Dawn Mellor’s ‘Sirens’ will be on view at TEAM Gallery until December 23rd.
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Dawn Mellor’s ‘Sirens’ will be on view at TEAM Gallery until December 23rd.
In the world of Jonathan Meese, art can be almost anything: a love letter, an antidote for apathy, a survival guide, or a big “fuck you” to reality....
Perhaps best known for her book of poetry How To Cure A Ghost, Róisín is currently preparing to publish her novel titled Like A Bird. Making the clear transition from writer to multidisciplinary artist, she intends to release a variety of medium-defying work in the near future. office sat down to talk with the artist on everything from writing and healing to Kendall Jenner.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I think for a very long time, I would have described myself as a writer. But recently, I started describing myself as a multidisciplinary artist. This year I’m merging and making more visual art, and I decided to make performance art. I’m working on two shows that I just have this vision for, and I’m doing it. I’d also call myself someone who is really invested in healing.
What is the transition from written work to physical?
Writing is a very interesting tool, I’m sure you know. There are many dimensions to writing, and I feel like I was exploring all of them. I’m screenwriting right now, and I’m releasing a novel this year. I just wrote a book of poetry, and I work as a journalist. So clearly, I’m navigating all of these facets, but it didn't feel as if it was the totality of my experiences as a person and artist—and maybe I kind of resent wanting to be distilled down to one thing.
Frankly, I’m so out of the microcosm of the writing world, although I exist in it. I don’t feel community there, and so I think the lack of community has really made me question where I do want to find community. All of the artists that I look up to are multidisciplinary to some degree, and that’s something that really excites me. So the transition has been cool, because I feel like I get to have this visual and more abstract component to this body of work that I’m writing. It’s really fun to be like, “Oh, this is the other facet to my being!” I’m not one thing, I’m many.
Left - Dress by NANUSHKA, jacket by NOMIA NYC, necklaces by PAMELA LOVE + LADY GREY, all other jewelry by LADY GREY
Right - Dress by GANNI, hat by CLYDE, jewelry by LADY GREY, belt stylist's own
You touch on lack of community, and in my opinion, you are a community leader in the writing world. Do you recognize yourself as one of the leaders of a community that might just be growing, because you are speaking out?
I see that question in two parts. I absolutely feel and think it’s necessary to be apart of the community in a way where there is no division, because we are all in this together. I’m genuinely such a corny person. Yesterday I was talking to my landlord, and I was like, “We’re in the midst of a revolution.” We are evolving as a species, and the world is falling apart. It’s burning, and everything is happening, but I am so invested in our future.
We need to start shifting, and we need to keep changing. That means that ego needs to be worked on, and we need to start creating spaces where we are invested in care. There’s not a lot of care in general, so I think I see myself as a beacon for that. I don’t want to just talk my politics on Instagram—I’m actually going to become what I’m saying. I want people to look at me and be like, “Oh shit, that’s what it looks like to have integrity.” I’m opposed to the idea of leadership, but at the same time I know I’m a leader. I really do. Every tarrot reading, every workshop, I fucking get, “You are a leader; you are a healer.” It’s a push and pull.
For anyone in that position I imagine it comes with a lot of rewards, but also frustration. What do you think the connection is between intention and reception?
I think it’s tiresome to see so much dishonesty, and frankly there’s not a lot of dedication beyond an aesthetic or beyond being like, “I’m going to say this on Instagram and be a healer. Love and crystals.” I know I say that in a mocking tone, and I do believe that. But we can’t be doing that anymore. We are really facing an apocalypse. We need to ask how we can shift. There’s a difference between what people think and what they’re willing to do.
The best way that I’ve seen people act is through conflict. How to build a community is through conflict. That’s when you really see if they will stand up for you and say what they think. As a queer brown person, are they going to protect my body? That’s a really moving and interesting way to see how artists in particular really stand by their art. I think that art is a tool to create revolution. So for the people who aren’t doing the work... we can’t be doing that anymore. That’s where the tension lies for me. Why are we all fronting so much? We have to evolve. I think this will be the thing I keep beating over people’s heads.
Dress by NANUSHKA, jacket by NOMIA NYC, necklaces by PAMELA LOVE + LADY GREY, all other jewelry by LADY GREY
I completely understand where you’re coming from, and I feel like a lot of people can’t get to this point of themselves, because they don’t actively heal. You’ve been very open about confronting your past and healing. What’s one childhood memory that has always stood out to you as a defining moment of this awareness?
