The Chimera In Me Greets The Gobot In You: An Interview with Tessa Siddle

January 4, 2012 · Print This Article


Tessa Siddle is a transgender video maker and performance artist based out of San Francisco. In her work she regularly embodies hybrid forms — bleeding her self between animal, human, singular and multiplicitous identities — in order to challenge a tidier, pervasive binary tradition. What I find particularly interesting about her work is the way in which it relies as much on the performative, physical body — make up and costume effects — as it does on technology advances, like the blue screen for instance. The effect is itself a hybrid of effects that coalesce to become an illusory, allegorical space. Tessa also organizes and curates an experimental film series, The MisAlt Screening Series, in the Bay Area.

"Flopsy Loves Mopsy Says Flopsy" (2010), Installation View

CP: You often deal with hybridity often in your work — in your performances you sometimes embody animals, in other instances you are at once one person and two people at the same time. Can you talk a little bit about how you think of hybridity? 

TS: I feel like a lot of people in the arts are talking about hybridity using very different (and I think more or less equally valid) definitions which occasionally leads to a little bit of confusion. I have often heard the term “hybrid forms” applied equally to visual depictions of chimeras and other hybridized figures and to the use of organic forms, mixed-media, and composite materials.

My personal interests in hybridity comes out of the convergence of my life-long fascination with combined human/animal/machine forms (most notably the chimeras of ancient myth, anthropomorphized animals in children’s literature, and human/machine/extraterrestrial hybrids of science fiction and UFO mythos) with my exposure to critics like Donna Haraway who use the figure of the cyborg and other hybrids to critique dualist social constructions and the idea of personhood and individual agency being bound within a unified and independent bodies. This exposure roughly coincided with the beginning of my desire to confront my long-time (and continuing) discomfort with binary gender and I was constantly on the look out for alternative theories of the body and I found the concept of cyborg bodies whose slippery existence is held together by constantly shifting relationships between humans, machines, animals, and institutions to be extremely exciting. It is largely in this spirit that I go about creating work in which I split
myself into various animal and plant versions of myself.

 
 

CP: It seems like there’s a way that hybridity can question assumptions latent in, say, gender binaries or species distinction. Even in terms of what you’re addressing with robotic/mechanical vs. organic/self-determined structures. It’s like you’re decentralizing ideas of self-hood and self-determination, while undermining traditional power structures. Having said that, I’m not really sure I know what I mean when I say “traditional power structures” except that I feel it manifests itself visually in my mind as a kind of monolith. A giant cultural pillar with neat and tidy assigned parts. Do you feel like your efforts are anarchistic? Or are you looking for a new kind of order? In other words, should the hybridity remain unfixed and unfixable? Or would do you aim to create a new kind of identity that is, say, part cheetah with human hindquarters and a robot arm?

TS: I feel that when talking about power structures it is important to distinguish between models of power (the ways of looking at power) and the organization of power into social institutions. I think that the traditional way of looking at power is the monolithic model of which you speak, in which power descends from a (often divine) pinnacle of authority on to the people beneath. There is also the bottom-up view of power, which is a democratic inversion of the monolithic model, in which the legitimacy of the authority on the top comes from the power of the people below. I subscribe to a model of power in which power is radiating from everyone, everywhere, in all directions — without a top, bottom, or center. I think that this is the structure of power regardless of the institutions and social constructions into which it is molded.

What the monolithic model and the bottom-up model share is that they are both preoccupied with the legitimacy of existing institutions and constructions. Things are the way they are, they say, because of divine (or scientific or natural) order or popular consensus. Under these models, binaries are presented as part of a natural or innate cultural order, part of the way things are.

I think that what hybrid figures do to binaries is to show that they are actually the way things are not (or that binaries, if they exist, are extremely rare). I think, for example, that the human/non-human binary falls apart as soon as we look really closely at the human body. A classical (humanist) reading of the body considers it to be a unified, holistic, 100% human form — the most human form — however if we take out our microscopes, look onto and beneath our skin, look deep into our guts (take a literally very close look) what we see is that the body is host to colony after colony of (mostly benign) bacteria, protozoa, viruses, very small animals, and fungi. From my limited understanding (I am not a biologist) the health of these colonies is essential for the health of the overall body to the point that we can look at the human body as already (and always) being inhuman.

