OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Miatta Kawinzi

Yield, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

Interdisciplinary artist MIATTA KAWINZI gives thoughtful attention to rhythm, cadence and metaphor, delving into human malleability and responsiveness to time, language, physical space and sociopolitical context. She isolates, repeats and remixes sounds, words, hand gestures and whole body movements. In video, performance and photography, she reveals a universal human condition—that we all must interface with the surrounding world through our bodies—while also hinting that every-body does not have the same experience in this world. Miatta earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Art & Cultural Theory from Hampshire in 2010, and went on to earn her MFA in Studio Art at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE), Beta-Local (San Juan, Puerto Rico), Greatmore Studios (Cape Town, South Africa) and International Exchange & Studio Program (Basel, Switzerland). This summer, Miatta will debut a new sound/text/video installation in Of Soil and Tongues, a group show at the Hampshire College Art Gallery (Amherst, Massachusetts). The show runs from June 1 – October 1, 2017. Miatta is based in Brooklyn, NY, where she also works as a community teaching artist and museum educator.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In looking at your work in a variety of media—video, performance, sculpture, installation, text and photography—all together, I would describe it as poetic because of its attention to rhythm, cadence, repetition and metaphor. What does that word mean to you? Is that how you think about your own practice?

Miatta Kawinzi: I am definitely working within a framework of poetics. I am interested in poetics in terms of language, structure and conceptualization, which I think you’re picking up on. Words are line, language is a dwelling place, a phrase can be a journey with starts and stops. In my work, I play with spatially orienting thought in new ways. Poet Nathaniel Mackey wrote, "I tend to pursue resonance rather than resolution.” I have always felt affinity with this idea: to not be naively in search of easy answers to deal with the magnitude of the upside-down world, but to instead be willing to follow various strains of thought and feeling down different paths to perhaps uncover alternate ways of seeing and being. I also think about Audre Lorde stating that “poetry is not a luxury," and the ways in which, throughout my experience, words have consistently been a balm and salve for me in the face of sometimes harsh socioeconomic realities. The poetic becomes the through-line, the way to string things together and highlight points of connection.

In my work, I think about the rhythms of life, the repetition of history, how one thing can become something else. All of these notions for me are related to poetic impulses and poetry's ability to allow us to re-imagine our selves and our situations.


Star Spangz, 2013. HD Color Video, Sound.16:9, 04:12 min.

OPP: I was really struck by the visual imagery of language in Clay (2014), especially the (raffia?—not sure exactly what that is) dyed the same color as your lipstick. The chewing of it, the casual tossing away, the stuffing of it back into the mouth and then the spreading out and offering of it toward the camera. And then of course the connection—and disconnection—between language that comes directly from the mouth and language that comes from the fingers. Can you talk about language as it relates to sound and written text, both of which you use in your work?

MK: The blue material is indeed raffia! One thing I am invested in is tracing the way in which language can manifest in both verbal and non-verbal forms. How can language be embedded into other kinds of materiality, and how does communication take place through means other than verbal speech? In Clay, I was really interested in putting these different forms of communication alongside one another, all on the same plane. The kalimba as a musical instrument references a musical way of communicating, with roots in a certain African diasporic tradition. The fingers texting on an iPhone represent this other kind of digital communication, a way in which many people around the globe keep in touch in the contemporary moment. And there is spoken text in the video that is semi-audible and semi-obscured. Then the raffia references this physical manifestation of verbal language, making it tangible, able to be extended, able to become involved in a kind of dance with the body emanating from the mouth. Here and elsewhere I am constantly engaged in a dance between different forms of language as they originate from the body, from words, from place, from material.


Clay, 2014. HD Color Video, Sound. 16:9, 03:25 min.

OPP: You made this video while in residence at Greatmore Studios in Capetown, South Africa. How did the location, so far from home, feed into this piece?

MK: There are eleven official languages of South Africa, and many people are multilingual, so the location sparked new angles of consideration for ideas I explored in this piece. Cape Town is a very beautiful, dynamic and vibrant city, yet there are also these ongoing inequalities, and I am thinking about that tension in placing myself in front of the barbed wire in the video.

Regarding the audio, one of the ways through which I use sound in my work—my own vocalization, improvisation, analog/digital instrumentation, and remixing—has to do with my interest in the potency of wordlessness that nonetheless carries an emotional import. Often my work in sound goes in and out of legibility which relates to my interest in illuminating different kinds of knowledge, some of which can be mysterious or even unconscious, yet still resonant. I am also invested in exploring the act of remixing as a way of enacting alternative temporalities. . . to move beyond linear time, to stretch time, to hold time in different ways. It’s a way of working with the materiality of time.


But I Dreamt We Was All Beautiful&Strong, 2015. Color Video Projection & Sound on Loop in Corner. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: Last year, at another residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, you created Push & Pull, a “performative photography series.” Tell us what inspired this work and how it directly responded to the space.

MK: I was very excited to be granted a residency at Bemis. I went there from Brooklyn at a moment in which I had no physical studio space and very little space otherwise to make or think in. Upon arrival there, I immediately felt a sense of bodily unfolding through my access to a sizable private studio and large shared spaces, which directly inspired that photography series. I was thinking also about how there is a politic to all of this, to something as basic as having enough space to stretch in, and I wanted to utilize this access—while I had it—to explore the geometry of my body in relation to this open space. I was reading a book by Michio Kaku called Physics of the Impossible, and in the book Kaku was highlighting the ways in which things like teleportation could become possible under the right conditions. From there I began thinking about these ideas of possibility/impossibility not only in relation to the laws of science and theoretical physics, but also in terms of how they may relate conceptually to pushing against sociopolitical limits. The performative actions in the series are meant to embody this through bodily metaphor. 


Rhombus, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

OPP: Can you address the fact that this is a series of photographs, not a live performance and not a performative video?

MK: I actually also created a live performance that explored these same ideas and created the series afterwards based on that performance. For me, it is quite difficult to capture the energy of live performance through documentation, so the photographs were a way through which that work could take on another life to be shared in a different way beyond the initial audience.


OPP: I’ve been thinking about the creation of these frozen movements as dance. . . but are they frozen moments from a fluid action or poses? What’s your relationship to dance, both in your art practice and in your life outside art?

MK: They are a mixture of both. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a dancer because I never studied dance, but I do use terms like ‘embodiment’ and ‘movement’ to describe my approach to such work. I am very conscious of how much can be expressed through the body both in my art practice and daily life.


gatherin’ space, 2016. Color Video Projection & Sound on Loop, Aluminum Foil; Acrylic Paint & Oil Pastel on Wood Panel. 128 x 163 x 249 in.

OPP: Could you talk about the variety of hand gestures—reaching, drumming, climbing, worship and hands up, don’t shoot, to name just a few—in gatherin’ space (2016)?

MK: gatherin’ space is a meditation on ideas of containment and expansion as expressed through the language of hand gesture. I am thinking about the hands as bodily extensions through which we shape, make, feel, sense, probe, praise, labor, surrender, assert, resist. I wanted to bring all of these different connotations together on the same plane because they all exist together in the lexicon of the body. So much of how I experience the world emanates from the hands—to touch, to write, to grasp, to lift. It’s also a way of abstracting the body, of resting in that place of multiplicity. The hands have the potential to shape space and reality, too.


La Tercera Raíz, 2015. HD Color Video, Sound. 16:9, 9:22 min.

OPP: “the strength in yielding, in taking on the shape of that which sits stoically, to then regain one’s form.” This text, which comes from your video La Tercera Raíz (2015), is a beautiful articulation of a range of themes that run through your work: the power of fluidity, responsiveness, malleability, shape-shifting. How do these themes and the metaphor of water relate to how you think about the diasporic condition and cultural identity? 


MK: I think about diaspora as an active process of exchange, as a gesture, as a reaching towards. My mom is Liberian and my father is Kenyan, and I grew up in the U.S. South navigating multiple cultural and linguistic worlds, which informs my work. I have found power in being adaptable. I am also interested in how cultural identification is an ongoing, shifting context-based negotiation. This is part of why travel is important to me; it is a form of drawing in space, a mode through which to find and explore connections between place and culture, and to try to stretch the arms to skillfully balance both the similar and the disparate.

La Tercera Raíz arose out of my research into the history and presence of the African diaspora in Mexico during my participation in the 2015 SOMA Summer program in Mexico City. Research often goes into my work, and then there is a process of abstraction through which I generate writing that becomes another way of considering an idea, of opening it up through poetics and finding a more personal relationship to the topic at hand.

Toni Morrison wrote about how water has a memory and I am interested in this idea of material memory, in the sea as a bridge between worlds. I think we have so much to learn from the elements and how they exist in and interact with the world. Water bears so much, has such a consistent and deep presence, yet the sea also teaches me that weight is conditional. I can float in it and be suspended, held, weightless. Something becomes something else.

To see more of Miatta's work, please visit mkawstudio.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Barrett

Memories for the Future, 2014. A 320 hour performance.

MICHAEL BARRETT explores the construct of American Masculinity in performances informed by his personal experiences as an athlete, Marine and cancer survivor. Early comically poignant videos highlight both a cultural obsession with protecting male genitalia and his own lost testical. His live performances range from rowdy training exercises simultaneously filmed with a Go-Pro camera to thoughtful, repetitive actions that memorialize the loss of both civilians and soldiers to war. Michael exhibits and performs internationally. He has had solo shows at the former Trifecta Gallery (Las Vegas, Nevada) and Perfex Gallery (Poznan, Poland) and his recent group exhibitions include shows at Hole of Fame Gallery (Dresden, Germany), Galerie Michaela Stock (Vienna, Austria) and Berkeley Art Center (California). Michael will perform at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn on May 19th as part of Itinerant 2017. In 2017, he will attend the Performance-Kunst Workshop at Kunstpavillon Burgrohl and WORK.ACT.PERFORM, a performance art symposium in Dresden, Germany. He will be an Artist-in-Residence at Galeria Racjez (Poznan, Poland) for six weeks, followed by a Performance Art Studies workshop in the Czech Republic. Michael is based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does the endurance mean to you, both in your work and in your life?


Michael Barrett: During the first years of elementary school, it was suggested that I attend speech therapy twice a week. Exactly, who made the suggestion is beyond me and I carry no recollection of discussing the matter with my parents. It occurred so early in my life, I only recall bits and pieces, such as leaving the classroom during ‘art time’ to practice the letter ‘s’ within the small, closet-like office, of the speech therapist, with a boy named, Skip.

Up until this time, I didn’t realize people could suffer from a speech impediment. To learn that there might be something ‘wrong’ with the way in which I communicated, had a negative affect on my identity and the fear of language and sharing thoughts out loud, drastically altered my behavior as a young person.

Rather than relying on the spoken word, I navigated toward gesture, action, and the body as alternative methods of meaning making, challenging learning environments, and understanding multiple entry and exit points of interpretation. From an early age, endurance has meant sustaining an ability to communicate within a world that demand one to be present, to show up, to produce, and to speak your mind.

Once upon a time, I believed endurance made up a large part of who I was and where I had been as a person and artist, but as I mature and grow, I am constantly reminded that endurance is so much larger than just myself. Endurance transcends borders and extends beyond my fingertips, bridging gaps capable of connecting others to new points of discovery.

Rubber Room: Push and Pull. Go-pro video still from endurance performance.

OPP: I’ve been thinking about your performances, which deconstruct western masculinity and its connection to violence and athleticism, as growing from the lineage of avant-garde Feminist art. In the same way, women’s studies requires an exploration of individual women’s experience of their conditioned gender, we need to hear about actual men’s experience of conditioned masculinity. Do you see your work in relation to Feminist art?

MB: Much of what I do challenges American Masculinity as a historical construct that greatly influences many aspects of life. After a battle with testicular cancer, in 2001, I began to specifically focus on Masculinity through a feminist lens. Slowly and carefully, developing a masculine narrative to challenge and question five key areas of masculinity with the hope of urging a discussion on how masculinity empowers and disempowers.

Writers and artists such as Susan Sontag (feminine as masculine/masculine as feminine), Stephanie Springgay (the skin and cloth), and Donna Harraway (The Cyborg Manifesto) have certainly played a part in directing my concepts and methodologies as an artist, researcher, and teacher. I have identified five areas of exploration—physical force and control, work and occupational achievement, patriarchy, outdoorsman, heterosexuality—based on scholars who offer new perspectives on how we can broaden what it means to be masculine and what function masculinity serves.

