projects and exhibition
Where are you from? New York, NY. I was born in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side, and grew up on the Upper West.
Where do you live now (street or neighborhood)? Why do you live there? I live in central Bed-Stuy. I moved here a year ago. Before that I was living in Bushwick for 4.5 years. I moved to Bed-Stuy because my partner lives here, in part because she loves the neighborhood, and in part because it’s a good place to find an affordable apartment. We have a nice one bedroom with relatively ample space and surprisingly large closets. We don’t live near to any subway transportation, or to any trendy bars. I think this works out well for me.
Can you speak to your relationship with your current neighborhood? I don’t feel particularly connected with my current neighborhood. I think that I should put this in context, however. I spent almost all of my time in Bushwick being an extremely active public figure. I was co-running a large arts organization that looked towards community engagement and civic vitality, as well as producing some pretty well attended festivals. My apartment had relatively regular open public hours, and I also sometimes used the space for small events. I produced my artwork in Bushwick, presenting pieces initially at the Bushwick Starr. I worked in the neighborhood: both the urban farming job that I have and the non-profit job that I had for a while were Bushwick based. I began working as a freelancer doing research on North Brooklyn (Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint). I was asked to write an article about my apartment. For better and/or worse, I was a particular kind of expert on my surroundings.
So that’s how I measure engagement: in extremes. Compared to that, I haven’t even taken a tiny bite out of Bed-Stuy. I moved here in part so that I could be a less public figure, focus more on my own artistic output, and stop distracting myself so much. I think I’ve been pretty successful at that. I also knew that my time here was short: I’m moving to Germany in October. I still frequent local businesses, know the walking layout of my neighborhood relatively well, and exercise at the local YMCA. But I’m not engaged with Bed-Stuy in the all encompassing, primary partnership way that I was with Bushwick. This doesn’t have to do so much with the differences between the two neighborhoods and the people within them as it does to my relationship with myself right now. It has its strange moments, but I’m into it. And my life is much quieter, which I desperately needed.
What is your role as an artist within your current geographic community? Are you satisfied with this role? When I applied to graduate school, I included the following line in my essay (is it gauche to quote myself? There’s a reason, I promise): “Simply to exist as an artist — or a group of artists — in a particular neighborhood is insufficient.” In context, I was discussing the importance of civic engagement with relation to my artistic work. Having not yet defined myself as a person embedded in public practice, I was attempting to make a case for why my artistic community organizing was relevant to my portfolio.
I still agree with that statement in principle. However, I am also beginning to understand that there’s more than one way to be an artist involved with a community. Some of the ways don’t involve 24/7 openness to that community, or an almost complete loss of the “I” in favor of the “we.” Yes, right now I am simply existing as an artist in my neighborhood. I am engaged with a strong public practice, but the outward facing aspects of my work have not been about my local surroundings. I feel a bit guilty when I write that, but I also know that it’s appropriate for the project I’m grappling with at the moment. In that sense, I am satisfied, although I do still feel a little wrongheaded about my satisfaction.
How do you understand your current cultural situation and/or what communities do you locate yourself within? I’m a New Yorker, and this has I think always been my most comfortable way of identifying myself. I think that if I started to make work that was identity based, I would have too many charged markers that would force me into niche markets and expected modes of production: I’m a woman. My partner is a woman. My mother is black. My father is Jewish. I am therefore mixed race. I’m under 30. My way of understanding my cultural situation is actually not to make work that could place me in the collections of the latest African-American Museum, GLBT Museum, Young Artist Survey Show, and so on. I just keep making things that help me to connect to other people, and to establish practices that enable me to understand myself.
Can you describe your “social background,” i.e. any biographical details that you feel identify you culturally, socially, economically? I am a quintessential New Yorker in some ways. I am a first generation American on my mother’s side. On my father’s side, I’m the fifth generation to be born within the five boroughs. I’m the product of an artist and a psychoanalyst, and this can be used to explain a fair amount of the work that I make. I went to a public school for the gifted and talented. Nearly 40% of my graduating class was East Asian. I’m not easily ethnically identified, and I don’t easily ethnically identify. My mother is Trinidadian and my father is Jewish. The first place I went as an infant was to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I grew up in an English speaking household. Everyone around me loved books. I went to an Ivy League undergraduate university and a public graduate school. I liked the public graduate school better.
How do you understand your current economic situation? While I am technically low income, I also appreciate the incredibly flexibility that I have with regards to what I do with my money, and what I do with my time (i.e. what I do — or don’t do — for money). I don’t make a lot on an annual basis, but I am free of student debt, most interpersonal debt (if I borrowed $20 from you or let you buy me a drink, I’ll get you back soon, I promise), and my only dependent is a cat, who is a shared financial burden between me and my partner. When I take all of these things into account, I still don’t feel rich, but I feel privileged. However, my life is also slightly precarious financially, both on a check to check basis, and when I consider the long term implications of living in New York, continuing to make artistic work, and also maintaining a relatively sane and stable life. I don’t think sanity requires riches, but it does involve letting go of the held breath of constant struggle.
