Meet the Maker: Kate Conlon

Categories: Maker Lab

Kate is a woman of many talents. She is a multimedia artist, an accomplished publisher, and a respected educator. But the 29-year-old insists that she is first and foremost, a maker. And for 2019, she is CPL’s Maker in Residence.

Maker Lab

Home Is Where The Art Is

It all began at home. “I was raised in an artistic household. Both my parents are architects. My grandmother was a painter. My aunt and sisters are designers. Growing up, I was nurtured with and by creativity. Ever since I could remember, I was surrounded by people making things so pursuing art as a career seemed a natural path to take.

“I’m not really a planner. When I decided to become an artist, I just closed my eyes and jumped with a let’s-see-what-happens-next attitude,” Kate laughs as she explains her origin story.

Kate’s leap of faith led her to Chicago. Born and raised in Connecticut, the aspiring artist moved to the Windy City for a graduate degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since completing the Fine Arts program, her works have been showcased in prestigious exhibits around the world−68 Projects Berlin, MANA Contemporary Chicago, Museu do Douro, and The Grand Rapids Art Museum−to name a few.

In 2014, along with her partners, Ilan Gutin, Boyang Hou, and Richard Blackwell, Kate established Fernwey Gallery, that ran for four years and showcased the work of emerging and mid-career artists in Chicago. She also co-founded Limited Time Engagement Press, a publishing house that produces artist multiples focused on the interplay between art and games.

A Maker’s World: An Intersection of Questions, Libraries, and Tech.

Maker Lab

They say inspiration can strike anywhere. Kate always finds hers in a question, often a very literal one (Think: How did the universe come to be?)  “I  read a lot about things I don’t understand, often about mathematics or physics. Inevitably, a question pops up or I hit on something that strikes me as especially poetic.  I use that as a starting point,” she explains.  And these questions take her to the Library.

What makes Kate unique is the investigative nature of her work. She spends countless hours in the stacks, poring over books to dig deeper into her subject of choice. She is never without her small, brown notepad–always jotting observations, memorable phrases, and even more questions.  Looking around, Kate exclaims in wonder, “The Library is such a crucial aspect of my practice. There’s something about being surrounded by all of that amassed knowledge that changes my brain. It makes it easier to imagine possibilities and to make connections between ideas.”

It is this intimate connection with the Library and research that sent Kate over the moon when she found out she had been awarded the Chicago Public Library’s Maker Lab residency this April. “The Maker Lab is an incredible resource for the community and to have this space in the library is very exciting,” she muses.

As a modern maker, Kate interacts with technology regularly. “Most of the objects that I make start as digital 3D models. The artwork is brought into the world using digital fabrication technologies such as laser cutting, 3D printing or -CNC milling,” she explains with a tone of an educator and the passion of an artist. Kate continues, “Working with these technologies  is fascinating. I design my work in a virtual space where anything is possible and then have to force the work into physical space as an object. It’s an intriguing challenge.”

“Recently I’ve been working with wood, using the laser cutter to create forms that might be impossible to carve by hand. It’s unbelievable how the technology changes the way I think about what is possible.”

The young maker has even found a way to synthesize traditional and modern printmaking methods, creating a hybrid process that beautifully merges the old and the new.

Enter the Maker Lab a Visitor and Leave a Maker

As the Maker-in-Residence, Kate serves as a conduit between art and people−showing library visitors the creative opportunities at the Maker Lab through the latest digital fabrication technology that patrons can use for free such as 3D printing, milling machines, vinyl cutters, design software, and more.

“I conduct regular workshops at Harold Washington Library Center, demonstrating various applications of digital fabrication. Two workshops were held in May and another is scheduled for October. This has been a favorite part of the experience for me. I’m usually surrounded by other artists and art students. What makes the Maker Lab extremely interesting is that every kind of person walks into the space and I get to talk to every one of them. I learn from them as much as they learn from me,” she beams.

But what makes a maker? I ask.

We’re all makers. We all have an impulse to create something, most of the time, without even realizing it. To witness and to be part of this transformation is both humbling and enriching,” she explains. 

Juggling the many hats she wears (and the many books she has on hand), Kate smiles and waves goodbye as she makes her way to the Special Collections department where she has been spending most of her evenings. She has working with CPL’s archivists and studying Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair−the parallels between grand gestures and the great depression, satirical cartoons, and technology. Kate’s residency culminates in a special exhibition of her three-month research and practical work at Chicago Public Library−a presentation that combines art, science, and technology to explore the library’s collections, local data, history, and culture−connecting the maker community to the larger Chicago.

“The World’s Fair is a great starting point for a special project here in Chicago Public Library, don’t you think?” Kate asks. It is, and we can’t wait to see it in the Fall.

Kate Conlon’s exhibition at Harold Washington Library Center is scheduled for Mid-October. Her work is currently on view in BOOK THAT IS ALSO A BOOKEND at Goldfinch. The gallery is open to the public Fridays and Saturdays through June 22. 

The Maker Lab is the only FREE maker space in Chicago−a space where patrons can experiment with new technologies such as design software, electronic & laser cutters, and 3D printers to make a creative project, a business idea, or a design prototype come to life.  This program is made possible thanks to our sponsors: Comcast, Andrea Saenz & John Bracken, Chicago Community Trust, and generous donors to the Library Foundation.

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