Incentive Training: Session Three. Performance still.

OPP: I’m very interested in Dear Dresden (2016), Memories for the Future (2014) and 723 (2014). In both of these performances, you perform repentant gestures, memorializing victims of war with the numbers of actions mirroring the numbers of victims of the violence of war. Can you talk about the relationship of endurance, repetition and healing in these works? 



MB: History tells a story about the spiraling struggle over masculine representations. One might interpret these narratives as an enduring battle, not as an objective reality, but a construct that inadequately bridges issues concerning leadership, ethics, knowledge and power. Stories of these bridges offer numerous examples of how inadequate power structures are utilized to decide what wars are fought, how votes are cast, who does and doesn’t receive.

As the U.S. enters into the longest war of its brief history, Germany enters into its 72nd year since the end of World War II. Both events offer opportunities to reflect upon and question how history repeats itself. I refer to our past and current situations as “spiraling out of control while building tension as we rotate through time.”

I am always questioning and analyzing how we as citizens, or better yet, generations of war, carry on? How will the human spirit endure such tragedy again and again? In what ways will following generations repeat the same horrific cycles we currently inhabit? What happens when the tension bursts?

In time, we may find ourselves in a predicament beyond our imagination. With time, we could possibly discover/know harmony, mutualism and level means of communication. Through time, we might find ourselves as humans and social-beings, capable of cooperating and moving forward together and with one another.

For this to occur, we must endure time. As physical forms, as mental thought processors, as emotional nests, we must endure through and beyond our current time and the habits of previous generations.

723, 2014. Go-pro video still from live performance.

OPP: For me, your identity as an ex-Marine is key to the poignancy of these performances. Dear Dresden and Memories for the Future made me think about the veterans who apologized to the Sioux Elders in a ceremony at Standing Rock in December 2016 for the U.S. treatment of Native Americans. How important are the various aspects of your identity—as artist, as white male, as ex-Marine, as cancer survivor—to understanding your body of performances? Is this less or more important when watching individual performances?

MB: Years ago, I considered it important for the audience to know I was a cancer survivor and to know the work commented on my experience with cancer. I used to believe my background information added a certain element of validity or better yet, it offered a slice of life for the audience. Now, I am not so sure. I can laugh about it now, but roughly 10 years ago, a mentor abruptly made the comment during critique: “nobody gives a fuck about Michael Barrett.” Yes, a little harsh, and it did sting. Yet as I've had some time to lick my wounds and ponder the critique, I’ve found there's something to be had in the statement. Something that might be holding back, preventing and disrupting access to my work. While, I do believe there might have been a more tactful way of stating that I was getting in the way, it motivated me to research aspects of cancer, military and athletics that were of interest to me, yet less about ‘me’ specifically. This helped with building bridges for others to access my work. Reinterpreting the five elements of masculinity are examples of common links between the three areas.

Rather than specifically commenting on my personal experiences, I attempt to remain mindful of a more humanistic approach and focus on creating keyholes for the audience to access, comment and question their own perspectives. I am aware my background will always be present. I cannot remove myself from the history. As an artist, I aim to use my background as platform for communicating and challenging topics of importance rather than the background serving as the topic itself.

Incentive Training: Session Four, 2010. Still of live performance.

OPP: Can you talk about your recurring costumes—the jock strap and the hood—in performances like Lombard Street Hustle (2011), Incentive Training: Session Four (2010) and Standing Room Only: Episode One (2012)?

MB: I’m aware there is space for interpreting my work during this period as bondage, S&M, or the underground dungeon scene, but I hope I have left adequate space for elements of loss, recovery, and function, when viewed through a humanistic and/or medical lens. I refer to this ’lens’ as delving deeper and beyond the medical gaze—a single, all knowing perspective which only scans the surface for immediate information. The idea of medical lens penetrates the surface/skin in multiple areas in search of unexplored spaces, concepts and access points, therefore rupturing previous power structures while simultaneously gathering, analyzing and presenting qualitative information regarding lived experience, personal narrative and autoethnography.

The intention of the work is not necessarily presenting a didactic tracing of lived experiences, yet I carefully select, and most of the time, make each piece of attire by hand, so that it references a certain event, space, time, etc. For example, a black jockstrap was part of my attire while recovering from a battle with testicular cancer. The hood is a way of separating Michael Barrett from Artist Michael Barrett. It’s a psychological tool that helps remind both me and the audience that the performer and the person under the mask are two separate beings.

Performing is really really difficult for me. I don’t perform for fun, nor do I spend much time thinking about what to perform. The concepts/issues/problems usually reveal themselves and won’t leave me alone until I tend to them in some manner. Once in a while, my responses resemble art. Other times, they resemble everyday life. Regardless, when performing I find the need to separate myself from the performer. The transcendence that occurs is very similar to experiences I had as a Marine and athlete and require separation through subtle mental shifts. The hood helps.

Corporal Punishment, 2011. Performance still.

OPP: You are currently pursuing your PhD. in Art and Visual Culture Education at University of Arizona. Will you tell us about this program and why you chose to pursue another degree beyond your MFA?

MB: Applying to the Art and Visual Culture Education doctoral program at the University of Arizona has been extremely beneficial to my practice as a performance artist and has opened up a plethora of new opportunities as a researcher and teacher. Since enrolling, I have had the pleasure of teaching and performing in Germany, Poland, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic. The experience has instilled an awareness that my identity, is in constant flux, rather than situated in a singular fixed position. One constantly meshing, bridging, overlapping, and sharing, attributes of art, research, and teaching (A/R/Tography).

While teaching with Performance Art Studies at the Michaela Stock Galleria in Vienna, Austria, I was first introduced to the Performance Art Context diagram, created by Boris Nieslony and Gerhard Dirmoser. Using the lens of an A/R/Tographer, I narrowed my focus down to understanding the Performance Art Context diagram in a framework that employs Deleuze and Guattari’s theories of the rhizome and Nomadology: The War Machine, as well as Donna Haraway's The Cyborg Manifesto.

I place this inquiry in context of contemporary trends in performance art pedagogy and political climates in higher education. I suggest that research on understanding performance art education practices in emerging technologies be conducted with a view to gain a cohesive social understanding, rather that isolated views on curriculum and pedagogy, with pre-determined understandings of what art education is and what it could be.

By problematizing current access to the diagram as an educational tool, I argue for a contemporary post-classroom interpretation of the information within a virtual reality platform, which could potentially benefit/better serve educators while simultaneously increasing access to knowledge and meaning-making within the field of Performance Art.

I am currently entertaining questions like How does re-interpreting the Performance Art Context diagram redefine the body as a educational tool for meaning making and acquiring knowledge? How might the acquired information function in virtual reality as a way for resisting hierarchies, challenging oppressive methods and past institutional stereotypes regarding how, when, and where learning takes place? How might the application and utilization of a critical lens encourage a post-humanistic approach that helps us uncover marginalized bodies and silenced voices?

To see more of Michael's work, please visit artistmichaelbarrett.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Bobby English Jr.

I Am Mountain, 2015. Performance Still.

In performance, installation, drawing and welded steel sculpture, BOBBY ENGLISH, JR. explores the immediate and inherited trauma of racism, as well as the capacity for catharsis and forgiveness. His numerous performances include elements that are also part of religious services—symbolic objects and garments; music; language in the form of chanting, singing and the rhetoric of preachers and an audience/congregation. Using his own body, handmade artifacts and repetitive, ritual gestures, Bobby offers viewers a spiritual lens through which to look at the personal experience of social and political injustice. Bobby holds a BFA in Drawing with a concentration in Sculpture from The Maryland Institute College of Art. His solo exhibitions include I AM YOU ARE (2016) at Gallery CA in Baltimore, Presence, Soul, Existence (2016) at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art in Petersburg, Virginia and History, Experience, Revelation (2015) at Terrault Contemporary in Baltimore. He has performed at School 33 (Baltimore, 2016) and the Queens Museum (New York, 2015 and 2016), as well as at numerous performance festivals. Bobby is based in Oakland, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels:  When and why did performance first enter your art practice?

Bobby English Jr: My father was also a Broadway performer and Italian Opera singer, so it had to come out eventually. Not to mention I have performed for my mother hundreds, maybe thousands of times to this day. Performing has always been natural for me, but it entered my art practice as soon as I began creating metal sculpture. It was an instant marriage; not really inspired by anything except my desire to push the idea of sculpture and installation into theatre and film. I’m striving for the truth and emotion that can’t simply come from object; the kind of connection that comes from human to human energetic dialogue.

Entropy II, 2015. Fabricated Steel. Variable Dimensions

OPP: Do you conceive of the welded steel works as sculptures first that are then activated by performance? Or are they props created specifically for use in the performances? Does the distinction matter?

BEJ: The distinction doesn’t matter at all, actually. Sometimes I am simply intrigued by a geometric shape or symbol; sometimes even an idea that I then transcribe into shape. Often times I create the sculptures and simply live with them in my everyday space until their meaning becomes clear. Other times I add the sculptures to my performances without knowing what they mean at all; but then their relationships to the many other sculptures I’ve created within the space informs the piece in question. It’s a very organic process, almost like a constant improv dialogue between myself and my creations; sometimes risky in some aspects.

The Eye and I, 2016. Performance still.

OPP: Please tell us about how you employ costume and ritual in your performance series Blossoming Black Power, which includes individual works titled Message I and Message II, Madness, , Property, and Fear and Control (Brothers! Sisters! Where are you?).

BEJ: Costume allows me to step fully into different “beings,” roles or characters, and the costumes themselves sometimes represent time. For example, in Message I, a performance centered in ritual and history; I felt more like a shaman while in that costume. Then in Becoming, the costumes are both representations of time, feeling, passage and signal my stepping into different archetypes; the hero, the stranger, the villain, the leader, the meek, the wise one, etc. So much of my performance is acting, and the costumes certainly allow me to step deeper into feeling a role. My nudity allows me to both feel more meek and more powerful. My staff makes me feel more wise; the spears and shields make me feel more aggressive, like a warrior. I draw whichever energy I need from the costumes and props.

OPP: And sometimes those change over the course of a single performance...

BEJ: I just recently became comfortable with more than one costume change in my performances. In doing so, I realized how much deeper narratives become when I both step into a character psychologically AND physically. In Becoming, I knew that each cage represented a different point in time in my life, and in planning the performance I knew that I would enter and/or use certain sculptures to enable myself to dive deeper into emotion and break more psychological and physical barriers.


Becoming, 2016. Performance, Installation.

OPP: You mentioned Becoming, which is simultaneously performance, installation and healing ritual. Your relationship to the “cage” changes over the course of the performance. How does that particular prop/costume speak to catharsis?

BEJ: I’m happy you picked up on all three of those! The healing aspect of my art is very important to me right now. One can almost see the trauma healing through the sequence of performances. As I’ve stepped into new healing on my journey, I want others to come along as well, welcoming them into my world as I always have.

The cage has been a piece I’ve been growing with since the very first performance with it a year and a half ago. In Becoming, the cage begins as a safe place; a womb; a place of birth, rest, comfort, the mother in its highest form. Mid-way through the performance, the cage becomes the enemy, representing a body, the oppressor. I both harm and then come to love the “body.” At the end of the performance I re-enter the cage; as it becomes my place of death, eternal rest, transformation, and total healing after a life journey that is performed throughout Becoming.

Blossoming Black Power: Message I (Video), September 05, 2015. 2 Hour Performance.

OPP: I have to ask about the little girl in the red dress, who followed you for a while during your outdoor performance Blossoming Black Power: Message I, which had a background audio track composed of numerous speeches from Civil Rights activists through the years. She was both just herself, a human audience member of live performance, experiencing it in an idiosyncratic way. But in watching her follow you, I thought about the uncontrollable parts of live performance, the introduction of joy and levity into a narrative of struggle and how one generation communicates with the next about the racist history of America. Did you know she was following you and did it change your performance in the moment? What do you think of how she reacted to and interacted with your performance?

BEJ: I did know that she was following, and I didn’t let it change anything about my performance in that. I often do react to the happenings around me while performing; comments from the audience, a sculpture being knocked over, my invading the space of the audience and vice-versa, etc etc. I enjoy these moments of complete improvisation because I feel they are the most real. Honestly, I haven’t really felt any way about it until this moment. Right now I feel a great sense of disappointment that she was oblivious to the weight of what was happening around her. On the other hand, part of me wonders that maybe ignorance truly is bliss and the way forward.

