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Never Lettin' Go

Updates on our 2015 Artist Fellows/Alumni

Desiree Holman, Chad Person, and Derrick Velasquez were Black Cube’s inaugural Artist Fellows in 2015. These Fellows also launched the Alumni program in 2016. As part of our long-term partnership and dedication to the artists we work with, we wanted to give you an update on all of the exciting developments in their practices.

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Desiree Holman, Beijing, 2016 (Photo by David FitzGerald)

Cortney Lane Stell: Describe your recent residency on the Great Wall of China and your new project The Third Space.

Desiree Holman: With Black Cube’s help, I successfully applied for a month long artist residency and fellowship at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, a restaurant and resort hotel situated at the foot of the Great Wall and cusp of city life in the Beijing countryside.  The location was extraordinary; rich in natural beauty, history, and culture.  The hybrid and transitional nature of this place was of particular interest to my research.  Tucked into an ancient small village of peasants, many of whom are descendants of those that built the Great Wall, one finds this dynamic, multi-lingual, affluent, global, temporary community.  Serving approximately 50% Chinese and 50% Europeans and Americans, Jim Spears and Tang Liang, the Chinese and American proprietors, are fluent in both Chinese and English.  Spears designed the buildings by integrating modern architecture with pre-existing courtyard homes built in the Ming Dynasty.   The crown jewel is of course the Great Wall of China. The wall itself, as an actual in-between site, is perhaps one of the grandest examples of the transitional space between two states.

Over the course of the October 2016 residency, I spent my time researching and developing a visual storyboard, scene breakdown, and script for my newest work, a multi-media installation titled The Third Place.   The work explores the experiential space of language acquisition in the literal and metaphorical transition between fluent English and learned Mandarin. “Third Place” (Kramsch 1993) in language learning refers to the construction of a new hybrid space between the source language and the target language. As students become a more integral part of their target language learning community, they start talking within (and not only about) the practice they are involved in.

My work at large continues to be engaged with the states of change, mutability, and flexibility of identity as expressed internally and externally. And, the domain of language in this exercise of world-building and self-construction is a natural extension of these inquiries.  Thematically, in making this work, I sought to explore the process of de-centering or, simply stated, taking a step back from the learner’s beliefs and thoughts to engage with another cultural framework, and to ultimately occupy the “third place.”  This process ultimately allows questions about one’s own culturally-determined assumptions and about the society in which one lives. 

CLS: What are the highlights from your art practice in 2016?

DH: 2016 has been an incredible year full of dynamic growth and new directions in my art practice. Building on the project, Sophont in Action:  Black Cube at Red Rocks, part one of my fellowship with SFMOMA’s Performance in Progress has to be my top highlight of 2016.  During this process, I was able to present public programs of my work-in-progress.  This entailed collaborating with three amazing choreographers and nine performers to experiment with the pre-existing movement vocabulary of Sophont in Action.  As an auxiliary program, my complete three channel video works from 2005 - 2016 were on view, which was thrilling to be able to look back, while at the same time moving on to new frontiers.

Also in 2016, my 2011 work Heterotopias was installed as a solo exhibition at Centre des Arts Actuels SKOL in Montreal, Canada.  The installation was particularly noteworthy because the work was installed asymmetrically for the first time.   

I spent the majority of my 2016 studio time actively learning Mandarin, which is a life changer and, is quite literally, reshaping my mind.  This led to two trips to China (including The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu’s fellowship), both of which are feeding into my newest project.  Along the way, I did something I never imagined myself doing - I stepped out of the director role to be a live participant in a performance.  In September, with my Mandarin language tutor, Li Rao, we performed 鸡同鸭讲:Chicken with Duck Speaking at Minnesota Street Projects in San Francisco.  In it, we shared one of our weekly tutoring sessions allowing viewers a glimpse into our process. 

CLS: What are you looking forward to next year?

DH: I’m looking forward to 2017 with much anticipation.  After a long-term relationship with SFMOMA as a Performance in Progress fellow, I’ll be presenting the culminating gesture: a very special and site-specific live-cinema version of Sophont in Action.  All of the work I’ve been doing with them has led up to this moment.   

On the heels of the SFMOMA reveal, I’ll be presenting the second version of 鸡同鸭讲:Chicken with Duck Speaking at SomArts in San Francisco, CA. 

Lastly, I’m ecstatic to begin video production on The Third Place.  Who knows, maybe there will even be some VR welcoming everyone into the third place.

