Currently on view at the Paragraph Gallery as a part of Charlotte Street and Urban Culture Project’s programming is Perma-F(r)ail: Personae Documents an exhibition featuring the work of Alien Moon Partnership, Robert Chamberlin, Jesse Darling, Bug Davidson, Dell Hamilton, Sarah Hill, Hisaya Ishill, Leonor Jurado Laspina, Haley Kattner Allen, Judith Levy, Nabeela Vega, Maggie Cavallo/ YUNG ZILLA, David Wayne Reed, Eduardo Restrepo, David Richmond, Leah Silvieus, Joanna Tam, Bradley Tsalyuk, and (Wo)manorial. This exhibition was curated by Charlotte Street Studio Resident, Jessica Borusky.
Alongside the long roster of artists, the show is presented to generate conversation about the way one presents a persona. Interactive works and the collection of writings by the artists in the show give the exhibition a perfect entry point to relate to the show’s larger concepts. Borusky’s involvement within the arts community prompted me to conduct this interview to gain better insight about this very layered exhibition.
Melaney Mitchell: First tell me a bit about the show and your curatorial mission with it?
Jessica Borusky: My aim with Perma-F(r)ail: Personae Documents is to create an atmosphere of artwork that potentially reflects some of the issues surrounding ideas of persona, performativity, and identification politics. This atmosphere connects language, shifting presentations, struggles with visibility/invisibility, ephemeral matter, and mediated experience. This is all to produce an environment with which the audience can interact with through listening, reading, watching, and conversing. Beyond that, I also wish to use this showcase as a platform for uniting live, spatial/temporal artworks nationally alongside Kansas City artists in order to produce a diverse and exciting critical dialogue.
MM: Something that I think is really exciting about the exhibition is the projects around it. Can you tell me more about the collection of writings, and the other programming surrounding the exhibition?
JB:Perma-F(r)ail: Personae Documents will be up at Charlotte St.’s Paragraph Gallery until May 17th
there are two planned evenings of live work: the first will be April 22nd at 7pm: Sarah Hill of Boston and local artist Judith G. Levy will be performing and May 6th at 7pm: Alien Moon Partnership of New Orleans and Leah Silvieus of New York will perform work from the show. I will be giving a gallery talk for the Charlotte St. Residency Open Studios Event on Saturday April 26th at 12pm.
The show will also be traveling to Boston and show at\Howard Art Projects from July 25- August 15th.
When in Boston,
there will also be a gallery talk and live artwork at that iteration of the show. We also have plans to show work/lecture in New York and Washington DC this summer. Afterwards, a catalog will be put together based on images from the artwork, gallery installations, live performance, writing done by the artists, and a critical essay I am writing for the show.
I asked each artist to write something for the show, but for this to not be an artist statement or explanation of the materials. Instead, I wanted the artists to consider the writing portion to be an extension of their visual work, of their practice, and to think about writing as another form of persona-documentation. For, there is a way in which we can express ourselves via writing that denotes an entirely different object/audience relationship, and can lend way to intimacies not necessarily explored through visual/audio/live means. Furthermore, I am not above/outside/beyond this artwork and would never suggest I “interpret” the work in some translative way. I am simply applying a lens to work that implores an intertexual viewing. Moreover, I am of the opinion that artists are not incapable of communicating themselves via text. And, so, for this show, I encouraged textual exploration as supplementary to the artwork, and not as a definer or decoder of it.
MM: I’m interested in how the show’s theme relates to your practice, how do you relate to persona in your own work?
JB: I utilize persona as a way to discuss my relationship with larger oppressive, systematic structures that I both take critique of, and inarguably, am entwined within. Persona is not a character; it is a facet of myself. I also utilize persona as a way to create a humorous entry point for work that deals with historical and personal trauma dealing with stigma theory, queer theory, and sexual abuse. To be frank, persona is a big deal in my artistic practice; it allows much to surface through linguistic and physically activated means.
In creating work that uses persona as artistic material, I often don’t feel at home among other cultural producers. Of course, I can look to Warhol, Beuys, and Sherman as examples of myth, characterization within work, but it is not quite the same. Persona is not so readily used as a way to describe the work, as it the term is tinged with some kind of mark of inauthenticity. Which is where, within certain kinds of queer art-making, notions of disidentifying, satire through physical and vocal gesture, and explicit social reflection I felt more at home. I felt as though I was treading both humorous and sincere waters. The artists in the show do the same; albeit sometimes reflecting and reenacting those oppressive structures they wish to make artwork outside of. Making my work requires an attempt to consider the full picture- problematic as well as progressive; and the show aims to do
that as well.
Moreover, though the very act of archiving the show- via the Paragraph Gallery at the Charlotte St. Residency, these interviews, people seeing and talking about it, producing a catalog- I am attempting to connect my work within, beside, and against, the atmosphere and world of the work within the show. And, in so doing, hoping to secure a kind of artwork that often gets relegated to other, already prescribed categories. The category of Persona-Based Artwork reflects many art historical cannons, yet produces a slightly different tone and shape; one that cannot be easily marked or produced, based on the fact that its central point is derived from ephemeral experience extrapolated into the temporary space of the art exhibition.
MM: What are your thoughts on contemporary identity construction, particularly within the queer community?