I feel that in my own efforts, I am not trying to prescribe an anarchistic role to hybrids or to suggest a new world order, but rather I am attempting create semi-fictional realities in which the already slippery relationships between humans, animals, and plants are amplified in their slipperiness.

 

 
CP: Can you talk a little bit  about how that slipperiness plays out in some of your work?

TS:  I think in a lot of my work I’m attempting to create situations/environments/performances that play with the boundaries between things that are frequently placed in opposition with each other. When I perform as a community of fox/people, a family of rabbits, a bouquet of flowers, or a forest ecosystem I try to borrow equally from scientific, mythological, historical, pop cultural, autobiographical, and autofictional sources to create the text, structure, and logic of my characters and the worlds they interact with. My hope, is that by fusing these elements together I can create alternate realities that feel natural, magical, confessional, and opaque at more or less the same time. I also try my best to give these worlds a logic that seems coherent but also transparently artificial and frayed around the edges.

 


 

 




Episode 313: Elaine Buckholtz

August 29, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week, Brian, Patricia, and Art Practical contributor Mary Anne Kluth sit down with artist Elaine Buckholtz and gallery president Richard Lang at Electric Works in San Francisco where Buckholz’s solo show, Light Making Motion: Works on Paper and in Light, was recently on view. In her review, Kluth notes that Buckholtz, whose primary medium is light, “is a generous guide, making instructive objects that allow her audience to come to discoveries” about the “experience of vision as a phenomena unfolding in time… focus[ing] attention on shifting, fleeting, elusive sensations.” In this conversation they talk about that generosity, the installations on view, working with Meredith Monk, and the pleasures of going off the cliff, Wile. E. Coyote–style.

Buckholz received her MFA at Stanford University and has shown at the Swiss Technorama Museum, Winterthur, Switzerland; Pierogi Leipzig, Germany; the Wexner Center For The Arts, Columbus, OH; the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Idaho; the Claremont Museum, Claremont, CA; Stanford University, Palo Alto; California College of The Arts, Fusion Art Space, the Luggage Store, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

You can read Kluth’s full review on Art Practical here: http://www.artpractical.com/review/light_making_motion_works_on_paper_and_in_light/




Episode 304: The Kadist Art Foundation/ Lauren Levato

June 27, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week: Double header! First Brian and Patricia talk to the fine folks at the Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco. Next Christopher Hudgens and Richard talk to Artist Lauren Levato about her new show at Firecat Projects “Lantern Fly Sex Cure”.




Episode 296: Butler and Cain

May 2, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week: As part of the Art Los Angeles Contemporary art fair, which took place January 27-30 at the Barker Hanger of the Santa Monica Airport, the crew from Art Practical produced “In and Out of Context: Artists Define the Space between San Francisco and Los Angeles,” a series of conversation that imagined the two cities as “a continuously evolving constellation of dialogues, shared interests, and overlapping approaches.

In this episode Patricia Maloney and Art Practical editor Victoria Gannon chatwith San Francisco-based artist Luke Butler, again in the parking lot of the Santa Monica Airport, as part of their ongoing quest to find a quiet spot away from the bustle of the fair. Butler reflects on his longstanding admiration for Captain Kirk while Patricia and Victoria wonder if he’ll suddenly start speaking in Klingon. Later, Patricia and AP editor Tess Thackara speak with artist Sarah Cain about her years living and working in the Bay Area before relocating to Los Angeles, her working process, and the oases she finds in LA.

Luke Butler received his MFA from California College of the Arts in 2008. Heworks in paintings and collage; much of his imagery comes from pop culture, most often from television and movies of his childhood including Starsky and Hutch and Star Trek, along with other iconic images, such as that of former U.S. presidents. Butler’s work was included in the 2010 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum, Newport Beach, CA. He is represented by Silverman Gallery in San Francisco, CA.

Sarah Cain received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2001 and her MFA from the University of California Berkeley in 2006; she attended Skowhegan in 2006. Her work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum; the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; KN Gallery, Chicago; and the Seiler + Mosseri-Marlio Gallery, Zurich. Cain received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2007 and a SECA Art Award in 2006. She is represented by Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco and Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles.

Also check out last weeks show with Lisa Anne Auerbach and Michael Parker/a> if you didn’t catch it, they have a great conversation on torn porn and being one’s own bumper sticker to the Shakers and how artists can make change in the work. Airport parking lots, who ever thought so many interesting conversations were going on at them?




