HERRON: Why are you drawn to explore dichotomies and the human side of trauma in/through your work? How would you describe your approach to artmaking?

BALDNER: There has been trauma and loss in my life, both inherited through my family and in my personal experience. Nazi Germany persecuted my parents and grandparents as Jews. Most of them survived, but the scars coined our family dynamic. Added to this, I experienced heavy trauma in my own life. Coming to terms with surviving was made possible through my creative practice. I needed to stand next to these experiences physically, and by recreating aspects of them, I was able to do so. The process took me to the larger realm of trauma experience, to interpersonal chafing, societal and historical conflicts, and the movement of energy between poles of extremes that seem incompatible yet coexist.

I am interested in the energy that emanates between dichotomies and situations that may initially seem unresolvable. A special dynamic wielded within that space has a magical way of creating new realities. It is not the resolution of conflict but this raw dynamic that I try to ride on and hold in my work. Imagine a tattered yin-yang sign that is trying to perfect itself to be poised in harmony again. Making art, for me, is about dancing with life-giving processes.

HERRON: Another avenue of your creative inquiry is the catharsis of collaboration. Can you tell us about your affinity for community-engaged art and how you've used it over the years?

BALDNER: Like teaching, collaborating is a humbling experience. It points me to my place in the universe. There was a moment in my creative practice when I felt I was stewing in my own juices way too much and starting to miss out on the bigger picture of my narrative arc. It occurred to me that I wasn't the only one thinking about conflicts and that there may be a million ways to view such experiences differently from my own. Letting other people come into my studio and join in on my process would expand my practice.

One particular event opened an opportunity when a close friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer and was facing a double mastectomy. I made a symbolic cast of my breast as a gesture for my friend, who lived in Germany, and for whom I could not do this in person. I thought of the many women surrounding me who may be going through similar experiences, and thus was born The Bloomington Breast Project.

The project drew unexpected participants, mostly non-artists from my Bloomington neighborhood, with surprising stories. There were elements of my teaching experience guiding me, especially the communal learning and reciprocity of working in a group, allowing the ideas of many to coalesce into a whole. The primary fascination for me was outcomes and the way the project began to define itself independently. I only had a small piece of agency in it, and the project was way bigger than myself. It still is, as it is ongoing. I met people from the LGBTQ+ community and, in a strange twist, people from the veterans' community. As a result, I embarked on another collaboration, this time with an Iraqi veteran papermaker and his cohort of veterans from various U.S. military conflicts who made paper from their uniforms. This collaboration had the finite goal of creating a book from uniforms of all major U.S. military engagements from WWII until today. The Bloomington Breast Project gave me the elbow grease to complete this project.

Compelling to me in both collaborations was the fact that I was surrounded by others with traumatic pasts. Together, we forged new productive realities, which in the process, formed new communities. The experience gave me the courage to look at the most challenging conflict in my personal life, confronting the Jewish-German dichotomy after the Holocaust. The Jewish/German Dialogue Project was a collaboration with a non-Jewish, non-artist German friend. Deliberately staged not as an act of reconciliation but as a process of sorting through our internal landscape in the presence of the other, it was a process of witnessing through creative making. I came out the other end transformed and strengthened, both in my identity and in my teaching approach. Allowing for the voice of the other to unfold while intently listening and then jointly forming an amalgam that speaks honestly of ourselves is the energy wielded through dichotomy.

HERRON: Is there anything we didn't ask that you would like to briefly mention?

BALDNER: I did not grow up in the U.S., and as a "half-foreigner," I may have something to contribute through my teaching. But more importantly, I learn from my students and colleagues what makes the vast middle portion of this country tick. Many of Herron's students come from rural environments and are first-generation collegegoers. They have a huge story to tell, and that this is their strength. It is a privilege to guide them to bring their story forth in all its conflicted history and complicated narratives.

As artists, we are the truth seekers and witnesses of our times and serve our communities by speaking about the underlying spirit of our era. Without art, we would not know half of what we do about our history. As an art educator, I aim to grow and foster students' roles in being the voice of their culture, to listen to and translate the deeper, existential questions of their time, and assertively contribute to how history is rendered. Leading students to participate in this larger continuum is a solemn task. It is an honor to be part of their lives, witness and assist them in their young journeys, and walk into this continuum together.

Baldner will be honored at the Chancellor's Academic Honors Convocation on the IUPUI campus on April 20, 2023, in the Hine Hall Auditorium. Visit her website to see her extensive body of work.