Hayley Cranberry Small (she/her) is an Artist, Urban Planner, and Ceramicist working out of Brooklyn, NY. They started Lutte Collective, a platform for highlighting disabled and chronically ill artists, in 2017.
Corey Durbin: Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us, could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and what encouraged you to start Lutte?
Hayley Cranberry: Lutte Collective is a space and arts collective for disabled and chronically ill artists. I started Lutte in 2017 because I had no community of people who were also chronically ill or disabled and could relate to the things I was interested in. I wanted to create a community for sick people, but I also wanted the community to be related to art. I had never met anyone else who was “like me” and also sick, but I knew they had to be out there. At this point in my life, I did not identify as “chronically ill” or “disabled,” even though I had been sick for almost 12 years.
CD: Lutte features a different artist each month, where they are interviewed and also do a takeover of the collective’s social media. The artists selected highlight a wide range of circumstances, experiences, identities, and types of practices. Could you talk about how you curate the artists on Lutte?
HC: The curatorial process is relatively straightforward: I use Lutte’s Instagram account to find potential artists and peruse their websites and Instagram accounts. Many of the people I find are tangential to, or already within the Disability Arts / Disability Justice communities. I generally try to network with artists first by following them for a while and keeping an eye on their work and what they’re doing, and then offering them a monthly featured artist slot some time in the future. However, some artists stand out to me immediately, in that they have documented their art very well, have a great portfolio, and are “out” with their disability. These are artists that I know I want to interview immediately, just from viewing their website.
I also often put out a call for Black, Indigenous, people of color disabled artists. We also have a Lutte submission form where any artists can submit to be considered for a feature.
Lutte pays featured artists a modest honorarium that comes solely from donations. The honorariums are $40 for BIPoC artists and $20 for white artists. You can donate here.
CD: In addition to that, I notice in the interviews, which I assume are done by you, reference the interviewer as “Lutte Collective”. Is that a gesture in separating your personal identity from the platform? There seems to be an intention toward building a more fluid entity, or non-hierarchical community of artists supporting each other, even though you currently are a one-person operation.
HC: Yes, even though Lutte is solely run by me, I don’t like to unnecessarily reference myself. Some artists sort of “talk” to me, Hayley, in the interview, and that is fine, but generally, I remove myself from the process. I don’t care to talk much about myself because Lutte is meant to be a culmination of artists that ultimately shows the wide range of disabilities that exist, a variety of art, and many experiences that are not my own. Lutte is a hybrid project in that it acts as an arts collective, but it is simultaneously a community for and by disabled people. There is no point in me talking about myself, and I really only do it in interviews like these (that discuss my art and Lutte as a project).
CD: Your work is mostly ceramic-based, and clearly references the body, or the experience of having a body. The ceramics are often asymmetrical, lumpy, pierced, etc. Things are imperfect, but functional, and in that, gesture themselves beautifully in their environment. Also, are so funny. Can you talk about how you relate these forms to your own experience? And how humor is a valuable tool in communicating these realities?
HC: Thank you 🙂 I like to have a sense of humor about my body and my illness. I don’t know how else I would cope if I couldn’t talk about shitting myself in the backseat of my dad’s car at age 14 after eating one (1) smartie candy (approximately 1.666 calories) from the doctor’s office Halloween candy bowl. Or if I couldn’t name a piece I wrote “I shit myself in math class and all I got was this incurable disease” (in Vomit Zine, available here). Ulcerative colitis is a serious autoimmune disease that makes you shit blood like, 28 times a day while your intestines burn with ruin, but to live your life feeling upset and insecure about an objectively disgusting experience with your body sounds really bleak to me.
I like the way you phrased “the experience of having a body” — it feels relevant to how I feel lately, which is sometimes detached from the meat sack I am living in. I started making ceramics that relate to the body as a way to visualize and make tangible my experience with UC that was really personal and sometimes a hidden part of me. As I continued experimenting with clay, I found that so many of the forms I made reminded me of the human body: lumpy, imperfect, flawed, asymmetrical — but also cute and beautiful and fun. I’ve always had a love for the human body as a form of art (I remember writing a terrible essay about my love for the human body as an artform my freshman year of college); I feel satisfied that I am able to somewhat replicate the things I love about the body with clay.
CD: It is a surprisingly apt and compelling medium you use to talk about these experiences. Is there something that first attracted you to ceramics?
