Kevin Brophy [Interview]
INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN BROPHY
JANUARY 2019 DIGITAL RESIDENT
MHM: When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
KB: I decided to pursue Art in 2010, while at university. At the time, it seemed like the only field that would necessitate a variety of research. Art is inclusive... If only in practice.
MHM: Can you pick 5-15 words that describe your artistic practice?
KB: One-take, deep-fake, autotheory, post-ironic, appropriation, horror, rage, queer rave, apocalyptic futures, socialist, intersectional feminism, ambivalent, prosumer, edutainment.
MHM: What is your creative process like?
KB: I am a concept-based artist. I spend most of my time researching and very little time producing anything--physical or digital. Research starts by existing and performing in space, online and off. So, the work is the research becomes the Work. I spend the bulk of my studio time reading, analyzing text, researching spaces, learning new skills--as scrappily as possible. Sometimes the anxiety of learning a new skill, succumbing to ineptitude, overthinking every word that has ever been said in my company, from my mouth or yours, incites an impetuous performance. So, the research is the work becomes the Research?
Being able to articulate my needs into a search field is my most useful skill. We learn the rules so we can break them, poetry. It’s important to be vers.
MHM: How would you describe your style or aesthetic, and was there a eureka type moment when you found this?
My aesthetic is linguistic. Everything is dependent on the quotidian: ready and available language. Language of the social: text, space, object, self--the self within a system: the political “we.” My choices are specific. They follow a set of performative rules; my “style” is about the conceal and reveal of data: in some worlds, all that makes us *real*.
MHM: How does your background in language and understanding of contemporary marketing and advertising tactics inform your choice of materials?
It’s a pretty easy formula to pick apart. It’s pretty easy to understand how to make something attractive: make it something your audience can already recognize. It’s the remix. When the work appropriates advertising tactics it isn’t about challenging the audience with the visual aesthetics, or the formal qualities. It’s made to be consumed. The content, on the other hand, is challenging.
Artistically, I grew up on culture jamming and tactical media. The advertisement is the staid thing that you consume first without critique, and then you take a second look. I make work that looks “stupid,” because I want people to question the cultural signifiers that lead them to that initial response. Is it because it is pink? Glittery? Centralizes a woman? Unabashedly femme?
As far as materials go, the best way to answer this is with a specific project. FUPA for instance, draws from pop culture, drag culture, design, and fashion history to draw geopolitical lines on the body as a topographical form. Pointing to the appropriation of women-identified bodies by politicians, corporations, and others in power, I as the artist appropriated tactics from mass communication and fashion design. For instance, shoulder pads and elbow patches related to combat, originally developed to protect. One was appropriated as symbol of women empowerment and the other appropriated by yuppie collegiate types, both capitalist endeavors.
MHM: Can you tell us more about the Tools for the Social series where you make Art Practical Tarot cards? How did this work? Can you tell us more about the individual cards you made?
Art Practical is a storytelling and divination “game” I made based on the tarot deck and is performed as a tarot reading both formally at exhibitions and informally at parties, studio visits, etc. They have become a regular part of my artistic and teaching practice. It is very much about creating a physical object to project critique onto. The cards create psychological space that evades defensive behaviors. That and magic.
Side note: I am interested in the mystical and the occult in relation to queer theory. And(!) star signs are the only identifier that is equitable in distribution of power (in its many forms). The astrological wheel denies hierarchical structure. I’m into it. I’m a total Aries.
The deck has 22 major cards, which are titled after art world superlatives: “types of artists” and art spaces; museum, gallery, painter, video artist, so forth. They’re digitally manipulated images of “art stars,” the range is wide: Chris Burden, Pope L., Molly Soda, Die Antwoord. There are 56 minor cards, these are titled by Sally by international art speak and internet slang. The images are digitally manipulated famous works of art, artworks from Ann Hirsh to Cornelia Parker. The suits of the cards include Tools, signified by the computer mouse; Hand work, signified by the hand; Concept, signified by the brain; Identity, signified by the PET recycle symbol “Other.”
MHM: How do you want people to react, respond, or interact with your work?
KB: Obviously that changes based on the project. Sometimes, I want people to laugh and then feel bad about laughing--I think that is an interesting, self-reflexive space. There are people who denigrate work by calling it didactic; I don’t mind. As I said before: edutainment. My motive is continually to decentralize power, upend the normative and allow those ruptures to create space for multiple narratives.
MHM: What artists or do you look up to? Why?
KB: I am not going to list individuals who I have worked with in the past, and, I am only going to list contemporaries to keep this answer shorter. Sondra Perry, Sable Elyse Smith, and Dylan Mira use the intersection of technology and identity and/or text and identity to disrupt normative dialogues in order to make space. Shana Moulton, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Jillian Mayer use body and/or prosthetic to perform the nuanced human existence of commodity, in all its humor and horror. Among other things--of course these are quick takes.
MHM: What are some current socio-political power structures that your work seeks to discuss?