How, if at all, do you monetize your art work? I don’t monetize my art work very successfully. I’ve received a couple of small commissions, most recently from the Culture Project’s Women Center Stage Festival, but in those cases all of the money I received went towards supplies for the project. I recently sold two performances, and I’m eager to do that again. I’m not really a practitioner of the so-called plastic arts, but I’ve become more interested in photography (on its own) and documentation (video, photo, and ephemera) recently. Next year I have my first solo exhibit in a gallery. I’ll be making some things to sell, including a postcard set and a kit for making your own postcard set. In fact, part of my exhibit is going to be a gift shop. You can buy individual gifts, but you can also buy the whole gift shop as an installation. I hope someone does, and not just because I’ll make money. I think it would be hilarious.
Can you say a bit about your opinions regarding if/how artists should be paid, your participation in art markets, art’s role within economic structures, your goals as an artist in terms of recognition, sale of work, etc? My first inclination is to answer “no.” Do I believe artists should be paid? Yes. But should all artists be automatically funded? Probably not. I am not a big buyer or seller of artistic work, but anyone who’s ever received any funding to do anything has participated in an art market of some kind. I was pretty excited when Kickstarter released their 2012 prediction that they would outfund the NEA with regards to artistic support. But I was also kind of horrified. It would be one thing if crowd funding really generated the widespread, vague networked support that it purports to, but it really doesn’t. At the end of the day, most of the money will be from your uncle, or your best friend’s mom. It makes giving easier, but not necessarily broader. (I’m under the impression that it’s a bit different for technology related projects, perhaps because of the history of crowd funding and social support that came out of Silicon Valley. Then again, Silicon Valley was also the beginning of the rise of the Angel Investor, so who knows. Maybe it’s because new technology is cool, and everyone wants one-of-whatever-it-is, to the extent that they’re willing to support its creation. Can’t we spin the arts like this? Or at least a few specific projects?)
Recognition is another interesting thing. I often find myself feeling really skeptical when people say that they’re artists. Part of this is likely my competitive impulse, but another part of it wonders how much art they make, how much time they dedicate to art, and what credentials they have. Schools? Shows? Representation? This is not a part of myself that I’m proud of. I do, however, feel that being an artist as a career is something that takes organization and dedication in addition to creative ability, technical skills and imagination. I am interested in the line between career and hobby.
Expanding outwards, I do think that the Art Market (writ large) and the larger global economy are inextricably linked, and that the health one can very much be an indicator of the health of the other. This may be a greater truth telling barometer than any news we get about the Euro, student debt, or the DOW Industrial average. Which is to say: this is an indicator of the high end. And whatever is happening at the high end changes how legislation gets made, even if it doesn’t always affect life on the ground in clear ways.
There’s also the way in which economy influences aesthetics. To be honest, I don’t know that many artists who are painters. But I’ve performed for the past few years at the art fairs in Miami and New York, and I’ve seen a lot of paintings. This is salable work, I suppose. This is an indication of what some kind of art market is predicted to want to buy. Is told that they want to buy. Work that is then bought. So again, life indicates one thing, and a market shows another. Where are all of these painters? Why don’t I know them? Should I know them? I Don’t want to know them. I don’t like their work. But it keeps getting made, and it keeps getting shown, because somehow, people are still convinced that what they want is paintings. Eventually that gets written into a book of art history as an indication of the trends at a particular time, but somehow the economics of it all gets left out. Once it’s historicized, that’s when things really become dangerously misleading.
What are you doing/what will you be doing as part of iCan? What aspect of the problematics/issues/conceptual rames for the exhibition and projects relates best to your practice and your primary concerns (i.e. environmental, cultural, economic, etc?) My work primarily concerns skews of very everyday situations. I also like to work a lot with intimacy. I think that intimacy and discomfort frame every work that I create, particularly works of performance. In fact, recently to say that I work in performance has seemed a little bit wrong. I think recently I’ve been working in situations or interactions. But these are not generally considered artistic media.
In any case. When the idea of iCan was first presented to me, I immediately became incredibly interested in personal sustainability (something I’ve been thinking about through another project, the Bank aspect of my Bureau of Self-Recognition): for each person, this balance is different, and as such it aggregates differently. So much work vs. so much play. So much money vs. so much leisure time. So much physical activity vs. so much rest. (Not all of these are necessarily versus, but you get the idea.) How many cans does one person need to make enough money to survive for a day? A week? A month? What does this look like? What can those cans be made into? How much do they weigh? If we convert that weight into another material, is it worth more or less? My interests are in part economic, but largely visual: what can we make out of something that we have determined is worth a particular amount in one context, and how much more or less will the created thing be worth? This is probably a common question for any artist, but it’s particularly interesting for artists who work in performance: how much more is a situation worth if I highlight it and present it as a live event, rather than just doing it in my everyday life? One interesting sphere where this comes up regularly is busking: I often feel that buskers are simply practicing their craft (music) in a public place. They get more technical skills and learn new pieces and enjoy all of the other benefits of regular practice, but also make money. It’s the same action, recontextualized as an economic benefit.
I’m not sure exactly how this will all turn out for me in the context of iCan. I am waiting to see what amasses in the space as a result of the works that have come before mine, in addition to the ongoing work of the can collection. I know that I will be working with construction and frames of value, and I know that I’ll only be using whatever is there. I think if I set enough guidelines for myself in advance, this will turn into a coherent but honest situation, worthy of watching in a guided way, but also not so closed off that the presence or thoughts of anyone in the space with me might not change what happens. And that’s an experience, right? Something that’s always open to change. Something that changes. Something that changes us.
Artist Website (Bureau of Self-Recognition)