“Art for Tomorrow” Artist Interview: Georden West

Interested in learning more about the artists on display at Emerson Contemporary Media Art Gallery? Read about Georden West and their journey, process, and hope for the future of art.

Where are you from?

I’m originally from Colorado, but I’ve been in Boston for 5 years for grad school. I’m predominantly a media time-based installation artist.

What do you do as an artist?

I’m a film-maker, that’s what I’ve been trained in. I went to Emerson and got my MFA in, more or less, making time-based media. And then I also did print in the fashion industry. All of my work would be realized for public space or consider space. I do love and enjoy putting together installations, and I did my first sculpture last year. I was trying to find new ways to engage in time-based media within the gallery space, which is something that is deeply important to me. That way, I didn’t quite let myself down on that commitment to stop living in an imagined two-dimensional world. I had just come from an apprenticeship at Nick Knight studio in London, so I had seen a lot of fashion shoots and such. To me, I think the film I submitted deals a lot with aesthetic and garment. It’s a sartorial commentary, and I ended up pairing with Jamall Osterholm. He is an incredible designer, really really brilliant. I feel like fashion film has potential in regard to what kind of experimental and digital media could be. I don’t think it’s quite realized yet, but it’s fun to play within that form, as a queer artist. I’m thinking about performance and the repetition of performance, because that has a lot to do with gender. It was really wonderful to get to work within a medium that’s usually, maybe, considered not as deep, or not as profound. It has this context that is both futurist in nature, but largely historical too. It toes the lines between those two, and it somehow works.

What does the exhibit “Art For Tomorrow” mean to you? How do you / does your art fit into or challenge that idea?

I think, for me, allowing these white male artists to be the pioneers of experimental digital media is a huge mistake. I think we need to start looking elsewhere. I’ve learned a lot and studied a lot about Bill Viola, who remains very formative in my practice, and I think, in determining what’s next for the medium, we need to start looking at queerness. To me, that’s inherent to this medium. I think the idea of projection within space needs to be considered. What does that mean and where can we put it? As someone who is still learning, as a student of life and of their own media, I learn something different every time I install a piece. It’s interesting, when you’re thinking about curating, you wonder how people will engage with this art. If I keep my work small and low on the wall, are people going to have to kneel down to see that? How does that change the experience? How does it change reverence towards the work? There are different ways to play with the way people engage with the art. It all has to do with the size and height, and that’s just a very simple way of encountering the work.

How do you see your own art play a role in day to day life /or in the human history canon?

I was having a debate with a colleague from Emerson. He, having read a lot of Donald Judd right now, thinks that we can only make art about what is known. And I was at first disagreeing, because I’m from a community that largely has to imagine. Art can be a way to record and preserve, so this medium works as an archive for a space that is entirely imagined. I think my work imagines people and places within the context of the way we see ourselves. I got to dig into Jamall’s mind to see how he saw his models, who are intersectional queer people. Getting to build something together that he felt like reflected history. For me, I want to be thinking about the future too. I think it was a good way for us to come together to understand archive. For me, relying on queer optimism and queer futurism has been good for my work, so I can imagine and reimagine contemporary history.

What role does ‘art’ play in critical times like right now?

We weren’t installing a brand new piece when everything locked down and now I don’t know what will happen to it. It was built architecturally for the space that it’s in, so we’ll see what the lifespan of that piece is. As we were building it, someone made a comment about being “post-queer”. I had a giant push-back against that sentiment and I think that queerness is an idea that has not yet arrived. We’re always moving towards it, but it’s something that we never arrive at. I was trying to explain this because nobody can be “post-something” that hasn’t happened yet. We, as queer bodies, are living in a space that both exists and is largely imagined. You can’t be beyond something that doesn’t have form or shape, that’s not how queerness works. But, queerness is an individual experience as well. I realized how much language I needed to learn in order to articulate what I was doing, so that I can give my work its longest life span possible.

If you can tell us one thing about your art, what would that be?

I don’t know one thing. It’s a million things. It’s all about learning. Everything is made in the practice of learning.

Is there anything you’d like the viewer to know or be aware of when looking at your art?

I think, unlike any other medium when we’re talking about large-scale film-making, it’s entirely based on teamwork. I have to manage my own expectations while managing the expectations of a team of people. The person who did the production design for the film is my good friend and hair dresser, and we had to work on a series of films. I knew what he was able to build, so we were together laying the tiles ourselves. Making the piece was incredibly difficult. I will say, it really solidified these creative relationships that I hadn’t explored that much during my career. I was so stressed during the entirety of shooting. It was my first time working with dogs, too, and that was a risky choice. I think the casting decisions were smart because everyone in the film is a good friend. I’d already built professional relationships with them, so that was one less stressful thing. I knew I had a cast of people that I really trusted and admired.

How do you continue to find inspiration in a COVID world? What keeps you moving?

I think having this time to reflect and learn in regards to queer theory will inform how I talk about my work, and shape the future work I make. I’ve been reading a lot of Maggie Nelson, and she really articulates her experience as a queer individual. And also a Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl, by Andrea Lawlor, which is a beautiful and important book. I’m a good friend of Ria Brodell who’s the author of Butch Heroes and I ask for recommendations from them all the time. I just want to understand as much as I can as I seek to represent my experience.

(Interviewed by: Bao Song and Lin Vega)