Jeanette Spicer: Everyone can hear me? Perfect. Thank you so much everyone for coming. Um, so for those that don’t know, which I think out of this group, everyone does know and we do have some people probably filing in, and we’re just, we’re just gonna get started because it’s almost 6:10. So, I’m Jeanette, and I’m one of the co-editors, co-founders of WMN, which is a lesbian publication, we make zines, about marginalized communities of lesbians who are making visual art and poetry. So I think everyone here probably has both copies, I don’t think I need to go into too much detail about that. We have two issues, out so far, the second one is just now going to print. So for those that have been waiting super patiently, months and months, we really appreciate it, it’s going to be shipped out the last week of August. And we just got the proof, it looks beautiful. So thank you so much for those that have been super patient with that. So we, in lieu of not really being able to meet in person and host things due to the pandemic, we’ve been thinking about ways that we can sort of utilize Zoom, if you will, and kind of our website as well. So for those that haven’t had a chance to check out our website, Sara built a beautiful website; we have a lot more content there. So we’ve been creating content and doing interviews, whether it’s over zoom, or written interviews with folks that identify as lesbian and are artists, art historians, make music any, anyone in anything is welcome. If you know of anyone who might be interested, they can always email us, and it’s all listed there on our website, we’re always interested in having more folks contribute. And this is actually going to be recorded as well. And we will be putting that onto the website. So we hope that that sort of acts as an archive and a place of resource and resistance for people. We already have some really interesting content up so far. And we really wanted to do an artist talk, so our first artists talk is today, and for some people today, some people this evening, depending on where you’re coming from. We have Phoenix Lindsey-Hall, who for me is up in the top left corner, who’s waving with the guitar.
And I know Phoenix from Parsons, Phoenix was a year or two ahead of me, but we had some overlap, and in thinking about who I who we all would be interested in hearing talk, I immediately thought of Phoenix I recently went to a show of hers, I think we were just saying it was a year ago in Chelsea, and I was really blown away by seeing the installation and the way just the vastness of the research that she did, and that show that series is called remind me Phoenix. Shame is the first betrayer.
Phoenix Lindsey-Hall: Sorry, I was muted. yes, Shame is the first betrayer.
Jeanette: The visiting artists was muted. Awesome.
Phoenix: Well, my cat is vocal so I muted myself.
Jeanette: I saw that and we’ll talk much more about that. And we’ll probably see some imagery from those, from that series. We’re really excited to have Phoenix discuss her work for the next probably 20 to 30 minutes. And then I’m sure Sara, and Florencia, maybe just want to introduce themselves for folks that don’t know who they are. Sara and Florencia and I will all ask one brief question and sort of just keeping it very conversational, and then we’ll have a brief q&a for Phoenix and just keep it pretty organic. If anyone has questions throughout, please feel free to I see some people already utilizing the chat, please feel free to just type anything into the chat. And in the meantime, so yeah, if Sara, Florencia either of you guys want to do a brief? You’re muted.
Florencia Alvarado: Hi how are you? My name is Florencia and I live in New York right now. And that’s how I met Jeanette and Sara and I’m also the co-editor of WMN zine, I’m an artist, photographer, graphic designer. I am from Venezuela and been living here in the US for three years in a half. We’re happy to have you here. Thank you for your time. Welcome.
Sara Duell: Yes, thank you so much, Phoenix and everyone else who’s joined. My name is Sara, also one of the co-editors. And I’m Swedish and I’ve been here for eight years. Yeah.
Jeanette: Awesome. So Phoenix if you want to take it away and just tell us however you want to kind of run it. If there’s anything of course you want to add or?
Phoenix: Yeah, totally. Yeah, this is such a great group and we can be kind of conversational. So, you know, I’ll kind of be scanning the chat while, if questions stuff pop up. I’m super excited to be here. Thank you all for having me. I did just get a puppy, and I do have a cat, so there could be some sounds. So we’ll just roll with it if that happens, I also just realized that I think zoom maybe adds an inch to my hair. So that’s also prominently featured, for me, as an artist, Sara, you might have that same issue, I’m not sure. So, um, as Jeanette said, I went to, I got my graduate degree at Parsons. Before that, I went to Savannah College of Art and Design, but I actually weighed, my degrees in photography, though, you’ll see I don’t have much photography in my finished work. It’s more from a research visual research base. But I waited seven years between undergrad and grad, because I was living in Louisville, Kentucky, actually, and doing a lot of activist work. It was the year that there were so many anti-marriage amendments that were up there were like 13, up in that year, and so that’s when I kind of fell into doing a lot of activist work. That led me to being on the board of directors for the Kentucky ACLU, I was the co chair of our local queer rights organization, the fairness campaign, and I was a states lobbyist for queer rights issues and some environmental issues. I kind of had to head down this path, but I realized, you know, there are only so many hours in the day, and if I really wanted to be an activist, I almost had to give up art making and so I was really kind of struggling with that and, and decided I was ready to go back to grad school. So that’s why there was that break there. But but that work really informs my art practice. And I’m excited to share some images with you guys tonight. The first note, let me share, um, the first thing I could start with, um, there, you should be able to see that full screen. Um, the first thing I wanted to start with is, um, is Never Stop Dancing. So this work, my wife and I were upstate at a Dixie Chicks concert a couple of years ago. And, and then we started getting like, all these phone calls from friends being like, Are you guys okay? Are you guys okay? And I don’t know if people all live in New York. But anytime something bad happens, I feel like people like call each other. And so what people were calling about actually was the nightclub shooting down in Florida. And so you know, it was almost like that friend network of everyone who’s like checking in with each other when something like that happens. So was the Pulse nightclub shooting were 49 people were killed in this massive hate crime. And of course, it was at the time, the the biggest kind of shooting, of course, now, it’s been eclipsed, unfortunately. But what I and my wife did right away was we went from upstate, we just drove straight to Stonewall, the Stonewall Inn. Stonewall Inn is where we kind of we go as a people anytime something bad or good has happened. You know, when marriage equality was passed, everyone was there with Edie Windsor, [inaudible – championing math?] and, and at the same time, at the Pulse nightclub shooting, we all went there to mourn. So there was a bouquet of flowers that was sitting there that someone had left, and a little note that said, never stop dancing, and I thought that was just so beautiful. I was really inspired to make this piece. And so what we’re looking at is 49 porcelain, disco balls that are all hung, you know, kind of in this celestial way with the with the lights kind of dropped down to cast the shadows. I’m really interested in shadows and you’ll see that as a theme of something that’s both there and like not there at the same time. The disco balls themselves are all a few different sizes so I could kind of get some depth and play with the installation of them. The disco ball itself almost becomes like a moon, or star. Again, with those shadows casting long. I was also really interested in the disco ball as this almost as like a bearing witness to that event. Here’s an image just have one disco ball by itself, so you can kind of see a little bit more of the technique of slip casting. I don’t know if anyone’s used ceramics here?
