Meet Spark Grant Winner Carley Rickles

The recipients of this year’s Spark Grants are mothers, art makers, multidisciplinary performance artists. In each of their respective spheres, they seek to shine a light on the cultural impact of Black women’s labor, to investigate the lived spaces of the city we inhabit, and to provide much-needed support for mamas-to-be in marginalized communities.

This week, we’ll be introducing you to each of our grant winners, letting them shed a bit more light on what they do in their own words.

Up next, Carley Rickles.

Rickles is an artist, designer and researcher whose work “focuses on the lived experience, ecology, and history of alternative urbanisms—such as the ecology of residual landscapes or the landscapes of counterculture.” Her Spark Grant will be used to partially fund a walking series that highlights and discusses alternative urbanism, transportation, and urban livability.

DWF Mag: Tell us a bit about the work you do.

Carley Rickles: I am an Atlanta-based multi-disciplinary artist. While my work is accepted as art, architecture, and scholarship, I identify as an artist whose practice is informed by academic studies and professional practice in urban design and landscape architecture. My work is focused in its effort to better understand relationships between everyday life and public space.

In particular, I consider the sociological, ecological, and non-physical (the felt) features of public space, and how they respond to changes in the built environment. I apply a multi-pronged approach to urban studies with the slow gaze of an artist. My process-based art practice asks critical questions at the forefront of urban studies with the visual and interactive accessibility of the arts.

DWF Mag: What are some of the bigger goals of your work?  

Rickles: My work takes on the challenge of distilling the shared, and often overwhelming, lived experience. It builds on this idea through written, visual, and physical expression of my personal experience of how it feels to live in the city, with specialized knowledge, an identity, and a set of feelings that are constantly agreeing, disagreeing, and trying to relate to the world around.

The hope is that in sharing these ideas through engaged public discourse, a greater amount of empathy can form between multiple disciplines and publics, which will then contribute to the improvement the everyday livability of a city. Improving ones everyday livability can happen with small actions that start to trickle out through conversation and then action. I plan to create platforms through my art practice for the conversations and the actions. 

DWF Mag: You'll be using your Spark Grant funds for a walking series that highlights alternative urbanism, transportation, and livability in the city. Can you expand on this a bit—what will the walking series include, and how will you be highlighting these issues?     

carley rickles walking tour.jpg

Rickles: In May 2019, I led the Embracing the Ugly Urbanism walk through the Jane's Walk Atlanta Series/ Freedom Park ConservancyParticipants were guided along I-20 at street level. The goal of the walk to question how a pedestrian could form a relationship with Atlanta’s prominent highway. Should the mundane car-centric backdrop of Atlanta define how non-car drivers interact with the city’s urban design? What if pedestrians made the highway entertainment, embracing its fast and rash drivers? What if public infrastructure embraced the “ugly” aspects of a city?

This way of thinking challenges traditional models of urbanism and urban renewal by responding to the landscape, as it is, without top-down plans that are expensive, exhaustive and environmentally and culturally degrading. This conversation starts with a public walk and shows how challenging perceptions based on urban design can inform alternative perceptions of how to improve livability in Atlanta. 

I am planning a walk for the fall that will be similar to the Embracing Ugly Urbanism Walk - stay tuned for details, date and location TBD! The walk will take on themes relating to urban design and contradiction; engagement and the city; and perception and identity in the city. The walk will consider the pros and cons of the city’s urban design while highlighting human resilience of Atlanta culture and communities. Prior to each walk, I will do a deep dig on the histories, ecologies, current/past/future land uses and owners, and whatever else I can find on sites of relevance. During the walks I will use my video mapping app to track our path with pinned video footage. I like to use this app because it allows for an instant way of recording that fits into a pocket.

For my walks I like to bring along a lo-fi device, such as paper viewfinders, to encourage spontaneity, imagination, and to spur conversation on how the built environment creates what we see and don’t see in the city. 

Should the mundane car-centric backdrop of Atlanta define how non-car drivers interact with the city’s urban design? What if pedestrians made the highway entertainment, embracing its fast and rash drivers? What if public infrastructure embraced the “ugly” aspects of a city?

This way of thinking challenges traditional models of urbanism and urban renewal by responding to the landscape, as it is, without top-down plans that are expensive, exhaustive and environmentally and culturally degrading.
— Carley Rickles

DWF Mag: What impact are you hoping this walking series will make on the city and community, and how do you see the Spark Grant funds helping you to do that?  

Rickles: Through my public engagement work, I found that people need an outlet to express their opinions about the built environment and lived experience outside of governmental and academic institutions. By applying my knowledge of urbanism and environmental design to my art practice, I can break down the walls between professional urban design and the public world through approachable publications and experiences.

With this being said, I can only get my voice out so far. The Spark Grant Fund is helping me get the word out about my walks and alternative urbanism ideas locally. In addition, I plan to use the Spark Grant to represent Atlanta as I present my walking series to support my presentation at an Experiential Design Conference in January 2020. My presentation and paper will be on experiential methods for understanding the city through engagement and art. Typically, scholars are funded by institutions to attend conferences, but since I am an independent scholar, it is a challenge to find a way into conferences and publication.

In addition to presenting my work on Atlanta and public infrastructure, there is an opportunity for me to publish an essay under scholarly institutions I believe are doing really good work. To get an essay published on Atlanta and alternative methods for urban design from any of these publishers would be a big accomplishment. From my research I like to utilize my art practice and DIY publication to bring my scholarship back into the public's hands. Knowledge about the everyday public life should not be exclusive. You can expect something in the future. 

DWF Mag: Where can someone go online to learn more about you and the walking series? 

Rickles: https://www.carleyrickles.com, also follow along on my instagram @carleyrickles 

Beth Ward