Thursday, September 21, 2017

You Need Not Worry About Your Future

It seems so basic to remember that unexpected change can come in many forms. It can be positive and then oh so brutal. Over the last 10 months I've done my best to roll with the decision to leave my rural middle Tennessee home. I packed everything up, left it in a storage unit and left with no direction, not knowing what was next for me. These past months are a blur of long drives, planes and beautiful faces, it's wild to reflect that since the end of November 2016 I have basically been in constant motion. Motion that was both physical and mental, traveling from once place to another with my brain working extra overtime running in so many directions. The entire time I was accompanied by my constant inner dialog of non linear thoughts that all led back to “where should I live and what the hell am I doing?”

California finds

Thankfully the universe had given me enough freelance work in my back pocket to work from the road and make ends meet. I also made the decision to take this unexpected houseless time to visit folks and places in my life that made me feel good. To take this time to seek out people in my life who have provided both inspiration and support. It’s amazing what presented itself, I’ve never taken care of so many pets, taken advantage of so many guest rooms, I had a artist teaching residency where I made zine's with 5th graders for 3 weeks, got to absorb the beauty of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts as the writer in residence, and the most comical memory was in December when I flew a good friends cat to Barcelona. The things that present themselves when you are available are vast. 

I consider myself a fairly high functioning human, even under stress. It was hard to admit I felt lost and confused and it was humbling to be reminded that it is okay to ask for help and to accept it gracefully. During this time I was able to rely on my widespread community and my gratitude for those who I spent time with during these months is immense. I got so much quality time with so many people I’m usually rushed to see. I was able to finally meet so many folks that I had only known from the internet. I was able to reconnect with people who have been in my life for 20+ years, see their kids, cook meals together, take walks and explore. But the entire time I was notably impatient about healing my heart and really irritated that the clarity and answers I was looking for weren’t coming faster. Being rational and simultaneously depressed is a funny annoying mix.

I was confident from the second I left there would be a AH-HA moment during all my traveling. I was sure I would figure out where I should settle next, and it didn’t come. I kept moving. I applied for a few jobs and waited. I kept traveling. I got a few rejection letters and then finally some interviews. This isn’t a poor me story, even though I was feeling wildly challenged with life I am aware of the huge privilege I am living with. My intention of sharing this is to have transparency and work on being open about the reality of my personal experience and the continual work it take to care for oneself. I have a lot of feelings about how our lives are ingested through the filter of social media. Things can looked charmed, they may even be charmed but still underlying darker story lines can be at play. My work within the "art world" keeps me online and engaging through challenging personal times and my passion for people who make art, objects and lives that I respect will always drive me forward. It’s what keeps me on track and alive. Somehow this seems connected to this story and important to share.

It all boils down to time and patience, the big news I was able to announce this week is I finally got resolution to where I will land next. I am so proud to share that I will be joining an amazing team of humans at the John MichaelKohler Arts Center as assistant curator. I couldn’t be more pleased to be working for an amazing institution that has had such an impact on my life. This place is literally one of my favorites in the entire world, their collection is unprecedented.

I am beyond excited to reconnect with my Wisconsin community that is really my family. I am looking forward to finding dance classes to move around in. Trails to hike by the lake. I am invested in figuring out where I will be volunteering and how to engage politically, finally stationary and able to show up in a way that I haven’t been able to this year. I can’t wait to nest, to find my local queer community. For the first time in my life, a month before I turn 40 I will be working for an institution full time. You really do never know what your life path will look like. Reminds me to never say never because if you would of asked me 3 years ago if I would move back to Wisconsin, the answer would of NOPE. 

Summer Solstice, Deer Isle Maine 


Perhaps you want to listen to a caffeinated & unedited conversation I recorded in Oakland this past spring with the lovely Marlee Grace (formally of Have Company and currently doing many amazing things like Personal Practice) We cover a lot of ground. Want some unsolicited advice? Careful what you drink before you get talking while being recorded. LISTEN HERE. Released September 21, 2017

Opening September 22nn at the Houston Center for ContemporaryCraft, FOR HIRE: Contemporary Sign Painting in America. An exhibition I co-curated with Sam Macon, join us October 14th for a screening of Sign Painters and a panel discussion.