Okay, so I’ll tell you what the casting is, just since I use it a lot, is the process of making a mold from like an object, and then it’s a way to repeat objects. So you know, I made like to get the volume of 49 disco balls actually purchased disco balls, make cast of them, and then use liquid clay in a process called slip casting to make these multiples. So I’m interested is in ceramics is like a, you know, ceramics, you only have the opportunity to make it so big, right? Like it’s constrained by the size of the kiln. I like to use multiples to to to build volume and shape even though there is that limitation.
Phoenix: I made this because when I was first coming out, it was the same year that Matthew Shepard was murdered. For those of you who don’t know, he was a young college student who had gone home with some guys after a night out. They really brutally attacked him and left him to die tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. As I was coming out, this had just happened. So, you know, I remember like the Times newspaper article of his face being on it, and that just being really palpable, for me as someone that was raised, that was coming out queer in the south. And so there was always that kind of undercurrent of that something bad kind of could could be happening, right, because I was queer. So this story really resonated with me and kind of has been a part of my coming out, kind of almost backlighting that. So I wanted to remake the fence because as you could kind of tell from the other work, I like to take kind of scenes and extract out like one object and play it up. This actually is six, it’s a hard kind of scale, I feel like there should be a person in this photo, but it’s 16 feet long, and it’s five to six feet tall, and also five to six feet wide. So it’s a really large ceramic sculpture. There’s also we use this process called slip casting, but I kind of cheated and you know, to get a really long log, I cheated the seams and kind of patched them together, but it is porcelain. The other thing I think a lot about is how we don’t have like memorials for queer people. And for this fence, it actually was, it was moved after about 10 years because it was on someone’s property. And they were like, you know, I kind of need my land back. They actually moved the fence so it’s not even there anymore. Now we have the Stonewall Memorial, that’s the park right outside of Stonewall, and there are a couple pieces of work there. There’s like one memorial on Amsterdam, which is like a little thin.
I’m always thinking about making memorials, and remember it’s in in honor of folks that history has not been kind to all the time, I think I’ve done a detailed shot. So this is where you can see all the different pieces kind of coming together. I actually went upstate and bought fence posts, and then used the same method you would use to cut the wood to make them latch together and then use bolts to bolt the whole thing together. A part of my art practice is something about like, really fragile things over concrete floors [laughing]. So there’s always some really terrible high stakes, logistics to work out. You know, I’m really interested in the fragility of ceramics and I think that that as a medium is really good for the more conceptual things that my work explores.
This is a an earlier piece where you want to see the same theme emerging, it’s really reminiscent of Never Stop Dancing. This piece is called Flame Tempered. When I moved here, I was doing a lot of research about queer hate crimes and came across one that was really close to where I live. These are about 75 baseball bats. In this process of slip passing, you know, if you leave, if you leave the mold the way you’re supposed to get a perfect object. As I was getting these perfect objects, I was like, a perfect ceramic baseball bat doesn’t tell the story at all. I thought, you know, I would break the mold too soon, and so they’re the objects are kind of, and then bent and distorted. And I can like, have my little fingerprints kind of in it, and then just kind of patch them back up. So here’s a detail of that bowl with the with the kind of bent twisted baseball bats. And I think that, you know, kind of taking this object that has been used as a weapon and making this kind of cyclone out of it. It’s like the object holds the act of violence, and kind of reflects it back to us, which is what I’ve been kind of interested in.
This was an earlier work to even kind of illustrate that point further. I can make a ceramic hammer, and that’s, you know, fine, maybe you would like to see it at West Elm or something be like a cool object. But I was much more interested in these crimes, the weapons themselves kind of holding the story of the violence once the person, the victim, and the perpetrator had been kind of removed from the scene for different reasons.
This is that work that Jeanette was alluding or mentioning, that was a show I did last year. It’s called Shame Is The First Betrayer and this was after a five year kind of long, really wandering research project at the Lesbian Herstory Archives. I don’t know if you guys know about this place, but it’s amazing. You should absolutely come visit anytime you’re in New York if you’re not already. So the Lesbian Herstory Archives they’re in a brownstone, like a three story brownstone, in Park Slope. And the premise of this archive is all donation based. Anyone who identifies as a lesbian or feels their work belongs there, can donate whatever ephemera: t shirts, buttons, um, you know, different objects, books, lots of books, and the archive will hold it in this collection. Some things are, you know, their books, and if they’ve got a really nice library, and people come and do all sorts of, you know, PhD level research.
But they also have this private collection where people can donate their things that are more like letters and photographs and things like that, so I got really interested in that and we’ll talk more about the boxes that you see there. I wanted to tell this crazy story, that’s so amazing, that happens. So the piece that says “never underestimate the power of a dyke” here was um, and this is eight feet by four feet, it’s a full sheet of plywood, but I printed it on veneer, so there’s no backing on it. So it’s almost like wood paper, it’s really thin and fragile and then hung it up with with magnets actually. So I’m always kind of interested in like things that you would think are hard being soft, almost like a photograph. This photo I found and I’ve got screen printed very, very large with a fabricator I work with, on this on this panel. And I’m and I just thought it was a really great image. I love the T-shirt, I love that they’re all kind of looking away. I kind of removed the background so it was just their backs. There’s so much kin photography and coming out and being queer, there’s a lot of images in the 80s and 90s of the backs of people because they couldn’t put their faces forward for fear of retribution of their job or housing or other places but the family maybe? so I really kind of like that it was highlighting that. Anyways, so this was the image that had been used for a lot of the promo for this show, and I got this Facebook message out of the blue, totally, from this woman who lived in Illinois. She says, “Hi, my name is Sarah, and the woman wearing that T-shirt is my wife who passed away three years ago. And I have never ever seen this image. Where did it come from? Who are you? How did you get it?” And we built this really amazing relationship, I got to find out that this photo was taken in 1984 when I was two years old, and it was a Boston Pride Parade. Sara and Cindy, it was their first Pride Parade that they went to after they just first started dating. It was kind of like the first Pride Parade that Sarah had been to and Cindy really loved making these shirts, and she like made all these really fun shirts. This relationship, you know, we talked a lot on the phone and, Sarah decided that she wanted to come to the… it wasn’t for the opening, she came during the 50th Stonewall anniversary, which had was right around the time that the show was on. So she flew in and we got to spend the day together, and she showed me all these photos of her partner and them and their lives. We walked down to Stonewall together, got some lunch, and it was just a really, it’s just a really amazing, you know, I feel like she was like, she’s like an aunt, you know, we we just really connected. I never would have expected that from this show. Here’s another photo, this makes it look really tiny, but again, it’s eight feet long.