Contemplation #39, 2016

OPP: What does it mean to conflate spiritual or religious practice with performance art? Can artists be spiritual leaders?

BEJ: For me, conflating spiritual and/or religious practice with performance art is simply creating my own personal mythology that steps away from the patriarchal interpretation of spiritual texts that has and is still occurring worldwide. It’s simply another way of me reclaiming myself from internal and external colonization. It’s also a way to show worldwide similarities in myth and culture. My hope is that audience members make connections between their ancestry and the ancestry of others around them. Ultimately creating solidarity, respect, and love. I believe anyone has the capacity to become a spiritual leader. However, artists certainly have an edge on interpreting and being drawn to symbols and turning them into forms that can be more easily understood.

To see more of Bobby's work, please visit subverse-vision.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Johnathan Payne

Bound #1
Ballpoint pen and ink pen on paper
6 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in.
2015

The racialized and gendered body—his body—is the jumping off point for JOHNATHAN PAYNE's performance, sculpture and installation. His performances include rituals that embody endurance, self-investigation, self-care and preparation for facing the world as a human in a particular body. Coming at the same content from another direction, his Constructions—beautiful, airy, fragile curtains, meticulously assembled from shredded, colored printer paper and comic books—and ballpoint pen drawings of dense, wavy lines that evoke human hair explore the body through abstraction and materiality. Johnathan earned his BA in Art in 2012 from Rhodes College, where he was the recipient of the Sally Becker Grinspan Award for Artistic Achievement. His solo exhibitions include New Drawings (2014) at Beige, Accumulations (2013) at InsideOut Gym and DHOOOOOOM! (2011) at Jack Robinson Gallery, all in Memphis. In 2015, he collaborated with photographer D'Angelo Williams on Room to Let, created and exhibited at First Congregational Church in Memphis. He will exhibit new Constructions and collage work at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery. The fair will take place at Somerset House in London on October 6-9, 2016. Johnathan currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee but will be heading to Yale this fall to pursue his MFA in Painting/Printmaking.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “Intense preoccupations with self-concept, desire, and tribalism [were] the points of departure for” Meet Me Where I’m At (2015), a solo show that included sculpture and performance. The title reads to me as a call away from tribalism, a call to see humans as individuals, not others. Can you say more about how you think about tribalism?

Johnathan Payne: I define tribalism as the organization of individuals who have a deep kinship over a shared culture or commonality. A fraternity, an ethnic or racial group, and a church congregation are examples of tribes to me, and such tribes were catalysts for the conceptualization of the show. I also think about tribalism in relation to time and space, and how people can go in and out of particular tribes depending on those two variables. The show was the outcome of a lot of personal existential questioning. I was beginning to question my positioning in the tribes that I deemed myself a part of but felt somewhat distant to: past and (then) present relationships, the Black/Queer community, and my then live/work space at a church, to name a few. I wanted to examine the isolation I felt as an individual in relation to certain tribes and the difference between identifying as a tribe member and actively participating as one. So, your interpretation of seeing humans as individuals and not (or, interrelation to) others is very spot on.

Partial Self-Portrait
Graphite, ink pen and India ink on paper
12 in. x 12 1/2 in.
2012

OPP: How do self-concept and desire play into, ignite or counteract tribalism?

JP: The past, current, and future self—elements that make up a self-concept—are occasionally at odds with one another. I think this oddity with one’s self is experienced by everyone at some point or another. Usually, I process some of these inner emotions/self schemas by asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Where are you going?” These questions may sound ruminative and self-shaming, but they help me be real with myself and get to the meat of my personal goals and desires. Desire is a double-edged sword for me. I’ve felt the desire to be someone I inherently am not, to be among people whose tribe I don’t have immediate access to or would have to mute or sacrifice an aspect of myself to gain access to. These inner conflicts with certain desires have negatively informed my self-concept, and have brought certain insecurities to the surface in distressful ways. Meet Me Where I’m At ultimately became an attempt to reconcile my relationship with myself, and to see myself unique to the tribes I occupy and the ones I desired to be in.
   
It was important for me to work across disciplines and engage in time-intensive processes to create the work. I was thinking about the body a lot, specifically a racialized and gendered body, my body. I was questioning my relationship to my body and how my body existed in space and how it was being perceived by others. Poly-consciousness is very central to my lived experience, and the show became an opportunity to explore a personal multidimensionality across materials and forms. Mental endurance, positive self-talk and perseverance are all tools I use in my daily life to push through internal drama induced by the external world. Physical fitness seemed like an appropriate vehicle to examine this self-preservation. The home workout excited me because it is rooted in self-care, but also in solitude. There’s comfort in not being seen working out, in not being susceptible to the perceptions of other gym-goers. I wanted to turn all that on its head by doing Tae Bo in a gallery, to conflate the concepts of isolation, self-improvement and the external gaze.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Live performance/installation exhibition at Crosstown Arts (Memphis, TN)
May 8, 2015.

OPP: You did a performance for the same show, in which you performed a series of secular rituals—shaving your beard and hair, doing a Tae Bo video in a gym-mat-shaped ring of tea lights, bathing, and reading floating fortune cookies followed by beer-bonging your own bath water. In the documentation, we can’t see everything that the live viewers saw. What else can you tell us that we may have missed by not seeing this live?

JP: The live performance spanned roughly one and a half hours, start-to-finish. The audience and I were both entrapped in a lot of time together. There were many sounds of feet shuffling, people conversing, and beer and soda cans popping open by mid-performance. With the exception of shaving my head, bathing, and beer-bonging bath water, most of the performance was spent with my back facing the audience. It was a very personal experience for me, and the audience’s experience was secondary to my own. Occasionally, during the duration of the Tae Bo workout, I would stop to drink water from a bottle I placed outside the tea lights. There was a bit of comicality visible to a live audience, specifically when I responded with disbelief to particularly intense exercises. Audience members cheered me on when I got tired, or when I looked like I was really struggling to perform the moves. Eventually, some of the tea lights burned out entirely.

The Tae Bo workout was projected directly onto the wall, so the scale of the video was large. It consumed me, and in a way I had to compete for the audience’s attention, because the Tae Bo video is rather dynamic to watch on its own. In the video, you see Billy Blanks in the foreground a majority of the time. The fitness studio where the video was filmed has a padded red floor, with various signs on the walls. There is a large, diverse group of people participating in the video. Many racial groups, ages, and genders are represented. There are also a variety of fitness levels represented too. But, collectively, everyone looks confident and has a strong physique. The front row contains people who are incredibly fit, and they maintain the pace of Blanks’ commands. The video was produced and distributed in the year 2000, and it definitely feels stylistically and aesthetically dated in that sense. Billy is a very lively figure throughout the video. He is encouraging, uplifting, militant and authoritative, all in one. My body language throughout the performance shifts, particularly during and after the bathing sequence. At that point, I am directly facing the audience and actively engaging with them. It was certainly me at my most vulnerable moment, but also my most powerful moment.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Performance still
2015

OPP: A year later, what do you think about your own performance?

JP: This performance continues to be a lot for me to unpack. I think about my relationship to Billy Blanks and how his projection of Black masculinity is very divergent from my own. My attempt to mirror his appearance and keep pace with him is difficult, unsuccessful and ultimately unnecessary. I find comfort in that “failure,” in that ability to affirm Blackness across a spectrum, detached from competition and a monolithic representation. I still contemplate the line between self-care and self-medication, and my relationships to my past and current self. I continue to ask myself a lot of questions surrounding who I am and how I exist in the world. Ultimately, I think the performance challenged me to relinquish some of the internalizations that impeded me from being able to be my authentic self.

Constructions
Installation view
2015

OPP: In your Constructions (2015-present), made from both shredded comic books and colored printer paper, I’m most interested in the idea of transforming a narrative form into abstraction, even if it is an abstraction that hints at a functional object (a curtain). Can you discuss the two different papers in relation to the forms?

JP: My Constructions series developed from an ongoing interest to appropriate comic books in my work. Since 2011, I have explored the comic image and consider Ray Yoshida and his retrospective at the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC to be one of the most significant moments for me as a visual artist. Seeing the way Yoshida extracted and arranged forms from various comic books into specimen-like formations against spacious white grounds really stuck with me. In my Constructions, I make tapestry-like collages that attempt to evoke the vulnerability, complexity and tactility intrinsic to particular embodied identities. These evocations are manifested through color, pattern, and material. I play with color and pattern in different ways depending on the paper I choose.

When I shred comic book paper, the compositional and formal elements become colorful strips of pixelated, whimsical information. I then play around with these strips, creating patterned designs until I discover one that is compelling enough for me to explore further. Then, I set out to make a large scale artwork. From a distance, there is a formal uniformity to the Constructions made out of comic book paper. Yet, when viewed at an intimate distance, the comic Constructions offer a lot of complexity and detail in relation to color, line, and subject matter. I deconstruct depictions of whiteness, “justice,” heteronormativity, and patriarchy embedded in many comic books. The resulting form is not intended to be a reimagining or response to the original comic narrative. Though a familiarity exists, my goal is to transform the material into something rather unconventional.

I developed a stronger interest to play with color in my work after exploring the art of Black Abstractionists. The work of Alma Thomas, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Odili Donald Odita, Howardina Pindell and Stanley Whitney really resonates with me. So, I began to experiment with colored printer paper. I enjoyed that, similar to comic books, there was already visual information to respond to, though in this instance, it’s just flat, predetermined color. I began to use this paper as a tool to build pattern, tamper with light and shadow, and reference color field paintings and geometric abstractions. I layer warm and cool colors atop one another in an attempt to blend colors and create a visual vibrancy where the two shift rather seamlessly. I consider these particular constructions to be more broadly derivative of paintings. Also, the colored printer paper is usually stronger than the comic book paper, because of its ream weight and it being newer paper most times. So, I find that there’s a greater ability to experiment with surface texture. The surfaces of the colored paper constructions tend to buckle and bend, which reiterates the idea of vulnerable, yet resilient bodies and identities within society. I’m excited to explore both materials more in graduate school, as well as other printed material/archived publications.

Munch (detail)
shredded comic books and adhesive
96 in. x 83 in.
2016

OPP: Tell us about your recent collaboration Room to Let (2015) with photographer D'Angelo Williams. What did you each bring to the project?

JP: D’Angelo’s MFA thesis work titled Beauty Kings stages various black men adorned with a deep burgundy turban standing in isolation within urban and rural landscapes. I was deeply inspired by this work and had the pleasure in participating as a model for him. His thesis work and my studio projects at the time were the catalysts for the show. Following Meet Me Where I’m At, I began working on a series of gestures and drawings that were intended to be somewhat dark in tonality and thematic content, so I wanted to balance that out with a project that was more participatory, colorful and playful. We decided to further investigate portraiture photography and abstract drawing together.

D’Angelo specifically brought a strong background in shooting and editing photographs to the project, and I brought a collaborative painting and drawing background. We both desired to explore color, identity and abstraction using space, material, fabrics and textiles and willing participants. We shot the photographs at First Congregational Church in Memphis, where I lived and worked as an events coordinator and a hostel resident assistant—the church runs an international traveler’s hostel called Pilgrim House. We borrowed linens and blankets from the hostel and asked guests if they wanted to pose for us. Initially, I was hesitant to ask strangers to participate. We would both approach someone, explain the themes and ideas surrounding the photos, and ask if they were interested. To my surprise, a lot of people expressed interest, and for some, it was a significant highlight of their time in Memphis. 

Rochelle on Southside Roof
Digital print
22 in. x 17 in.
2015

OPP: What surprises emerged during the process?

JP: We worked together to drape the fabrics over the guests, making formal decisions based on the specific locations in the building and the personalities of each model. What struck me early in our project was how beautiful these fabrics looked adorned on the models. These were sheets and blankets that I’d spent a year interacting with as a staff member—washing, folding, cleaning—and I’d given them no particular mind and ascribed absolutely zero value to them. But, in reality, there was a lot of power inherent in them. That power was invisible to me, and the project really encouraged me to search for meaning where it’s (perceivably) least expected. We shot the photographs in various spaces within the church and made collaborative drawings and one shaped painting in my studio, which was also located inside the church. We exhibited the work in one of the rooms we photographed in, and opened the exhibition to churchgoers, hostel guests  and friends. It was wonderful to witness so many different people engaging with the art.

