Being an artist means being able to trust one’s intuition. Intuition may be viewed as an abstract concept. Some may even think it is nonsense, the kind of foolishness that intellectuals or sensible people do not discuss. Since artists are often dismissed as senseless dreamers, intuition is risky territory for us to cop to. Contemporary art is about research and rigor, strong concepts and aesthetic concerns. Of course all of these elements, as well as technique and skill are crucial to the work. Yet that does not diminish the importance of intuition.
Growing up I remember hearing my mother exclaiming in frustration, “I should have followed my mind!” anytime she ignored her intuition and faced negative consequences. This always stuck with me and as a result I try to follow my own intuition as much as possible, especially when it comes to making art. My practice is very research-based and I love to read and write about a project extensively before, during and after creating it. But at some point I have to surrender to my muse and follow the art wherever it takes me.
Suspecting that other artists might approach their processes similarly, I interviewed Brooklyn-based artist Maria Hupfield, who is a member of Wasauksing First Nation, and Jamaican artist Olivia McGilchrist. Both use their own bodies to explore issues of culture and race in order to address universal concepts such as connectivity and alienation. They both also utilize costumes and props in creating the scenarios in their performances. These artists begin with a clear concept, an ideal vision of how their performances will manifest. But at some point they let go and allow the performance to carry them in order to create change by furthering dialogue about pertinent issues in their respective communities.
Maria Hupfield is a multi-disciplinary artist who creates the objects that she uses in her performances along with bodily gestures and her voice. These tools facilitate her performances, which are part of what she deems “new conversations.” However there is simultaneously a timeless as well a futuristic quality to her work. I met with Maria in her studio in an industrial area of Brooklyn. In performance, Maria is bold and confident. Yet in casual conversation she is soft-spoken and very careful about her thoughts and words. Talking with her it became clear that she applies the same careful consideration to her work so that by the time she arrives in front of an audience she can embody that sense of confidence and clarity.
Olivia McGilchrist was born in Jamaica to a French mother and a Jamaican father. She spent most of her life in Europe and suddenly had to return to Jamaica two years ago. This is the impetus for her alter ego “Whitey.” This work is not only about Olivia’s experiences of whiteness in Jamaica. She hopes to raise questions about whiteness in the Caribbean context. Olivia is using performance to help process these heavy personal as well as societal concerns.
This is my final posting for my six-month off-site residency with Fresh Milk. I am so grateful to Fresh Milk and all of the amazing artists that I have had the opportunity to speak with and learn from during this time.
What I did not reveal is that the six chapters of the Fresh Performance Project were based on the chakras, which are energy centers throughout our body. There are seven that people tend to focus on and I used these as the template for this project, inspired by the work of performance artist Linda Montano.
The first chakra is the root chakra and it is the place of grounding. So chapter one was about defining performance art in order to ground the project.
The second chakra is the sacral chakra and concerns sexual matters and chapter two focused on gender and sexuality.
The third chakra is the solar plexus and is our power center so of course chapter three was about performance and power.
The fourth chakra is the heart chakra and is all about love, as was chapter four.
The fifth chakra is the throat chakra and governs communication. Chapter five discussed how performance communicates.
The sixth chakra is our third eye, which is the space of intuition and here we are at chapter six: intuition and vision.
The seventh chakra, the crown chakra, is about Divine connection and oneness. Instead of a seventh chapter, this chakra will be represented by a full-length documentary bringing together all of the artists I have interviewed over the last six months. The intention of Fresh Performance was to learn about the connections and differences amongst artists working with performance in NYC and those in the Caribbean. I have learned a tremendous amount, not only about performance art and contemporary Caribbean art, but also about kindness, generosity and the ways in which we are all connected.
For the next four weeks I will be in residence at Fresh Milk as well as Groundation Grenada completing this project. I will contribute weekly blog posts to FreshMilkBarbados.com documenting the experience. Please also check out damaliabrams.tumblr.com for less formal updates.
Thank you so much to all of the artists who have participated and a huge thank you to Fresh Milk and Groundation Grenada! Also, thank you the U.S. Embassy for funding this amazing residency. I am infinitely grateful for this opportunity.
About Olivia McGilchrist
Born in Kingston (Jamaica) in 1981 to a French mother and a Jamaican father and educated in France and the U.K., Olivia McGilchrist moved back to Jamaica in 2011 after completing a Photography M.A. at the London College of Communication (2009-2010). Since this sudden return, her current practice has incorporated her body, remapping it within the tropical picturesque through photographic tableaux and multi-layered videos. She has indulged her alter-ego Whitey in her appropriation of this space of utter difference, Jamaica, by exploring trans-location and physical expressions of emotional states in the search for her cultural identity. McGilchrist was recently awarded the prize for Best New Media artist at the 2013 trinidad+tobago film festival.
About Maria Hupfield
Maria Hupfield (born 1975) is from the Georgian Bay region Ontario, Canada and currently based in Brooklyn New York. She is of Anishnaabe (Ojibwa) heritage and a member of Wasauksing First Nation. Hupfield holds an MFA in sculpture from York University, Toronto. She recently participated in: A Conversation on Performance Art: Women Redrawing/Performance, organized by The Feminist Art Project at SOHO20 Chelsea NY; (2013) Wave Hill’s Winter Workspace Program, Glyndor Galley, Bronx, NY; and (2012) Artist Leadership Program, National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. She has performed at ACCOLA GRIEFEN GALLERY, Chelsea NY, Grace Gallery, Brooklyn NY and (2012) 7a*11d International Performance Festival, Toronto ON. Hupfield’s work is currently in the traveling exhibitions Beat Nation and Changing Hands III.
Hupfield’s work was featured in the 2011 winter edition of Black Flash Magazine on performance photography and in the North Edition of Fuse Magazine winter for the collaborative artist project “From the Moon to the Belly” with Laakkuluk Williamson.