This was another piece you could see it in that first image hanging on the wall. So this figure here, can you guys see my cursor? Yeah, so this figure here is this really amazing woman named Joan Nestle and she was one of the co founders of the Lesbian Herstory Archives. She lives in Australia now. She is a writer and an activist, and it’s just, it’s just has left this really amazing legacy through through building the archive with a woman named Deb Edel, they’re the co founders. So I had come to find a lot of Joan’s writing, because she again, she’s a writer, and so that’s actually where the name of the show, Shame is the first betrayer comes from a poem that she wrote called Stone Butch Blues Butch [Stone butch, Drag Butch, Baby Butch from A Restricted Country 1987]. I just got to know her work, her writings, and, it’s an archive where it’s like, very homegrown and there’s not, we don’t have a Dewey Decimal System here, you know, very homegrown system. I had been doing a lot of reading about her and reading her words, and then I found this really small image. And I was like, “Oh my God, that’s Joan.” Like I recognized her and so I found this photo of her that was like, not labeled, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, she’s a Jacob Riis beach”. And for anyone who is a queer and in New York, you know, Jacob Riis beach, that is where I will be this Saturday. It’s where I was two Saturdays ago. It’s the queer beach. I was blown away because this photo was taken in this in like the 60s, and I had no idea that that was the queer beach then, like, this is literally where I like set up my tent. This house is here. This weird building is still here. Who knows when it ever was, I’m not sure. Um, and of course, Jacob Riis is a famous photographer too. So I love that little nod.
Anyway, what I did was I worked with the same screen printer and got the image printed pretty, pretty large. I think this is maybe four feet long, maybe three feet and had it printed on cotton sheeting. And I went to Jacob Riis, and there’s some fence kind of back back along here, and I took the cotton sheeting and tied it up to the fence and and just left it for a couple weeks, and let the rust from the from the fence and the weather from the you know, was like the winter so it was it was wet and moist, and so it got all this rust saved on it. That was that was this work, so it’s almost like taking Joan back to her beach. I didn’t even realize we had shared, of course, we shared it.
This is a ceramic piece where I’m taking some of her writing Mrs. Jones name, again, January 82. I was born February 2 of 82. I kind of wanted to make like this banner out of ceramic. So it’s kind of woven, you can see on the edges. And it’s an introductory notes to the Lesbian Herstory Archives bibliography on lesbian separatism, which is what it kind of been called them. She talks a lot about what does it mean for us to take our lives seriously, and that’s kind of the drive for this place, why they wanted to make an archives.
So this was almost their like, manifesto.
This is another piece I just wanted to show you. I just kind of gotten into weaving a little bit. There’s this other crazy story from the archives, where it was when they first got started, it’s in like the 60s-70s, and they needed they need filing cabinets, because they’re like building this library, they like need filing cabinets. So someone calls it’s like, “Hey, I heard you guys, need filing cabinets. Somebody left a bunch outside of my house, you guys come bring the truck, we’ll get these filing cabinets. And so they get the filing cabinets. Great, serendipitous, wonderful. But in the back of one of these filing cabinets, there’s this letter, and it is really old, like from the 20s. And it’s this letter is a love letter to Alice and it’s a lesbian love letter. And she’s talking about lighting the candles as I sit down and write this letter to you, and this is a quiet letter and this is this is a love letter for me to you and it’s really beautiful letter so I was really, of course, I was really moved, they decided to call it the gutter letter because they found it in the gutter in these filing cabinets. So again I screen printed on this cotton sheeting and then had a loom and wove the text in so you can kind of see the the text that kind of goes back and forth, and of course, it’s obscure. But you know, I wanted to kind of weave, I’m thinking about rag rugs, you know, and I wanted to weave these words in, but leave it raw, you know, kind of leave the edges, it doesn’t need to be perfect. And then it just leaves the tail out there as a nod to the text that’s kind of hidden inside.
This was a piece that is a lot more fun.It’s a tufted rug that I made, and so this is like the lesbian icon right? I found this kind of lesbian, it’s called a labrys. I had found one that was kind of similar at the archives I made it really really really big, it was more it was smaller.
And so I’m made at four feet wide. I thought that would be fun way when you walked in the door to kind of be like a very dyke move.
Then I just wanted to show you guys this, because I got so personal with the archives, you know, they eventually wound up letting me have a key. I have keys to the front door and so I could come and go when I was working, that felt like such an honor to me and so I cast the actual keys and beeswax.
I also, it’s a brownstone and so I also actually got permission, was able to do a cast of their bannister so you know it’s like in a typical brownstone where the banisters kind of coming down., and so I was able to, over Thanksgiving when no one was there. Oh, it was so stressful because it’s like an archive with books and I’m mixing up plaster like making this mold and I did the cast, you know, back in the studio, but it was like so nerve wracking, that I’m gonna like get this dust everywhere or something. But I just love that I was able to work with them to do to do this.
And then, the boxes which I alluded to earlier. So this is part of the special collections that I got really obsessed with. And so you see Jones name, you see Deb’s name those are the two co founders, dyke TV. I don’t know if anyone here remembers dyke TV, that was like in the 90s but that was like some pivotal lesbian/queer moments for me and I found their box full of ephemera that they’ve donated now is just part of this special collections.
There’s boots of leather slippers of gold, which is a bar that was up in Buffalo.