Room to Let really informed my interest to explore color, tactility, materiality and abstraction, and how all those elements can represent embodied identities. Working with D’Angelo was incredibly affirming, and I found comfort where we overlapped as artists and individuals.

Untitled (Jungle)
Acrylic paint, India ink, ballpoint pen, and permanent marker on paper
2015

OPP: In your most recent video performance Training Session (2015), you do forward rolls on a small gym mat over and over again, wearing a T-shirt that says Up Against the Wall Mother Fucker. What are you training for?

JP: I am training for sustained self-preservation against the systems within society that wish to destroy me. In Training Session, I wanted to portray a pro-Black political sentiment through embodiment, text and the urban environment. I had finished reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was thinking a lot about the vulnerability inherently attached to the Black body. How, at any point, it can be extinguished and how that threat of extinction can induce an internalized violence that is both protective and self-destructive. Coates writes, “. . . this is your country. . . this is your world. . . this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” That line really resonated with me as I strove to determine what being free in my own Black body looked like. I wanted to show myself struggling in a repetitive act, that danced the line between external and internal influencers. That in-between is a rich space to me.

I also wanted to connect this performance with a Black Power narrative. The line on the shirt is a quote from Amiri Baraka’s poem Black People. In the poem, Baraka affirms the need for Black people to make their own world by any means necessary, including violence onto white people. The poem goes:

You can't steal nothing from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you everything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherfucker! this is a stick up... We must make our own world, man, our own world, and we can not do this unless the white man is dead. Let's get together and kill him my man.

Though I’m not a violent person, I wanted to incorporate the theme of a racial-political uprising, but on the individual level. I wore the shirt in the performance to evoke the aggressive, combative tone in the poem. I paired this loaded text with a repetitive action—the somersault, a rudimental gymnastics technique—that hinted at notions of personal development, amateurism and innocence. I also wore a wrestling ear-guard to reinforce the idea of combat sport, but also to hint to a potential opponent. Though in reality they are many in number, two “opponents” depicted in the video include the hard, overgrown externalized world around me, as well as the internalized shackles that impede me from nurturing a radically Black identity.

Training Session
Filmed October 11, 2015 in Memphis, TN.
Documentation courtesy of David Bergen.

OPP: Training Session, which was made last October, took on renewed relevance two weeks ago, with the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. . .

JP: The recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shooting of Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers are tragic and continuous reminders of the difficult reality that is existing in a Black body in America. It’s horrible to think that images of Black people have been constructed in ways beyond our own imagining or control and that these constructions ignite such brutality and violence onto us. In her book Citizen, Claudia Rankine speaks to a particular anger: “the anger built up through experience and quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color.” I’ve heard this anger be referred to as Black Rage, and I see a connection between it and the internalized fear I mentioned earlier. I empathize entirely with these emotions and understand the root causes behind their extreme, outward manifestations. I also am able to confront my particular vantage point, which is from a place of privilege. I understand that the way I maintain and/or channel my emotions is unique to my experience. I haven't always been the most comfortable affirming my Blackness or confronting racism in the past, but I'm unpacking that suppression in my life right now. I think all of this is visible in Training Session.

To see more of Johnathan's work, please visit johnathanpayne.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Gleason

#HomemadeLandscape No.32: The Edge
January 23, 2015
Instagram photo

Artist, curator and designer ERIN GLEASON explores physical, psychological, cultural and mathematical space in her multidisciplinary practice, which includes installation, drawing, printmaking and photography as well as curating, writing and public art commissions. Erin earned her BA in Fine Art and in Imaging Science at the University of Pennsylvania and her MFA from the Art, Space & Nature Programme at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. She is the Co-Founder and former Director/Curator of the Crown Heights Film Festival, the Co-Editor/Producer of the publication FIELDWORK and the Founder/Editor of Cultural Fluency, an online forum and interview series that examines the exchange between urbanism and creative practice across disciplines. She was a 2013 Lori Ledis Curatorial Fellow at BRIC, where she curated Cultural Fluency: Engagements with Contemporary Brooklyn. Erin is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy, Art Theory and Aesthetics at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. She calls Brooklyn home.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say: “I seek to reveal the frameworks that determine our perceptions of space—whether that space is physical, psychological, or mathematical—and how our relationship to space affects our behaviors, beliefs, and judgment of aesthetics.” The intersection of physical and the psychological—and I would add the cultural—are very present in projects like Plane (2008), My Very Own Private Garden (2009), Stoop Series (2013). Where does the mathematical show up in your work?

Erin Gleason: I’m defining mathematical spaces as those that are conceived purely through reason—spaces that are nearly impossible for us to experience first- hand, either through our external senses or internal perceptions. Outer space is one example; virtual space is another. What is it about these borderless, infinite spaces that compel us to explore them repeatedly and even try to conquer them? When we do find ways to explore these spaces using other methods besides mathematics, what is it we hope to discover?

My ongoing series #HomemadeLandscape, for example, examines the space of Instagram and our relationship to it. Instagram functions simultaneously as a gallery, a place for art-making and as a site for communities to develop. The abstract macro-photography images, which are not Photoshopped or predetermined, capture scenes I encounter in my everyday life, yet they create emotional ties to other places, many in outer space. The images often allude to a spatial vastness, tapping into innate desires for exploration and discovery. When I began the series, each image was geo-tagged with a place the image alludes to: Atlantis, Wildcat Ridge, The Event Horizon, Trollkirka, Leda, SDSS J120136.02+300305.5c, and Venus, to name a few. This continued until Instagram stopped allowing us to make up names for geotags. Now, the places alluded to are in the title for each piece.

#HomemadeLandscape No.37: Under the Clouds
February 04, 2015
Instagram photo

OPP: Can you say more about the nature of Instagram as a virtual space?

EG: Instagram can be seen as another infinite space that embraces an almost Deleuzian nomadic experience while exploring it. We create stopping points with our hashtags, geotags and Instagram groups. We embrace the rabbit hole of the browsing journey, its landscape constantly updating in real time. When we add images, we're populating what we perceive to be an empty, virtual space with everything and anything that suits our whims (as long as the image fits within the ethics of appropriateness defined by Instagram). We colonize virtual space with our fancies. Don’t we tend to colonize every type of space, ignoring what exists there by declaring it empty? Furthermore, Instagram is a contemporary form of The Society of the Spectacle, where our addiction to the image of life, of representation, is played out. That being said, it can be great fun.

2011
Installation and Participatory Performance Event, FiveMyles Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring motif of the stoop in your work? How’s planning going for your in-process Mobile Stoop Project?

EG: Stoops are one of several motifs that keep knocking on the door of my creative process, insisting on participating and showing up in my work. Writing, mapping, dialogue, physicality and platforms are a few others. Stoops in particular fascinate me because of how they have transcended the mere utilitarian to become iconic cultural spaces. A simple architectural feature has evolved— through its innate form—to become its own form of tactical urbanism.

To me, stoops feel alive. I believe the best art is able to spark a dialogic space, is able to hold multiplicity and, as Parker Palmer says, "hold challenging issues metaphorically where they can't devolve into the pro-or-con choices of conventional debate." Stoops, as objects and as spaces, do this naturally as communal thresholds between public and private space, between inner and outer life. Some of my works investigate what happens when trying to transport the essence of a space without the architecture that originally created it. Stoop Series, an art and performance series co-curated with poet Lynne Procope, was held on the sidewalk in front of FiveMyles Gallery in Brooklyn. We examined the cultural space and dynamics of the stoop without having the object itself present.


Mobile Stoop Project takes the question further, blurring the lines of performance, mobile architecture, space branding and objecthood in art with a site that is constantly shifting and undefinable. Currently, I’m at a bit of a production standstill while looking for venue, manufacturing and funding partners for Mobile Stoop Project. But, conceptually, the project continues to progress. I'm currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy, Art Theory and Aesthetics at the Institute of Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, and my research on urban place-making and aesthetics is influencing the direction of the project.

Stoop Series
2013
Summer art and performance series, co-curated with Lynne Procope
FiveMyles Gallery, Brooklyn NY

OPP: At the end of your essay Portfolio: Third Spaces, for a series hosted by Urban Omnibus, The Architectural League's online publication dedicated to defining and enriching the culture of citymaking, you ask a series of open-ended questions. I’m particularly interested in one: Can a virtual space become tangible? Do you have any examples of ways that the virtual has indeed become tangible?

EG: I believe virtual space is already tangible in the sense that it directly affects our actions and what we do with our time. Confronting virtual space restructures our self-representation and redefines our sense of “modern” by providing a new borderless space to explore and discover. The interrelationships between the physical, psychological and virtual (or mathematical) are always at play, transforming each other. I’m repeatedly reminded of these overlaps at Stephen Yablon Architecture, where I work. I watch concepts take form through discussion, drawings, virtual environments and finally, constructed buildings. The buildings themselves take on new lives in new spaces: the psychological space of the people who use them, the cultural space of the neighborhood and the virtual space of online representation. Spaces live and evolve just like we do, whether it’s a space we construct (in our minds or physically) or a space that we can’t even conceive.

Plane
2008
Installation: newspapers, microfilament
In collaboration with Melissa MacRobert and Christine Wylie.

OPP: You recently held an experimental, blindfolded Dark Salon at Open Source Gallery in order to explore how “we navigate space and conversation when our reference point shifts from one of light to one of darkness.” While watching the blindfolded participants talk on the Livestream feed, I thought a lot about the Enlightenment as a point in history when humans began to privilege the mind over the body. Over the course of the conversation, participants seemed to shift from a more conceptual space to a more phenomenological space. They went from saying what they thought about light and darkness to saying how they experienced them. What was the experience like for you?

EG: Copernican Views: Revelations Through Darkness was a grand experiment for me and also thoroughly enjoyable. The point of the Dark Salon was to try to understand what it’s like to navigate a space when our main point of reference is gone—in this instance, light—through a unique, polyphonic experience. As mediator and host, I had no visual cues to go by. I’d like to try this art activity again with more time dedicated to the discussion. It took a while for everyone to shift out of relating “darkness” to “blindness,” but once they did, we had fantastic conversations about what “darkness” means to us as individuals and as a culture. For me, this is when the salon really began. If we continued, I’m sure we would have discovered more how darkness could be an anchor point for navigation instead of light, and in a broader sense, how what we commonly perceive as emptiness can really be solid.

Immortality (work-in-progress)
Ink on paper
65 in x 80 in

OPP: What new projects are you working on?

EG: In addition to continuing work on Mobile Stoop Project and #HomemadeLandscape series, I’m working on three other series of artworks. Rise of the Greenlandic Metropolis is a series of artworks based on the premise that Greenland becomes the next world superpower because fresh water is the new global currency. The first phase was a survey of the landscape and potential sites for new development for exporting arctic water; the next phase of the series focuses on an international media campaign to recruit for the new Greenlandic Military. 

Immortality is a series of large scale drawings, approximately 65 in x 80 in, where I’m writing the entire English translation of Milan Kundera’s book of the same name, in cursive writing. As a nod to the lost art of handwriting and the large contribution scribes have made throughout history, the drawings question Plato’s categorizations of what is imitation and what is real in creation. Kundera’s novel, which is also one of my all-time favorites, likewise questions the role of—as well as who or what is—the creator. Like so many other works that weave together different spaces, the process for these drawings is both physically taxing and meditative. I’m emotionally and physically feeling the shape of each letter, each form, in the book’s re-creation.

I’m also currently working on a not-yet-titled series of artworks that feature hand drawn QR codes in an effort to further link mathematical, psychological and physical spaces. Each artwork/QR code reveals a second, unique artwork: a photograph of the artist as a female nude, shot in a way so the female body is reminiscent of a landscape. As Laura Mulvey pointed out in her text Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, men are (self) perceived as figures in the landscape, while women are often thought of as part of the landscape, to be gazed upon. In other words, men are makers of meaning while women are bearers of meaning. These artworks aim to reveal this cultural perception while turning it on its head. As the artist, the protagonist, the figure and the woman, I can track when, where and how often the QR code is scanned. I’m now looking at you, while you're looking at me. The landscape is now the figure. The object is now the subject. Some day, the technology for QR codes will be defunct, the second figurative artwork will be “lost” in virtual space and all that will be left is the drawing of a digital landscape.

