OK Xander, so since graduating from Brown in 1998 you have settled in Providence and have been working in sculpture, prints, quilts, zines, puppets, performance, installation, and film. That’s quite a vast array! What are you working on now?
Yeah, it’s true I’m a little bit ADD when it comes to media…but the thing is, that working in 2 or 3 or 8 different kinds of media isn’t actually weird in Providence. It’s one of the things that I really love about the culture of my chosen hometown, many artists do lots of different things in a very serious way, no one is say, just a painter; almost everyone experiments with some kind of performance practice and owns a delay pedal or a sewing machine.
As for right now: I’ve been traveling and doing a bunch of writing that (fingers crossed) will be a new zine sometime in 2016. I also do a small press project: dmnspress.com. Each book is an anthology of regional authors with a visual, music or performance practice. So this new book will be a collection of pictures/writing by about 18 people vaguely organized around the theme of “leaving.”
At Cinders, where you were artist of the month for July and where your print above is available for sale, your bio states that your work “is often about spiritual relationships to the material stuff of this world.” Please elaborate.
We’re all here living in the material world and have a variety of emotional relationships to what can loosely be canopied under the term “stuff.” I think that we, as a culture, are very attuned to specific types of psychological relationships to “things,” for example materialism, hoarding, or wastefulness, but there are other kinds of relationships where matter and ideas, tangible objects and spiritual notions, mingle with lots of nuance and complexity. Animation and puppetry are two art forms that very literally inject “life” into static objects. I’m concerned with what happens in that transference; I don’t think that it’s just about artifice or deception. I guess I have a particular interest in things generally referred to as Performance Objects or Ritual Objects, but I have a pretty wide definition of what these things are (both notions of performance/ritual and the material things are used to support these more “spiritual” pursuits). For example, clothing can be a powerful tool in creating and imagining identity, and that process of becoming or expressing who a person is through clothing, is a collaboration with the materials used in this process of expression.
What are you working on with your writing?
In terms of my own writing, well, writing has always been more of an important part of process rather than something where I push towards product. Writing and to a certain extent drawing are spaces where I get into the details around bigger ideas that I’m exploring and then am able to back up from there and form those things in sculpture, or film or what ever media I’m currently tripping out on and present ideas more intuitively and confidently.
So my writing is often private (top secret!) but there’s always been writing in my zines: scripts from puppet shows etc, but my zines also contain lots of drawings and pictures and so the writing sort of becomes secondary. But there are two longer pieces that I’ve been working on that I hope to “finish” and put out in a zine with a bunch of drawings that have been accumulating. One is a kind of fantasy fiction narrative, and the other one is memoir about the time that I spent in Senegal. This is vaguely what I’m planning on working on this winter, but in late August I have a really hard time thinking about winter, or the future at all. I just find myself putting everything aside and trying to stretch out the days like a big wad of silly putty while I squint into the long rays of the sun.
“Born to Never Throw Anything Away,” 2011
As co-founder of Dirt Palace you created a “feminist cupcake netherworld located on the dioxin-filled banks of the Woonasquatucket river.” The space, which was founded in 2000, is a self-organized collective that supports women artists by providing affordable studio space, facilities, shared resources, opportunities, a culture of cooperation, and maintains visibility in the community through a committed public arts presence and long-term relationships.” This sounds incredible. What’s currently going on with Dirt Palace and what your goals are for it?
We recently got our C of O, redesigned the website, and incorporated a side entity as a 501(c)3, so the focus for the rest of the year is to get Pippi Zornoza’s facade project installed (slated for October) and work on a mid-range strategic plan.
Will you tell us more about your low-tech approach to art making? It sounds like you are taking a handcrafting approach to filmmaking. Does this practice dovetail with the “spiritual-relationships-to-material-stuff-of-this- world” bend of your bio?
I know that in a few different blurbs about my practice the phrase “lo-tech” comes up, but I don’t actually consider what I do low-tech, I work with a lot of old techniques, but I also work with new ones. I animate by hand using a 16mm camera and pieces of paper, but I also use After Effects. When I screen print I sometimes do parts of color separation on the computer and then cut ruby-lith for other layers. I just think that there are starting to be so few people who understand “the old ways” that anyone who does anything by hand gets sort of lumped into the category of “luddite” or “low-tech”. But actually, I’m just a New Englander with a stupidly intense work-ethic, and deep appreciation for efficiency. I work in the ways that I think will be the most efficient for the task/project at hand given my resources etc. Part of what I love about art making is the problem solving and to me the wider the range of skills and tools available to you the more creatively you can solve problems, so I love learning new techniques and approaches, but I also love old ones.
I didn’t actually have a computer until about 2006, so for a long time I did do things “the old fashioned way”, and I really feel lucky for how this affected my practice, I think that time is an important ingredient to making things and working by hand often can often force things to unfold over time in a way that gives ideas more time to gestate and breathe.
Can you speak a bit about the female artists you admire and why?
It’s kind of interesting, I think that the majority of the women artists of previous generations who have really impacted me the most have been writers. Djuna Barnes, Kathy Acker, Ursula Leguin, and more recently Lisa Carver have really special places in my cosmology. Leslie Thornton is a filmmaker who I also studied with who was hugely important to me. In terms of contemporaries, well, I’ve really made a life project out of befriending and collaborating with women artist who inspire me. I’ve kind of grown up with Becky Stark, Lisa Oppenheim, Pippi Zornoza and Jo Dery. In some ways all of these artists might seem fairly different but in certain ways there is definitely a connective thread. I think that it probably has something to do with taking some kind of pleasure in femme identity, but being serious and intense in thinking through power, with both an intuitive rawness and a rigorous, well-crafted aesthetic.
What is inspiring you most now in your work?
I just spent some time in Montreal and came across this place called La Central Gallerie de Powerhouse. It’s a feminist, artist-run space that’s been around for over 40 years. Spending time with some of their publications has been awesome. Canada also is just generally is inspiring. Travel and getting out of the US is inspiring. I spent some time in Senegal last year and I’ve been working my way through the cannon of Senegalese film and literature. Ousmane Sembene was sort of my original window into Senegalese culture, and he continues to be inspiring. I think God’s Bits of Wood is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read and think it should be included in every reading list on a) labor history/strikes b) colonialism c) feminism. Also my time in Senegal dragged me headfirst into the world of wax-fabric which is like a black hole for me. I’m kind of a fabric/pattern addict. I get really insane rushes when I go to fabric stores or look through old books on patterns. It’s a very visceral feeling. A big part of what made me fall in love with (and make my home in) Rhode Island is that it has this textile history and there are still insanely awesome independently owned fabric stores, as well as lots of people who have stockpiles of old textiles who sell them at the flea-markets. But the fabric markets in Senegal were like nothing that I have ever experienced before in my life.
–Interview by Amy Fusselman