My wife and I currently are in the big apple core band. And so if you ever go to a pride parade, in New York, or near New York, my wife was in the color guard, with the flags on the front, and I played trumpet. So I found their box. And so I had to, I had to make that these are all made out of ceramic. And we got really interested in that, like these banker boxes as, as containers, and as protectors and as houses almost. And then the last one I’ll mention is some a woman named Marge, who I got pretty obsessed with, who is also a writer make these really small little poems and little tiny books, but what type them. Her story is that she was living in Buffalo, and had never come out to her family that lived in Ohio. And when she died, she bequeathed, she left, all of her writings, all of her poems to the Lesbian Herstory Archives and essentially came out after she passed away by doing that, and her family was very upset, and they took all the letters and took all of her all these notebooks of writing, and typed notebooks, and they were going to destroy them. So somebody called the archives, I think the lawyer for her estate called the archives and was like, you know, “we’re in Ohio now all of her stuff’s in Ohio, if you want them, I don’t know.” They kind of activated their network and found someone who was near Ohio or in Ohio, and got the truck and went and got all her things and saved them. So they’re here and, and I actually, in her box, I found I also found her will that talked about leaving her things for the archive, and I found just all this really amazing stuff. So I really wanted to make kind of make a box and a place for Marge.
And this was a This was in the way their code works is 1987, and this is seven boxes. So this was in 1979, and that’s her 14th box, Joan left a lot of things. I think I just have three more images, and then I’m excited to do questions. This is a really new piece. It’s actually on display right now, I did a residency at Greenwich house pottery, which is a kind of well known over 100 year old pottery and ceramics shop, a studio in Greenwich Village. And I was doing it during the 50th of Stonewall. And it’s like, a half a block away, it’s a stone’s throw. And I didn’t plan my residency to be during 50th of Stonewall, but I was just, I just felt really inspired by it. I was kind of thinking back to the disco ball was thinking about this, like, an object that was a silent observer of the night of the riot. I kept coming back to the sign, which is not there now, anymore. Now, it’s, you know, neon or whatever. But anyway, so this is very tall with the pedestal, it’s taller than I am, and it’s made in four different parts, which is the same way the sign itself was made. This is about two feet, and so then I think the whole piece is about six feet tall. And then just put a little internal structure from the base to the ceramics piece to balance it like that, you know, it was a little bit of logistics. Again, really precarious things with super fragile ceramics.
But it’s glazed too, this is this is all ceramic, it’s not metal. The next piece that I did while I was on that residency, if you walk into the front of the Stonewall, they have this poster, which was the raided premises sign that the NYPD hung on their door when they shut it down, you know, that night, and so they kept it in its frame when you walk in their foyer. So I just went over there popped a photo of it and kind of re-placed it on this piece of ceramic slab, it’s about two feet by two feet square. And just you know, hang it up with a simple rope.
And then the last piece that I have for you guys tonight, was this. I’ve been experimenting a lot with screen printing on ceramics. And so this was an image I found of the Stonewall uprising of that night, and I just really, I really was drawn to the banality and how like pedestrian this images like, this is not a sexy protest photo. It’s just people walking. Like, it’s a, it’s like a dispersing crowd, and then just thought, I’ve been thinking so much
about the sensationalism of that event. And of course, now with all the protests that have been happening this this spring and summer, I kind of wanted like a quieter moment. One that that was just people kind of trying to figure out where to go and what to do.
So that’s, I don’t know, I was just kind of drawn to that image. So I screen printed it on this porcelain slab, which is about two feet long. And I think that puts us back at the beginning.
Sara: Amazing, thank you so much. I have a question for you, which was something that you mentioned right at the beginning, which is that your background is in photography, and besides found photography, we haven’t seen any of that. And I’m just curious how you made that transition into mixed media, or if there ever was a transition? Or if that was always around? And as a follow up, was like, and if you see any, like, do the processes of both speak to each other, as influences speak to each other? Or support each other? Or what is your experience? having so much photographic education, and now working in mixed media?
Phoenix: Thanks Sara, that’s a great question. When I first, my grad degree is in photography, even though I didn’t show any photographs at the end, much to the chagrin of all my professors, of course, but I, when I started making work about violence and queer communities, photography was no longer working for me because it’s too flat. And yes, people are doing super rad, sculptural things with photography. And that’s a very contemporary move. I just felt like it was too distancing from the viewer and that the object needed to be in the room and needs to have a physicality that I just was like, banging my head against the wall with ceramic, sorry with photography. And so that’s how I came to ceramics, because I was dealing with such a fragile topic. It just felt like that was the right material to be exploring the theme. So I knew what I knew when I like came to grad school, I was going to make work about like queer things, and and then somehow kind of fell into doing this work about hate crimes, a lot of research about hate crimes. And then ceramics just felt like the right medium. The thing that’s really interesting, you know, I mentioned the thing about slip casting and how you have to make a mold, and then you pull multiples, and then you use the multiples to like, make a larger thing. Well, that’s photography, with photography you have a negative, you take the negative in the darkroom, you process it, you make multiples, and show them in the room together. I always joked, like,” Oh, my molds are just like, really heavy negatives.” So I think there is a relationship in the, like, the multiplicity of both things.
Sara: And did you teach yourself ceramics?
Phoenix: I did. Yeah, I did. That’s part of the reason too, that when I first was making these objects, you know, I’d make a hammer, like the image of the hammer that’s twisted, like, I would pull it, like, I didn’t know what I was doing. So my timing was all off. So I pull it too soon. And then it’d be like such a mess, or I pulled it, and then I finally got the timing. I was like, “Oh, I’m doing this perfect.” I’m like making these perfect hammers. And then I was like, this says nothing, like the story isn’t in it. So then I started messing them up on purpose.
Florencia: I’m also curious about this ceramics, Sara kind of introduce that, the same curiosity that I have. I do see the influence of photography in your work very clearly, because it’s more like an expanded photography that you do with a print screen and transferring images in very non traditional materials. After I hear you and I see your talkign about your work, I was also curious about the colors that you use, the color palette that you use, and it seems to be very controlled. And very, very in control, or maybe both, you can tell us more about that. And your work is stunning, it’s beautiful, the way you use whites and the grays and those like earthy tones, like, speak to me about a strong relationship with contemporary art standards. I just want to know more about that journey with ceramics and color and why were you? I don’t know, just, why have you been to choosing the tones that you have been choosing, and how has that been that journey with color and your concept? Your message?