To see more of Erin's work, please visit eringleason.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show on view at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art until March 27, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ian Deleón

2015
Performance still

Prolific performance artist IAN DELEÓN is inspired by "the grotesque, transgression, mortification and ecstasy." Through a rich vocabulary of props and appropriated media imagery, he repeatedly places himself and his audience firmly inside the political and cultural context of Post-colonialism. Simultaneously he explores the more personal, universal human experiences of vulnerability, endurance and submission in collaborations with other performance artists and even his own father. Ian earned an AA in English Literature from the Miami Dade College Honors Program and a BFA from the Studio for Interrelated Media at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston. He has performed and been included in film festivals both nationally (Boston, New York, Detroit and Miami Beach) and internationally (Cuba, China, Vancouver, The Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Berlin). He is the recipient of a 2015 Art Writing Workshop slot, coordinated by the Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program in partnership with the International Art Critics Association/USA Section. He is currently working towards a 2017 solo exhibition in Fort de France, Martinique at Tropiques Atrium. Ian just kicked off a monthly performance curatorial project with Tif Robinette. Look for the next event, I Had to Watch Them Bleed, on Saturday, March 19, 2016 at PULSAR in Brooklyn, where he lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How would you define performance art in general for Average Joe on the street?

Ian Deleon: I’m actually actively engaged in a profound investigation of this very question with many colleagues in New York. What performance art was and what it currently is are often vastly dissimilar. Also, how and why we should distinguish between performance and performing is a key question. Every conjugation of this word carries its own particular contexts; what institutions tout as the embodiment of one format may be precisely the opposite of what young artists in the underground scene would call it.

For someone who is completely new to performance art, perhaps the most productive explanation of the term can simply be: "the experience of watching visual art created live." Whether that's actually useful, I'm not sure. As with any other question dealing with an embodied identity, Average Joe should ultimately prepare themselves for a lengthy response—something that attempts to acknowledge and wade through all of the inherent contradictions of our language and our culture. So if Average Joe follows up by asking if it's anything like action painting or public tree carving, you can say “yes” with confidence. That's when you jump in and ask Average Joe to define painting or sculpture himself. If you have him up until this point, it's a good bet Average Joe will let you take him on a brief journey while you discuss the fluidity of these terms and introduce an example that challenges his preconceived notions of what visual art can be.

Child of the swollen sea
2015
Performance still

OPP: How would you describe your own work for that same person?

ID: I've explored many avenues in trying to explain my own work quickly and concisely to people. My favorite and probably still most confusing remarks tend to highlight the interconnectedness in my work between the body, poetics and architecture. People you are meeting for the first time rarely want to hear in-depth responses to a question so vague. So I try to say something a little intriguing. If they still want to know more, that's when I begin actually describing a piece to them and how it relates to other forms of expression they might be more familiar with. For OPP readers who are still with me, I will add that my work is currently greatly inspired by ideas concerning the grotesque, transgression, mortification and ecstasy.

2015
Performance still

OPP: You are a prolific writer in edition to your performances. You describe them well on your site for those of us who don’t have the opportunity to see them live. Is writing a tool for explaining performances, a tool for documentation?

ID: The writing as documentation definitely began as a way to solve a very real problem, which is that a lot of performance work goes unreported in terms of journalistic criticism. After university, I found myself craving that critical engagement with a work that I regularly received from my studio classes, but rarely found out in the art world. Performance has largely been relegated to spectacle in the media, which means a 'slow burn' of a work has little chance of receiving a thoughtful appraisal or any appraisal at all. Compared to the film industry, even the most banal of movies gets some kind of commentary in the press. The same publication will likely have someone who covers the visual arts as a whole, and 90% of the time you are going to see a review for a show of 2D and 3D work. In Boston, there was this almost laughable common knowledge that the most renowned arts writer in the city would refuse to go to art openings, thereby greatly reducing their chances of catching a live performance in a multidisciplinary group show. They certainly weren't coming to performance-only shows.

Thus, the writing became a way for me to assert a place for the work myself. It was an attempt to look at it objectively, to assess its strengths and weaknesses—so that I can grow as an artist—and to share these thoughts with others. It should appear curious that my resume reads the way it does while I have barely a press listing to my name. I firmly believe that this is due to the strength of the work, which has presented complex ideas that resist the simple and sentimental narratives, while also espousing an economy of images and spectacle. I myself find the most intriguing work to be the most difficult to write about.

In addition, finding photo/video documentation to be largely unsuccessful (although necessary for the grant-seeking game) at capturing the essences of performance, I relied on my skills with the written word to tell the story the images might have been unable to tell.

L’odeur du père
2014
Excerpt of a performance with my father, in my mother's backyard in South Florida following a week of intense and heated political discussions

OPP: Do you conceive of your performances as poetry?

ID: Before I came to performance—or fine art for that matter—I had writing. If there was one thing I excelled at throughout early schooling, it was creative composition. In that way, I feel myself aligned often with performers turned architects such as Vito Acconci, who considers himself, above all, a poet. For me the work absolutely begins with language––an interesting phrase or title of another work. I then embark on an exploration of how to visualize such poetics and in the end find that the writing about the performance is my favorite part of the process, where I can unravel all of the elaborate connections I was referencing in the piece. The performances almost resemble a draft for a literary work to come. The brief and never repeated performance 'tweets' and 'essays' I have been producing may thus one day lead me to develop a long-term project with novelistic ambitions.

2015
Performance still

OPP: In 2015, You’ve collaborated numerous times with AGROFEMME in performances like And our bed is verdant…Incorruptible Flesh, Night of Faith and Estas navidades van a ser candela. How did this collaboration start? What does each of you bring to the table? How would you describe the gender dynamics of your performances?

ID: AGROFEMME and I met at a performance event, and we immediately developed a connection that blossomed into many professional collaborations and an intimate relationship. This latter aspect is certainly present in the work, and I suppose we play with the gender dynamics through a commitment to mutual discomfort and trust. In our performances, you see two people who alternate between trusting one another with their safety, sometimes literally bearing the weight of the other person. Working this way came naturally to us. We're just both very interested in physicality, endurance and the ability to harness an intimate relationship into creating work that neither of us would feel comfortable partaking in with anyone else. In thinking about our process, you could say that AF has a natural ability with materials that surpasses mine. So AF chooses and elaborates a lot of the objects in our performances, while I tend to refine a shared interest into an overarching concept for us to explore.

2015
Performance Still

OPP: Many of your earlier performances are political allegories that comment on the long history of colonialism and American policies and invasions of Caribbean and Latin American countries during the 1980s (Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, Cuba, etc). There are numerous recurring symbolic props, including bars of Hispano soap, Ronald Reagan masks, a necklace made of children’s shoes, Domino sugar and American flags. Could you talk about the language of props in your work?

ID: That body of work very much came out of the identity crisis I faced after moving away from my hometown of Miami Beach to attend college in the "godless and frozen North" (Massachusetts). I had an inner need for self-discovery and self-making, which started to become informed by the technical skills I was picking up at school. Having been trained in my undergraduate years in film editing, I soon grew acutely aware of how modern visual culture is heavily constructed [full stop] and bent towards the consolidation and normalization of power.

Hollywood tropes, consumer product packaging and travel advertisements became my source material, and I began exploring this language of propaganda media in relation to my own familial stories. I felt the need to cut, splice and re-edit my people's histories just as I had done on numerous film/video projects. It was a way of reasserting control over them. . . of ensuring a place for myself in those histories. This vivisection of imagery and text led me down a path, which has created a tangible bridge between myself, living in the Northern Americas and my kindred spirits to the South. I drew on the 'trop-iconic' materials in various marketable stages (like sugar cane stalks and processed table sugar) to talk about the very different, although interconnected ways in which these objects continued to affect those in the colonies and in the metropole—and yes, those terms and that relationship most certainly still applies to the Americas. I wanted to break the cycle of "diasporic amnesia" and evoke what the Caribbeanist Shalini Puri describes as a "volcanic memory"—something that would prompt a reconsideration of the authenticity and ethics operating within every spoonful of bleached sugar, every imported not-so-ripe pineapple, every cocopalm-laced travel postcard and every holiday cruise.

¡Te conozco bacalao aunque vengas disfrazao!
2013

OPP: It seems you've since moved away from this content in recent years. . .

ID: I've moved away from this type of work mostly because I have said all I can from my current point of reference, which is that of someone who has never actually lived in the Caribbean or South America. But I've also noticed a palpable attitude in the U.S., which for the moment is correctly lending primacy to the voices of the historically under(mis)represented. I believe this translates to the work I have been doing being largely overlooked in the U.S. because of the fact that I appear "white.” In the Caribbean, conversations around race and identity tend to be more fluid, so I have yet to feel my work invalidated there because of the privileges most societies accord my body. In the Caribbean, I am without a doubt Caribbean. In the U.S., most of what I am is doubt. Thus, in order to survive as an artist living in the U.S., I have begun taking more cues from the worlds of literature and cinema. The incorporation of narratives that deviate from the strictly autobiographical have lent my work a broader appeal that I believe has a better chance of being judged on its merits.

2014
Performance still

OPP: What role does discomfort play in your practice?

ID: For me discomfort is at the heart of performance and personal evolution. I impose discomfort on myself and the audience as a way of disrupting the quotidian flow of life. The Myth of Sisyphus has been a guiding inspiration for me for several years now, and Camus' interpretation of that myth asserts that struggle is the quintessential state of human existence. I don't see this as a resignation to a doomed fate, but rather a way to acknowledge the tribulations in life that propel us further as individuals. Inspired by this, a lot of my work has dealt with enacting an obviously contrived, though nonetheless real, experience of discomfort. My commitment to discomfort in the moment, whether I am carrying a 50 pound bag of sugar repeatedly up stairs, or chewing through sugarcane stalks for over two hours, is indicative of my eschewing of theatricality and sentimentality. I have no interest in alluding to a personal connection to sugarcane harvesting, for example. But I am passionate about the idea that someone like myself, who rarely encounters this pervasive substance in its raw state, would choose to experience this trial of endurance. It's a way for me to remind myself and the audience, that comfort never comes without a price.

To see more of Ian's work, please visit iandeleon.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show on view at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art until March 27, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz

GuerilleReina #1
2013
Giclee print
64"x 44"

WANDA RAIMUNDI-ORTIZ explores the interplay between vulnerability and empowerment in the space where stereotypes, archetypes and lived experience of cultural and racial Otherness overlap. Since 2006, her persona Chuleta has unpretentiously educated YouTube viewers about the Art World. Her Wepa Woman murals tell the story of a NuyoRican superhero, who is charged with representing all her people and preserving their culture on top of having the deal with the regular stresses that all humans have. Most recently, in a suite of performances and photographs called Reinas, she holds court in a costumed manifestation of personal and universal anxieties. Wanda earned her AAS from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 1995, was a 2002 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA from Rutgers University in Brunswick, New Jersey in 2008. She has been awarded the Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award (2002 and 2006) and a Cultural Preservation Award from the Bronx River Alliance (2009). In 2011, she was named Keeper of the Creed by University of Central Florida, where she has been an Assistant Professor since 2010. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including exhibitions at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Institute of Contemporary Art at University of Pennsylvania, Centro Cultural de España in El Salvador. Wanda lives and works in Orlando, Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: For years, you've performed the persona of Chuleta on YouTube and live at events like Art In Odd Places 2012, New York City. When was Chuleta's first video posted and what's her origin story?

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz: Chuleta first came on the scene end of 2006 as an examination of my own presence as a Latina artist visiting Art Basel. It was strange to be at these events, being examined as I walked with my fellow Latino artist friends and feeling like we maybe had infiltrated a world that we were actively engaged in. It was a surreal experience. I became very aware of my otherness in this space and wondered. . . how could I explain this career choice that seemed so. . . pretentious and elitist. . . to my ultra urban nieces and nephews? Somewhere between making fun of the gallerists, collectors and ourselves over drinks, Chuleta was born.

YouTube was still in its infancy—a sort of Wild West with nebulous borders. It seemed like a perfect place to create virtual presence, especially with art studio space at a premium. The earlier works were pretty rough and a bit long. But again. . . that was all pre-YouTube etiquette. I had no idea it (and she) would grow the way it did. It became a direct line to the public and a perfect vehicle to challenge expectations of both the art world and viewers.