HC: I agree, clay is so malleable and reminds me a lot of fat and skin. Ceramics was always something I wanted to try out, because of how tactile the medium is. I like to touch and feel and make a mess. There is something very freeing about destroying your studio with clay and glaze (except that you have to clean it up when you’re done). I finally was able to take a ceramics class in Fall 2018 after I saved a bunch of money and quit my miserable job. I was indeed miserable and ceramics gave me an outlet to remove myself from technology and my phone and just sit with my hands in clay.
CD: I noticed you aren’t taking any more commissions at the moment, that it’s sucking the fun out. What’s the difference between a commission and a collaboration, for you? Or, how’s the process different for you than making your own work?
HC: Commissions are generally very particular, in that someone wants a 7” bowl with this exact glaze. Usually what happens is that the bowl ends up being 6” and the glaze gets slightly messed up in the kiln, so I have to redo it, because it’s not what they ordered. It makes ceramics a very production-based and perfectionist process, both of which I do not like. A collaboration is more fun for me because I can make something and then ask a brand or person if they are interested in selling it, displaying it, or having me make something similar. I like collaborating with people who are not interested in production or perfectionism, or are interested in selling my one-of-a-kind pieces, which are the types of pieces I am most interested in creating.
CD: You went to school for environmental studies and urban planning, how has that informed your art practice, and your goals in making work, or running Lutte?
HC: To be honest, not a lot. I keep my career and academic studies completely separate from my art and personal life. I think my love for nature and the environment shapes who I am as a person and the way I relate to the world, but I am unsure if it directly impacts my art. I am happy that I spent my early 20s working on my master’s degree, but I am also glad it is over and that I have a stable job and income that allows me to focus on art with my extra time.
CD: Being as Lutte is a platform to promote marginalized and underrepresented communities in Art, what would you like to see from larger galleries or media platforms in regard to the disabled or chronically ill? Or common behaviors from able-bodied artists or persons in fine art and media that are exploitative or should be better considered moving forward?
HC: So many art galleries, especially DIY spaces, are inaccessible: most notably, stairs and a tiny bathroom that cannot fit a wheelchair. I would like to see accessibility, in addition to accommodation, be at the forefront of galleries’ initiatives and processes. Jaklin Romine, a Lutte artist, documents her experiences as a wheelchair user, and how she is often invited to show her own work at inaccessible art galleries where she cannot even enter the building, but she does not find out until she arrives at the gallery.
In addition to accessibility, there needs to be better recruitment for Black, Indigenous, people of color, trans people, and disabled artists at a higher-up level. We see a lot of smaller, progressive galleries and organizations finally stepping up to prioritize marginalized people but we still are not seeing it from museums and large-scale exhibitions.
CD: Did you want to talk a bit about the IV Shirt? Or how artists and product developers could be working together to address needs and conveniences that aren’t necessarily for “everybody”?
HC: The IV Shirt is a t-shirt that I designed several years ago that can be taken on and off while hooked to an intravenous line. The shirt features snaps through the armpits and down the sides, but is completely customizable in terms of size and where the snaps go (for example, the one I wear in the video linked above has snaps up and down through the armpits so I can take off the shirt while the IV is connected to my arm, but it could also include snaps on the shoulders to accommodate someone with a PICC line or Hickman line attached at their chest).
Several years after designing the t-shirt, I reached out to Sky Cubacub, founder of Rebirth Garments, who I had featured on Lutte, to ask them if they would be interested in collaborating on this accessible t-shirt design. Sky was able to create a prototype, and they are currently available for purchase by reaching out to Sky directly. I have reached out to several clothing companies but I have not had any positive responses from any who would like to produce these at a sustainable, mass-scale.
CD: Is there any advice you have for people looking for an avenue to express a reality they feel is unconsidered or dismissed by mainstream media/politics/life, an experience they may feel alone in?
HC: All I can say is that you’re not alone. Scour the internet. If you can’t find something that makes you feel a part of a community, or someone who feels the same, try making your own community (online or offline!) if you have the capacity to.
CD: Do you have anything coming up that you’d like to promote?
HC: Not currently! I would love to have a solo show sometime after Covid settles down and being in public feels safer. I also would love to have a virtual gallery show for Lutte–you know the kind where it feels like you’re on Google street view and you can view the gallery at all angles. If anyone knows how to do this and wants to collaborate, let me know!
COREY DURBIN is an artist, writer, and photographer from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; living and working in Brooklyn, NY.