November 6th I will be doing a short screening and talk at the Milwaukee LGBTQ Film Festival about my friend Merril Mushroom. I will be showing her 1968 wedding video “Queering a Ritual” and discussing her play Bar Dykes, I republished last year.

November 20th I turn 40, if you want to make a birthday gesture I'd love it if you make a donation to a nonprofit such as the Trans Assistance Project, the Southern Poverty Law Center or a rad spot of your choosing.

PS: Give a holler if you are ever up in Sheboygan.

Monday, September 26, 2016

BAR DYKES: now available online!

The short version, my latest project Bar Dykes is now available online via Pegacorn Press.

The longer version begins with a chain of events starting with a nearly 20 year friendship with Caroline Paquita of Pegacorn Press. Caroline and I have an intertwined history rooted in underground DIY culture. I met Merril Mushroom, author of the play Bar Dykes, this past year when I moved to rural middle Tennessee. Merril and I started spending a lot of time together and one day over coffee we were discussing Eulogy for a Dyke Bar, an immersive installation by Macon Reed. Macon is another close friend and wonderfully talented artist femme in my life. The Eulogy piece was an incredible happening which used her own artwork as a backdrop for a line-up of performances, DJ's and programing. I was able to experience the impact of this project first-hand during the second rendition of the installation at Pulse Art Fair last year. 

Eulogy for the Dyke Bar, Wayfarers Gallery 2015 
Image courtesy of: Macon Reed 

The conversation about Macon's project triggered Merril to tell me about a number of her unpublished writings including the play Bar Dykes, a period piece about dyke bar culture in the 50s she wrote in the early 80s. I recognized the significant importance of the play and also how Merril’s personal story is intimately connected to the work and had the idea to republish the piece with an accompanying interview. I made the connection to Pegacorn Press after seeing one of Caroline’s infamous calendars hanging in Merril’s house and realized they were already friends and fans of one another’s work. When I reached out to Caroline about publishing Bar Dykes  along with an interview with Merril, she was instantly on board. A wonderful example of synchronicity and community coming together to make an important piece of history available to a larger audience.

I just celebrated my year anniversary of making the leap to live in rural community. I was drawn to this area of Tennessee because of the 35+ year history of radical queer’s who have made this area home in various forms of intentional communities, land projects, communes, and houses. I came here, like many others, for a combination of reasons; to heal, to slow down and to have space to breath. My experience “out here” has been life altering. Meeting Merril is a large part of that because I’ve never had the opportunity to share space with an queer elder who’s inspired me so deeply.

This publication is an affirmation that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. It’s a personal reminder that the world is small and our actions resonate outward. A theme that has resonated throughout my career as a curator, author and filmmaker is connecting people and generating community through access to information. I want my actions to inspire, educate and empower those around me. My hopes are this zine is a now a part of this lineage.

Pegacorn Press, Brooklyn, NY
September 2016
8.5" X 6 7/8", 32 pages, saddle stitched, five color Risograph printed (teal, florescent pink, raisin, federal blue, gold)
Debuted at the New York Art Book Fair
First edition printing of 300

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Black Mountain School

“Isn't it interesting that the muddle of one's personal search turns into human history for others! Doesn't it feel substantial that what we choose to do individually make a supportive fabric for others in due course. The interweavings of time past, present, and future- the interweavings of personal imagination and community endeavor- this spiritual cloth, this gold of our life-looms is being woven whether we sleep or wake, a garment we are making for each other and the planet. Or so it seems. though it be beaten thin by impact of experiences, still the gold of our lives keeps its nature even when worn through, even when dust, gold dust.” - M.C. Richards, CRAFT HORIZONS, June 1977

I am a working artist invested in radical community, I never attended college and will always be interested in alternative systems of education. Recently, I participated as the staff documentarian in the month long experimental education project called Black Mountain School. I've had a lot of folks ask me about my time there and it's incredibly difficult to summarize such a complicated intimate experience. In addition, I don’t know how to discuss or even address my time there without singling out a specific problematic situation that has made me decide I will not be affiliated with any future Black Mountain School programing. My intention is to write about this with compassion and I hope that comes through clearly in my words below.