JB: I cannot and will not speak for the “queer community” as some kind of whole. To do so would belittle the notion that we all have distinctive drives, struggles, and survival strategies. To generate an answer to this would be to leave certain people and ideas out, in a way that would be unproductive to the conversation surrounding identification.
I suppose to this question I may ask, instead, how can we (as a culture) begin to consider the affects of the dominate, omnipresent, hetero-normative agenda, and how this agenda produces a shameful haze by which we are ALL working to move against/ and out of, through alternatives that provide a safe and constructive space? Maneuvering through ways in which we are seen/wish to be seen by way of persona is simply one tactical avenue of many that ALL of us face: queer identified, or not.
MM: What is the distinction you would make between persona and identity?
JB: Erving Goffman defines performativity in his seminal text The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life as “ all activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by their continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers” (p. 22).
Persona is the way in which we perform ourselves conforming (or not) toward a standard or expectation given to us by a set audience/context or greater social agenda. Persona is often seen as mask/s we may wear in order to present/isolate particular traits of ours in order to connect with a person/group/idea. I prefer the term identification to identity as it relates to larger cultural/historical contexts. Amelia Jones, in her book Seeing Differently, writes that “because it evokes process and durationality rather than fixed ‘positions’, identification is preferable to identity as a term for understanding how we negotiate who we think people are as well as who we imagine ourselves to be” (p. 236) I find this definition useful as it relates to the ways in which we are constantly shifting ourselves toward one another, as well as, how we mediate those experiences into cultural production.
MM: Almost all of the works in the show have some sort of digital aspect, do you think that has an effect on how persona is understood in contemporary life?
JB: I would not consider “digital” as a primary force within the show as much as I would the term “mediated”. In my opinion, artistic artifact is generated from a physical gesture, a mark of time/place/performance. How we may choose to connect within a history of artistic mark-making is always changing and growing. As the subtitle suggests, these are documents. Moreover, they are documents, which will change once shown in Boston, that will change if artists choose to write new material for the catalogue. These Documents come in many forms, however, if we look back at the ways in which Mid-20th Century performance artists were utilizing evidence or artifact from the initial site of performance, many times a single object, audio or video recording, or photograph functioned as the traveling object by which to represent that performative act.
If we can extrapolate this to the idea of persona- performativity of self/ves then that artifact becomes further complicated. How would you choose to represent the way you are to your boss/your lover/someone on the bus/your parents/someone who has wronged you? How can you possibly reframe that experience in a way that pays both homage to those moments and also reflects the failure to ever entirely encapsulate that experience? There are aesthetic choices to be made, surely, many of which are mediated, but- to go into the digital- which is completely relevant right now given the immediacy and magnitude of “online presence” within western social aptitude, would be a differently tinged showcase of work. Does this show conjure up the anxieties we may harbor around digital persona performances and a relationship to the “real”? Absolutely. But, I think the overall concern around identification is something that exists within the analog and digital experience.
MM: There’s an interesting binary happening within the exhibition, some works have subtle sense of humor and others with a completely different sentimentality and seriousness. How do you feel those two things are guiding the audience?
JB: With this show, I am trying to relay an atmospheric condition about the concepts of persona, performativity, and identification politics within the
mediated, aestheticized frame. There are myriad avenues by which to observe, connect, and contemplate this material. And, if we can consider this show to be a small dissection of the infinite possibilities regarding these concepts, then, there will be a tension between performative/identification strategies that employ humor, satire, and sincerity. However, this tension, I find, to be a useful and productive one. It is a tension we all experience when we are faced with the decision of which self to perform for a particular audience at a particular time. The idea is that our selves are contradictory, and it is through these contradictions that we begin to unfold complex and illuminating maps of ourselves, others, and inter-relational navigation techniques.
MM: How do you view your studio practice and curatorial practice? Are they working within similar questions you have in your studio or are they very separate for you?
JB: I do not see these projects- my studio practice and aesthetic organizational one- as separate. Instead, I would like to consider myself as someone who aims to generate safe, critical, and dynamic creative spaces. These spaces can present themselves in the form of my artwork, or through my organizational projects through Alt. Lecture KC and KCQF (Kansas City Queer Feminists). When I say I aim to generate these “spaces” I am implying particular physical/emotional/and intellectual occupancy. I hope that my life/creative practice endorses this kind of environment for others to engage with. And, in this way, whether I am making videos in my studio, writing critically, curating an art show, a lecture, or facilitating discussion(s), I am attempting to create a rigorous queer feminist experience- for myself, and for those who wish to collaborate with/engage in.
MM: Is this show overlapping with your other projects such as Alt Lecture or KCQF?
JB: Alt. Lecture KC and KCQF (Kansas City Queer Feminist) Collective are ongoing projects that deal with creatively driven programming ventures that weave between artist talks, discussion groups, and action projects. These two ventures have events every month. If you would like to know more about it- they each have a FaceBook page: Alt. Lecture KC: https://www.facebook.com/alternativelecturekc and KCQF:
Perma-F(r)ail: Personae Documents is open from April 3rdand runs through May 17th 2014. A performance event featuring Sarah Hill will occur tonight, April 21st at 9pm. Another performance event Featuring Alien Moon Partnership and Leah Silvieus will take place on May 6th from 6-9pm. Gallery hours are from 12-5pm Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays with additional hours from 11-6pm on Thursdays. Paragraph Gallery is located at 23 East 12th Street Kansas City, Missouri