A lot of my childhood was like that. I have a very domineering mother. She’s extremely abusive. From a very young age, I realized that no one was looking out for me. And it’s not like I didn’t yearn for that—I really wanted that, and I’m still really emotional. But there’s also the Capricorn side that’s very focused and committed, and that was my whole life, I was really committed to survival.
Last year, I remembered my mother molesting me. So that was a huge shift in my life—beginning to work through that trauma. I started seeing a trauma therapist last summer, and I’m a deep practitioner now of Ayahuasca, and doing the work of "facing yourself" in that sense is so difficult. Both these practices prompt to you go to your inner child and go to this place—kind of what you’re saying—this memory and giving that memory love. That is a great way to begin healing and self-parenting. For me, I have this distinct memory of playing blocks, and I'm maybe about three. I’ve got my back to the adult me, and I’ve just been going up to her and saying, “I love you, and it’s going to be okay.” That, to me, is time travel. What is time travel? Maybe it’s this ability to know you're going to be okay, and that’s amazing. Time travelling is really interesting particularly in the spectrum of trauma, because I think surviving is believing in your future.
If you can go back, can you also go forward and manifest?
Left - Dress by NOMIA NYC, shirt by NANUSHKA, jewelry by LADY GREY, hat by CLYDE
Right - Dress by GANNI, jewelry by LADY GREY, hat by CLYDE, belt stylist's own
What have you manifested for yourself in 2020?
I mean [Laughs], oh my god, this year? Well, my book that comes out September 18, 2020 is called Like A Bird. It’s a novel that I started writing when I was 12 years old; I’ve been writing it for 18 years. I am really really hyper honest, because it’s a way of showing people that you can do that, and you can be yourself. There’s no distinction between who I am online and who I am in real life. It’s something that I’ve been very particular about, because I think that there’s a lot of dishonesty. But at the same time, all of us are just seeking truth. With my novel, I always had dreams of it being a bestseller and all of that corny shit. When I sold it, it was such a sad day. My agent was like, “It’s not a lot of money, but it’s such a good offer.” I was just like, “Okay, sure.” And it was, like, no money. I had dinner with my friend Kimberly Drew that night, and I was just crying to her. I felt like such a disappointment, and I was so embarrassed at the fact that I had made no money. And she was just like, “But you wrote a book, and you know it’s going to be good.” I looked at it again and was like, “Holy shit.” I wrote it for 18 years, but also I am really proud of it beyond the years. It’s about a girl who gets gang raped and survives. I have a lot of admiration for myself. Besides all of the things I’ve been through in my life and all of the intense barriers to my own survival, I just knew it would eventually pay off. The manifestation that I have is that it resonates beyond what I thought was possible. I really want my book to move people, and I think it has the potential to do that.
Also, just to make the art I want to make without the fear of money. I grew up poor, you know, and now I have a great apartment, but there’s always a fear of it all being taken away from me. So I’m doing my spiritual work to ensure and accept that I’m good, but then also to work and make foundations of where I am and building something greater and beyond me. So I’m thinking, what does a cultural institute look like? How can healing and educational tools come together for those who are inspired by the work that I do? Because this is not about me—this is about the work.
It’s amazing to have that vision, not only for yourself, but for others as well and knowing that the message only works if it has a ripple effect. I want to go back to you saying that you’re just as real online as you are in person, because I had a feeling. So I went through your Twitter, and I want to go through a topic you brought up, because it’s too fucking real. Kendall Jenner Instagrammed your book, and you retweeted it saying, “If the means of production is clout, working artists and writers do not own it, and they can rarely obtain it without help from the powerful. The myth that clout is available to anyone is the new American dream.” Can you explain?
That’s such a tricky bind. Do I care that Kendall Jenner is reading my book? No. Do I benefit off if it? Yes. And do I like that I benefit off of it? Yes. I’m not going to sit here and be like, “Fuck capitalism!” and pretend like I don’t benefit off of capitalism. I don’t have a safety net, so I need benefactors like Kendall Jenner to make Instagram stories.
