Gwynneth VanLaven (she/they) is an artist, activist and facilitator whose practice includes photography, installation, writing, performance, and social engagement. VanLaven received her BA from Knox College in Multimodal Language: Verbal Visual, and Kinesic Systems (an independent, cross-disciplinary major) with a minor in photography. Their MFA from George Mason University in Critical Art Practice, also a multimodal course of study. VanLaven taught visual thinking, aesthetics, and new media art at the School of Art at George Mason University, until recently relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gwynneth is now studying at the University of Michigan to become a Master of Social Work in Interpersonal Practice and Community Change. Alongside studies, she has delighted in facilitating for peer support. VanLaven is also creating and leading for InterPlay (interplay.org) and DanceAbility (DanceAbility Detroit). These are both whole mindbody forms drawing on self- and other- inquiry and connection.
Gwynneth’s visual and written works have been shown in numerous exhibitions and publications nationally and globally, including in The Washington Post and Performance Research, and at the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center. In addition to her solo art practice, VanLaven worked as a part of The Floating Lab Collective, a group of artists dedicated to social engagement and activism through interactive and inclusive art. Gwynneth presented reflections on a Floating Lab project to an Association of Art Historians Conference at the Royal College of Art in London. She now joins a University of Michigan, The Self-Healing & Social Justice Art Collective, beginning this Fall semester.
To all encounters, Gwynneth bring values of inclusivity and accessibility. Gwynneth’s personally-grounded art practice dialogues with social ills like ableism, mental health stigma, body disparagement, and othering. In facilitating they hold special care for body attentiveness and autonomy, so play can be safely, deliciously awkward, richly embodying, and co-creative.
Leading for DanceAbility Detroit, InterPlay
Fall 2022, New Directions
Jurors Chanika Svetvilas and Gwynneth VanLaven
Well-Being Ourselves invited artists to explore well-being in a time of growing awareness around mental health, including emotional, psychological and social aspects. Our shifted context has led to the potential for a revision of well-being. How have conventional concepts reflected this shift for your lived experience? Has this impacted ways you have been able to sustain yourself, your challenges and resilience? Recent social justice tides have brought sweeping momentum, action and calls to reimagine justice and movement building. Intersecting legacies of injustice and trauma can impact mental health and well-being. How does your art or art-making reflect interdependence of communities and intersectional identities? We sought art that could envision new ways of being that are relational, fight stigma, dismantle ableism, and uphold disability justice.
West Windsor Arts Center
Select Activities & Honors
In this wide-ranging discussion, host Tanya Shaffer talks with Gwynneth about her improvisational photographic process, her interactive public experiments, and the humor and awkwardness of being fully embodied in art and life.
Teaching & Presenting:
Creative Process Workshops, The Studio Where Art Happens, Ann Arbor, MI
Adjunct Faculty, 2009-2014, George Mason University School of Art, Fairfax, VA
University of Michigan Medical School, U-M Department of Pathology, U-M Department of Psychiatry, U-M Office of Patient Experience
Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan
Initiative on Disability Studies, University of Michigan English & Women’s Studies, Ann Arbor, MI
Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Washington, DC
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Katzen Arts Center, American University, Washington, DC
Association of Art Historians, Academy Royal College of Art, Kensington, London
Washington, DC :: Solo Exhibition, Chicago, IL, :: Solo Exhibition, Galesburg, IL :: Solo Exhibition, Fairfax, VA :: Adelphi, MD :: Minneapolis, MN :: Ventura, CA :: Philadelphia, PA :: Germany Durham, Ontario, Canada :: Brooklyn, NY :: FLC, New York, NY :: FLC, Berlin, Germany :: FLC, Medellin, Colombia :: Member, Woman Made Gallery, Chicago
Smithsonian Institution, S. Dillon Ripley International Gallery,
Washington, DC :: Smithsonian “Please Wait” dedicated installation design: Michael Graves, Architect
First Place, 18th International Open Woman Made Gallery, Chicago :: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Artist Fellowship :: George Mason University Women & Gender Studies Leadership Award :: Evan Newport Hope Award, Michigan Medicine :: Reve(a)ling Feminist Art II Best in Show :: Society for Photographic Education Mid-Atlantic Graduate Student Award :: Knox College Albert G. Young Prize in Photography :: Davenport Fiction Prize, Iowa :: Foreign Language Learning Gold Key, Fairfax County VA :: Russian Olympiad of Language & Literature Silver Medal (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Cover, The Color She Gave Gravity: Stephanie Heit, The Operating System, 2017
“Asphalta Angelica” South Loop Review: Creative Nonfiction + Art, Chicago, IL, 2013
“Daily Prep with Trauma Kit.” So To Speak: a feminist journal of language and art, George Mason University, 2011
“Trauma & Erasure.” Performance Research: PR 16.1, Rutledge, London, UK, 2011
“I know you mean well, but you can’t solve my disability.” The Washington Post, May 4, 2010,
Syndicated by The Washington Post News Service & Syndicate
“Waiting Rooms.” The Healing Muse, 10:1, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, Syracuse, NY, 2010
“The Theater of Wellness: Systems and Lived Experience,” George Mason University, 2010
“Gwynneth VanLaven’s work has a playful, ironic edge with a serious dash of chutzpah.” A. Laura Brody, 2013
“Laura Swanson (US) and Gwynneth VanLaven (US) share an interest in the world’s reactions to otherness. … For VanLaven, the physical consequences of a car accident led her to reflect on attitudes about disability, not only on the part of the culture, but also on the person experiencing it. Her playful photograph Pity Party, Cake invites the viewer to join the space where fear cannot dismiss a person or a feeling, and fragility and resilience exist together.” Durham Art Gallery, Altered Images
“As the swallowing of pills proceeds on screen, I examine a remarkable book which sits on the coffee table in place of the usual lifestyle magazines… The visitor can play with the pages to create new meanings and facial expressions: some baffling, some highly comic. This Waiting Room seems to merge childhood and adult experience.” Anne Teahan, www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk
“The decor is clean, the person is less: a bathroom, photographed as she dives. Consisting of a sink whose edges border on the cutting edge, a bathtub that looks almost soft, a floor whose grid brings a hypnotic air, someone comes out of the tub. … This with no guarantees because, after all, the steps are tinged with uncertainty.” [Translated from French] Pierre Dufour, “Affirm our reptilian ways: deadlock or horizon?”
“Published in the Washington Post, Gwynneth VanLaven’s article “For a disabled person, unsolicited advice is not welcome,” contains brilliant insight into the fear and discomfort that arise for people without disabilities when they encounter someone with a disability. She explains how such encounters unsettle people with the reality of their own helplessness and vulnerability in the universe – giving rise to fear, anxiety and unsolicited advice for a “fix.
Rob McInnes, Diversity World, 2010
“In telling someone about InterPlay with you leading, I will say, “Different parts of your body will be rejoicing at the opportunity Gwynneth will be giving them to be listened to – each one will have maybe a once in a lifetime exceptional experience of coming out – delicious, freeing, exciting, invigorating & joyful!”
“Thank you very much for that wonderful experience you gifted us last Saturday. The time we spent together was so much fun, it went by so quickly that I did not want the session to end.
I was surprised at how much different parts of my body wanted to be given the opportunity to express itself – which did happen…. you are an embodied leader – you show everyone how to … and that is part of who & what you are.”