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Desiree Holman, Reborn, Three Channel Video, SFMOMA (Photo by Don Ross)

Cortney Lane Stell: Describe your Black Cube Alumni project and tell us how it went?

Chad Person: My Black Cube fellowship was one of the greatest artistic opportunities of my career to date. Black Cube supported the development of my largest and most ambitious inflatable sculpture to date, The Prospector. The sculpture is a massive guerrilla monument, who was first erected in a parking lot immediately adjacent to the State Capitol in Denver.

For my alumni project, The Prospector made a return appearance in Denver, alongside my complete body of inflatable sculptures. I’ve been producing inflatables for about a decade. Most of the time, my inflatables are shown individually. I had never had the chance to show them all together in one place. This exhibition was an interesting opportunity to see the progression of work and themes I have been dealing with over the years. It was well received.

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Chad Person, Blow Up, 2016

CLS: What are the highlights for your art practice in 2016?

CP: Resurrecting The Prospector sculpture was a real high point for me because it reminded me of the power of large scale public work. Inflating The Prospector is similar to wrangling a balloon float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Getting him to stand up takes a bit of planning, and a lot of elbow grease.

A group of six (museum staff and volunteers) were inflating the piece on the day of the exhibition opening. As we were struggling to get him to fully inflate, a remarkable thing happened: the residents of Five Points started emerging from their homes eager to help.

A couple of guys had seen the spectacle from a nearby apartment and came down because ‘they could tell we needed a hand.’ Soon, we were joined by a few more people who were walking by and felt compelled to grab a rope and help pull our behemoth into the sky. It’s not everyday that you see this type of public engagement, and it was pretty special.

CLS: What are you looking forward to next year?

CP: I’m splitting my time right now between sketching an adult children’s book concept I’ve been developing, and a new inflatable. And since Black Cube has continued to support my career by presenting ongoing opportunities and providing tools to elevate my practice, I anticipate we will travel the inflatables show within 2017.

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Chad Person with his inflatable sculpture 'Dying Gaul'

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Derrick Velasquez, New Brutal 2, 2016, La Alma Park

Cortney Lane Stell: Describe your Black Cube Alumni project and tell us how it went.

Derrick Velasquez: My Black Cube Alumni project, New Brutal 2, continued with my research into the materials and architecture used to form what is much of the new Denver. While using almost the same building materials like 2 x 4s, OSB, trim molding, and custom CNC designs, I was able to respond to an entirely different site with social complexities and physical nuances that weren't present in the first version. I used the design of a classic Greek pediment and placed it in a sunken amphitheater in La Alma/Lincoln Park. This new installation used the subtle sinking grade of the aisles leading to the stage as space to create two thirty-eight foot long triangular buildings, forming a low-lying isosceles triangle covered in trim and crown molding. The work could not be seen from the street but mainly from the rec center in the park that serves under privileged youth and their families. There is a lot of construction going on in that neighborhood and it felt meaningful to install a work that was physically accessible, made direct visual relationships to the surrounding gentrification, and didn't disrupt the use of the public space. The project went well, but the extension of the permitting became an issue as we tried to extend the duration of the exhibition.

CLS: What are the highlights for your art practice in 2016?

DV: Some of my favorite art moments this year have been exploring new territory that was opened up by completing both Black Cube projects. I have been taking what I learned from New Brutal and bringing it back into the studio and gallery space. This has culminated in a show at Transmitter in Brooklyn, and my second solo show at Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia. Outside of making, I am on the board of an exciting new organization called Tilt West. We are trying to raise the level of open discussion around social and cultural topics through the lens of art via round table discussions and publications. Also, in September, I curated a show at RedLine called Transforming Milk Into Milk. This was my first foray into curating and it was a satisfying to execute a curatorial concept and vision that had been percolating for almost three years. I was able to show a number of artists who are from outside of Denver and made some new connections by reaching out to artists who I didn’t know.

CLS: What are you looking forward to in 2017?

DV: I'm looking forward to moving on from the election as well as the deaths of some of my favorite musicians. Art-wise, I will be showing in Baltimore in the spring, and have a solo show at Robischon Gallery in Denver sometime in the summer. I'm really looking forward to having a diverse show that takes advantage of that gallery space. Trying to reinvent and reshape my voice in the community is a goal I have over the next year. In addition to helping Tilt West complete its first wave of events, I'm considering opening a low-key gallery space in my basement. I don't really have time to curate a space fully; however, it's something I've thought about and will recruit some curatorial help in the near future.

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Derrick Velasquez, New Brutal 2, 2016, La Alma Park, opening reception