Phoenix: Yeah, that’s a great question, and a very cool thing that you picked up on. When I first when I first was making work, thinking back to that hammer. You have a world of colors, you can glaze anything, you can do all sorts of really cool, you make crystals grow, you do all sorts of cool stuff with ceramic and glazes. But I just felt, I tried to you know what, what, I’m going to make the hammer red? like that’s wrong. You know, it just felt like it was too glossy, it was too premeditated, it put my hand on it too much. And so I decided just to not glaze I really hardly ever glazed anything. The only thing that was really glazed was the Stonewall sign itself, I use Chino glaze, which is, which is white or rust color, depending on how thick or thin you put it on. So and that’s like kind of a historic, you know, like ceramics glaze. I just felt like, so much of my work is about a life or a process cut short, that I just leave things bone white.And I think there’s also a seductive quality about the work. That’s really important because these topics are hard, they’re not easy to talk about, they’re not fun to talk about. And so I just thought, let me let me seduce people a little bit with the object itself by leaving it kind of raw, makes me want to touch it, you know, and then you get that tension where you’re like, “Oh, I’m not supposed to touch this thing.” And then with the work about the the Lesbian Herstory Archives, I was struggling “there’s so much color in the show, I don’t know what I’m doing, you know, I’m making this tufted rug that has bright red in it.” I’m really pushing myself out of my comfort zone. But still using those using those muted colors, and you know, using the raw, like the rust, just how it, you know, the patterning that it did. So yeah, I just favor a much more kind of controlled thing. And maybe that’s because if you’re a photographer, unless you’re really orchestrating a photoshoot and setting it up, which I like, but you know, it’s what you get is what you get. So you don’t really get to choose what color the photo is that you’re like, taking of life, you know? Yeah, I struggle a lot with that choice.
Florencia: The piece, the fence piece with ceramics it’s so beautiful. So good to see you talking about that and see the details. beautiful.
Phoenix: Yeah, thank you. Yeah.
Jeanette: I’m curious about your, your decision to go from. And I know, also, being artists and like you have a really long trajectory of life, the amount of work you’ve made. And we only have so much time to see some things that you’ve decided to show us. And I know there’s probably in betweens and befores and things you’re working on now. But from what you did show us and I think what I’m familiar with from seeing some of your work when we were in school, and then seeing the show that you just discussed, I’m curious about how more just kind of emotionally and I like the term that Florencia was using about being kind of on a journey. Like, I don’t know that it’s always a decision, so I don’t know that I want to use that word, but how you sort of found yourself going from more from highlighting these more violent situations and circumstances which I’ve always found really interesting in your work because I do feel like that’s not something we see enough and I feel like the way you do it is so inviting. I do think it’s important to see and talk about this violence and to mourn it and to have these memorials. So it’s nice to hear you kind of speak about it that way. And I totally see like the throughline of your work, I’m just curious how you sort of, I’m not surprised you ended up at Lesbian Herstory Archives, but um, it’s a bit of a shift, like I see, I see the similarities for sure, and this way of you wanting to I feel like the objects almost are personified in your work. Like, I see I because I work with people so much I’m seeing it’s such a lack of people in a way, they’re almost not needed, you know? So, yeah, I’m just curious about that transition, because even though I do see quite a thread, and a theme, I feel like that is a bit of a shift. So I’m curious how you sort of ended up moving towards Lesbian Herstory Archives?
Phoenix: Yeah, that project have been running in the background for so long. I mean, I would just kind of like any spare Saturday, go and like, wander around there. As a community archive, that’s what I what I had to do, I had to keep showing up to, to get them to trust me, you know, like, I’m like, “Hey, I’m an artist, I’m gonna come hang out” you’re like, “what’s your intent?”. So that work have been running in the background for a really long time. It was such a wealth of, like, I could have picked Marge, that story about the woman and her will. And I could have, I could have done a show just about that, and, like that box. But the story became some more about the archive and about the place and about the community.
It was really funny, I was putting that show together, because I was like, Okay, I’ve got this huge wooden photo, that’s huge. I’m going to use ceramic boxes, I’ve got a rug, I’ve got a weaving, I was like, this is gonna look like I’m just all over the place, how is that going to go together? But I think that color palette that Flo picked up on, like, I think that helped to tie all the work ascetically together. But you’re right, the work, like Shepherd and Never Stop Dancing, those works are much more quiet and austere.
And I feel that I feel that coming back right now and work that I’m really kind of starting to think about making in response to George Floyd and Tony McDade and and all the black lives matter work. I think one of the things I can add, is my art, is my artistic voice. That’s what I think I’ve just a contribution I have to the world. I’ve been thinking about how I can can maybe make some work about more kind of current themes, and how I can find my place and find my voice that’s appropriate to do. And I think that work will be much quieter also.
Jeanette: Cool. Thank you. I think Grace, you had a question.
Grace Han: Yeah. I’m really curious, and I also love the fact that you say your ceramic practice is like an extension of photography. I’m so into that idea, right? Because like, conceptually, you are making like a system and then repeating it, and also like the idea to that, inevitably, I think whenever you talk about photo, it’s hard not to be talking about, like some idea of memory. Something that I really curious about is like, do you see your practice, or like how you interpret conceptually memory as being different when you’re working with ceramics as opposed to when we’re doing more like literal photo things?
Phoenix: Yeah, that’s interesting. There’s, in ceramics, because I’m doing large things. There’s a physicality, you know, you’re like, sweating it outa, and there also is like, some tactile, which I think in photography that like… I mean, I love the darkroom, right. Like we like I fell in love in the darkroom. That’s why I got into, you know, doing like black and white photography. I really liked that process, and the science of it, and you get that same kind of thing with ceramics, too. But in ceramics, it’s much more physical, it’s much more of like a labored act, and then there’s a duration, especially because I’m making so many multiples. It’s like going back to the studio and doing it, going back and going back and there’s that duration of time. So I think the other thing, I really like this idea of memory that you’ve brought up tying photography, and then the themes that I have around ceramics, so much of it is about, you know, remembering things that were hard or that are overlooked or that are aren’t remembered appropriately. So I really like that you’re drawing that kind of connection.
Jeanette: Think we have a question? I just want to read it from Lyndsey who is here but she and her wife Annie are driving so they’re not able to say it themselves, I don’t think.