Ask Chuleta #6: Identity Art
2010
Video Performance

OPP: Has her agenda (or your agenda for her) changed over time?

WRO: Chuleta and I have enjoyed a great run, but she has taken a break so that I can work on the Reinas, which are closer to my heart these days. Chuleta was a direct response to my life in New York and transitioning into academia. Five years after arriving in Florida, my interests, focus and inspirations are more internal and reflexive. She isn't gone, just dormant. I have been thinking of new iterations for her, now that I am changing, too. I’m older, chubbier. . . achier. . . and certainly wiser.

OPP: How has the space of YouTube affected the public's understanding of the videos? Do you ever get grossly misinterpreted? Do you ever get any flack for contributing to a stereotype about Puerto Rican women? How do you use the stereotype for your own purposes?

WRO: HA! I have certainly had my share of criticism and flat out insults like "You need an education" and "Who is this stupid b*tch?" Classier insults reminded me that Sonia Sotomayor was a supreme court judge and reprimanded me for what I was doing to the community. I recognize these self conscious voices. This is what happens to underrepresented people. We become very self conscious about how the (white) masses view and perceive us. It is like having a run in your stocking. Embarrassing. When one of us does something unpleasant, it is assumed that other people will think that the entire community is going to get taken down as a result. And they aren't wrong. Peggy McIntosh describes it perfectly in her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. It is that charge, that responsibility to your entire community to represent yourself positively that I was grappling with, on both sides. In my real life, as a Bronx-bred, urban Other with a masters degree from Rutgers in the hood, I was challenged by my own as being a Wanna-Be-White girl or praised for being so "well spoken/articulate" by academics, collectors, etc. This was my way of fighting back.

Wepa Woman: Acts Like a Child, Punish like a Child
Bronx NY
2013
OPP: You've also created comic-style murals and works on paper about "the NuyoRican super hero character Wepa Woman, who is charged with cultural preservation among her beloved NuyoRicans." Will you summarize her story for us?

WRO: I originally created Wepa Woman when I was about 19 years old in an effort to critique stereotypes because I felt like I was an oddity in the hood. I didn't look or act "Latina" enough because I was an artist into New Wave. I hung out with my fellow urban, artist oddball friends that made comics and created Wepa Woman. I was thinking of Wonder Woman, but her origins were ordinary. The real strength that she held was her conviction. The first appearance of Chuleta in my work was through the comic drawings. She was the antagonist, an amalgam of all the things I abhorred about the hood at the time. It, and she felt inescapable, and I wanted to badly to break out of that place and away from that stereotype and the long shadow it casts over us Latinas.

OPP: Is there an actual comic or just the murals? What does it mean for viewers to only encounter one panel of Wepa Woman's story?

WRO: There was no published comic, but the murals came from feeling confined to the page in my original drawings. I think I have a problem with enclosed spaces and ideologies (lol). The murals, also inspired by the hood, offered a different kind of accessibility. I wanted the murals to be accessible whether you knew her story or not. I wanted to insert intrigue into more of my practice. It worked!

PorcelaReina #2
2014
Performance
PorcelaReina #2 is the third movement in a suite of performances and photographs from my most recent series REINAS (Queens). Made to emulate a porcelain doll, this queen's regalia is made nearly entirely from packing materials, in an effort to protect me during my most delicate time- pregnancy, and to explore my own discomfort and isolation with my own frailty.

OPP: Your most recent suite of performances is called Las Reinas, in which you hold court in some art space, often a museum. You performed Bargain Basement Sovereign (2012), for example, at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and PorcelaReina #2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Florida in 2014. Which is you favorite Reina? Tell us about her costume, performance and viewers' responses?

WRO: My favorite Reina so far is GuerrilleReina, the warrior queen. The photos from that suite are really exquisite. I am thankful for my photographer, Jay Flynn, for being able to harness the warrior I was trying to create. This queen comes from many failed relationships; I found myself hardened, ready to defend myself, sometimes before anything had ever happened. The queen persona in me was protecting me—too well. The costume is designed with materials that are used to protect. But there is no one else in the battle. Just me.

The response is always great. I feel that people see themselves in these works. Chuleta puts people on the defensive. The queens are more. . . I don't want to say inviting. . . but they certainly aren't antagonizing. (Except for the warrior queen—lol)

All of the concepts hold clues to the individual queen. If you spend enough time investigating the wardrobe, you will gain more insight into her. I also like working with unusual materials. I don't want to lead readers too much. It spoils the fun.

HUSH
2013
Installation view
For four hours I laid in bed in the gallery and welcomed visitors to lay with me, share secrets, joke or share stillness. Much like a confessional, the space becomes incredibly intimate in even the most public setting. Participants were then instructed to write their thoughts on a white wall in white chalk.

OPP: How do the various iterations of Hush, which is about intimacy, vulnerability and public space, inform your performances of Las Reinas and Chuleta? Are you yourself or another persona when lying in a bed in a gallery space?

WRO: I am myself in Hush. The concept for Hush predates the Reinas, and comes from a moment when I was craving intimacy in a very profound way. I knew that I wouldn't be alone in this. Being open and vulnerable in this way was the first time I saw the clear distinction between power and strength. Through the performances, I was able to completely subdue my urge to control or manipulate, antagonize or challenge. After each performance I would emerge covered in hives and almost no recollection of what occurred, other than a sense of being overwhelmed with other people's angst. I wouldn't be able to talk for a long while after. Only wanted to be alone in a quiet space and purge and cry. It is because of Hush that I know my other works as well as I do. I can't wait to do it again someday.

To see more of Wanda's work, please visit wandaraimundi-ortiz.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Stacia will create a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show opening at The Ukrainian Museum of Modern Art on February 5, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aisha Tandiwe Bell

#decrown (in Bone)
2015

Interdisciplinary artist AISHA TANDIWE BELL explores the shifting fragmentation of our multiple identities. In performance, ceramics, video, painting and spoken word, she embodies the role of the Trickster, laying metaphoric traps in order to reveal the ones we don't know we are stuck in. Aisha earned her BFA in Painting (1998) and her MS in Art and Design Education (1999) from Pratt. She was a 2006 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA in Ceramics from Hunter College in 2008. Aisha has exhibited extensively throughout New York, as well as internationally in Guadaloupe, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.  Her work is currently on view until January 17, 2016 in Dis place at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. She was chosen by curator and art historian Sarah E. Lewis to be included in Rush20: 1995-2015, a limited edition print portfolio marking the 20th Anniversary of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. The portfolio is on view at Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn) through Dec 20, 2015 and also traveled to Scope Miami in early December. In 2016, her work will be included in one for Mama one for eye at Gallery One (Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi and in one two three fifths at Space One Eleven in Birmingham, Alabama. Aisha lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You write and perform spoken word poetry and combine this text-based work with images of your sculptures and drawings. Which came first in your history as an artist: text or image? Does one or the other dominate the way you think?

Aisha Tandiwe Bell: There has always been a codependent relationship between text, narrative and the visual manifestation of my subconscious. Often, the visuals come first and l have to find the language to ground the form. Sometimes the language comes first or alone. During undergrad at Pratt, I was invited to join the spoken word group "Second 2 Last.” Throughout the group's 10 year run, I experimented with attaching narrative to my art. I'm not sure if either form dominates the way I think. I am more familiar and experienced with words, but I am better at telling multiple stories simultaneously with my visual language. For that reason, my most recent work uses narratives that do not explain the image. Instead, they run parallel and tangential, asking the viewer to fill in the spaces with their own interpretations.

Tangents and Segues
2015
Documentations of performance at Mocada October 2015
Photo credit: Dyani Douze

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring metaphor of the trap? It shows up in sculptural works like Trap Couplet (2012) and Trap Unadorned (2012), as well as drawings like Dream Catcher 2 (2012) and in performances like Tangents and Segues (2015).

ATB: I made my first traps in 2006. I found that the figure distracted many viewers from the conceptual focus of my work. I went through a distilling process, isolating the core concept that underlined all of my work—everything I'd made since 1998. . . I came up with the word trap. My figures are trapped in the walls. They are trapped  in the boxes/bodies of race, sex, class. . . In these series of non-figurative traps, I explored the formal possibilities: golden holes and ditches, nets in trees, heavy clay boxes that fell from the ceiling. I've settled, for now, on these tricked out traps. These people-sized cardboard boxes take on personas. They are seductive bait. They simultaneously reference stereotype, consumerism, hyphenated identities, shelter, class, displacement, homelessness and childhood. I also refer to them as dream catchers, the title brings to mind indigenous American spiritual objects, I want the viewer to think about what that is in the context of these cardboard cloth works that represent traps that catch and hold your dreams, hopes, and potential.

headshells
2009
clay and tempura

OPP: Identity is such a complex concept and experience. It includes both how we see ourselves and others see us. It can offer a sense of belonging and be the source of othering, depending on point of view. It can be a heavy burden and other times a source of pride. How do your headshells, in all their various iterations, speak to this issue?

ATB: It would require several dissertations to effectively answer this question, which is why I feel like visual language allows us to metaphorically fold time and space and cover huge and heavy subjects simultaneously. That being said, these heads/shells/masks/hats/faces deal specifically with my ideas as related to code switching, hyphenated identities, multiple consciousness and shapeshifting. They are armor, burdens, crowns, building blocks, balancing acts. They are tools some of us use to navigate varied spaces, negotiate uneven relationships and possibly get ahead (bootstrapping). I juggle many identities. I am African American Caribbean woman, middle/working class, interdisciplinary artist, mother, wife, educator and more. In our overstimulated present, shifting identities are also fragmented/incomplete, no one specialized in a single channel identity. Often, once buried under multiple identities, assumptions and stereotypes, the individual becomes invisible or at most, a two dimensional outline.

chameleon (detail)
2009

OPP: Your recent work from 2015 is a series of figurative wall works that combine ceramics and drawing. Could you talk about how the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional meet in this series and what it means for the figure to be breaking out of the wall?

ATB: I started as a painter. Painting the figure too large for and trapped within the two-dimensional space of the canvas, boxed in. I focused on the gaze, imagining the subject as aware of the viewer and looking back, conscious of the relationship between the entertainer and the entertained. These paintings were for me a metaphor for the state of Black people in America and questioned the degree to which we shape American culture, verses the degree of material power we hold in said culture. The first step is to be conscious of these realities. So the heads push through the two-dimensional space and invade the space of the view. I liken the two-dimensional to stagnation. The relief is the moment of realization, a pushing through liminal or peripheral space. Realization becomes the catalyst for change, and then the faces come off of the wall and move into the fourth dimension as performance. In 2004 I started to paint the two-dimensional figure directly to the wall. Referencing graffiti, Ndebele house painting  and indigenous forms of two-dimensional art-making. I liked the idea of defacing the white wall, the history of European painting as well as well as leaving my mark in a manner that makes it less of a direct commodity.

Chimera
2015
Photo credit: Selina Roman

OPP: Your 2013 project Susu is definitely not an art commodity. Tell us about the site, process and resulting sculptural form in this project.

ATB: Susu was a commissioned by The Laundromat Project, which invites artists to make art at local laundromats as a way to engage the surrounding community and an audience that may not make it to traditional art spaces. In ancient Akan, SUSU means little little (bit by bit). It is a form of micro economics. I proposed a project that involved collecting clothes in front of my local laundromat. As people left clothing I asked them to also leave words— one word, a paragraph or poem, I gave no limitations. The collected clothing was bleached and dyed one of the primary colors. The work was line dried outside the laundromat and the dripping dyes were caught on heavy watercolor paper. The clothing and the clothing line became a giant skirt that I wore in a performance in which I recited the words that had be contributed by the community. Prints made on the watered color paper covered in the drips from the drying clothes were given away to the audience. These same clothes then became two large cocoon-like sculptures. One that lived in a local community garden for eight months and another that permanently resides in the laundromat. The leftover clothing was donated to a shelter. I would like to do more community-based projects as well as explore the possibilities of transforming  soft, old clothes into hard, fragile sculpture.

Susu
Video documentation of interdisciplinary installation
2013

OPP: SuSu metaphorically compliments your ideas about multiple identities. The project is a process performance and a spoken-word performance. It’s social practice. It’s the dyed drip drawings. It’s public sculpture. It’s the generous and sustainable gesture of donating the leftovers. If any one person only witnessed one aspect of the project, they would not have an accurate understanding of the whole, and yet their experience of the part is valuable. It reminds me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. They fought because they had each touched a different part of the elephant, and so they couldn’t agree on the nature of the elephant. That brings me back to all the identities we have. It seems to me that problems only emerge when we get attached to a single identity, both in viewing ourselves and in viewing others. Could Susu be a model for how to have a holistic relationship with our identities and the identities of others?