The other difficult side of it is if she’s reading it and not understanding it. I remember when I first read Barth’s Death of the Author. I was like, “If I put my stuff out there, I can’t control how it’s taken?” I’ve seen that time and time again, because people read something and are like, “Fuck you.” It’s unnecessary, some of the hate that people have thrown, but at the same time, it’s their prerogative. I don’t know how to handle it.
I can’t pretend that I don’t want money, and I definitely struggled with that as a kid of a Marxist who was really insane about his beliefs, my father. I’ve seesawed between having a good life and what that looks like. I think that when you are an artist and making work during the time of capitalism, you need to ask yourself: How much money is too much money? At what point do you start giving the money back? A lot of really rich artists may justify their money, but I hope that’s where I can start paying it forward. I’m super invested in other artists. I buy their stuff all the time and make sure I support them. Those things are important to make sure that you’re creating this community. Knowing that the bigger you get, the more you give back is vital. I haven’t yet been able to give back immensely, but I look forward to the time when I can.
Left - Dress by GANNI, jewelry by LADY GREY, hat by CLYDE, belt stylist's own
Right - Dress by NANUSHKA, jacket by NOMIA NYC, necklaces by PAMELA LOVE + LADY GREY, all other jewelry by LADY GREY
How does it feel to have people who have lived vastly different lives than you connect with your work? Is it strange or upsetting?
No, I think it’s beautiful. When you bring it back to human connection, you can remove all of the ego. All of us have hurt. I just came out of a seven-day trauma retreat in the jungles of Mexico using Aya, and it was fucking insane. Maybe Kendall Jenner does fucking understand, I don’t know her life like that. I don’t think I have the right to say I’m better than anyone else. We’re all figuring it out. We don’t need hierarchy. I don’t need to feel better than anyone else. That’s not my jam.
You lead in a way that gives life advice, whether you’re aware of it or not. What’s one piece of advice that you’ve chosen to actively take?
I used to work at a magazine many years ago, and I wasn’t getting paid. Keep in mind, I’m really sensitive, and I’m genuinely shocked when someone hurts me. And my really good friend told me, “You have to remember that they don’t care about you.” I didn’t understand that people were like that. And still when people are bad and mean, I don’t get it. I really used to resent my innocence and naivety surrounding other people. I’ve gotten confirmation from my ex who's still a really good friend, and he told me, “I never really believed you were this innocent.” I think people are shocked when someone has truth, and that’s another thing I want to show.
I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t care about anybody. I want to be the person who cares about everybody. For so long, we’ve prioritized being mean, especially in the writing world. People would be mean to me, and then I would get insecure and be mean to them. It’s this cycle of people’s insecurities. My friend’s advice was helpful, because it made me see what other people were working with, but it also made me see that I never want to be this femme who is mean and industrious. That’s not impressive to me. I want to be kind and caring and full of life. That can be annoying and corny to people, and I know it’s triggering. People will try to belittle you and make fun of you. I just work on my ego and try not to take it personally, because not everyone can meet you there.
After deciding that school wasn’t for her, Sina Lesnik started her photography journey shooting events at a small club in Berlin. When the club owner approached her, he had a pretty good pitch. “You come here anyway,” he said, “might as well get paid for it.” What she soon realized was that she wasn’t taking event photographs, but editorial photos which later propelled her to get published in selects magazines like i-D Germany and Indie Mag. Despite her rising popularity, Lesnik was still not fulfilled. Stepping back from the wheel, she gained a refreshingly uninterested attitude about the whole popularity-publishing culture that most photographers associate with their work’s success. “At that time, I just needed to be by myself to reflect on where I wanted to go. I haven’t published anything, or done any shows because I just wanted to do something for myself. I didn’t want to give my work to anyone else, because when it’s published somewhere, they don’t properly pay you, and then what? I was wasting my work.”
Now finding her stride in her very first solo show, Lesnik focuses on movement and the body as a shape, creating ethereal creatives from her subjects. In addition to the photography work, the show also premieres Lesnik’s first short film of the same name. Scored by YAffra, the film investigates the “in-between” small moments that one might miss taking still images. Overall, Let’s Stop Running is the culmination of Lesnik’s journey to this work and a testament to what happens when we stop doubting our artistic process and let it unfold naturally. In Lesnik’s words, “We all have something that holds us back, that small doubt about you or your work. It’s about facing my fears, looking at what I want from life, and then putting that into my work.” While it might not have been easy to get here, we're glad that she did, and that she has this to “show” for it. Pun intended!
