short self-published run and the reception was very encouraging. I’m hoping to team up with a publisher and make it something slightly bigger and much better.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
Ever since I stared perusing art as a professional endeavor, I’ve found it to be important to find jobs for myself that are either creative or in some way contribute to my sense of curiosity. One of my recent jobs was documenting the collection of an anthropology museum at a university. I got to see artifacts, scared objects and folk art on an almost daily basis. Although it never really made its way into my personal art practice, it was still great fodder for ideas I would never have had otherwise. But working in creative fields has its challenges. Sometimes work is by contract or you out grow it. Everyone’s chasing that job that will sustain them financially but also give them the freedom to do their real work, their creative work.
Thinking about that, I find myself often looking at the consent flux of things on a larger scale, not just projects and jobs. That’s what Geography Lessons was focused on. I think a lot about how maps are forever needing to be updated because rivers change course, we build a jetty and change it yet again. Or how sea levels are redefining coastlines. I suppose the idea that the world, physically and culturally- even the environment around you- is always changing could be a bit anxiety provoking. It probably is for me too, to some extent, but it’s also incredibly invigorating. It’s a challenge though too. It can be hard to focus my attention on one thing because I’ll get excited about an idea or a subject and then the next day there’s something just as attention grabbing. While I don’t strive to anything close to documentary work, there is also a drive to do work of greater meaning or substance, especially sense the flux we are feeling today, environmentally and politically feels so pressing. As an artist it can feel like a personal duty to address it. The trick is to acknowledge and capture both the major short comings and the fleeting, sublime moments entangled in the rest of the mess.
When all of that becomes too overwhelming, I play music. I’ve found it to be a low-pressure from of creativity to let off steam and curb my anxiety. And I can’t understate how important reading has been and is for me. Theory is all well and good and, in some ways, necessary, but poetry, personal essays and novels are an amazing way to collect broad themes and emotions to draw from. Era of Hopeful Monsters draws its title from a book written by Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional alter ego in his novel Galapagos. John Ashbury, Rebecca Solnit, Gabriel Garcia Marques, John Irving and of course, Vonnegut are my go-to writers.
What’s next for you?
I’d like to do a few short projects that could be self-published and easily accessible to more people. I collect these little nature guides from the 60’s that were geared towards kids. Each one is a different topic. I think the model could be playful and liberating.
I’m also fine tuning a project about the connection of visual language to spoken language. As someone who has dyslexia, spelling and just words themselves can be hard. English is especially weird because there are seemingly simple words with more than one meaning. I have a mental image of an open book and on one page there is a man floating in an innertube and on the other there’s a root beer float. Things like that.
But there’s also a lot of ideas kicking around yet from Era. I could see another body growing out of themes this project is bringing up for me. For now, I’m hoping the next thing will be a little more joyous for me as an artist. I’m looking forward to having a little fun with my photos.