ATB: This is a good question; I have to really think on it. The simple answer is just yes. Because there is no waste in Susu, it is sort of like the golden rule, like the most idealized utopian construct. In many ways it is an ideal that charts the layering of identity metaphorically with simple yet connected actions. But on the other hand, identity is not fixed in the same way an elephant or an ideal is. Just when we think we see the entire elephant, it's shape shifts. I think that we have to accept and understand the moments as individual statements. Each element stands on its own, in its own space, with its own allegory and with its own potential to shift and become, altering the mechanisms and overall shape of the whole. Identity is as mutable as language and, as Lacan says, language is shaped like the subconscious. Susu becomes a stepping stone, a way to begin to see how complex and multidimensional identity is, but it does not take into consideration or perform the fluidity of each element.

To see more of Aisha's work, please visit superhueman.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Javier Carmona

Tavola Dialogue, Understudy from In the Arena
2015

JAVIER CARMONA’s photographs read like stills from motion pictures, hinting at the process of their own production. He directs and performs with actors in scripted scenes in rented apartments in far-away countries. In recent projects, he performs the character of Xavier, whose navigation of romantic relationships is an exploration of language, gesture and intimacy, both between humans and in relation to the cultural specificity of geographic locations. Javier earned his BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago in 1994 and his MFA in Photography from The University of New Mexico in 1997. He has exhibited extensively throughout the United States, Mexico and Italy, and his work was most recently seen in Front and Center, the culminating show for the Center Program Residency at Hyde Park Art Center. In 2016, Javier will have solo exhibitions at Galería de Arte Contemporáneo, Secretaría de la Economía in Mexico City and The Photo-Four Gallery at South Suburban College in South Holland, Illinois. In March 2016, he will present Making a Scene: Towards an Actor’s Method for Still Photography at the National Conference of the Society for Photographic Education. Javier teaches at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois and lives in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you expand on your notion of an "epic picture?"

Javier Carmona: It’s my reaction to the limitations placed on photographs by defining them as categories. There’s a part of me that loathes talking about pictures in terms of portrait, still life, landscape. Curators seem insistent on cataloging an image as a way of assigning its meaning. I don’t know how to answer the question, “Are these portraits?” I can’t bring myself to teach that way. I don’t get it.

I’d rather address the picture as a temporal phenomenon; an epic picture negotiates a narrative not bound by time. The still photograph is decontextualized time, even though we think of it as originating from a linear sensation of it. I anchor the still picture in a dialogue with the moving image. In cinema, the methodology of fusing the external world with the rehearsed intentions of a performed action is so much more of an accepted circumstance. My work brings that audience expectation of cinema to the still photograph.

Years ago, in my dissertation, I paraphrased Brecht’s idea of the Epic Theatre and began using the phrase Epic Photography; the epic picture is one which looks for a renewed, human expression of the actual and resistant world. In this sense, our phones take pictures, but they’re often obstacles to our tangible surroundings. I’ll take the sensual and the social over the virtual.

But let me be clear: it is possible to make an epic picture with a cell phone. Epic is not about scale or file size. I'm for any device that engenders contact with the external place. I'm more critical of our self-hypnosis with gadgets; our debilitated social behavior because of them. My principle camera these days is my Samsung Galaxy Note. It's the biggest cell phone they make, but still discreet. It makes the initial mark, like location scouting."

Love Streams - an Italian play > Sequence one: The Sea

OPP: Are your characters archetypes or individuals?

JC: The key word is character. Even when I perform in front of the camera, I play someone named Xavier. That simple letter change—from Xavier to Javier—allows me a conceptual distance. I can embrace an affectation other than my own.

So many of the recent projects, like In the Arena, have started with scripts in which the actors play characters. I’ve noticed my impulse to give them X names: Xoraida, Xenobia, Ximena, Xan, Xochitl. The X finds variable pronunciation; perhaps an extension of a mutable identity. It’s the mathematical unknown. It serves to exoticize these characters for an audience. Perhaps the characters approach the archetypes of audience expectation—an ethnically ambiguous visage we could call Latin.

Love Streams-an Italian Play > Sequence three: Inland
2013

OPP: As the viewer, I feel a sense of longing that I also read in the characters. I'm longing for the rest of the story—all the parts between the captured moments. . . the moments I don't get to see—and they seem to be longing for connection or belonging. I am drawn in by the intimacy and vulnerability in the images themselves. What roles do intimacy and vulnerability play in the process of making the images?

JC: I tell myself to make straight forward pictures about what I don’t understand. That requires risk and yes, I hope, emotional vulnerability. I want the characters to examine what they don’t know about each other and the circumstances of their surroundings. The scenarios are largely written that way. It’s important the characters suddenly realize they are not where they once were, that they’re on an indifferent street in Mexico City or an arresting intersection in Rome.

I had a long habit of going to Mexico to photograph, but a handful of years ago, I began renting furnished apartments to extend my stay there as long as it was sustainable. I wanted to have a resident’s intimate knowledge of the place I had been born, but only knew in brief, albeit regular intervals throughout my life. Even before I knew to articulate it, I longed to create a cinematic illusion of what that other reality might be. So the Xavier character emerged as one negotiating a romantic relationship. The series, Mexican Cinema evolved into something I called The Enamorates / Los Enamorados. I thought of Xavier’s female foils as extensions of this intimate knowledge. To know Ximena, was to broach the immediate circumstance. Do the female characters become embodiments of ideals? Maybe initially, but only as a starting point.

Love Streams-an Italian Play, my ongoing work in Italy, initially came from an opportunity to teach in Florence during the summer. There emerged a parallel search for this intimacy you’re perceiving. In this case, it was a culture that resembled my own, but different enough to pose the obstacle of language toward understanding. I liked the prospect of being a chameleon there, of being mistaken for an Italian. On the streets, I would be asked for directions as if I were a resident; inevitably this informed the Xavier character. In Italian there is no letter J. So it was easier to be Xavier.

In Italy, I really began to think mostly in gestures and physical actions. I am still hoping to get that idea right: how two people might learn to negotiate emotion, despite communication.

The in-between moments you describe are the ones in which I think photography works best—when it resists explanation and revels in ambiguity. There’s more to be learned by ambiguity than a straightforward recitation. While I have been shooting these scripted scenarios to eventually also be a proper short film, I fear the ambiguity of the still may be lost once the image begins to move and explain itself.

Bucareli Trailer, Pt. IV from Mexican Cinema
2013
OPP: I'd like to see the film because I’m ultimately curious about these characters for whom I've created my own stories. I’ve filled in the blanks, and a part of me wants to know if I’m right. On the other hand, my own longing to know and the way your still photographs resist my REALLY knowing seems to be the point. Is this related to what you meant by the “resistant world?”

JC: I'm often told, "These photographs should be films," implying this narrative speculation is not the purview of the still. I disagree. That longing you're describing, is much more indelible in a still that isn't replaced by the next moving frame. Photographs resist explanation as much as the external world resists providing the answers.

But ultimately the "resistant world" deposits the rehearsed gesture "on location," inviting an interaction with elements out of one's control, making credible what is enacted in the process. It's what I see in Cassavetes or French New Wave films made on streets, without permission and probably why they were my central influences.

Sub from In the Arena
2015

OPP:  You occasionally use subtitles, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish. Where does the text come from? Do you think about audience when deciding which language to use?

JC: The text is pulled directly from the scripted scenes. The sequence of stills which make up In the Arena, highlights the physical gestures being performed. In the film version I’m editing, I’ll likely have the entire narrative subtitled regardless. Very likely the text will fluctuate in language and waiver in the accuracy of its translation. It would become a second dialogue over the spoken one.

I don’t mind that the subtitles or even the titles for the images go untranslated for what is initially an English-speaking audience. If they’re interested, they’ll use the universal translator on their phones. Otherwise, it’s another layer of ambiguity. Is it mischievous to give untranslated Spanish or Italian titles to works seen mostly by an American audience? Hopefully it makes them self-conscious of their role as an audience. To me it broadens the definition of what should be a mainstream experience of art viewing. It’s asking the audience to consider more information as part of who they are.

Still from Los Enamorados
2013

OPP: Language and translation is just one part of comprehending work that bridges multiple cultures. You've exhibited throughout the United States and extensively in Mexico City. Is your work understood differently in Mexico versus the U.S.?

JC: Is the work understood differently in Mexico? Oh gods, yes! And that’s so refreshing. Having those actual conversations with different audiences is the heart of the dialogue the work is looking to engage. As if the work itself provides the pretext to interact socially with people I’d like to know further. Despite my Mexican birth or fluency in Spanish, Mexicans regard me as an American artist, with the accompanying exoticism. I’m intrigued by how I’m perceived in these different places. It feeds the character. When I started going there as a young artist, gaining social acceptance in my country of origin was an unspoken motivation; exhibiting work was a way to do that. Now I go find a community I miss enormously.

In the States, many art people go straight to gender in this work and are often unwilling to allow me the conceit of playing a fictional character. I showed Mexican Cinema to a book publisher, who felt the work was mostly about surrounding myself with beautiful women and dismissed it outright. I’m still baffled by that. I couldn’t get her to engage with the importance of location in the evolving narrative. Was she culturally intolerant or offended by a perceived sexism?

I tend to not have the work explain all these references, for fear of becoming didactic. Ambiguity is king. But it comes at a cost when the audience isn’t aware of the cultural baggage you’ve arrived with.

I exhibited a few stills from In the Arena in Mexico City recently. They got it. They were eager to have a conversation about the telenovela and how it affects the Mexican expression of emotion. There’s an acting school in Mexico City that teaches a melodrama class called Bofetada y Lagrima, which focuses on the slap and crying for the camera. I think a discussion of that in an American context would be extraordinary. 

The Reforma Rehearsals, Part I
2013
Video
13:08 minutes

OPP: What about specific geographical references that American audiences might not get, such as the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City? How does this location add another layer of meaning in The Reforma Rehearsals, Part I and II (2013)?

JC: The Paseo de la Reforma is Mexico City’s principle artery. It’s one of the busiest—maybe ten lanes in some stretches—stitching together the many monuments of the city’s identity. To have a film, where an actor, walks as slowly as possible in real time against the current of the fastest traffic, is akin to reclaiming an individual presence in this vast city. It takes her nearly 15 minutes to cross 50 feet in the volatile context of chance occurrence. That’s epic, as I’d like to think of it; the gesture is not bound by time.

Declination Movement, 09 from Casuals of the Sea
2015

OPP: I initially read your work more literally as about intimacy and vulnerability, gender roles and possibly archetypes from the telenovela, which I had an inkling about, but didn’t feel well-versed enough to comment on. I was particularly curious about the vulnerability of the Masculine. But now, I see the romance as an allegory for cultural and geographic belonging. What I initially thought of as a longing for human connection, I now see as a more general longing for belonging. Thoughts?

JC: Belonging? That works. . . You know, you're reminding me that I've rarely felt comfortable in a room full of people where everybody looks and sounds the same. I've always felt more at ease in heterogeneous surroundings. And that alien feeling happens in Mexico, too.

At the same time, I've had an instinct to understand by infiltration. My interest in language and gesture allows me to be a chameleon. Making pictures and now studying acting exists in this context. I loved that I've been confused for an Italian or someone of Middle Eastern descent. It sets up the challenge to find a way to belong. To learn how they greet or love.

To see more of Javier's work, please visit javiercarmona.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, runs through December 19, 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Natalie Loveless

22-minute video loop (documentation of seven-year performance)
Soundtrack by Derek Champion
2012

NATALIE LOVELESS is an artist, academic, writer and curator with a specialization in feminist and performance art history. For this interview, we’ll be focusing on her curatorial project New Maternalisms (2012), as her website for the exhibition first brought her to OPP’s attention. In 2004, she simultaneously earned an MA from Tufts University and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She went on to earn her PhD at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2010. Natalie has a chapter in the forthcoming Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Feminist Art Practice and Theory, co-edited by Hilary Robinson and Maria Elena Buszek. She will be a participating artist at the upcoming SLSA in Houston, Texas in November 2015 and will be presenting research at the Sea Change Colloquium in October 2015. Natalie is an Assistant Professor in History of Art, Design & Visual Culture at the University of Alberta in Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your history as a curator, an academic and an artist.

