Commissions + Collaborations

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Endings and Beginnings: Teresa Mora & Xaviera Simmons

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October 27 marked the final night of junctures (transmissions to), featuring Xaviera Simmons and her collaborator of the evening, singer, historian and interior designer Teresa Mora. Teresa grew up in Detroit, and consequently, much of the night’s conversation revolved around this city. Topics included: the creative energy Detroit harvests, which has manifested itself particularly in music and visual art; its now-clichéd reputation as a city of ruin and abandonment; and the recent influx of artists there. This “juncture” seemed a fitting end to the five-week exhibition, bringing full circle the show’s focus on themes of place and site, ritual, process and the examination of beginnings within artistic practice.

Live music, singing, and songwriting were integral themes to this night’s performance—as they have been, coincidentally, for many of the collaborators. As the two women discussed the musical history and Motown tradition of Detroit, Teresa intermittently sang the songs of legendary musicians like Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. Listening to her powerful voice as it reverberated through the space, many of the same questions and tensions I’d experienced during other nights spent at the space resurfaced. When Teresa finished singing, as an audience were we meant to clap, cheer, or otherwise express our enthusiasm for her voice? What were the limits or expectations of audience interaction with the performers? Part of the significance of this project was Xaviera’s embrace of these disjunctions, tensions and awkward moments—the “junctures” explored within the project.

Teresa also sang songs that she had written, prompting Xaviera to ask about her creative process, and how she literally begins crafting a song. The idea of beginnings has underscored junctures (transmissions to). In her exploration of this idea, Xaviera has engaged with Doug Wright’s play I Am My Own Wife, which is simultaneously about the life of the German, transgender performer Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and the act of starting an artistic project. Xaviera read aloud from the text, which has been extremely influential in her consideration of junctures (transmissions to): “I have scoured my bathtub a pristine white; my pencils have all been sharpened to lethal points. I have ground the coffee for the coming week, alphabetized my CD collection and ironed my underwear. My loose change has been sorted and wrapped…I have no more excuses. It is time to write.”

On this closing night, Xaviera described herself as an “open pore,” constantly taking in the world around her and open to new ideas and experiences to think about as potential starting points in her practice. But perhaps most compelling was when she said that as artists (and, I might add, as humans) we must allow for mistakes and failure, in order to let go of fear and consequently let the creative process take over. For some artists, facing the blank page or the blank canvas is the ultimate fear, and embodying a sense of routine or ritual can help to ward off this feeling—Wright does everything he can think of around the house to avoid facing the inevitable. junctures (transmissions to) was the embodiment of the inevitable, predicated on allowing the time and space for contingency. Photocopied pages marking evolutions of thought and inspiration filled a table and lined the floor of the Wyoming Building over time; the performative nature of collaboration and intimate interaction between two people was heightened to, at times, newly tense and exciting planes. Despite the rigorous effort and planning she put into the project, there was still a significant amount of chance and spontaneity upon collaborating that Xaviera could not control, which speaks directly to her acknowledgement of fear and failure, present but perhaps less palpable in all works of art. Regardless, the ending of junctures (transmissions to) if anything feels more like a beginning: the beginning of the Studio Museum’s relationship with the Goethe-Institut and, equally if not more significant, the beginning of Xaviera’s future projects and endeavors and a new way of contemplating the bumpy processes—voids, gaps, junctures—of artmaking.

- Abbe Schriber, Program Assistant