Oliver Irwin interviews Callie Janoff of the Church of Craft. Photo by Oliver Irwin.
Oliver: Callie Janoff...you're an artist, and a minister. The Church of Life ordained you?
Callie: Actually, my first ordination was through the Universal Life Church. And that's because the Church of Craft was not born yet. And now that the Church of Craft is a legal entity, we can ordain our own Ministers and so now I am also a minister of the Church of Craft.
O: You went to UC Santa Cruz. Got a BA in Fine Art.
O: You've exhibited much?
C: Well, I did. For a time. That became less important as I went along. I went to graduate school.
O: To where?
C: To the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. And it kind of turned me off of art. So, I haven't really exhibited much since then. Only once or twice. I became very disillusioned with the concept of making it. It was really hard for me to make a place for that in my world. Art didn't fit into what I thought was important and worthwhile.
O: Do you feel like making craft and the Church of Craft fulfills that side that wasn't fitting?
C: Um, yes and no. To me, my artwork right now is making the Church.
C: I think of the Church as my artwork. And it's like a big art project to me. And so, to me, that's what fills up that hole. You know, because I got really disillusioned with making art and everything, but I still wanted to make it. When I stopped- I was like fuck this, I'm not gonna do it anymore- after a while I was miserable. Because I love it. Because there's a part of me that loves doing this and doesn't feel right if I'm not making stuff.
O: What kind of things were you making in art school?
C: Most of the themes I was dealing with in undergraduate and part of graduate were issues of memory and loss. And then in graduate school I started to make things that were about the moment that they happened in. They were about the experience of coming into contact with artwork. And not about the thing itself, or about me really. I began to make things that sort of addressed those intersections.
O: What did you do in that realm?
C: I started off making a band. Because I wanted to see what the difference was between art and music and how that felt, to make something that wasn't what other people considered art, but I knew it was. I guess I wasn't interested in what is essentially conceptual art. I was interested in trying to create situations where whether what was happening was life or art was confusing. The band was really fun. Then I moved to New York. And I got involved with doing "Sincerely Yours Escorts by Johanna Burke". It was a piece where basically we got all dressed up-she had a lot of people that worked with her- and I was one of them. We would get dressed up in this insane outfits- it looked kind of like stewardesses from 1962 or docents or nurses or something like this. We did the piece at PS 1 and at White Columns, and a couple other places too. But we would basically go up to people and try to engage them in conversation. And essentially offer them free sympathy. We'd get these people going in a conversation and all of a sudden they would kind of step back a little bit and remember that they were in a museum, or a gallery. And you'd see this kind of thing where they'd be wondering, "so, ok, I'm talking to this person. Is she the art? Or is the costume she's wearing, is that the art? And they all of a sudden, they would realize, that the art wasn't a thing, the art was the conversation. And that was a really important moment for me, artistically.
O: And so, you're interested in setting up these situations where the art comes to you and sort of you realize that you're involved in the art, in an a-traditional way.
C: Yeah, what happens is that the art isn't where you expect it to be, it doesn't do what you expect it to do.
O: Where does that translate into Church of Craft?
C: Maybe it'll help if I tell the story of how the Church of Craft started. I was asked to perform the wedding ceremony of some friends of mine. And of course that was so flattering, I was so delighted. And I thought of it as a sort of performance. I thought, oh this is a perfect, 'where does the art stop and the life begin' sort of situation. So I became a minister specifically to perform this wedding ceremony. When the wedding ceremony happened, though, it was so...real. And so intense and so personal that it no longer felt like art. That was really confusing.
O: Well, what's the difference?
C: That was the best thing. Because at that point not even I knew. And to me that was transcendent. And I also, in doing this thing, I realized that there was a serious void in most of the lives of my peers and my friends. That there was a watershed moment in their lives, where they had to have this rite performed by their spiritual person..their spiritual confidant, or leader. And none existed. That struck me as profoundly unfair. And that was another reason I decided to start the Church of Craft. But it continues to be to me an art project. And it's both an art project and my real life at the same time. And I realize that's confusing to a lot of people but that's fine with me.
O: How would you suggest- when it was more clear where the art stopped and life began- maybe with the band or one of your other projects, how would you describe the difference?
C: The difference was intention. It was what I decided was art. Or what other people decided was art, that was the art. You just have to name it, or frame it, and that makes it.
O: And suddenly you discovered this work where you don't have to frame it.
C: Well, I kind of gave up. I kinda gave up trying to prove it to anybody. I don't have to prove to you that this is art, I don't have to justify what the art is or where my frame is, what theory is behind it. That's not what makes it art.
O: Ok, so then, coming from a place where you want a spiritual side for people, how did you decide on craft?
C: Well, that happened out of a lot of sort of personal soul searching. I knew that I was a spiritual person, but I never really gave it a lot of thought. There was no intentionality about my spiritual life, at all. But when I finally got down to thinking about it, I realized that the only time in my life that I really felt a connection with that core of myself, my- I want to say my divinity- I'm not comfortable using the word God because that's not really what I believe. But that energy or force that I think is a part of everything- was when I was making things. When I was making art, that's when I felt connected to that. That's when I felt able to understand it and realize it and use it and be a part of it. So I realized that making things was my spiritual practice. And when I think about making things, I don't feel comfortable limiting that to just artwork. Because that's not, obviously, how I live my life. And when you call what you make craft, it loses all of the difficult stuff. It becomes simply making. For making's own sake. And when you say craft instead of art, it's easier to jump in and not feel self-conscious and worry about what people are going to think about what you do. Or if it's going to sell, or who's going to be interested in it, or what market it's for- it's a different way of thinking about what you do, when you call it that.
