How would you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
My work is an investigation of the human condition, with a focus on transcendence that always seems to be at the edge of our experience. It strives to be a counterbalance to our culture’s chronic insistence on commodifying everything, a mindset that has a dehumanizing effect and has leveled horrific violence against entire communities. Black Lives Matter. It feels unimaginable to write anything without stating this right now: Black Lives Matter.
Slavery and its modern offshoots are founded in an inability to see people as human, to see only their monetary possibilities and how to exploit them. The dominant culture’s inability to view others as fully dimensional made for-profit-prisons possible. Entire industries have been built around creating flat fictions of the human experience.
My practice gravitates toward emotional, abstract narratives which leave enough ambiguity to make the audience use their own personal experiences to decode the work. We need storytelling to help us be fully human; my work tries to provide dreamlike emotional moments that are often without language. I find that tapping into that space can be really powerful for audiences and help them open up to possibilities.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
I’m working on quite a few things. A new video piece entitled Two Books is loosely based on Jung’s Red Book and will star the choreographer/dancer Robin Cantrell. While Jung can be problematic in places, there is a lot there to build on. Robin plays the role Conjurer—a hologram maker who receives esoteric transmissions from an unknown source through her CCTV. These lead her to take three journeys into an illuminated manuscript where she battles with her subconscious.
Robin and I are also working on a remote collaborative short video right now. She choreographed some movement and I wrote some music without seeing or hearing what the other did. We put the two together and are now making adjustments to both the music and the movement. Then we will turn it into a video with hand-painted backdrops. The working title is Bagel—but I think that will change.
My frequent collaborator Michael O’Neill and I are working on a cycle of video songs entitled One Minute World about social media. Since we live in different states, we’re used to making things long distance. We send music tracks back and forth, adding to them. We use a shared Google Sheet to keep things flowing in a sort of game structure if you can believe it. And for the videos, we’re doing stop motion animation. Taking photos of ourselves in our homes and then I edit them together for the videos.
The feelings of mourning, loss, and alienation are all very present in these new works. Besides the vibrational reality seeping into the content, the biggest change social distancing has imposed on my practice is that I can’t perform in front of people—and performance is at the heart of my practice. I recently did a Zoom performance and, although it was very needed nourishment for me, the absence of the energy of the room felt like a black hole. Performance is special because it exists in a brief time and physical space. The energy of everyone in the room is what shapes the experience. It’s one of the reasons it’s so difficult to get good video documentation of any performance.
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
I think the best advice I could give is to stay true to your practice and insights. If you are making real work right now, it will be relevant to the current culture. It doesn’t have to be didactic or unsubtle. I think a lot of artists are feeling pressure for their work to be really obviously politically relevant right now. I think that can lead to empty propaganda and easy answers. It’s important to fuel our spirits and imaginations. If you’re marching, yes, your sign should have pretty obvious messaging. The other piece of advice I have for everyone right now is to be OK with being unproductive some of the time. Take things day by day and allow yourself the room to have a bad day or series of bad days. It’s a crazy time and good art takes a lot of energy and care.
Alexis Gideon is an American visual artist, composer and performer, best known for his innovative animated live video operas and multidisciplinary techniques. Combining research, literature, musical composition, painting, sculpture, installation, video, and performance, Gideon’s work examines the loss of the mystical in contemporary society. Alienation, subjugation and the human condition are persistent themes in the artist’s work. In 2013, the New Museum of Contemporary Art paired Gideon with William Kentridge in a joint exhibition that explored spiritual and political colonialism.
Gideon has performed and exhibited throughout the world, including at Moderna Museet Stockholm, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Málaga, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Vdrome, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Wexner Center for the Arts, and Time Zones Festival Italia. His work is in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, the Debra & Dennis Scholl Collection in Miami, FL, The Benter Foundation in Pittsburgh, PA as well as a number of private collections.
About Princess: Princess (Alexis Gideon and Michael O’Neill) is a performance art duo that explores queerness and the concept of masculinity. Simultaneously gay, straight, queer, masculine and feminine, Princess embodies the fluidity and coherence between the seemingly contradictory.
Alexis and Michael are platonic soul mates, unified in their bond of not quite fitting in, who have been creating conceptual performances since 1999.
Princess has performed at the Andy Warhol Museum, The Bass, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, MCA San Diego, MIT List Visual Arts Center, MOCA Cleveland, New Museum, Wexner Center for the Arts and many other institutions.