KB: I am overwhelmed by how language shapes our world. Old-school Foucauldian theory, but, also, how that is clearly executed online and in the creation of new, digital “bodies.” Currently, and for very clear contextual political reasons, I am thinking about how the internet and social media have created drastically different worlds, so-called “bubbles.” How humans, right now, can live in completely different rhetorical worlds making communication near impossible. I say “toxic masculinity” talking about a set of destructive gender roles and someone else hears it as an attack on maleness, for example.
We live in different worlds, but are governed in the same.
About me: I am drawing out a constellation of narratives. Tradition is toxic. History is a technology: should be progressive and malleable and of intuitive design to be used by many bodies. I am reworking storylines without clear, delineated beginning and end nor singular lens. Poetry has always been a act of subversion, denying the authority of normative syntax. I have been distilling the arbitrarily sad, salient, and silly from historical texts into long form generative poems.
The standardized storyline of our western historical texts have the same elements as traditional pornography: colonialism, exoticized Other, heroism, etc. This isn’t about the negation of fact. We live in a post-fact world. It’s not good. This is about the gestural act of refuting empirical knowledge because it is built on an exclusive history, on one subjective point-of-view. Think Donna Haraway’s situated knowledges. Call it what it is.
MHM: Can you describe your relationship with AI and the Digital world? What is your relationship with Social Media as a contemporary artist?
KB: I am a critical digital artist (if you even want to call me a digital artist). I use AI, like everyone else, every day. We often do so without thinking about it, or fully realizing it. Conversely, we, at times think some procedure is carried out by AI when, in fact, it is underpaid human labor. I have never “trained” neural networks. I am, pretty obviously, not a technologist. As an artist, I write simple programs to analyze and organize texts, as words or visualization of metadata, in order to get to the meat of what is really being said. Someone once defined my practice as, “Calling out dialogue that doesn’t function in the way it proposes.” This is fairly accurate.
I am critical of the way many programmers train AI, usually indiscriminately scraping text from the internet at large. Recapitulating our terrible cultural biases in a new “body.” By and large AI is a bigot. Better practices should be in place...new project title: Bitter Practices in Place. I am also critical of the form given to AI, the ludicrous act of repeating a human form, the way we identify with it, how it’s commercialized, the sexist service-industry-gendered aspect.
Conceptually, digital space signified hope for the feminist project, finding space outside linear patriarchal timelines and colonized space, but it also represents the failure of that. The lie of the cyber utopia. Blame capitalism. Blame corporations who are “platforms” and not “publishers.” Like giving form to AI; this was space where one could have transcended (the violent act of) identification, but, instead, we find it reified.
As lived-in space, we exist in both physical and digital all day long. It’s very basic. So, it seemed natural to move my performances and interventions into those spaces, those platforms. Hybridize. I’ve never had a “personal” social media account; although one could argue that my instagram is a finsta. This gets to the root of my performances in that space: the finsta is the more personal and *real* and emotive than the usual contrived, public accounts. Titled: fake, because the norm in that space is fake, so the fake-fake is reality? Ambivalence. There is so much to be said about which bodies are allowed to be “authentic” and “real,” both overtly through legislature (think recent transphobic attacks on realness) and subvertly through generalizations, stereotypes, and microagressions. A finsta is a rinsta is a…
My instagram is a defunct archive from a performance that lasted 4 years; I only add new content in Stories. I make a series of short “films” that take place generally over a week from an avatar perspective. I call them horror. They tackle different issues such as, mobility presented as privilege relating to immigration, class, and net neutrality. In the time between this “programming”, there are weekly updates: *kevin is regenerating* I/the performance dies and then regenerates. It’s a gamefied existence, like being an Uber driver.
MHM: What is the art landscape in your city or town?
KB: I am a bit without city right now. I graduated with my MFA in 2017, and I’ve spent the past year and a half traveling across North America and Europe for residencies, shows, and collaborations. Each city has its own vibe. The cities I have spent the most time in are inextricably linked to the universities of that space and my position within them. Pittsburgh was Carnegie Mellon: interdisciplinary, smart, critical, politically aware, beautifully queer, technology and innovation, sometimes to a fault. Experimental theater, performance, game and sound art scenes there are stronger than most. Tampa was the University of South Florida: also smart, but relaxed, irreverent humor over anything else--political, but pointedly un-PC; a lot of ruptured hierarchies. Tight-knit. Incestuous, even.
MHM: Do you have any art shows coming up? Or what’s next in the studio?
KB: My schedule is all over the place; the future is scarce but fluid. What is known: in February, I’m facilitating a student-participatory exhibition at the University of Kansas where I am currently the Artist-in-Residence. In March, I have a group show at Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC to conclude a month-long residency as a Southern Constellation Fellow. In the summer, I will be in another residency/group show in Berkeley, CA at Kala Art Institute. In the fall, there is a solo in Lawrence, KS where the work will signify defunct translations of digital space into physical. A loose, early idea.