So it says, “Hey all, we’re driving listening in without video. Lyndsay is from Atlanta, Georgia. And her question as a fellow southerner, how was that experience? And how has that experience informed your work as a queer artist?”
Phoenix: Yeah, well, I’m from Athens, so right down the road, and then I wasn’t going to college in Savannah, and I did high school, we moved to North Carolina. So I’m like, kind of all around that, and then when I finished undergrad, I went to Kentucky. And from Kentucky, I moved here to New York, where we’ve been for 10 years this month. Crazy. I think there’s, in being a queer person in the south, that absolutely has inspired not just my art, but my life, I think. There always was this, the way it affects my, or inspires my work is there was always this thread of potential violence, that kind of ran through my coming out, and my being out, and, you know, we have this really nice, like New York bubble, and I don’t feel it as much, but you know, there are moments that that are that are tough. When I was in high school, I had a friend who was the victim of a hate crime for being gay. It took me a really long time, kind of, and I was already making work about queer hate crimes, and then it kind of like when something is so obvious about yourself, and then you just finally see it, like, Oh, my God, like this, I’m thinking about Ed. And so that experience really shaped the trajectory of my work in ways that I didn’t really realize, um, and of course, my activism work before coming to being, kind of circling back to making art. That is very much tied to Southern my Southern upbringing, that and my love of country music.
Jeanette: Thanks, Phoenix. Anybody want to pop in? Feel free to just make a comment, question, thought? I just realized that I’ve got a slew of of liquor behind me, um, which looks great. So might have some, yeah, I’m like, that’s quite a lot of liquor. I’m not in my own house. I’m like, what is behind me? It’s a full bar. Okay. So that looks wonderful to the people that don’t know me, but I am actually drinking.
Florencia: I want to know about your quarantine artist practice. Have you been working something in these days? So you have your studio around? Or have you improvised a studio where you live? How it has been for you? Because your practice involves and need space? You need space to be dirty and to do stuff. So how have you been feeling about, you know, the lack of space and everything, the restrictions?
Phoenix: Yeah, um, so when all this happened, I was teaching at Parsons, I teach advanced ceramics for graduate students in the fine arts program. And, they all like left for spring break, and then they didn’t come back, but classes still happen. And so my experience, I mean, I was like, “What the hell am I going to do this? How am I going to teach ceramics?” to people that are in Malaysia, in Seattle, in Colorado, I mean, people were far flown. And so my experience as an educator in that was that I just gave people the assignment. And I said, “Look, figure out like, these are resources of how you can get clay, find your local ceramic shop, see if you can find a kiln. Like make a friend? like I don’t know? if you can’t do any of that do some watercolor, I don’t care just make something!” And so people did and the people in those three cities I just mentioned, each found their local ceramics community, got clay, figured out how to get work fired. It was really inspirational and one one student in particular was making, she has experienced some domestic violence growing up, and she had to return back to that space. And she felt safe, you know, she felt safe, with her work wound up being so much about being in that space, and she never would have had that being in the studio, you know what I mean? So that was just really, so I was really impressed by them. It’s just so much the point was like, wow, I gotta get my shit together, these folks are amazing. I’ve been making some work, I have a backyard. And so when it’s not so hot outside, sometimes I’m working on my, my picnic bench in the back. I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking and kind of planning and trying to think of how I kind of fit into the protest, I was, you know, pretty active in that, despite COVID, and I’m also you know, I also think there’s something about quarantine. It’s like, it’s been the great equalizer. Like, if something wasn’t a priority, and I was spending so much time on it, I cut it out. I feel like it was like a great priority shifting for all of us. And so it’s allowed me to like, kind of cut the fat a little bit on things that I don’t need to be spending that much energy worrying about work or that much energy worrying about whatever. So it’s freed up a lot of mental space for me to be to be kind of starting to, to anticipate a new show. I’ve also been applying to a ton of stuff, there’s like, they’re like four different applications I’ve just finished, which is like the unsexy admin work of being an artist.
Jeanette: That’s real. Yeah. We have some new people who joined in, and I’d be curious if, and if anyone has a question, please hop in, but maybe Phoenix, you could do a maybe a little screen share. And you don’t have to redo a whole presentation. But maybe we can just slide through as people continue to ask questions, and maybe that’ll help.
Phoenix: Oh, yeah, sure. Let me just share, but you can still ask questions.
Jeanette: And people are not muted, right? People can talk.
Sara: You can unmute yourself at any time.
Jeanette: I didn’t know if I muted people. I feel like I’m back to the days of the spring semester.
Florencia: They have to unmute themselves.
Jeanette: My students were like”no, we’re muted, we can’t talk” and I’m like, “No.
You can talk. You can talk.” No pressure. Was this installation at Parsons?
Phoenix: This was at my, when I got out of grad school. My strategy was apply to everything that’s really close to New York, but not New York, because there’s like less competition. Right? So this was this really cool residency I got in Newark, New Jersey called Gallery Aferro. And they had this huge warehouse, someone said was like, it was like, very, like lower east side 70’s vive, you know what I mean? It’s like this huge warehouse with big gallery spaces. And so this was part of their, a big show that we did, where I got this huge room. I mean, this is just one part of the room I had. And you can see I put I was like, have to figure out whatever grid system I’m going to like hang things from so. Oh, yeah. There’s always some logistics. And it’s just hung with monofilament leader like fishing line.
Jeanette: Yeah, for some reason, that looks like the Parsons’s like studios, they gave us and when you said it was a huge space, nevermind.
Phoenix: Yeah. No, this is more like 15 feet. Well, because I was in photo I didn’t have a studio, you know. So like, always hallway things. Always my burden to bear.
Jeanette: So we have some messages coming in from Savannah.
Florencia: They’re both curious about the disco ball installation. It seems they came late. if you can show us that image.
Jeanette: Feel free to hop in and chat too. But I think, yeah, I wanted to see the disco ball again.
Phoenix: Yeah, so this was about the Pulse nightclub shooting. And so I made 49 porcelain disco balls each for one of each of the victims. And then hung them you know, so they kind of become like moons and stars that are kind of overlooking. So it’s like the disco ball as the silent observer. And so of course, it’s it’s meant, you know, it’s matted Well, you know, it’s not reflective anymore now it’s matte white. And so it becomes, you know, much more of an introspective, instead of outward looking, now it’s inward looking.
