Periodically, we review newly created artist profiles in the BRIC Contemporary Artist Registry and select one of exceptional merit to feature.
Brooklyn-based artist Katie Cercone uses her background as a yoga instructor and interest in gender studies to explore the spiritualism and esotericism of the Hip-Hop genre through group and video performances. Originally from Santa Rosa, California, the artist received her BA from Lewis and Clark College in 2006, and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2011. Cercone and artist Elisa Garcia de la Huerta co-direct the performance group Go! Push Pop Collective, a self-proclaimed radical, queer feminist art collective . The group most recently performed at the 2013 Brooklyn Artist Ball at the Brooklyn Museum. Her work has also been featured at the Bronx Museum, A.I.R. Gallery, and Molloy College. Cercone is a 2013 Brooklyn Arts Council Community Arts Fund grantee and nominee for the Rema Hort Mann Visual Arts Grant for her work with Go! Push Pop Collective.
What was it about hip-hop music and rapper Lil Wayne that lead you to your first consciously spiritual experience as an adolescent? How did this ultimately lead to the creation of your video art?
So to clarify I really started to have the spiritual experience with Weezy when I was maybe 23-24, listening to tracks like A Milli, Ice Cream Paint Job, Lollipop, and My Life (The Game feat. Lil Wayne). At first the idea of connecting Hip Hop and the "spiritual" seemed kinda absurd but after really doing some thorough research there are very clear links between hip hop and a radical black musical tradition that is very much based in a formal communion with God, ritual, transcendence, 'possession dance,' African cosmology, The Nation of Islam and emancipatory traditions like the Ring Shout, etc. Essentially, within African diasporic expressions like Hip Hop, there's no separation between the spiritual and the secular as in Christian-based traditions.
In terms of adolescence I like to connect the aesthetic of my current work to how in the early 1990s when I was growing up in California the signs and codes of hip hop were being co-opted, grossly out of context, by corporate entities to sell breakfast cereal, toys and Barbie Dolls. This was really my first taste of Hip Hop, albeit in a demented form. My brother also used to always blast James Brown through an oscilloscope from his bedroom next door to mine when I was 6 or 7. Thinking about funk as a proto-genre of hip hop, I look back on my brother's scientific experiments tracing the sound wave forms of the 'King of Soul' as my inaugural boot-shaking moment.
In your resume, you make an important connection between Pop Culture and gender pedagogy, would you say your artwork seeks to unlearn gender? Is there a feminist activism in your work?
I was a Gender and Feminist studies major in undergrad. It was only really when I started to see work of the 1970s Feminist Art Movement that I really decided to become an artist with a capital A. Art just felt like a language that was more accessible and capable of creating more widespread change. In terms of pop culture, I think it's an excellent way that teaching artists are reaching the youth. We can all deconstruct, challenge and appropriate pop culture to our own ends in a way that encourages pleasure, agency and speaking truth to power.
In addition to my studio work I also co-lead a queer, transnational feminist collective called Go! Push Pops with Elisa Garcia de la Huerta. Even more so with the collective work we have an expressly feminist and hip hop feminist agenda that revolves around embodiment. The global Hip Hop diaspora is one culture we draw from in this sense. What I would identify as Hip Hop's gestures of power, uniquely counter-hegemonic idioms, anti-colonial stance and emphasis on the posse or crew are all relevant to our transnational feminist agenda.
You seem to be very invested in the composition of language and the structures of power in phallogocentricism, in what ways can we see this interest displayed in your work?
I've noticed in my work that I play with trying on and off this sort of hypermasculine gangsta persona (often times because I'm just delivering verbatim the lyrics of my favorite rappers), and this of course "implicates" me in various ways. On the one hand I see it as a king of drag. Masculinity being just as much of a performance as femininity, it's empowering to view hip hop as a site of queer performativity. When I look at my favorite male rappers I notice they all have long hair, often times braided, pretty faces and lots of ice and bling, meanwhile the female MCs vacillate toward all things associated with male power and privilege. It's easy to make queer readings of the hip hop aesthetic, its "no-homo" referendums and blatant gay subtext operating as twin poles.
And of course being white unleashes a whole flood of other issues. "The Gaze" for instance as we know it from feminist theory has a very different meaning for instance when we talk about white suburban kids or white hipster kids and this voyeurism that happens regarding black culture/hip hop/the hood/the third world. I'm interested in hip hop and feminism both for their linguistic rejection of the overarching eurocentricity and privileging of whiteness and maleness in the West. Western science created race and racism to justify the exploitation of people of color for the express purpose of profit and conquest, our language has shaped itself around these broad cultural narratives and has supported white patriarchal capitalism at every turn. Hip hop, slango, ebonyx, black vernacular – it's a counter-hegemonic discourse I want to adopt and pay homage to in my video sculpture.
You describe hip-hop as esoteric and a form of Neo-Jungian 'cultural dreaming.' How do you relate the genre to a culture's mythology, and how does your work as a yoga instructor allow you to further demonstrate this idea in your videos?
Well, for one thing I'm really interested in all the mythologies around hip hop. Like I'm really interested in the Illuminati or as A$ap Rocky says 'Trilluminati' conspiracy theory as it relates to hip hop, new age, mysticism, and ancient Egyptian lore. These images and texts people post online are kind of insane but deeply fascinating at the same time when you think about these iconographies as a type of intersubjective e-commerce or collective 'exquisite corpse' of ancient and archetypal systems. Last night I also saw the Mexican rapper Boca Floja speak during a Global Hip Hop forum at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture about how he felt that the whole thing was a pathology of late capitalism derived from our misshapen relationship do money, power and success. He's brilliant.
I also tend to talk a lot about Goddess archetypes when I explain my work, and am interested in how music videos are a type of contemporary mythological frame we resonate with globally based on these given archetypal forms. In his extensive anthropological studies of Africa, particularly what in the West we call "possession dance," Robert Farris Thompson alludes to blackness as a transcendental state of being. In fact in many African languages no distinction is made between 'music' and 'dance' and to dance is to become one with the Gods. That's where I make the connection to yoga, an ancient Hindu form of transcendentalism and science of enlightenment – making my own connections between African dance forms, yoga, breaking, etc. through performance.
I also like how theorists such as Kismet Nuñez have called out Nicki Minaj as Esu, the African God of interpretation and the connector of the people to their African past. Citing her chameleon like maneuverability and two-faced depiction of black feminist (and queer) possibility, Nuñez writes Minaj as "diasporic black, as radical, and as speculative." I think instead of harping on all of the negative elements of mainstream hip hop we can think on a broader level about how perhaps Minaj is so scintillating and hyperreal because through her we experience our trickster – our guardian and inspirer of interpretation and transformation, our master of potentiality.
Has living within the breadth of Brooklyn's cultural sphere impacted your work?
Totally! I mean I was listening to the hard sh*t back in 6th grade in sunny suburban California but I certainly didn't experience hip hop as a cultural movement until moving to Brooklyn seven years ago. I feel that I was seduced, to use a problematic term, into the culture here, not without some crazy consequences like getting assaulted by this ratchet white girl (also from California) in Maria Hernandez Park over my work. I'm still picking up the pieces of what rap has done to me psychologically, physiologically and spiritually. I guess you can say in my work I'm exploring this 'slippage' that occurs in the break of mass mediated pop pedagogy around race, class and gender.