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Layla Muchnik-Benali, Film/Video Curatorial Assistant
Jun 09, 2021
Friday brings Krissy on Tour to our virtual screening room for a two-week run. Curated and created in part by the collective Krissy Talking Pictures, the program turns the spotlight on new video art by queer artists in and around Philadelphia. In anticipation of the tour's arrival, Wex Film/Video Curatorial Assistant Layla Muchnik-Benali checked in with Krissy founder Cherry Nin and collective members Rat Porridge and Florence Fire about the program and other things. Their email exchange is below.
First things first: thank you for taking the time to answer these questions! I want to start the conversation by opening up space for any member of Krissy to simply share where they are at right now—how is everyone feeling, what’s been on your mind lately?
Nin: Right now, I am sitting at my desk—it is purple and within a little nook/cave I have made into a studio space in my bedroom. Downstairs is one of the projects of the day: piles of gear to be put away! Last night we hosted an outdoor screening by the river in Philly. It was the first IRL Krissy event since pre-pandemic times. It felt really good to be able to create a space like that again, to bring people together around video, and to feel the collective energy that goes into an event. A borrowed PA from one friend, a projector from another... It’s only with this sort of resource sharing that these things happen. But at the same time I was also reminded of how vulnerable sharing and creating spaces can be! I think the pandemic has left me a bit rusty with the vulnerability required for showing art.
Lately I have been sitting with the intensity of the past month or two; it feels like there has been an unleashing of repressed social energy and everything feels so heightened. I am stoked for this, that people get to be together in ways that are freer. At the same time I feel a bit exhausted, from the past year and from trying to relearn how to balance time spent out in the world with time spent at home or alone. It is also difficult to grapple with the fact that we lost so many people, that we continue to, but that there has been no public reckoning or grieving of that. We have experienced such immense loss, and there needs to be leadership around feeling that, being with it, otherwise I think there will be huge long-term consequences. I have been thinking about how to create that sort of dialogue.
What have Krissy members been reading, watching, and listening to lately?
Nin: I have been reading poetry and an early 'zine called The Adventures of Loneberry by Jackie Wang, Wayward Lives Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman, and a couple books about Devised Theatre for research toward an upcoming movie project. Most recently I watched No Home Movie by Chantal Akerman. I have been listening to Maral, The Man, The King, The Girl by Deerhoof, and Call the Doctor by Sleater Kinney.
Rat Porridge: I am constantly devouring bits, pieces and halves of media. I’m reading Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, i-Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita and Frontier by Can Xue. Watching the Vampire Diaries, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Neighborhood Story, and other anime. Also just saw Sisters with Transistors about early women synth musicians and engineers, which was really inspiring if you’re able to watch. Listening to an endless amount of music but a lot of Japanese noise like C.C.C.C., Mayuko Hino, Merzbow, and Masonna along with current pop stuff like Poppy’s I Disagree, which I have a thousand more words for.
Florence Fire: I have alway struggled finishing things I start to consume, but I feel like I have been really getting caught in some weird holes of YouTube as always. I have always been really inspired by Nelson Sullivan who "vlogged" queer life in NYC in the '80s and I started rewatching the archives. It is really inspiring to be able to access so vividly life from a more casual perspective and have a view into such a particular scene. Book-wise, I just read Polysecure, which was an insightful read on Attachment, Trauma, and Nonmonogamy that was really recently published. Also reading some Ursula Le Guin which seems like classic gay sci-fi reads. I also started and I have yet to finish the book Reverse Cowgirl by McKenzie Wark, and just random other theoretical texts. Music-wise, I get hooked onto listening to WKDU mostly because it is easier then picking something since I always just repeat playing the same CDs. I find comfort in re-listening to the same favorite music, but I feel like I am always looking for more albums to play on repeat. My late '90s and early 2000s dance mixes really help lighten the mood sometimes and get me psyched to feel alive.
Krissy on tour includes such a wide range of moving-image work ranging from animation to performance, to experimental films and beyond. Can you share a little bit about the process of putting together this program, and what questions/dreams/ideas were guiding your thinking throughout that process?
The curation of this program aligns with our larger interest in all different kinds of work, particularly because we are critical of trendiness, perfection/clean art, and the pressure to conform to a particular aesthetic that we often notice when looking at the high art world and art on Instagram. We value genuine individual expression and aren’t seeking one kind of work or another when putting together programming, more that we are showcasing a range of practices. We value work in which artists cast, include, or collaborate with friends, family, and place. We value art by people who aren’t quick to label themselves as “artists.” This program is a tiny slice of all the amazing & inventive art that people are creating within our extended networks in Philadelphia.
