The Sightlines Questionnaire: Ben Aqua

The Austin photographer/DJ/producer/vlogger/designer on how the #NEVERLOGOFF life suits being stuck at home


Any attempt to accurately describe Ben Aqua will fall short, from whatever approach we take. Aqua’s photography and digital work explores notions of gender and sexuality, while often teasing out motifs, sounds, and imagery that speak to the digitally-native generation. But stopping there would omit Aqua’s musical pursuits, as a DJ, creative behind the record label #FEELINGS, and producer. And then there’s Aqua’s work as a vlogger, tackling everything from iPhone reviews to more vulnerable, first-person videos that celebrate Aqua’s late husband and mourn his passing.

Aqua is a pioneer for the Texas creative community. Their work intrepidly navigates the club, visual arts, fashion, and music scenes, without ever seeming to tire in the pursuit of exploration. So we reached out to see how they were finding life in quarantine, what is providing inspiration, and how the #NEVERLOGOFF life suits being stuck at home.

Describe the city of Austin in three words:
Portland meets Vegas.

How would you describe the Austin arts community?
DIY, humble, sometimes too humble, chill, sometimes too chill, community-oriented, friendly, self-sufficient, sometimes too self-sufficient, eager, anxious, frustrated, sweaty.

What do you think is the biggest strength of the Austin arts community, either now or prior to the coronavirus pandemic?
DIY mentalities. Just take one afternoon to studio-hop during the East Austin Studio Tour to see how many hundreds of artists are using their bedrooms, garages, and bathrooms as their studios, galleries, and performance venues. Plus, lil rona (the virus) is making these private creation zones even more visible and as culturally viable as traditional galleries and venues.

I see the DIY spirit in Austin partially as a response to the city’s relentless gentrification, which has shaped a seemingly watered-down, less diverse, and homogenized cultural landscape here. Higher rents and a lack of larger art institutional infrastructure and support for local artists have forced artists to adapt and become more proactive and inventive about actively sustaining their practice without going completely bonkers, or broke. If they’re not going to do it for you, do it yourself! Make it cute.

Who are your favorite local artists? Who should we be following and tuning in to?House of Kenzo,  p1nkstar, Diego M Duran, Wayne Bruce, Fifi Mar, Kerrington Cai, Xavier Schipani, Jaime Zuverza, and Louisianna Purchase.

Ben Aqua
Ben Aqua

What was the last live performance or exhibition you really enjoyed, prior to quarantine?
p1nkstar’s EP release performance at Coconut Club! She truly made some surreal virtual pop star fantasies come to tangible life. I helped produced her “Number 1 Hits!” EP with other talented local artists Mr. Kitty, Boy Sim, and Y2K. Follow them, too!

How do you want to see the statewide Texas arts community evolve?
I’d like to see more exhibition opportunities, financial/structural support, genuine inclusivity, and visibility given to people of color, LGBTQ+, homeless, and other marginalized communities.

Where is one place in Texas you want to go but haven’t been yet?
Palo Duro Canyon, [also known as] the “Grand Canyon of Texas.”

What do you value most about your current work?
It feels authentic af. I try to actively embrace my scattered mind and creative process as much as possible, instead of demonizing it and seeing it as a weakness. It’s my strength! I’ve criticized myself for too long for working on too many different types of art — photography, music, YouTube videos, apparel design, etc. — and not “being able to focus” or “find a niche.”

I think being an online creator has huge benefits, especially during this pandemic — not only for my creative process, but also as an important emotional outlet, an escape mechanism, and a vital source of income.

I largely support myself by creating YouTube videos, and, weirdly, COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of my channel’s viewership and social media interactions. It makes sense, since so many people are staying at home, actively seeking out meaningful sources of entertainment, community, education, and connectivity. This looming cloud of pandemic-fueled uncertainty seems like a constant test of our mental health, bodies, and sanity, which makes me feel a heightened sense of responsibility as an artist and creator to contribute as much beauty and channeled experience as possible into the world. I mean, I feel wEirD sometimes making iPhone comparison videos for YouTube during a freakin’ pandemic, but I also realize we can’t all just exist in a chaotic storm of negativity and dramatized news feeds all day. Sometimes, a hilarious “cats vs dogs” compilation video on YouTube is all we needed to deliver the glimmer of hope and relief we didn’t even know we needed.

This is you. Reset yourself. Just b u. NEVER LOG OFF. Nothing is real bye.

Ben Aqua
Ben Aqua

Caitlin Greenwood
Caitlin Greenwood
Caitlin Greenwood is an arts and culture writer who calls Texas home. She currently lives and works in Austin.

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