Juliana Lindenhofer met Juliana Huxtable to talk about protest aesthetics, alternate academies and her recent multiple genitalia work at Migros Museum Zürich.
Juliana Huxtable is the founder of Shock Value, a party in New York City, where she specifically platforms trans and female artists. As a DJ she performs internationally, her art has been featured at MoMA, 2015 New Museum Triennial, Reena Spaulings Fine Art, and her first book Mucus in My Pineal Gland was published in 2017, gathering her poems, performance scripts, and essays. We met the artist at her lecture for Rrriot Festival Vienna on March 8.
You studied at Bard College. It was nightlife though, and not academia, that made it possible for you to express your first artistic ideas?
I think I did get to express my ideas in academia, but I think at the time it didn’t feel like a creative thing. It was more like criticizing or analyzing or engaging something that already exists, but I didn’t see that at the time as its own kind of act in making of something. I stopped pursuing art in college – literature and theory, that was what really excited me. I always liked nightlife. I grew up knowing that I was gonna move to New York and be in clubs. It was a space in which the sense of coalition forming that I had in mind could immediately become real. Nightlife has its own way of rewarding people, social hierarchies and things like that, outside of nightlife it’s not really acknowledged as a thing, so there was no pressure. I think it was healthy in that way.
In much of your visual work you are using your own body. In your performance at Park Avenue Armory in New York City last October you addressed the body as a trap, other ways of fleshliness and the dissolution of a body. Could you describe your performance and ways of fleshliness you thought of?
The performance is three different parts. It was about playing with the description of experiences of fleshliness. The first part was about the feeling of being on the train and feeling you might be attacked or seeing someone next to you and that goosebumps feeling.
I think that’s a definitively out-of-body thing, especially when you are the person to whom the spectacles are directed. I feel that was a moment of disappearing into your flesh, where you become aware of every part of yourself and what could be scrutinized, what is open and vulnerable, and you only really think of yourself as something that you don’t own. All of a sudden, it’s just this thing that is filling over with the risk of being harmed. I wrote this piece, describing this moment, also describing it as a beautiful disembodiment, to think about that experience as something rewarding or sublime. Ahya Simone plays the harp and does vocals, Joseph Heffernan does the keyboard and drums.
I think as a result of very early on using my own body in my work, sometimes that can come with bizarre feedback loops. People really think they know you or know your body and they expect that there is a fetish that comes with that. And then your value as an artist is linked to a certain performance, which isn’t necessarily free from desirability politics – it can feel really gross.
I have done performances where I have used my body, but that performance would be about presence and immediacy and duration, and that is an opportunity for me to disappear from my own body, and for me to disappear from the weight of feeling like I have to be aware and perform my body. So, it’s really nice to be in this environment that is all visual and musical and spoken. It creates a space in which I can just become part of those textures.
For your show »A Split During Laughter at the Rally« at Reena Spaulings Fine Art in 2017 you built a metal installation with a new series of posters and magnets mapping protest aesthetics and slogans like »The War on Proof«, »Cross Dressers 4 Christ«, »Super Bitch«, »Misandrists United«.
It all started with what I felt was a crisis of the relationship between political orientation and the idea that that could be expressed through visual means and aesthetic means, and that aesthetics would be able to convey any sense of the political entity that it claims to represent – and that that was sort of impossible. I was thinking about the history of posters and newspapers and buttons as a pretty clear marker, whether it’s a campaign or a group or »fuck cops«.
And so, I wanted to see and play with the ambiguity of those things. What does it look like for a white nationalist male to think of himself as a victim, but using intersectionality as paradigm for that? These strange overlaps I think are actually happening a lot of the time.
You name Coco Fusco as your favorite artist.
I have a lot of favorite artists, but she was definitely the first person that was like »Oh my God«, because she is like a force. The way that she writes, the way that she speaks, and thinks is all part of this really amazing lucid world. I love so much of her work. She takes a lot of risk, but she also takes her work seriously as an endeavor. She takes the idea of intellectual and political histories seriously and how those merge with aesthetics.
You had to find your own art histories online, as they were not covered in your studies?
I had a LiveJournal, a BlogSpot, an Angelfire, a GeoCities – I had all of them. One of the things I love so much about those platforms is that they serve as alternate academies, alternate archives. That always really excited me, so when I was really interested in art and was being introduced to new art via Tumblr, it was exciting to participate in that and to decide: for these two weeks I’m just gonna look at art related to the prison industrial complex and art that is made by prisoners.
There is a lot of artists that most people probably know, that I don’t, but I’m really happy that I was able to find my own world within which to reside and play and feel like I could establish my own practice.
Your DJ Mixes have titles like »SCHIZOANALYSIS«, »SHE’S MANIC« or »THE AWAKENING« and often include female vocalists. How does your process look like building such a set?
I used to be able to do it more easily, but each time that I make a set I feel like I need to do something more, pursue a different angle, or try something technical, and so now it takes a really long time.
In the past it’s been tied to events, like »The Awakening« was a mix that I made after I had a really gross ex-boyfriend. That relationship was really dark. After I was out of that, I felt I had entered this new stage of my life, because I feel like that relationship was also motivated by this feeling that my romantic attachment would validate me and my sense of dysphoria. It felt like a distinctly new period in my life to feel somewhat in conversation with myself and the conversation isn’t just us screaming at each other. I wanted to commemorate, to let out all of this rage that I have of subjecting myself to something like that from a man for so long.
I thought about the end of the book »The Awakening«, because that was my favorite book in high school. I thought the woman was just so beautiful, her sense of sexuality and independence and this dramatic, tragic view she had of herself, that ultimately ended up with her walking into the ocean. The way it describes her choosing to kill herself as an alternative to what she was not about – I identified with that for some reason. So that’s where I got the title of the mix from, and I knew that before the mix was even done. It was piecing together these different references, because a lot of things would be happening at once, like I was also going back to Pop Industrial – Marilyn Manson, kind of »Korn-genre« music. There is a free jazz part, where this woman is just screaming. I wanted the mix to move from sad, angry into desperate into finding a sense of self and independence.
You did a wallpaper with octopus-like drawings that remind of multiple genitalia, now on view at Migros Museum in Zürich.
That was for a show I did with my friend Carolyn, it was called »epigenetic«. Carolyn, me and the gallerist we all read the same book, it was an Octavia Butler story and it was about an interdependency between different species, but it also seems like it could be a metaphor for relationships between humans, specifically enslaved humans. We were thinking about animals as avatars and psychedelics, a kaleidoscopic aesthetic could meet a racial trauma as something that can be explored through the interspecies model.
I thought it would be fun to make this wall thing, that starts with primaries, like binary sex organs, but then explodes what that is to different things – there is like some intestinal tract, some octopus, some mushrooms, nipples.