BMS was laced with a lot of magic. I made incredible life long connections with all sorts of people. I was deeply inspired by some of the classes taught, teaching methods I witnessed, lectures I attended and conversations I participated in and overheard. I cooked and shared meals with so many combinations of amazing folks. I helped organize a direct action in downtown Asheville against the proposed HB2 bathroom law with a wonderful group of students, staff and faculty. After the Orlando shooting a group of us who had just recently met went to a vigil together, cried and held space for the lives that were lost. I’ve gained invaluable lessons from my time I spent at our weird make-shift art camp inspired by the legendary Black Mountain College. It was a true experiment, successful, but not without it’s problems and room for much growth.

On Tuesday, June 14th the second to last night of our month long camp there was a group show scheduled, organized by a BMS student. Eighteen of us, myself included, were invited to show various works, performances and films. Chelsea Ragan BMS founder and director was also invited to show her self described “racially charged” artwork. Upon entering the room where Chelsea and Adam Void were showing their work together I was instantly perplexed and confused by a number of her pieces. They immediately read on the surface as cultural appropriation and racist - I was specifically taken aback by a video of herself (Chelsea is a white woman) in blackface nursing her baby. There was no artist statement, no information and as a white person I felt very uncomfortable and unclear about her intentions.

I wrote Chelsea two emails about her work, the first a week after returning from school. She has responded to both. I am posting the second of my two emails written on June 29th because I feel it helps explain the situation further.

Hello Chelsea,

Thanks for taking the time to get back to me so quickly. I needed to sit with your response for a few days because to be honest I didn't know how to respond. For transparency sake, I feel no better than before after reading your email. I read it again, and again to try to figure out how I feel I need to move forward in order to respect my feelings and those I want to support.

Before I go any further I want to acknowledge a few things you said to me to make sure you feel heard. I want you to be assured I am taking your words, feelings and experience into consideration. I hear that you would prefer to talk about this verbally instead of having an email back and forth. I hear that you fill various rolls in your life, artist, mother, curator, friend, collaborator, and organizer. And most of all I hear your experience of where and how you grew up and how that translates into your work. I'd like to respond to those things as briefly as possible in addition to a few others that came up for me.

I'm writing you back instead of scheduling a call because it feels more productive for me personally as don't do well on the phone under pressure or conflict. I also feel strongly about having this conversation in writing to reference and clarify misunderstandings. Rooted in my own experience things said aloud can be interpreted wildly different based on the individuals involved personal experience, lost to collective memory and/or potentially not remembered accurately by either parties in the conversation.

In your email you said to me "My work is separate from Black Mountain School, in the same what that any one student/staff/faculty does not represent the entire community." I absolutely 100% disagree with you. And because of that, unless you decide to change your views on the matter, we may not ever come to an understanding about why I feel you showing the blackface video in particular is, was and will most likely continue to be a huge problem. As the founder and director of a radical school rooted in visionary artistic ethos I believe your creative practice is fundamentally intertwined. And as a white person your decision to show a blackface video at a school event (from my understanding there was concern voiced prior to the show, but maybe I'm misunderstanding the circumstances) created to what I believe an unsafe space, and has set the tone for the same to be said in the future. I again urge you to consider how your role and this decision does reflect BMS, not only to those of us who were participating in the experiment but also to the general public who have even less context. To be clear, I would be having a similar conversation if this work was shown by a student or faculty member, although being the director it represents something larger in the end.

You asked, "When we take away the artist statement and justified biography next to difficult work is the work still relevant?" My personal stance in this situation is no, it's not. In other contexts and online, I still may say no. This is said in response to my strong feelings regarding blackface and the use of the N word, in particular by a white person. I feel to put it simply that it's perpetuating racism, causing people to feel isolated and angry, regardless of the motivation or intended meaning behind it. Again, it sounds as if we have a difference of opinion that seems as if it may lead to a dead end street. But I want to be clear about my personal feelings so there is no grey area.