O: Even though there's museums of craft and-
C: The thing is, craft has a lot of associations in our culture as well. When you say craft a lot of people think handcraft. Or traditional or native crafts. But I think that it's easier to bend that word than it is to bend the word art. I think art is more specific.
O: So you see craft as a synonym for making and creating, no matter what it is.
C: Yeah. O And the Church of Craft is a place to foster that?
C: The Church, its mission is to promote making as a way to be a happy person. 'Cause I think, if you make stuff, and that is a way to access your spiritual self or life, having contact with that and having that as a part of your life only makes your life more whole. Because it's a facet. You know, your spiritual life, your mental life, your emotional life, your physical life, they're all facets of your whole, and if you're leaving out the spiritual, you're leaving something out.
O: How do you get new members?
C: New members find us. I don't do anything to get new members.
O: Is it exciting?
C: Oh God, it's so exciting. Every time I get an email from somebody new, which is daily, at least, it's always a thrill. And I try to write back every single person that writes me. Because every single one feels so magic. Like you found us! You read about us in some interview or you saw us on the Internet or you saw us on TV.
O: That's right, you were on TV?
C: We had that one thing on TV, and we're going to be on the radio too.
O: When are you going to be on the radio?
C: I don't know when it's going to air, but we're going to be on Studio 360. Where art and life collide. I love that show.
O: What radio station is that on?
C: NPR, dude.
O: Sweet. That's really cool. What was the TV spot?
C: The TV thing was on Gotham TV, which is on the Metro Channel. Local cable.
O: Have people ever been threatened by the name Church of Craft?
C: Oh yeah. Totally. I mean people freak out, with just the idea of Church. And I'm totally sympathetic. I mean, one of the main reasons we started this thing was because what we were looking for out there in the world of churches or spiritual organizations did not exist. Nothing was right. Nothing resonated.
O: How do you deal with that resistance?
C: You know, the Church of Craft is not for everyone. And I can't make it okay for people who are resistant to it. There's not a whole lot I can do. I can explain it, the way I did to you. I mean we use the word Church because we didn't want to use the word temple, etc. It was just a choice we made because calling something the Church of Craft is kind of funny.
O: What's the mission of the Church of Craft again?
C: I have it written down! I met with the board today, because we were working on the by-laws. It's basically to organize a spiritual community of people who have a certain shared value. Values of creativity... and for whom making is a way to be a happier, more whole person.
O: And that's the main objective? Are there others?
C: That's the main one. There are tons of other objectives. Another is to be able to have a church and perform things like weddings and there's a lot of outreach we want to do, and education. We really want to have our own space where we can have our own programs whenever we want to.
O: And that lead us to the idea of you guys incorporating. Are you incorporated?
C: No, not technically. It's all ready to go. Amanda's getting it organized and we're taking it to Queens and paying our $136, and then we'll be incorporated.
O: Why are you doing that?
C: It's the first step towards getting our non-for profit status. To be a legal church, so that we can accept tax-deductible contributions and be eligible for public monies offered to charitable organizations. Incorporating also limits personal liability so let's say, the Church of Craft were to rent a space and I were to sign for it, it would leave me personal liable, for an accident to happen in that space or if something there caught on fire, I would be liable. So this makes the Church responsible as an entity. And not me personally, or any of the board members personally. So incorporation is a way to limit your liability. It's also a way to be able to ordain our own ministers. We need to grow. It needs to be bigger than just us. Growth is a big part of everything we're doing.
O: In 5-10 years where do you see the Church of Craft?
C: Well, we're going to have international chapters- we already do, they're just not official yet. I'll be working fulltime for the Church of Craft and won't have to have a day job anymore. We will have our own building where we'll be able to have meetings as often as once a week. And we can have study groups and seminars and after school programs.
O: Do you look to other religious organizations to see how they've set up their empires?
C: It's interesting. In a sort of school, instructional way. But how you apply that to your own project is not cookie cutter.
O: If you could have a cathedral what would it be like?
C: You know what it would be? It would be a big geodesic dome. And it would be out in the middle of nowhere. Craft camp. Residencies. Oh yeah in 10 years we'll have a craft retreat. With scholarships.
O: Do you want to talk about the board or other members?
C: I'm only the co-founder. Tristee Taylor is in San Francisco. We're co-founders, we started this together. There's another minister in Los Angeles, her name's Alison Dalton, and the three of us have kind of been doing stuff ourselves for a while. Part of the process of incorporation means we have to have a board. So we just had that first meeting. It's so exciting to have a group of people dedicated to that mission. Who can help decide how to do it. How are we gonna get there? We can make decisions by committee; it's not just me fumbling around in the dark by myself. So exciting. We're in discussion now with a woman in Houston and another woman in Montreal...one in San Diego and one in Long Beach. Oh yeah and Stockholm. And Sydney, Australia. Chicago is sort of bubbling too.