Natalie Loveless: I wrote an autoethnographic essay about this once!  The short version is: I came up in art school at a time when crit sessions were still dominated by the language of post-structuralism popularized by Art Forum and October in the 80s/90s. It was all "performativity" this and "deconstruction" that. I found myself curious about what Austin and Derrida were trying to build with these concepts. I wanted less to use these ideas in my artist statements than to figure out, social-sculpture-style, what these thinkers were doing with these ideas—the politics and passions behind them. So I talked to folks at the School of the Museum School of Fine Arts and our sister school, Tufts, and convinced all involved to let me do an MA in Contemporary Art History at the same time as my MFA. No one had done that there yet; they didn’t have a structure for supporting work that crossed practice-theory lines. But they supported it anyway. My experience of SMFA was that it was a very visionary place when it came to interdisciplinarity. Their approval was the gateway drug I needed to say to myself, as I was researching and developing my MFA show: “Uh, maybe I should stay in school and do a PhD next. . .”

At the time, in North America, the world of “practice-led” and “fine-arts” PhDs was really, really nascent. No one had ever mentioned it to me as a possibility. I was completely in the dark about the few programs that did exist in the U.S. and even about what had already been happening for quite a while in Europe. No one was talking about art practice at the doctoral level at the Museum School, or in Art Forum, or October, or at CAA. Times certainly have changed! Instead, I ended up attending a really visionary PhD program—colloquially referred to as “HistCon”—at UC Santa Cruz that let me pursue my work as an artist and curator alongside my academic work, in ways that ended up tangling the three together.

I want to give a really big shout out to the two people who were my primary supervisors at each institution. Their vision, passion, politics and pedagogy provided a model and road-map for me. Was it Korzybski who said “the map is not the territory?" They made the territory the map for me. They walked the walk. They not only taught me the stuff they knew in the areas that they were interested in, they modeled an affirmative, incisive, generous, unflinching approach to creating artistic-intellectual-political spaces without which I don’t even want to think about what my life would look like today! So here is the shout out:

Marilyn, Donna, I am forever, and gratefully, in your debt. I literally could not have done it without you. Thank you for everything.

Ok. Almost everything. There is someone else whose affirmative, incisive, generous, unflinching approach to life made it possible for me to gravitate towards the mentors that I did, because she modeled it for me from the get-go: my momma, Evelyne Lord. Thank you, mom. Your generosity and vision and bravery will never cease to inspire me and (my sister) Stephie.

Skype-based Durational Performance
2012

OPP: How was New Maternalisms (2012) first conceived?

NL: In 2010, I gave birth to a little human who was born eight weeks prematurely and totally topsy-turvied my life. I had been planning on giving birth in my mother’s house in Canada and submitting my PhD before D-day. So there I was working on the PhD, in the last two months of revisions, and suddenly found myself in the hospital with a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Over the next few months, I just kinda held on, taking it one day (hour, minute, second) at a time, trying to survive and build a livable system to support this new, intensive, immersive, daily practice/labour. I began working on what became a three-year, daily-practice art piece called Maternal Ecologies. In effect, I took all the artistic and intellectual literacies that I had at hand and applied them to my lived situation out of desperation.

In art school, Mary Kelly was a huge (HUGE) influence on me, specifically in the way that she brought daily practice, feminist politics and psychoanalytic theory together. So, inspired by my memories of her work, I started looking around for models and support structures. I came across Andrea Liss’ 2008 book Feminist Art and the Maternal. I came across the UK-based research network MaMSIE and their journal Studies in the Maternal. Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein’s edited volume The M Word came out in 2011, and I was introduced to both of the incredible exhibitions they had curated. Then Shannon Cochrane (Artistic & Administrative Director of FADO Performance Art) asked if I would be interested in curating something for their upcoming season. The rest, as they say, is herstory.

3 hour durational performance
2012

OPP: What was the curatorial premise of the show?

NL: I started by asking myself what was most interesting in the field of contemporary art and the maternal, and I decided to build an exhibition that focused on performance-based practices. Performance-based work (of all stripes) makes a lot of sense to me when looking critically at the early years of maternal labour. The ideological politics of visibility that inform and surround the maternal body are important, as is the historical censuring of the professional female body on the basis of its maternal status. Performance-based practices interest me for the many ways that they can comment on and intervene into these politics and histories to foreground the temporality and complex materiality of labouring bodies, making the texture of that labour central to the work itself.

OPP: New Maternalisms was first mounted in 2012. In 2014, you co-curated New Maternalisms-Chile with Soledad Novoa Donoso for the National Museum in Santiago, Chile. What was different in this second exhibition?

NL: Alejandra Herrera, one of the artists in the original show, suggested developing an iteration of the exhibition in Chile. She knew Soledad, a curator who has been committed to the discourse of feminist art in Chile for decades. I curated the non-Chilean (largely North American) artists, and Soledad curated the Chilean artists. The exhibition was an experiment in bringing two different national perspectives together for conversation and reflection.

What neither of us expected when we began organizing the exhibition, held concurrently at the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art, was that the president of Chile would, in the months leading up to our opening, announce that they would be re-evaluating Chile’s strict national laws forbidding abortion. We were interviewed non-stop by radio, television and newspapers and were sometimes quoted inaccurately in ways that tried to polarize the exhibition as “pro-natalist” in the context of these abortion debates. The positive side is that we had over 600 people at the opening.  

Jill Miller: The Milk Truck
Ongoing Social Practice Performance
2012

OPP: What changed in your understanding of the discourse of motherhood between the two exhibits?

NL: For one thing, I had two more years of research and thinking under my belt. Over the last five years, there has been a notable surge of exhibitions, books, journals, networks and conferences at the intersection of feminist art and the maternal. (Of course, the moment you start looking for something you tend to see it everywhere.) I just returned from two conferences on the topic, one in London and one in Rotterdam, and an edited volume is about to be published taking my first exhibition as the inspiration for its title! I have two hypotheses as to why this is happening right now.

Firstly, I see the maternal as a really interesting test case for feminists of my generation who were born in the seventies. At that time, Mary Kelly made Post-Partum Document, Miriam Shapiro and Judy Chicago founded on Womanhouse and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Manifesto for Maintenance Art was circulating. I, for one, was raised with the idea that my status as a middle-class, cis-gendered woman in North America translated into a future in which a choice between maternal and professional status did not have to be made. I could be a mother and an artist and an academic; this was the territory my mother’s generation fought for. The maternal didn’t occur to me as a political problem until it hit me in the face (uterus?). In gathering artist-mothers of my generation together around me, I discovered that this “rude awakening” was not unique to my experience. I consider the maternal to be a potent location from which feminists of my generation can ask questions about the status of feminist art and political practice today.

Performance action
30 minutes
2012

OPP: And the second hypothesis?

NL: There is another pressing social and political issue that I see as linked to the maternal: the current ecological crisis. To ask questions of the maternal as a structure of care, labour, pedagogy and sustainability—that is, to examine the maternal as an ecological matrix—is to ask questions relevant to global climate change. As dominant norms, the individualistic, nuclear-familial ideologies that structure much of contemporary North American family life are part of what is killing the planet. Phallogocentric, global capitalist social ideologies and kinship structures have given us anthropogenic climate change. To address the maternal in this day and age is to address the structures that have led to and support global ecological collapse. I have found myself in conversations over the past few years with colleagues who work politically in the university and who parent small children. We have to ask ourselves what our duties are in training our students and our children. It is they who will have to face the worst of it. What approaches to learning, living and critically creating in the world are relevant? How do these affect the art I make, the syllabi I construct, the articles I write and the conversations I have with my five-year-old son? This line of thinking has expanded my thinking on the maternal, and it structures the exhibition I am currently working on, New Maternalisms Redux (May 2016).

Performance action, 45 minutes
2012

OPP: What about fathers? Do you have any interest in male artists making work about fatherhood? Have you encountered any?

NL: In short: Great question. Yes. Few.

One of the glaring things I’ve had to contend with in this work is the overwhelming gender, sexuality, race and class biases that seep into it. When my child was born, I was a finishing PhD student, without a job or guarantee of one and in crazy debt (which I will likely carry for the rest of my life). But I was also incredibly privileged. I went to art school, earned a PhD and passed as white, hetero-normative, middle-class and cis-gendered (though I don’t identify with all of these). I have a biological and daily partner in parenthood (Sha LaBare) who is willing to parent with me. I have a mother whose house I stayed in while I recovered from my son’s premature birth and finished my PhD. I had folks that I could draw on as allies for emotional and intellectual support… all of these constitute incredible privilege. No matter how tough things have been at times, they have not been so tough that I couldn’t turn to art and theory and political action as part of my arsenal of survival techniques.

Mother and father are identities and roles that, like male and female, have difficult, enduring histories that have been used in service of a sexist worlding practice. These histories are thick and sticky, and there is a real need for more critical art practices dealing with fathering—fathering done by men, women or other-identified folk. I know few cis-men or trans-men (or trans-women for that matter) making performance-based art work from their experiences of early maternal labour, or folks of any identification dealing with early paternal labour through performance-based practices. I am currently writing on work that queers the maternal. For example, Sadie Lune's performance-based work not only deals with queer insemination but also queers insemination, and Lissette Olivares' work explores trans-species mothering or what she calls the post-humanist maternal. I know folks attempting to sidestep the gendered frameworks of mother and father entirely by working on the discourse of parentingEnemies of Good Art in the UK and Cultural ReProducers in the U.S. I ally myself strongly with these projects, but still find myself interested in the metaphorics of gendered performance and its genres. When it comes to the debates raised by this work I say: the more the merrier. It takes a village. To raise a child. To have a debate. To change the world. 

In the shout out above I named three "mommas"—one domestic, one artistic, one academic. But there have also been lots of sisters and aunties, brothers and uncles, critters and widgets, lovers and partners of all persuasions, and, of course, fathers. I love creative kinship maps. And I love the idea of aligning these functional roles, these kinship identities, with the language of “persuasion.” My parenting and life partner, Sha, performs both "mother" and “father” with care, compassion and attention that inspires me daily. He and I are co-writing a piece that takes a critique of hetero-and-mononormative, capitalist patriarchy as a basis for thinking about ecological and maternal ethics together. If he hadn’t chosen to stay home and mother our son while I started my tenure-track job at the University of Alberta, I never could have accepted the position and wouldn’t have the support to be doing what I am doing.

Video projection
60 minute loop
2012

OPP: Tell us about The VACCINES Project.

NL: While my academic and artistic work on the maternal is topically grounded, my methodology is indebted to what we call Research-Creation here in Canada. (I recently published something on this.)  The VACCINES Project (our working title) is a collaborative research-creation project initially proposed by Dr. Steven Hoffman, the director of Global Strategy Lab at University of Ottawa as part of a larger initiative funded by the Research Council of Norway. Steven asked my colleague Sean Caulfield and myself to join him in developing an international collaborative project bringing research-based artists together with health-policy academics and activists around the issue of vaccines and the public. We are starting off with a workshop in Ottawa this summer to begin work towards a research-based exhibition on vaccination in Geneva in 2017.

Some of our objectives for the first workshop are to (a) identify and examine challenging issues surrounding global vaccination from scientific, artistic and social perspectives; (b) foster mutual understanding and interdisciplinary dialogue from across the arts, academia and activism; and (c) problematize and deconstruct existing perceptions of the role that art, research and advocacy can and should play in informing and challenging global governance related to vaccines. These objectives will be guided by a set of questions such as: (a) what key issues around vaccination might benefit by being interrogated by artistic practice?; (b) how important is formative and impact evaluation in assessing the importance of research-based artistic and creative practice?; and (c) how important are different understandings of the “public” in public policy and the “public” in the context of socially engaged/research-based contemporary forms such as “art as social practice” and “new genre public art”?

One link between this and my maternal work, other than methodology, is that Jill Miller has joined the team and will be doing work on maternal anti-vaxers. The vaccination and autism scandal is a perfect example of a sophisticated misinformation campaign orchestrated to breed maternal and ecological anxiety. . . but that is a conversation for another day!

To learn more about New Maternalisms, please visit newmaternalisms.ca.
To learn more about Natalie's other projects and research, please visit loveless.ca.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.