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Alumni Spotlight: Call Your Mom (Interarts Performance BFA '17)

In 2014, while pursuing their undergraduate degrees at the University of Michigan, Emma Bergman, Sophie Goldberg, Mia Massimino (Interarts Performance BFA 17), and Elif Cadoux (Women’s Studies and Comparative Literature BA 17) formed Call Your Mom, a multimedia performance collective known for interdisciplinary, immersive works. The collective uses video, installation, movement, and participatory performance to facilitate spaces of vulnerable reflection. 

Call Your Mom’s work has been supported by a rigorous national and international residency schedule. Their most recent project, Say You’re Sorry, brought them in 2019 and 2020 to Cucalorus in Wilmington, NC, The Tank in New York City, Centro NAVE in Santiago, Chile, and Perfect Storm in Cotacachi, Ecuador. When the pandemic sent them home from their travels early, the collective put out an interactive e‑book to keep Say You’re Sorry alive. 

The four alums have also managed to keep the collective thriving for the past seven years, while simultaneously balancing their individual careers. 

Emma Bergman (they/​she) is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn and Baltimore. They are the Multimedia Organizer at People’s Action, where they produce videos, graphics, publications, and other digital content. 

Elif Cadoux (they/​them) is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and professional facilitator based in Philadelphia. They are a member of Both/​And, a cooperative of anti-oppression educators and consultants. The focuses of their current creative and political work are embodiment practices, group facilitation, and speculative fiction.

Mia Massimino (she/​her) is a visual and performing artist based in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Her work focuses on comedic moments of joy and toughness. Mia is currently the Associate Director of Creative Projects for Antia Gonzalez at Georgetown University’s Racial Justice Institute. 

Sophie Goldberg (she/​her) is a teaching artist at Baltimore City Public Schools, working with students in the Visual Arts at a PreK-8th grade level. Her personal and professional practices center around wellness and justice through creative expression.

This short Q&A explores Call Your Mom’s undergraduate experience in the Interarts Performance program at U‑M and advice for aspiring artists.

Call Your Mom’s work centers collaboration. Tell me more about your vision for what true collaboration is, and what it can achieve. 

Here are some ideas about collaboration that we have developed over the past few years, we have a lot to say about it.

  • When we are wholly ourselves in creation, new languages and powers are possible. 
  • Collaboration requires trust and earnest engagement. 
  • As collaborators, we define the rules of ownership. Ownership is collective and each idea is built from the culture of our togetherness. 
  • Audiences are not only viewers, but also collaborators. 
  • Collaboration is commitment to one another in resistance to a culture of transaction and individualist gains. It is the practice of learning to live non-transactionally. Prolonged collaboration means trust in the unlimited giving of each collaborator without needing to reap its benefits. 
  • Collaboration creates its own beauty.
  • Our collaboration has allowed us to develop our own structures and collective language through the active practice of our collaboration. This practice fosters internal understanding enabling us to confidently open our explorations outward. True collaboration is time-based. We challenge our individualist perspectives by consistently and mindfully engaging each other and our audiences in active vulnerability. 

You all seem to have meaningful careers and creative lives outside of your collective. What tips do you have for creating space for both facets of your professional life? 

Emma: For me, it’s about understanding that the thing I do for money will never bring total fulfillment, so maintaining my creative practice requires putting aside time to think and make art without productivity as the direct goal. If you have a more creative job, maybe 9 to 5 life becomes more tolerable because you can channel some of your creativity there. But then does that creative energy come out of your other artistic work? One strategy is to get a job entirely unrelated to your art so that you can put all of your love and energy into your prac­tice. And then there’s freelancing, which comes with the biggest risks but possibly also the biggest rewards. So that’s to say, I don’t know! I think that we’re all still figuring this out. When we all lived in Baltimore for the first 2 years after college, we worked 20 hours for CYM every week on top of the 40 hours we were each working for our other jobs. That level of hustle isn’t always possible and wasn’t ultimately sustainable, but it led to some really interesting work. It was only with that investment of time that we were able to make the year of working exclusively on Say You’re Sorry possible.

Sophie: I advocated a lot in the beginning for all the pathfinding we needed to do as individuals in order to solidify sustainability in our futures. It was, and still is, important to me to bring a grounded sense of self to the collective. I’m always checking in with myself to make sure I’m consciously choosing to take part in each project. Having some fulfillment and financial stability outside of our strong, beautiful relationship has given it room for even more strength. But I also learned so much from the times when we took bigger risks together, when we depended more on one another (emotionally or otherwise), when there was some money tied up in our collective endeavors. The higher stakes have prompted bigger real world moves from us! Generally, I don’t think our actions are motivated by money as much as imagination, relationships, justice, those things.

