While the coronavirus stay at home, work safe order is still firmly in place, we reached out to see how some in our cultural community are coping.
Liss LaFleur, an interdisciplinary artist who works with video, new media, and performance, is based in Denton — and has had to teach her art classes at the University of North Texas online. Through email, we caught up about what this “new normal” looks like for both a practicing artist and arts educator.
Describe the city you live in in three words.
Lots of tacos.
How would you describe the Denton arts community, both before the COVID-19 outbreak and currently?
Denton is a college town and is home to both the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University. There is a longstanding tradition of unique talents and events that take place here, and the scene feels like a mix-up of 90s punk/grunge meets 70s Austin. I would say that the heart of the arts community in Denton comes from the students, faculty, staff, and alumni associated with the College of Visual Art and Design at UNT, where I am also a faculty member and teach New Media Art.
This semester I am teaching a new interdisciplinary studio art course I designed called “The Future Feminist Lab.” A major part of this course is envisioning a feminist future, 200 years from now, through world-building activities, readings, and critical discussions. Within this cohort, we were already discussing utopian/dystopian politics, so when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it felt surreal. Students have not been able to access their studios or the shared resources available to them in the art building, but I’ve continued working with them individually on their projects over Zoom.
Who are your favorite local artists? What are your favorite local galleries or arts institutions? Where should we visit when doors open again?
Off the top of my head, some of my favorite local artists include Leslie Martinez, Virginia Lee Montgomery, Jonathan Molina-Garcia (I still claim him even though he recently moved to Richmond, VA), Mel Clemmons, and curated artworks by The Wrong Marfa (Buck Johnston and Camp Bosworth).
I’m excited that Galleri Urbane is offering a number of online exhibitions. I’m also really excited to see this year’s roster of exhibitions at Women and Their Work, the upcoming exhibitions at Ruby City and the Blanton Museum of Art, and I am dying to see the new exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art, “For a Dreamer of Houses,” a show “that explores the significance of the spaces we inhabit and how they represent ourselves, our values, and our desires.”
What was the last exhibition or performance you really enjoyed? Anywhere we should tune in online to see more?
The last exhibition I was able to enjoy before COVID-19 was the opening reception of “Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City Through Mutated Lenses” at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. This is a two-part interdisciplinary exhibition orbiting around the legacy of the late Houston legend DJ Screw. Until his death in 2000, DJ Screw distorted songs by musical artists, creating “chopped and screwed” versions of the original by slowing tempo, reducing pitch, chopping lyrics, and layering freestyles by Houston-based rappers.
“Slowed and Throwed” is curated by Patricia Restrepo, exhibitions manager and assistant curator at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; alongside guest curators Big Bubb, Owner of Screwed Up Records & Tapes; and E.S.G., rapper and member of the Screwed Up Click. The group exhibition features unconventional photography and new media created by strategies paralleling the musical methods of the innovative DJ. “Slowed and Throwed” contends that remixing “sampled” materials is a radical aesthetic act utilized by both artists and musicians. Through reconfigurations of sourced and original materials, the featured artists draw attention to inequities stemming from race, gender, and sexual orientation, suggesting new possibilities and alternative realities.
As a Houston native, I am honored to be a part of this exhibition and installed a new video installation titled “Don’t Worry Baby.” The turnout for this opening was completely bananas and felt like one of the best moments (yet) this year. There was a line around the entire CAMH building, with hundreds of people waiting to get in for hours. This is something that feels so unimaginable now with social distancing and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’m glad I was able to enjoy celebrating together while I could.
What do you value most about your current work?
Currently, I’m revisiting my creative research related to a solo exhibition I had at Galleri Urbane in Dallas in January 2019. The work I am currently exploring centers on a deeper investigation of the Fruit Machine, a military device used to find homosexuals following the Cold War. Through online-only exchanges, I am exploring methods of redaction, visionary fiction, and speculative design.
This month, I was scheduled to be the Living Artist in Residence at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, but that has since moved into a virtual setting. One thing I value most, is the institution’s willingness and ability to adapt to the global pandemic, and still allow me to move forward as the artist-in-residence online. Like many artists, my exhibitions and residencies are being cancelled or postponed, and I am thankful to have this opportunity remain.
Working virtually is a space I’m familiar with as a new media artist but it is also one, I often stray from. I think that working exclusively through the internet during this residency is pushing me to reconsider and rekindle my ideas in unique ways.
What do you consider your greatest career achievement, so far?
Having my video performance, “Chatterbox,” projected monumentally on the Manhattan Bridge, and also having Jack Halberstam discuss it in conjunction with the New Museum exhibition “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon.” I am a HUGE fan of Jack, and many of the artists in that exhibition, so this was really exciting. This work was curated into a public art initiative, Light Year 29 by Erin Joyce, and played for the city multiple hours into the night. “Chatterbox” is a performance for the camera, in which I attempt to assemble and disassemble my mouth, threading small kitchen utensils into individual 3D printed teeth while humming Leslie Gore’s 1962 hit “You Don’t Own Me.”
What do you do on a day off, both before the pandemic and currently?
My days are structured around routine, whether it is a teaching day or studio day, and the biggest difficulty now has been finding a routine when I’m unable to leave my home. My circadian rhythm is very off. Thankfully, I’m privileged enough to still be able to keep my job and teach virtually, but I’ve sadly not been able to spend time in my studio – as it is in a shared building in downtown Denton and I’m afraid to be around other people.
On a “typical” day off, before this pandemic, I would start by exercising. I really enjoy weightlifting with my gym community and balance it with yoga. I would then indulge in breakfast or brunch, meeting up with friends at Spiral Diner, West Oak Coffee, or Seven Mile. From there I would gather my chihuahua (Delilah), and head to my studio where I would work for five hours or so. In the afternoon, I would meet up with my wife and we would go do something outdoors – a walk, run, bike ride, etc. We also love gardening/ tending to our plants and often spend time visiting local nurseries to plant more little ones. In the evenings we cook dinner together and enjoy some downtime reading or watching trash TV shows.
Where is one place in Texas you want to go but haven’t been yet?
I’m a big fan of the small boutique hotel experience, as well as a die-hard fan of the queer hotelier Liz Lambert (even though I am pissed to learn about her recent termination from Standard/ Bunkhouse Hotels). One place I’ve not visited yet, but I am dying to visit is Rancholoma in Coleman. I have had a couple of friends recommend it to me and describe it as a “little Marfa.” It seems like a quintessential small Texas town, and is home to a winery, pizzeria, and small gallery.