Monument to the Risen, 2013
HD video, installation, work on paper
Power Plant Gallery at ATC
I have always been fascinated by the fluidity and flexibility of gender expression and presentation, along with how outsider communities are simultaneously celebrated and denigrated for moving outside of social norms. As an artist I have worked to find ways that I can weave elements of this dichotomy into my work.
After graduating with a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001, I worked as a designer and illustrator, publishing several comics and graphic novels with McSweeneys, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Image Comics, Last Gasp and Dark Horse. While I was successful as an illustrator, I realized that my need to express deeper themes was not possible through commercial media and in 2007 I decided to pursue an MFA.
At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas I developed a body of work that ranged from large scale painting and illustration to social practice and video art. “Speaking to Las Vegas in the Language of Las Vegas,” was my first work of “community intervention”, a relational art project comparing the interactions of the sex industry with other economic forces at play within the Las Vegas entertainment complex. My work grew out of interviews with sex workers, along with research conducted with sociologists and women’s studies professors at UNLV. This cross-disciplinary process is a key element of my work, helping it to reach a broader public in a more authentic way.
My next project, “Auto Erotic Ethnography,” explored the boundaries between myself as observer and as subject, questioning how I represent myself in the artistic process. Fashioning sculptural models of my body from silicone, I created a set of re-contextualized sex toys, which I then asked people to interact with via Craigslist. Documenting these interactions, and presenting this documentation alongside the original sculptural pieces, I captured a blurring of sex and sexual commerce along with an interrogation of the concept of “the artist as ethnographer.”
Continuing the pursuit of an academic framework for the kind of practice I wanted to develop, I enrolled in Duke’s MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program. This allowed me to move out of a traditional studio art context and into a more contemporary practice, combining relational, documentary-based art with experimental production methods that include digital and computational media. My goal is to create new methods of exploring cultures and communities that exist outside of mainstream society, alongside compelling examinations of the economies that support them.
My current project, “Monuments to the Risen”, consists of a large-scale installation based on a series of interviews with sex workers, exploring the idea of “performative emotionality” and the cultural production of sexuality. This project examines how sex workers construct their identities, their relationship to cultural expectations, and how their work effects their personal lives.
Having spent the last decade examining sexual culture and commodification, I am now looking to see how these very human patterns are playing out in other alternative communities. I am developing a new investigative project on Cosplay that looks at the lives of people who create and wear elaborate costuming for pop-culture conventions, and the relationships between their real lives and their fantasies. This project has started with a breakdown of how this unique liminal space is created, with play being the way humans learn social behavior, and costuming as a way to breakthrough both personal and societal taboos.
As an artist, I have an ability to reach outside of the gallery and studio, taking in multiple viewpoints and resources to create a coherent vision. In my practice I have embraced a documentary style that includes a personal viewpoint and allows for emotional resonance. I think that my willingness to experiment, along with my strong social awareness and desire to speak to outsider communities, make my practice one that will continue to thrive.