On a related note, a unique part of Krissy on Tour is that each artist introduces their film and answers the question: “How did you know you could be an artist?” I love this question because I think it brings up ideas that are often taken for granted in the art world about who can become an artist and what “counts” as artmaking, but I’d love to hear more about the thought process behind asking this question and the experience of collecting everyone’s different answers.
In many ways this question, “How did you know you could be an artist?” encapsulates the project that is Krissy Talking Pictures. Feeling comfortable with calling yourself an artist can be a result of privilege and access to education, mentors, funding, and free time. Or it can be connected to knowing how to make work that fits with a certain conception of artmaking deemed valuable within the high art world. The label of “artist” is also very loaded and has been contorted and controlled by capitalism. We are interested in disrupting this, removing qualifications and barriers, instead declaring that if you make art, you are an artist! And that this is a role that can exist outside of, or counter to capitalist structures. Like, if you have never made money off of your work, you are still an artist. If you didn’t go to art school, you are still an artist. If your identity is one that has been excluded by art institutions in the past, you are still an artist. And we need you!
How can we create spaces & experiences that allow people to be artists? How can we expand what “counts” as artmaking? If you look at our manifesto, it is a letter made up entirely of questions. These questions act as the framework for the project. Through facilitating Krissy Talking Pictures, we hope to get closer to some answers, for ourselves and for others.
Krissy Talking Pictures manifesto
I love that Krissy sees “collaborative art as practice for revolution.” Can you elaborate on the connections Krissy sees and makes between collaborative artmaking and revolution? What does "revolution" mean to Krissy Talking Pictures?
We feel that collaborative art projects are really good spaces for practicing and experimenting with different ways of being together and working towards collective visions—be it creating a space for people to gather, making a film with your friends, putting together a screening, these are places ripe with future visioning, playfulness, and vulnerability. Through these sorts of involvements we have deepened friendship, fostered connection, provoked unlikely conversation, pooled resources, and gotten artists PAID for their work. We have been inspired, again and again. To us, “revolution” is contained in these things, this being together and dreaming, in ways that aren’t recognized or deemed valuable by the state. And that revolution is happening now and has been happening all along. We honor that, and continue pushing on.
One of Krissy’s central goals is to provide a genuine alternative to existing art institutions that reinforce the existence of inaccessible art worlds that mostly cater to those with the most power and money. What are some of the challenges, rewards, dreams or lessons Krissy can share about imagining and implementing a different way of being?
Our idea of being an alternative to institutions is rooted in the desire to create spaces that can do some of the things that institutions do, like generate space and opportunity, but specifically for queer artists and those who haven’t had access to mainstream institutions in the past. One of the challenges to this has been the inherent complexity of this positioning - what is an institution and when does something become one? When do we become one? What does it mean to be an alternative to one? How can we simultaneously be anti capitalist and anti institution while trying to get institutions to pay our artists for their work, while collaborating with institutions, and while wanting Krissy artists all of the success that they desire in the high art world? These things quickly become so complicated and murky! But a lesson has been that the murkiness is okay, and that in some ways the whole point of Krissy is to create a space for grappling with these questions. The conversations we’ve had around those inquiries have been rewarding, particularly conversations that we’ve been able to have so far through Krissy on tour. A large lesson has been that we are not alone, that many artists contend with similar thoughts and complicated feelings.
We find that our conditions make both imagining and implementing a different way of being difficult, but that this is not a reason to give up trying. We dream of having minds less saturated by an excess of images, artmaking rooted in spiritual practice and experimentation, abundance of opportunity, and spaces bound by a desire for openness and togetherness.
What advice do members of Krissy Talking Pictures have for anyone reading this who is frustrated, intimidated, or excluded by larger art institutions?
We feel you! The desire to be part of larger art institutions is real and can be important towards making a living and accessing stability. And at the same time, there are ways of creating your own art world. By which we mean, getting together some friends to share work or pursue a creative project. In our opinion, the most precious, true, and wondrous art is happening outside of institutions.
Any closing thoughts or things you want to make sure readers/viewers know about?
You can always be in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @krissy_talking_pictures.
Top of page: Flier for 2021 Krissy on Tour, courtesy of Krissy Talking Pictures
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