In The Midst of Life : A Requiem at The Lincoln Park Conservatory

December 22, 2010 · Print This Article

It snowed the night before. The morning was bright and sunny and I missed the idea of mountains.

We went to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, pausing just inside to take off coats. The green interior made me blink. Some plants looked familiar, others unusual, still others boughed under the weight of themselves, with signs reading, Please don’t touch the fruit.

This 20th Century building houses ancient plants; plants older than dinosaurs. One fern, I read recently, was planted in 1891. Imagine all those root systems, dug deep in the ground, older than any of us, housed in what they once called “Paradise under glass.” The steel/iron vestible, rife with foliage evokes  nostalgia.  I couldn’t help reconstructing some phantom of an American past. Add to this the Florasonic wall card, explaining the conservatory was named after the late president shortly after his assassination; or that once there was a cemetery on the park grounds–because of health concerns the city  tried to relocate it when the Chicago fire burned the city. Records of those unmoved corpses were lost.

http://hiddentruths.northwestern.edu/fire_accounts.html

http://hiddentruths.northwestern.edu/fire_accounts.html

Annie Feldmeier Adams uses this site to create “Requiem (for Lincoln Park Conservatory)” with Steven Hess–a four-channel installation that loops about every 20 minutes.

We sat on a bench to absorb the sound. My coat felt bulky in my lap. I drank tea, relieved to be warm and imagining old ghosts snoring beneath our feet.

A heart beat kept the pulse of the room, in addition to a regular, though light, mechanical clacking–it sounded like a whirring fan but could have been a clock. Underneath those time-keepers lay  ambient, changing waves of synthesized tones. Sometimes it sounded like there was a voice in the room, though I couldn’t place it. The bench was small, but we nevertheless fell into silence, trying to discern that voice, to parse its ethereal location. Visitors came and went, adding to our sonic landscape. While watching a large group of tourists gather and peer at some leaves, I felt very still by comparison. I smiled and my friend laughed. Sometimes we heard the crunch of gravel. We looked at each other. “Is that the recording?” she asked. “I can’t tell,” I answered. “I think so?” The more we concentrated the more difficult it became to distinguish the sound of the installation from the sounds of our environment. “Maybe this is what it’s like to be psychic,” I thought. There would be an inevitable flattening of experience, where the common reality was somehow crowded by a psychic one–difficult to discern ghost-sounds with living ones. The plants seemed complacent–happy even. Perhaps because they grow vertically, distinctions of past, present and future are irrelevant.  A passing helicopter broke the spell. “That’s a helicopter,” my friend said. “Yes,” I agreed. “I wasn’t sure at first, but now that you say so, I think it’s above us.”

We left soon after, walking back through the plants and out to the shock of a city in snow.

At home, I thought of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, San Francisco–a smaller replica of the Paris Legion of Honor, the San Francisco version houses a private art collection that opened in 1924. In 1867 the city purchased the property from what used to be a cemetary. The bodies were moved to another location–or at least, the markers were moved. They converted the property into a golf course, and then The Legion of Honor. It all seemed pretty straight forward. Nevertheless, “in the summer of 1993, during renovation and expansion of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, about 300 corpses from the Gold Rush era—two of them still clutching rosaries, others were wearing dentures and Levis—were unearthed from what appears to be an old pauper’s graveyard. Some experts say another 11,000 bodies might lie underneath the museum grounds’ according to a Los Angeles Times article (12 November 1993, A-23).” In both instances, at the Lincoln Park Conservatory and at the Legion of Honor, a direct alchemy seems to occur; the bodies of predessors remain below ground, while above public houses exhibit creative expression like tents against the uselessness of mortality. I’m not even sure what it means exactly; I’m not sure where to position myself in history’s continuum, or  how exactly it is continuous. But the effort of production, its fruit: I can comprehend that. I can comprehend my position between the ground and the sky. I know what it is to sit with a friend on a bench. And while listening to Requiem, I had an experience of history, one nevertheless difficult to put into words.

The Experimental Sound Studio has been working with the Chicago Park District since 2001, using the Fern Room as a site for exhibition. It’s an amazing curatorial project about partnership and symbiosis. The experience of Requiem uses that foundation, and particularly during these dark days of winter, getting a dose of greenery is good. If you’re in town for the holidays and need to escape or entertain get a hot drink and walk into the conservatory, take a bench in the Fern room and listen.