Mia: It takes a lot of work! I agree with what both Emma and Sophie have said. We worked 20+ hours outside of our full-time jobs to make sure we kept up our collaborative practice — and it is a practice. But in order to nurture that, we each have to have our own projects, work, ideas etc. that we bring into our collective world. Sometimes that balance is really difficult to strike especially if I’m feeling uninspired in my personal creative projects or my work — but I’ll definitely say that having CYM as friends and collaborators is sort of an unending energy source. It ebbs and flows certainly (and COVID has been a real challenge in that aspect), but it is always there if you make time for it. I think that is true for the most important creative relationships in our lives: if you nurture it you can lean on it!

Elif: When we graduated university in 2017, we moved to Baltimore, Maryland together to commit to our practice. We all worked as educators and community artists 40 hours a week, and would come to our ~20 hours of CYM work a week depleted. The normalization of capitalist hustle culture mixed with our creative wounds — it wasn’t always pretty. I am so thankful that we did not give up on each other and the worlds we make together. My tips for balancing material and creative needs are simple — find people who inspire you and who you inspire, and don’t stop investing in each other. Learn how to sit in conflict together. Learn how to take critique without shame. Learn that the failings of our system are not alone to carry. And keep making, even when you can’t define what it is you’re creating. 

What is Call Your Mom currently working on?

At the start of the pandemic, we had just completed two successful process residencies, one at NAVE in Santiago, Chile and the other in Cotacachi, Ecuador. Our plan following those development residencies was to tour Say You’re Sorry around to various US cities. Of course, those plans were rearranged for safety. Instead, we spent some of 2020 developing the Say You’re Sorry workbook, an interactive digital piece that gathers data from participants on Forgiveness and simultaneously gave us a chance to share some of the work we made over the course of our year. We intend to continue adapting Say You’re Sorry to the times, following up with a rescheduled residency in Simrishamn, Sweden in 2022 (which was originally scheduled for May 2020) and eventually bringing our US Say You’re Sorry tour to fruition. It is a great and humbling undertaking creating live art with integrity in such unprecedented times! Developing work over zoom has been uninspiring to say the least, so we have actively chosen to take time for joyful play and experimentation as a collective and as friends.

Stills from Too Day performance: members of Call Your Mom interact from opposite sides of a window

How would your group describe your experience as part of the Interarts Performance program? What lessons continue to serve you well in your career and your creative practice? 

Interarts really encouraged experimentation and producing work without fear of failure. Of course fear of failure is a life-long challenge, but it helped us develop a practice of testing ideas without strangling them. Our first show as a collective stemmed from seeing a piece we were inspired by, setting a date, and telling everyone we knew. Interarts also encouraged us to experiment with different mediums which inspired Call Your Mom’s structure of letting our ideas dictate our medium. Sometimes this means learning as we go and adjusting to being beginners which can be both challenging and invigorating. We were given a lot of trust and freedom in interarts: to choose our classes, to collaborate with people outside the program, and to make connections and work outside of our classes. The confidence that this active participation in our education helped develop has certainly served us in our careers and creative practices. 

The program helps develop real artists, not just art students. In addition to learning the history of performance art, which is under-taught, we had the opportunity to take trips and show our work in professional spaces and build relationships with incredible working artists. It was so helpful to have atypical pathways to professionalism modelled out for us. We saw Interarts alums like Erin Markey and Joseph Keckler (and more recent grads like Brita Thorne, Carissa Bledsoe, Willie Filkowski, Gabrielle DeCaro, and on and on) making their way through the world in really graceful, but totally different, ways. 

What advice do you have for students as they explore performance within their creative practice?

Try it! The stakes are lower than they feel. College is a great container to try things that intrigue you but feel outside of your comfort zone. Make a fool of yourself. Don’t be afraid to say something. You can change your mind! It is ok to try it and hate it, or try it and fail, that’s all going to be part of finding out your specific loves and interests which, if you’re lucky, happens throughout your life. Don’t be afraid to say you perform, or that you play with performance. Different doors will open for you with the addition of embodiment to your practice. And if you don’t like what’s through that door you can subtract performance anytime. You don’t stop being a performer or performance artist when you haven’t made a piece including performance in a year, just like you aren’t less of a writer if you haven’t published anything. Performance adds thought-processes to a creative practice that will continue to inform your work in whatever ways you let it. Get collaborators you trust! It’s less scary with friends and when you can’t believe fully in yourself, you can believe in them. Even if a collaboration like ours isn’t for you, collaboration can be many different things! Bounce ideas off people, talk about the ways you agree, disagree, and what new things you think about together. It’s fun to combine your work/​life balance. Art school is a great place for that. Bring your school ideas into your social life and vice versa. All the cool kids are doing it! 

One resource that we definitely utilized later on at Stamps was grant money. There is so much funding available at Michigan for creative work, you just have to know to apply for it. Go big while you have access to the resources (especially the DNC Video Studio. Video documentation is key, Holly can’t say that enough… you should listen).

Members of Call Your Mom shout at camera, 2014
Call Your Mom, 2014

You can keep up to date on Call Your Mom’s work on Instagram or at their website, call​-your​-mom​.com.