I met A.K. in New York in 2012 because she was a guest artist in a work I was touring with, Turbulence: a dance about the economy. A.K. was warm, wicked smart, and thrilling for us to have in the shows, as she came from a more visual art and social practice-y vein than many of the performance-based folks who were in the show. Also, I was already a big fangirl of a project that she had made with A.L. Steiner (Community Action Center) so…it was all kinds of a pleasure. Equally great news was her inclusion in this year’s TBA Festival Visual Art program, with A Smeary Spot. I caught up with A.K. on the internets and we talked a bit of shop about the new work, about what the hell ‘queer’ means anymore, and about beef liver pate, of course.
JH: In A Smeary Spot, you seem to be making a protagonist out of place and space, which I find to be a striking strategy for somewhat de-centering humanness. There is, as you know, some great materiality/new materialism theory and thinking out there (much of it contextualized as feminist) that pushes the political necessity of getting to a post-humanist state in our thinking and acting on the world, the land, and each other. Do you consider A Smeary Spot to be a political work?
AB: All my work is constructed from and through my own political sensibilities, but I wouldn’t inherently categorize it as political art. I mean, the work does have a political agenda (although it’s abstract in its approach). And you are correct that new materialist politics are central to the making of this work.
JH: I appreciate that a lot. After all, politics are kind of maybe just the things that happen in the spaces between intention and outcome. That said, are there any potential effects of the work that you imagine?
AB: Honestly I don’t know… I can’t predict, nor do I wish to dictate the outcome or reception of my work…and I think this work is very dense, so it could take awhile for anyone to unpack it (if they so desired). I think it’s a highly entertaining ‘slow burn’ if you will, i.e: I’m ok if someone just walks away and enjoys it on a very surface level…and for others it may resonate more deeply around various issues, like resource allocation (waste vs. use value), violence or mechanisms of power and the political potential of unfixed and transitional spaces & bodies.
JH: I’m excited for the slowness of that burn. :)
Something else in your description that hits me in a strong place: You write that this work “reorients the audience within a speculative present.” When I see “speculative present,” I think of the implicit and persistent liminality of so many kinds of queerness. Do you imagine this work as inviting or necessitating a queer or queered lens for being seen and experienced? Do you feel like maybe the work itself queers the act of looking?
AB: Somewhat. Maybe I don’t know, or should I say, I don’t trust this term “queers the act of looking.” I’m skeptical of its over-use, and I wonder: what do we really mean when we ’queer’ something? Since it seems to get attached to anything that we want to mark outside the ‘norm’. In the age of Caitlyn Jenner and many aspects of cultural homo-normativity, queer and LGBT are no longer synonymous. And then I think: who is this guy ‘norm’? How do we define him? And I just don’t know if I know what norm is any more than I know what queer is. Because to me, a conservative Christian perspective is queer — as in strange, incomprehensible or not normal. It’s really only normal for a certain population. Homosexuals, feminists and liberal thinking is ‘normal’ to me. So then I wonder if ‘queer’ is a completely subjective term and all it acknowledges is a perceived difference in perspective. But I also acknowledge that patriarchy is very real, and very persistent, and that I prefer the term ‘queer’ when it is used and aligned with a particular kind of libidinal, resistant and celebratory ontology.
I digress.. Mostly to say.. I don’t know if this work ‘queers the act of looking’. Do you feel it does and why/how?
JH: I mean…I have my own ideas about the importance of changing the consumptive nature of looking at things and people, but…I guess we’ll just see how I feel after I look at the work next month. Also, I love the interrogation of the overuse of ‘queer.’ YES.
AB: What I can say is that I was interested in the idea of a ‘speculative present’ because I see the present as the most active space. The present is always becoming past and future simultaneously. At every moment it is rarely its-self— or it is always all three— past, present, future. And I believe if you want to use science fiction or surrealism to look at political potential then it should be situated in the present not the future (as it often is) because the only way to make an alternate future is to work on an alternate present. Possibly this is a very queer idea!?
JH: Frankly, I do very much think so. Re-centering the present over the future (or the past) almost implies – to me – a kind of collectivist responsibility for what is happening now, instead of an individuated concern for one’s own trajectory. In the face of current trends, I’d say that’s hella queer.
And speaking of current conditions, let’s talk about surrealism! You describe the presence of a “surreal narrative of bodies” within the work. Why do you choose to compose with surreality? What does it offer the transmission of the work, and/or what is important to you about invoking surreality?
AB: Because it’s more fun! I chose to work around the genre of science fiction because I wanted an excuse to think through the political body— which can be awfully dry at times— through an eccentric, elaborate, impossible and fantastical lens.
JH: Oooooh I so HEAR THAT. yes.
Okay, so moving away from this particular work, how does your practice feel these days? What’s hard and what is sustaining you?
AB: This project, A Smeary Spot, which is ongoing, is the first of five chapters/episodes that include drawings, sculptures, a series of publications, and a record LP I’m working on. It goes on and on, so it is both the hardest thing I’ve done because it’s so epic in scale and will likely consume me for the next decade, but also more sustaining than anything I’ve done because it continues to unfold, and I discover new things about the project as I produce it.
Because it’s so sprawling and large scale and therefore expensive (even with how DIY I work), I can only create this work as I get the resources to make it, so things are taking shape based on my resources. Like with the next episode, the Body chapter, I’m working with the New Museum, and they offered me the residency space next door. This old dilapidated Bowery building next door to the museum that they own. And so I got really fascinated by this quickly evaporating, very old-school New York kind of space, and decided that the whole chapter has to exist within that building. Hermetically sealed. And this interior/building is one of the Bodies represented in the work. The whole building, basement, stairs, bathroom, closets all parts of this Body. And before I was offered that space, I had no idea that chapter would end up taking shape around a building in NYC, especially since the whole project started in the deserts of Utah. Anyway, it continues to surprise me, and that keeps me engaged.
JH: Yeah, working within – and responding to – the conditions you’re in is super resonant for me, and I’m sure a lot of others. I hope the site specificity stays weird and generative, and it sounds like it will. Sounds like your excellent curiosity will keep it lively.
…Hey, What are you reading?
AB: The news. I’m a New York Times junkie. We are spiraling as a nation – and world-wide – in so many ways, and it’s both the best pulp (non)fiction soap opera you’ve ever read and a quagmire of a horror film, full of political intrigue. But A Smeary Spot was inspired by Karen Barad, and I’m still hacking away at her monolith of a book, Meeting the Universe Halfway.
JH: Oh, the news. Yeah. That’s a whole other bag of chips. Whoa. Chips. I want a snack. So lastly: what are your three favorite things to eat right now? (I’m a cook…this is a massive part of how I understand people and how/what they are doing.)
AB: I love food, too! Cooking and food are also so important to me. I’ve been binging on beef liver paté and pickles made by an old friend of mine, Eden Batki, who recently cooked the food for my wedding (aka the ‘yoni union’). The paté was left over, and although I generally hate paté (I consider myself a bold food person, I’ll try anything, but I’m a total wuss about paté), I’ve completely turned a corner with this homemade pleasure—-it is sweeter, thicker, and less gamey than most chicken paté I’ve tried. Also it’s summer time, so lots of sweet corn on the cob..and my morning routine, chevre and Nutella on toast.
JH: That is a really extraordinary morning routine, A.K.