Let’s Stop Running: A Visual Tale of Self Exploration is open until January 24th at Pair O'Dice Los Angeles.
The answer to your first question is this: you’re at the Perrotin Gallery in New York. But the better query here: what the hell is happening? It’s hard to say. Between the exhibition title and the intentions behind Danish artist Jesper Just’s “Corporealités,” there are so many intriguing complexities that office decided to let the renowned artist speak for himself regarding his latest installation at 130 Orchard Street.
If you’re looking for an art exhibition more immersive and literally stimulating than, say, ZeroSpace, check out the exhibition on display until February 15, 2020. But before you go, dive into the artist’s own words below.
Interpassivity is defined online as “a state of passivity, particularly cognitive or emotional passivity, enabled or facilitated by the appearance or potential of interactivity.” What does interpassivity mean to you?
Interpassivity is a term initially coined by Robert Pfaller and Zizek. It refers to human action and is based on outsourcing emotions and feelings—you could almost say it’s like having someone or something external experiencing specific feelings on your behalf, a type of delegation. It’s a state of passivity, especially emotional or cognitive, when there is the presence of and potential for interactivity. For me, interpassivity is a key concept in our day and age. I think less about what it means in a dictionary sense and more of what its implications are: why do we choose to delegate rather than participate? Why outsource experience or enjoyment? And beyond our own motivations to do so, what is the cultural or societal impetus at play? It especially comes into play with our current technology: as we use more elaborate, streamlined and efficient devices to multitask, it becomes increasingly ambiguous whether the technology is enhancing or supporting. At times, it seems as though it disconnects and disables us as often as it enables us through its intended means, and this produces an interesting effect on how we use and experience our bodies.
Before we start talking about all the different parts of this project—there are so many—how long did it take you to create the whole thing from start to finish?
While every work I create is autonomous, you could also view it as a continuum. Some parts are clearly transitions or departures in my practice; however, I started conceiving the specifics of this project about six months ago.
You deconstruct and fracture various things in the making of the project. By doing so, you’re able to highlight various elements of your art. Can you speak to that a bit?
As a point of departure, I knew I wanted to work with video in a spatial manner, using LED screens and fracturing them. This allows for the film to not only be presented in the space, but to undergo a fracturing that is simultaneous to the dismantling of the bodies on the screens. This dismantling is, in essence, a blurring, an attempt to expand the different kinds of categories of the body. Dancers’ bodies are hyper-able bodies, but here they are passive, yet micro-managed by a MIDI program. In that sense, the work also speaks to an erasure of borders between the able and the disabled body, which enters into conversation around cyborgs, disability studies, and queer theory.
There are wires attached to the muscles of the bodies that appear on the screens. The wires are then fed the music, which causes contractions when a node is played. At the same time, there are electrical wires on the exhibition floor in the space creating another circuit in space that supplies the LED panels with the images of dancers’ bodies, filtered as detached parts.
I’ve also been thinking of Bruno Latour a bit and when he said, “The distinction between objects and subjects is not primordial. It does not designate different domains in the world: it is rooted in the fracture of action.”
What was it like to disassemble the LED panels?
With the LED panels and tiles, it was necessary to hack the circuits and the system, because it is not designed for this type of fracturing. We essentially had to manufacture and create custom-made cables in order to get the desired effect and make the material more workable.
What about Fauré’s Op.50 led to your decision to use it? Can you tell us about the very moment that you knew that you wanted to use it?
Fauré’s Op. 50 is a sweeping Romantic composition that is both delicate and robust, highly emotional and very recognizable. It’s a style somewhat associated with ballet and could be used in daily classes during barre exercises. The initial composition included a choral portion whose lyrics were a poem on the helplessness of man. I was interested in pairing this layered music with very technical and pared-down visual elements, while still preserving a sense of lushness that is then deconstructed. The music is so emotional, but this affect then is transferred not into an emotional performance by the dancers, but instead manifests as controlled muscle contractions. In a way, it is similar to how a choreographer designates how they want a role or piece interpreted and performed, but here it is deconstructed.
