BRIC is pleased to have Macon Reed as a spring 2018 BRICworkspace visual artist-in-residence. Reed is an artist whose work is illustrated through sculpture, installation, video, radio documentary, painting, pedagogical and participatory projects. Motivated by political issues and human relationships in the queer and feminist community, her work is elaborated by life experiences, developing new relationships and finding ways to support the communities through her art or volunteering. We spoke with Reed to learn more about her practice, process, and recent work.
You are motivated by human relationships, often within an evolving queer and intersectional feminist frameworks. Do you feel there is a particular need for work that touches upon these subjects currently?
I absolutely do. As we know, the current administration is taking historic divides and making them worse on purpose, stoking flames of hatred and encouraging bullying and yelling over any forms of real conversation. I really think they are trying to wear us down by design, to make us too tired and wary of each other's intentions to fight and heal. It’s hard not to shut down or get caught in simplistic thinking- but understanding the ways all of our identities and life experiences intersect and inform our perspectives, needs, and wounds feels like the only way we can hear each other and move forward; prioritizing those most impacted by systems of oppression is something I believe is good for everyone to heal. I believe we are all indebted to black feminists in particular for helping us all understand this better over the last decades.
I think moving forward what is challenging is how to make room for the parts of us that don't fit neatly into divisive frameworks- how do we hold things in our hearts that are nuanced and contradictory? How do we invoke an emotional intelligence strong enough to call people in to our common efforts instead of feeding capitalism's divide and conquer, but also honor the feelings and needs of those for healing? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I sit with them all the time. And any artist or non-artist working towards supporting these hard conversations is doing important work.
Has the artist's role changed at all, given the current contentious political climate?
I do not think the artist's role in particular has changed- I believe everyone's roles have changed or at least, they need to. In this sense, artists are among a number of communities that have tools for meaningful resistance and an urgent need to galvanize whatever we can towards change.
After he who shall not be named got elected, I did feel urgent questions about staying in the arts- was it impactful enough, etc. However I realized these are the skills I have immediately at hand- both as an art maker but also as an art educator- and I would be most effective if I used the tools and networks I already have developed.
I think we have seen this in all sorts of fields- with the teachers' strikes, youth in the growingly intersectional anti-gun violence movements, Yemeni-owned bodega strikes, sex workers (Stormy Daniels anyone?), etc. Basically I think it’s important to start where you are at.
I am an artist so I think that’s where I can try to do my part. I can’t imagine not making work responding to what’s going on though-even if I do struggle to find the best way- we don't have time to waste and a lot of people's safety is at stake. My recent project called "A Pressing Conference," was my response to the attacks on truth and the press, historic connections our moment has to the rise of authoritarian regimes, and to try to create a platform for people to speak out and offer tools and lessons for people to hopefully be able to act and not feel so overwhelmed...it was trying to do a lot! This fall it will be taking place at a couple of schools and universities where student organizations will be using the installation to organize conversations and connect people across different lines of approach.
It was so surreal to find myself making something like an American flag and presidential seal...so the current moment is definitely dictating what feels urgent to make.
I think the thing an artist can do is that they can find new ways of talking about and engaging issues that people feel stuck with or at an impasse. We can be pollinators of conversation and do our best to use our work as a platform for ideas we believe in. This current political climate is particularly intense and serious, but also these institutionally supported isms and cycles of violence and oppression aren't new...sometimes creative approaches are the only way to find new perspective.
Aesthetic form and social engagement are not mutually exclusive in your work but rather, deeply intertwined. What does getting the community involved mean to your work?
A big breakthrough in my practice was when I worked on a project called Eulogy For The Dyke Bar a couple years ago. I had worked on studio-focused projects and also documentary and social practice projects, but they often felt separate. I realized the divide wasn't necessary and that, for me personally, allowing the different ways of working to truly enhance and support each other was way more exciting. Creating immersive, sculptural installations that then serve as a site for conversation and programming is in many ways an ideal combination for me. The installation becomes a signifier that we are somewhere else between every day and the place is stands for, and functions as temporarily, in that case a dyke bar. I see it as a sort of container that I can invite people to share what they have with people...also with the isolation of working in the studio at times, it is like a breath of air to get to have meaningful moments with people as part of the work.
Whenever I organize community events, I always make sure to see it as a collaboration. I make myself vulnerable and reach out to strangers and always have coffee or a conversation with them to start with building a relationship first. I ask what potential speakers or presenters would like to contribute of course, but also what I can offer them in return for their time and energy. Sometimes this means that I volunteer for their organization, help them with a project of their own, or show up in another way...each relationship and exchange is different.
Also perhaps most importantly- I ask what they need from me to build trust as an organizer and to feel comfortable in the space I am creating with them. Sometimes I am asking people to share very personal stories, address painful generational divides, or stand in front of a room of people who may have had very different experiences than their own- I take this very seriously.
In this way, I am more of a facilitator than anything and consider each relationship to be something that hopefully can evolve beyond the event itself- the beginning of a conversation between us or between people who attend and participate. I have been honored over the years to maintain and develop new relationships with people I meet through my projects from a wide array of ages and backgrounds.
How does a performative or social aspect create an additional layer to your work?
It has never been satisfying to me personally, to spend so much time making a sculptural object and then just put it on display somewhere. I don't know why, but I have always had the impulse to activate it somehow- whether wearing it, performing with it as a prop, or now more often, activating it by inviting others to come and engage it. The conversations people have or the stories they share very much become the heart and root of the work- I make the objects in order to bring the experiences forth.
What does it mean to be an artist based in Brooklyn?
I love Brooklyn so much! Firstly, getting to see the work of such incredible and diverse artists is so amazing- not very many places in the world offer it the way the Brooklyn does. And there are so many different ways of working and disciplines mixing together here- it keeps me on my toes. I also think there are so many different Brooklynsto experience- this diversity and variety of experience is part of what makes it feel like a safer place to be a queer artist given all that’s going on. I feel really lucky to be here and the support of organizations like BRIC have been phenomenal!
Compiled by: Nicole Halley