Last, I need to briefly respond to this- "If you feel forced to have a conversation about my work when discussing BMS, please also talk about Luan (his incredible HB2 action in Asheville), Shlomit (journey from Tel Aviv to touring the states with Bill Daniel), Kim V. (faculty member of higher education that transformed her way of thinking) and so many others. Please remember to point out that BMS is made from so many others. Hopefully, any negative thoughts about my work will not affect all of these amazing people." For the most part I've been avoiding answering all the questions from folks about BMS so far because I needed to write you and wasn't sure how I wanted to talk about my potential future involvement. When discussing BMS there is no force, I'm acting out of free will and communicating with transparency. When I choose to discuss my experience there and why I may not be involved with future planning and programing, your work is directly linked to that and will come up in the conversation, along with all the other amazing positive things I was witness to.

This brings us back to my feelings about how for me, your work and decisions to show it is not separate from the school, its intrinsically linked. In turn, when I speak of BMS to others who weren't there (and when discussing with those who were) I will continue to reiterate all the things I said to you in my initial letter about how the experience was nothing short of magic. Obviously that magic grew out of your vision and organizing- and flourished with the participation of our new community. I'm not taking away from this amazing experience or our collectively shared magic by discussing negative thoughts about your work, but I am pointing out that there were many others aside from myself who will remain unnamed at this time who in fact felt isolated, hurt and discouraged by your decision to show your work.

With that said, in solidarity for those who have already spoken up and those who I believe will continue to do so, I am letting you know I will not have involvement in future BMS programing. I look forward to being a part of conversations with you surrounding your work if you want to continue to email. I will continue to have dialog and with others about this subject. In addition I am interested in being involved in conversations discussing ways to improve upon an already amazing project if the opportunity arises. Looking forward to hearing from you if you have the space, otherwise I will be in the mix with future emails and conversations.

Faythe Levine

So those of you who have asked about my time at Black Mountain School, all I can say is- it was complicated. I refuse to say it was bad. And it got too weird and emotionally confusing at the end to say it was good. I hope this gives you a better understanding of why it’s not an easy questions to answer.

Moving forward, this July I will be working on editing down the 3000 photos I shot while at BMS while at ACRE, an artist residency in rural Wisconsin. These photos will be online for public viewing, made available to BMS for promotional use and to the folks whose work I documented. I will continue my many conversations with people who were at BMS about various dynamics, both positive and negative. I remain an advocate and participant for radical community and education, and hope that if BMS continues in the future it will do so gently. Learning from the mistakes that occurred, building on the many amazing positive experiences that people walked away with and healing the wounds that were opened- creating a safe space welcoming to all.

A few additional notes/backstory:
I heard about BMS this winter through a number of friends who were participating as faculty. I've always been drawn to the legacy of Black Mountain College and my interest was piqued when I caught wind of the project. In February I emailed the school about wanting to be involved, proposing I participate as the school documentarian shooting photos. All staff and faculty positions were unpaid, and travel costs were also covered by the participant. I was ready to take off work and sign up for the month. The school’s founders Chelsea Ragan & Adam Void contacted me and we had a skype meeting. During this meeting we mostly discussed BMS logistics, I asked a lot of questions about protocol- was there going to be safe sober space? Were the buildings going to be accessible? How was the school going to look in regards to race, whiteness, gender, queerness? And I asked a lot of questions about food, because feeding people well and making sure dietary needs are met is fundamental to a productive healthy environment. I was assured all my concerns were being addressed and handled in a responsible manner. I trusted them, and could tell they were passionate about making this project happen. I also understood the amount of time they had dedicated to the school so far. 

It never occurred to me to look up Adam or Chelsea’s personal artwork which at the least would of given me a foundation of questions to start with. I realize I signed up to work intimately with strangers, and I would do it again. But now, when faced with a comparable situation I will move forward more cautiously learning from this experience. I will look at people art practice and follow up with certain questions before affiliating myself with them and projects. This has been a huge learning process for me and will continue be so as productive conversations keep happening. I am confident that the relationships I formed through BMS are going to continue to produce some amazing things in the future and am so glad for my involvement with the program, even though the end result for me isn't ideal. Finally, I ask you to remember there are over 100 different versions of this shared month long experience and thank you for taking the time to read about a slice of mine.