And then here’s just one of them, just so you can get a sense of what one of them by themselves looks like, and they are slip-cast.
Joanna Raczynska: Can you can you hear me? Hi guys, I’m sorry I came in so late. And, um, but I’m glad I did. I have a quick question for Phoenix about the disco ball piece. So much you talked about looking in, it reminds me so much of like a galaxy within one. But also, obviously, maybe you talked about this earlier, I’m so sorry if I’m being redundant, but it’s so incredibly gorgeous. Have you did you guys talk about Did you all talk about why the color white? and why the mat? in particular?
Phoenix: Yeah, we talked a little bit about it, but the thank you for that, for that compliment about the work. I’m really interested in. I don’t like glaze, because I don’t want to cover it. I don’t want to like gloss over it. And in the ceramic process, of course, glazing is the last part, and I’m also interested in like, cutting the process short, just like the lives were cut short. It’s called like bone, white porcelain, and I, you know, I, I couldn’t cover that up. So when you when you see them, like individually, there’s like little like funky pieces, and sometimes you can see my little fingerprints, and sometimes things are like a little off. So I like to have the little scratches and the different marks of the making be visible, like, not too polished, like much more raw.
Sara: I also love that idea too with that because for some people on glazed porcelain is like nails on a chalkboard just like looking at it could be just give you goosebumps and just makes you feel really terrible. Which is such a nice connection too in the sense that you often install fragile porcelain on cement, where it’s like this feeling of like, “Oh, it’s going to fall down, it’s going to shatter and it like, it hurts me to look at it.” And it should, it should hurt because it’s very sad. I think that that’s a very beautiful way of conveying a message through form too.
Phoenix: Yeah, I really rely on that, you know, ceramic is like a domestic, you know, we all have like our coffee mugs, we all have our plates and you like wash it 1000 times, and then you just hit the rim just wrong, and the whole thing explodes. We’ve all had that experience. And so I like taking this object that we we know, functionally, but then making it really non functional and and really playing on that fragility.
Joanna: Another quick question, if I may? Maybe touched on this before. So just tell me if I’m again, being redundant, but how heavy are these pieces? And how do you actually make that?
Phoenix: [laughing] This one was pretty funky because my kiln was only could only hold about two feet, maybe. And, and the like these long cross pieces are like 14 feet.
Joanna: oh my god.
Phoenix: I had to make them in two foot sections. And if you look really close, let me see if I can, well hey, I did such a good job. There’s a little break right there. That’s where it’s like this is one piece. This is the second piece, this is the third piece, and so I just made it like you would make a male and female kind of mechanical connection where they kind of fit together and then use resin to kind of patch it in a really light little wash to get the colors to match. So that’s how I do it. And then I actually, I was mentioning I actually went and bought wood, this is cedar wood, you know cedar, you would make a fence out of cedar and so a bit out and bought saw cedar wood upstate and then like, notched it all out, made the thing and then cast the individual logs. But I made a pattern, you know, so there are repeats. So like you’d see this one and this one are actually the same that I pulled a cast from. So that saved me a little bit of time but then this one I wasn’t able to you know I had to make a new one for that one. This one and this one probably are the same, but just rotated differently. And then the whole thing is bolted together, you can see one of the bolts there. So I made an internal threaded rod and bolt. It’s very, it’s, it’s very, like meticulous and stressful.
Joanna: It looks it and its gorgeous.
Phoenix: And they’re, you know, they’re heavy. But, but ceramics is strong, you know, they say, you know, it’s stronger than steel at a certain thickness. So I kind of rely on that.
Joanna: About how about how heavy are these?
Phoenix: Yeah, I think that each one, they’re hollow, they’re hollow. So they’re not too bad. Um, but you know, I don’t know, it’s lighter than, this is lighter than a baseball because it’s hollow. You can see the little portholes, and the tiny little pour-holes, in each one of them. So they’re each of them are hollow.
Jeanette: Yeah, I was just gonna say that in looking at these and, unfortunately, not being able to go to see the other series that you’re talking about the Matthew Shepard and Never Stop Dancing and this piece. I can imagine that’s a really intense experience. And I like the way that you’re, when I also read about Matthew Shepard. And when I heard about Pulse, like, especially Pulse, that’s something that you feel so outside of, and you would never want to be inside of a situation like that, and the way that you put us in that space. It’s such a, we’re kind of seeing the insides of something that we feel like an outsider too, but as a queer identified person, you don’t feel like an outsider yet you weren’t there. Right? You know, so it’s this nice tension and kind of push pull between being inside and outside of something. And it reminds me a lot of a show that I saw, I don’t remember when last year but because at this point, I don’t even know what week it is, and what my name is, but there was a show at the New Museum called We the people by Nari Ward. If people don’t know his work, you should know his work. And I believe it was in the in the winter that it we can put that in the chat, but it showed at the New Museum for a few months. And he, I think he’s in his 50s, and he’s been a resident of Harlem for a long time, person of color. And he often works, he makes pieces about the Black experience, and has his most well known for the collection of shopping carts that homeless folks tend to acquire, and builds these amazing installations, basically out of found material in Harlem and around Harlem, speaking to just you know, systemic racism and housing and you know, who lives where and who collects what and who repurposes items for what reason. And he had one room. It just reminds me a lot with the lighting, where the whole It was a huge space. I mean, I don’t even know how big the room in the room was. But he had installed in the entire room, hundreds of strollers, which if anyone lives in a major city, you know, that’s totally a repurposed item that a lot of homeless people tend to use for many reasons. And it was just discarded strollers, basically. And then in the center was kind of an aisle. And it played and then there was a song playing. Do you remember Sara? because I think we went there together. At one point.
Sara: I don’t remember I’m sorry.
Jeanette: That like it’s like a very classic American not like, it’s like a very classic American song. And it was like, I think a recording from the 30s. And it was just this beautiful, haunting piece. And I like totally cried when I was there. It’s just unreal. And you can walk through the aisle just to see all these, every stroller was unique. Every stroller was totally different sized. Some look brand new, some look like they were from like the 70s totally different makes and models. And the lighting was very similar to what you’re working with. There was a lot of shadow. I just wanted to throw that in there because that was such a ephemeral, just such an intense physical experience to kind of be placed amongst these items that I don’t personally identify with per se but I’ve seen you know, I’ve seen a fence, I’ve seen a baseball bat, I’ve seen a disco ball. And when it’s placed in a certain area with music or with certain lighting, it can be a really interesting experience.
