Ariel René Jackson and Michael J. Love have been awarded this year’s $15,000 Tito’s Prize.
Jackson and Love are the fourth recipients of the annual award which goes to artists within a 17-mile radius of Austin. Organized by non-profit Big Medium, the award is sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka. The prize comes with a solo in the Big Medium Gallery.
Jackson and Love will present “We are the [Hackers], Baby, [Hackers] are we,” a large-scale three-screen installation from Oct. 23, 2021, through Jan. 8, 2022.
Jackson, a film-based visual artist, and Love, an interdisciplinary tap dance artist, are regular collaborators, having together produced several live performances and video projects.
Jackson often uses repurposed imagery and objects, video, sound, and performance to consider how Black culture is inherited and how land and landscape become sites of internal representation. Jackson modifies familial and antique farming, household, and educational tools and furniture, hacking each object’s purpose and meaning with nature-based material and weather based icons.
“We are two Black queer individuals who navigate space and time by going backwards. We pay homage to past eras in order to generate Black joy,” said Jackson in a recent phone call. “We come from different studio practices, but together our work is about creating space for each other. I create a stage for Michael to perform in and Michael transforms that space and the material in it through his performances.”
Their project “Descendance” was filmed in a long-neglected public pool behind the George Washington Carver Museum in East Austin, an image of the American flag outlined in dirt within the empty pool. With an original score by jazz musician Joseph C. Dyson Jr., the drone-shot video captures Love’s performance as he feet re-score and rearrange the image of the flag.
For their Big Medium project, Jackson and Love plan to tap into the Canopy art complex as a symbol of East Austin gentrification. When it opened in 2013, the redeveloped warehouse instantly became a marker of the gentrification of historically Black and Latino East Austin, a process foregrounded by an expanding arts scene enhanced by the East Austin Studio Tour, a Big Medium creation.
“Canopy is symbol of progression and gentrification,” said Love. “So how do we create a space in Canopy, which is predominantly White, which will embrace Blackness and queerness? We’re thinking about how to change what that space might look like in terms of who is usually there.”
The film installation is the first of three-part project, also called “We are the [Hackers], Baby, [Hackers] are we.” In it, Jackson and Love will use alter ego characters, named Confuserella and Babé, that become avatars who navigate the past, hacking the culture of previous eras to make a present and future of Black prosperity.
“This first part (of the trilogy) introduces our characters and we’ll see them hack a journey to Black joy,” said Jackson. “Especially now when everything around us is a constant reminder of anti-Blackness, we want to really focus on celebrating the ways in which we have learned to generate Black joy.”
Jackson and Love were unanimously selected by a jury panel from among the 150 artists who applied. The panelist were Christopher Blay, Houston-based artist, curator, and Glasstire news editor; Lise Ragbir, independent curator and writer; and Coka Treviño, curator and director of programming at Big Medium.
“Receiving this amount of money for a production is allowing us to imagine what our collaboration can be at its norm,” said Jackson. “We’re not going to be doing everything on our own. It’s about a creating a community, and we can disperse the money to bring others into the making of the project.”