Julia Phillips’s practice draws from personal space, memory, and subconscious desire, from which she creates tools that relate to the body. Each of her sculptures is an imagined tool, with a title describing the function of the object as well as its potential user. Born in Germany, Phillips completed her MFA at Columbia University prior to her residency at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Before becoming an artist in residence, her work related to the body in a general sense. During her time at the Museum, however, she has shifted her practice to create works related to specific bodies with historical reference, like Saartje Baartman and Josephine Baker.
Autumn Knight, Julia Phillips and Andy Robert
A core component of The Studio Museum in Harlem's mission and history, the Artist-in-Residence program provides each artist with studio space, a stipend and the opportunity to exhibit at the end of the eleven-month residency. Here, 2016–17 artists in residence Autumn Knight, Julia Phillips and Andy Robert share a little bit about their practices and what inspires them.
Well, there was that time that I fell off a basket at a grocery store and blacked out. When I was revived, I told the doctor that I was reaching for the pink cookies. The ones with the frosting and sprinkles. And the time I called a mechanical puppet a “motherfucker” for his poor performance skills at my fifth birthday party. Or the moment I had to respond quickly to why my elementary classmate told me she didn’t like black people. Oh, and the fire.
The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Artist-in-Residence program is a testament to the Museum’s commitment to supporting emerging contemporary artists whose work is inspired or influenced by black culture. The Museum’s community of teaching artists reflects a similar type of engagement. Serving at the intersection of the institution and the public, Museum educators are creative, pedagogical hybrids who navigate the fascinating line between the role of teacher and practicing artist.
I first came across multidisciplinary artist Santiago Mostyn’s work on a visit to Moderna Museet in Stockholm. His video performance Delay (2014) followed the artist through the streets of the Swedish capital as he encountered affluent white men and addressed each racially charged interaction with the simple touch of his hand. It is in this way that Mostyn approaches his experiences, by becoming a character through which social forces are reflected, that drew me to his work.
Eric Booker: When we first spoke you brought up this idea of the American diaspora, which is an interesting point to start with, given your international upbringing.
At The Studio Museum in Harlem, performance artist EJ Hill lays on a low rectangular platform. Behind him is a model roller coaster adorned with purple neon lights. Hill is a 2015–16 artist in residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and this piece, A Monumental Offering of Potential Energy, is part of Tenses, the exhibition that culminates the three artists' eleven-month residency.
Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s practice depends on ideas, and the medium is his way of bringing these ideas to life, not the other way around. As a poet and artist, his work exists in between the visual and textual, and utilizes poetry, video, photography, installation, performance and painting. His initial months at The Studio in Harlem allowed him to return to painting, take new photographs and work on a two-channel, seventeen-minute video piece, filming some scenes in Harlem. When asked to narrow down his practice, Huffman told me he would reluctantly choose writing, photography and video. Luckily at the Studio Museum he faces no such circumstances, freely tackling lingering ideas on narrative and audience.
Coming into his residency at the Studio Museum, EJ Hill was well known for his performance practice. In pieces like The Fence Mechanisms (2014), O Captor My Captor (2014), Complicit and Tacit (2014), and Untitled (2012), Hill uses his body as a means to assert his agency, vulnerability and dissent, within a society that would view it as a threat. However, alongside his performance pieces, Hill has been creating quieter, more solitary work—drawings, paintings, photographs and music. While exploring possible performance opportunities at the Studio Museum, Hill is expanding into these quieter creative avenues, fearlessly expanding his practice.
As a self-professed impatient painter, Jordan Casteel is keen to put oil to canvas. Walking into her sunlit section within the artist-in-residence studios at The Studio Museum in Harlem, her large canvases and drawings were mounted upon the walls in various stages of progress, I was surprised to learn she felt behind schedule. Since receiving her MFA from Yale in 2014, Casteel has focused mainly on the black male figure. This subject matter continued on through exhibitions at Sargent’s Daughters (2014 and 2015), and now it reaches the Studio Museum. A few months since beginning her residency and moving to Harlem, Casteel continues to challenge the depiction of the black male figure through her large expressive portraits, but Harlem has already left its impression.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya
As an intern in the Curatorial department at The Studio Museum in Harlem, I have the opportunity to explore how the Museum functions behind the scenes. At work, it is exciting to observe how our curators harness the power that exhibitions and their surrounding discourse possess in order to activate art as a social and political tool. Selecting artists and framing their work in relation to broader thematic concerns is one of a curator’s primary responsibilities, and I am especially interested in the long-term relationships between our curators and the artists. The Artist-in-Residence program at the Studio Museum, founded in 1968, provides an excellent example of the close working relationships between curators and creators. One of my projects at the Museum is to manage a database of information concerning AIR alumni.