Phoenix: Yeah. And it’s about taking those objects that we have that familiar familiarity with. Ceramics as the domestic object, or domestic material, I use these objects that are domestic objects, kind of break them out of the connotations you might already have of them, like, but instead give them a new meaning as, as you know, a weapon or as a thing that was left behind or as a witness. Yeah, that’s great. You know, I know that work, but I don’t think I ever really, I didn’t remember that, that that was the person’s name. So I appreciate that reference.
Jeanette: Yeah, if I can look up what I’m what exactly that piece was called. He also included fire hoses as sort of the border along the aisle. I’m just, I mean, the whole show was great. It was multiple floors, but it was that piece in particular was just completely unreal. And I think a lot of it was because of the music was so moving as well. Just this idea of the American landscape and how, you know, really sad it can be. Other questions? Don’t be shy friends.
Drew Bourn: There’s a question that I was interested in raising. I wanted to begin by saying thank you to Phoenix for sharing your work. This is amazing work. It’s beautiful work that you’ve done. It’s very evocative. It’s very striking, and thank you for sharing some of that. With all of us today. And the question, I was interested in the way in which you would describe your interest in doing work that is able to acknowledge the effects of violence, especially anti-queer violence, perhaps, and acknowledging those experiences and and what that was like for those who have been impacted. And my question has to do with how much language or narrative does or doesn’t play a role in your work in order for that kind of acknowledgement to happen? So I know that there was some text that appeared on some of the works that you showed us, for example, the word Stonewall appearing on the sign of the Stonewall Inn, or the text that had some of Joan Nestle’s words. And I wonder if you could say a little bit about either through the signage that you use for your pieces, or in other ways, the choices that you’ve made in using language or using narrative or choosing not to use it? How that plays a role in how you want to convey stories about how is this piece about this particular instance of violence, for example, Matthew Shepard’s murder, or the attack at the Pulse nightclub? How does language or narrative, how is that something that you incorporate? Or that you choose not to incorporate in order to acknowledge that experience of violence?
Phoenix: That’s, that’s a really great question, and one that I’ve struggled with a lot. The thing about a hate crime is that the individual is a stand in for the group. It’s, it’s though, of course, has very personal ramifications. It’s not about the person, it’s about the idea of what that person is, it’s about that stereotype. At first, I think that’s why I kind of moved away from photography, because I was like, doing found images of just like, you know, a photo of a victim or photo of a perpetrator. And I was like, What do I like, what do I do with this is? It makes the viewer feel so disconnected. And it was too, it was too singular in a way. And so I kind of zoomed out. And that’s how I got to focusing on the objects, the other things that were in the room, because that was universal, and that could speak to a larger theme. And so, you know, I like to use, I like to present an object, let it be kind of beautiful. Let it suck you in. And then you can see the wall text and say, “Oh my god,” and that’s when you get that, turn of the screw and have have that kind of guttural experience.
And that’s when you can kind of get that feeling. So that’s why it’s sometimes I’m very cautious with colors, very cautious with kind of adding the narrative, I let that almost be part of the text that can go along with the piece or sometimes I’ll do like a small a couple lines of text to accompany a piece, but I like that to be secondary. So the the work can kind of suck you in, make you have that gut punch, and then that’s where you can have like that kind of cathartic experience.
Drew: Thank you.
Jeanette: Anybody else have any thoughts or questions?
Phoenix: Maybe I’ll stop sharing, so I can see your faces.
Sara: Well, yeah, just thank you so much, everyone, for coming. And thank you so much, Phoenix for sharing your work. And this was incredibly beautiful, and great way to spend a Thursday afternoon.
Phoenix: I appreciate so much to be invited and to have this conversation. Of course, it’s an honor. And you all ask some very great questions, which I really appreciate.
Jeanette: Thanks for sharing.
Sara: This video is going to be, the entire video will be available on the website afterwards. So it will be posted on our Instagram and through our newsletter, usually.
Jeanette: Do you have a question Joanna?
Joanna: No, I just waving
Jeanette: I’m trained to see hands. I’m like someone, its out of hand.
Joanna: You’re very good moderator.
Phoenix: Yeah, you guys did a great job. Does anyone meet my puppy before we go? Yeah.
Jeanette: Puppy porn. What’s his name?
Phoenix: This is Billy Ray. Okay. She’s gonna see she’s a southern belle, too. She’s our daughter. She’s like 11 weeks old. What better way to spend a quarantine? Get a puppy.
Jeanette: Yeah, seriously, I feel like that’s happening a lot.
Florencia: We invite all of you to visit our website, we are launching content every week, we are about to receive our second issue to to ship it to everyone who bought it. Thank you for supporting, keep spreading the word. And we will be planning a new artist talk soon. Because evidently, this is very important. And it’s a nice intimate format to just discuss and get to know each other.
Jeanette: And for folks that are New York local, we are planning to do a safe distanced launch. Very unfortunately, this would be the perfect time to have a book launch, and of course, that is absolutely a privileged issue to not be able to do that. And we’re very grateful that we are healthy and have been able to even publish this book at this time. So it’s a minor disappointment, but we we still miss seeing people and having supporter like actual physical interaction. So we just wanted to let you all know that if you are in New York, or you plan to be in New York, maybe at the like sort of beginning part of September, we are going to maybe do a little pop up kind of outside table stand-esque moment so we can sell some of these books. And have people learn more about our older generation identified lesbians internationally, and their poetry and their visual art. And we’ll have much more information about that on our website and be emailing people and posting about it as usual. But I just wanted to let people know now since we’re here, and yeah, it would be an outdoor safe situation. We’re not sure of the details yet or where we’re going to do it. But we were inspired to do it because they’re, Sara and I are upstate in Wassaic right now and they have a really lovely pop up. Can’t remember the last name of the woman but this woman named Erica something, is creating this beautiful pop up of multiple zines, magazines and other book type oriented things. I didn’t get to look at everything that are more on the cheap-end and super, super affordable. And we thought well we could do that too. So stay tuned for details on our COVID version launch. Alright, thank you for coming. Thank you for your time. Thank you, Phoenix!