Fauré was persuasive to me, because his music is often described as a bridge between Romanticism and Modernism. In some ways, my project links forces of the present day, while recalling this sense of helplessness. Technology and the artificial co-exist with the organic. The human body, whether real in the flesh or embodied and fetishized through the screen, is something both natural and manipulated in our times; it is idealized and erased while still possessing agency and acceptance. The human body is also subject to impossible standards and bias.
How was it working with August Rosenbaum to engineer Op. 50 and, again, take it apart it so that it had the effect you wanted it to possess?
Working with August is always a pleasure, because he understands so much of what I want without a need for explicit communication for every detail. I find most of my successful collaborations are like that: there is an unspoken understanding and shared conceptualization of the project. That being said, it required a great deal of experimentation down to the finish line as we also had to program it with the electronic stimulation devices. It’s a bit like doing a synth patch, but obviously it’s not using typical channels, and it was a lot of trial and error.
What was really interesting about working with August to deconstruct the music was that it was midi-programming. And when listening while testing and shooting, we only heard a fragment of the piece, certain notes, which were linked to the e-stim devices. It was not until day of install that we finally heard the piece coming back together, as a whole. Once you take one LED sculpture out of the circuit or system, certain notes will then be missing. So the fragmentation is not only visual, but also musical. It works together but also independently.
How did you get involved with the American Ballet Theater for this project?
I first collaborated with American Ballet Theatre for Interpassivities during its restaging at BAM. Initially, I had staged and premiered it in Copenhagen with dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet. The process to restage was very intimate and intensive, because even though we referenced the pre-existing choreography, it had to be adapted for a new space and new bodies. It was very collaborative and that forged strong bonds. When I conceived of this new project, I knew that there were some dancers with whom I wanted to work again, and I was eager to also find new dancers from the company to bring in. ABT is one the world’s foremost ballet companies—they’re utmost professionals at the top of the top.
What was it like working with the dancers and directing them for an experience they might not have necessarily expected? Were they surprised?
Again, I had previously collaborated with a few of the featured dancers during Interpassivities. I would imagine this process was familiar and perhaps even somewhat simpler for them, as we were not intensively searching for solutions with difficult partnering and a shifting set like we were with Interpassivities. For this piece, I wasn’t really directing or controlling—it was actually an erasure of that control and the role of the choreographer. I micromanaged their muscles through these devices, but had no control over how they would contract, or what it ultimately might look like. I could only arrange their body positions and camera angles, but the rest was somewhat up to chance. In this sense, the direction was entirely done by software.
That being said, dancers are used to performing. With this project, they had to be filmed, which was a new experience for some of them. Shooting, especially with this level of detail, can be tedious and taxing in a different way. Also, each dancer needed the e-stim tested on them individually, as each individual requires a slightly different positioning and strength of electric output to produce the desired muscle contraction. Ballet dancers are some of the most highly trained and disciplined people on the planet, which made this process of experimentation and requirement for meticulous focus during shooting much easier than it would have with actors. Their bodies are their instruments and for most of them, a new challenge is readily accepted.
The visuals for this piece rely on electric stimulation therapy, which is a therapeutic treatment that applies electrical stimulation in treating muscle spasms and pain. How did you decide to incorporate this into this project?
I discovered e-stim therapy around the time that I began researching this idea of interpassivity, although I may have encountered it even earlier when researching for Servitudes as one of the films featured a type passive motion therapeutic device. I was not only curious regarding how it related to injury and the body, but how it created a very distinct rhythm or choreography. In this instance, who was the choreographer, and who was the performer? I realized it could create a scenario in which bodies functioned as a type of circuit, as though they were a machine, but a machine that only functions through a collaborative, yet passive, presence. Its power would not be felt by the participants, but only through the viewers who can realize it as a whole. I was instantly intrigued how this might implicate or possibly rearrange power structures and the potential of performance.
The installation sounds like a maze of sorts. You have previously mentioned before that you decided to arrange the gallery space to force your viewers to think about ableism. Is there a particular reason that you decided to focus on that issue?
Architecture and infrastructure are mainly constructed for the able-bodied. It’s one of the most invisible forms of discrimination. As I often first consider place and space, and I use architecture as a mediator, this silent but omnipresent condition is something that I feel is natural to draw attention to, but in a way that is discretely challenging rather than explanatory or pedantic.
What do you want your viewers to take away after they visit?
I would hope that this immersive experience somehow points back to their individual bodies and that the experience will sit with them physically after, not just cerebrally.