I’m new here | An interview
I did not become someone different that I did not want to be but I’m new here will you show me around
Gill Scott-Heron covers Bill Callahan
This song stands strong in my life and in my travels. I find it nice to be new in a place, you see everything that others forget to see. For this interview, I want to take the perspective of a new visitor in your studio. I’m not here to critique your work , I’m new here can you show me around your studio life, just for a little while. I have a few interrogation (Paul Thek style) questions about your practice, travel and sound.
Can you show me around your Practice?
William Downs (WD) : Can you all tell me how you felt in a few words when you received the phone call/email saying that you were a winner for the Working Artist Program at MOCA GA? Where were you and what did you do?
Michi Meko (MM) : For me, after the visit, the mind begins to race with questions. Did I say enough? Did I say too much? I forgot to explain these two events and how this research connects to the work. I may have sounded smart had I said this. Mental curse words appear and I try not to invite the self doubt in, but I'm human. That's a hard trick. I have been here before many times and it almost feels like some sort of self abuse. A mental torture type thing. It happened last year and I did not get the win. I was the last phone interview and already on my way to MOCA thinking I must have won. I did not. This time however, I was sitting at my desk watching Vimeo. The number was one I didn't know so I picked it up because you're on edge until the call comes. A sweet voice said “I'm calling to inform you…” That little breath is the longest breath. Then after the voice says “you've been selected as a finalist…” You blackout and it's like this in many ways. Just losing it.
WD : How was your studio visit with the MOCA staff and the Juror Joey Orr, Curator? How did you set the studio up? Was it curated? What did you wear, studio chic or slick artist outfit. Both are the same in my eyes. Were you late or on time?
MM: I think the visit went well. Joey had amazing questions after the initial introduction to the work. Those questions led the conversation into being able to further explain the nuances of the practice. You could see his brain working, making the connections and leading into more questions for a bigger conversation about the work. Everyone was on point with their questions and really engaging.
So I'm in the middle of a studio build out. The space was dusty, raw and hot. My work was still boxed up, but I didn't let that stop me from showing up and trying to work with what I had. I just took out the best works that I felt represented the direction that I am going -the best works to show enough depth and understanding of my practice. Sparse but strong. I also had my notes and read from my journal about what I was thinking about and ways the work could go. I had books I am reading there also for back-up support of my ideas.
My outfits are fairly basic: black tee and red converse jeans. I wanted to be comfortable because I knew I would be sweating through this whole hot ordeal. By the end of the visit my entire shirt was wet but I just acted like I was cool as a fan and that sweat was not real. I brought a change of shirts. I was on time an hour early. If you know me then you know how early that is. I took the opportunity very seriously.
WD : How long have you been working in your current studio? Do you live there? What's your square footage?
MM : I haven't made the first mark in the new space yet. I'm trying to get everything comfortable. I never allowed that in any of my studios before. It's usually two hard chairs , the walls, my equipment and pure grit just going for it. For this space I made a Donald Judd inspired couch so I can reflect and take a moment to breath. I want to be relaxed in the space and the work, comfortable for once. My square footage is awesome for now. I don't know the measurements. My next space will be the forever super huge giant space. This one is sweet, though. I just built shelves and a nice painting rack that's covered. I have a bathroom and sink. I may add a little kitchen area. For this space storage was important to me. I've never had that. So there is even deep storage way up high. I'm trying to organize my practice and be more considerate of my mental health within the space and not work as cluttered as I used to. (Google Francis Bacon's studio). I spent a lot of time there trying to figure this whole thing out so I need to be more considerate of my surroundings and the Feng shui as well.
WD : Have you ever had a studio assistant? How do you delegate studio duties?
MM : My assistant right now just helps me with large installs. Not the regular daily studio duties. I think this may change after the WAP opportunity. I have some really ambitious ideas. I would like two assistants. I would like to get them paid weekly and not just by the project. I show by example. Explain it. Then throw you in the water and trust that you can swim or that one really wants to be there for the long hours of art-making.
WD : How important is it to have an assistant at your level?
MM : I'm so hard nosed that I am only now finding out the value of extra hands, brains, and eyes. I have done it for so long on my own that I have figured out how to do things in this small microcosm that I have created. So for WAP this will be a new experience of not being alone in my space and being able to get things done in a more efficient way while also giving away all my secrets to someone who can later use them in their practice. That's important to me. I didn't have any mentors so I take that seriously.
WD : Were you ever an Artist assistant? With who?
MM : I was never an assistant for anyone but myself dividing time like I’m two or three people.
WD : Please don’t give us all of your secretes but can you talk a little about the materials that you use now, will this change for the exhibition that you’re producing new work for? Will you be changing your game plan? Will MOCA’s space in terms of scale be the largest space to Solo show in?
MM : I'm really excited to use a new heavily pigmented Black that I mix. It's so super Black it makes my old normal Black look gray. I have been calling on my fabricator and maker friends for help and muscle early in the game. We are already talking materials and time scheduling. I'm excited by the scale that the work can become and the awesome artist friends who have agreed to help me out. The inner vandal in me has been wanting to crush this space since 2007/ 8 when I saw Larry Walker's show and later the Matt Haffner's show. I have sketches that were done years ago thinking about it. I have had visions of giant sculptures in this space long before I won the WAP, so I'm bout it bout it like master P Ugh!!!! It will be hard and I'm sure I will overextend myself cause I dream big, but whatever.
Can you show me around your travels?
WD : Where was your last residency?
MM : Cabin Time 8. My latest adventure was in the Eastern Sierra Wilderness for 10 days in a tent. For this show I will travel to other wilderness spots that I think are significant to work that I'm planning on making and the conversion I'm planning on having.
WD : Is there a difference in your studio practice when you're working at a residency as opposed to your main studio.
MM : Constraints. You are not working with your full bag of magic but just enough to pull off some tricks and inform the greater magician once you return. I like the constraints and the forced new brain work. Plus you meet other artist that can inform the work differently.
WD : When you’re not in Atlanta, what city do you travel to mostly and will your studio assistant go with you if its research travel?
MM : I think for me right now it's important to spend more time in different art markets. Bigger art markets and exploring international markets. It's just time. I think I will take my assistants on a trip or two that's part of their growth as well. NYC was recent. I will be spending more time there trying to make some noise.
WD : How does a residence benefit or hinder your practice?
MM : It's all good. The time to work and hear your head speak without too many interruptions is amazing. Without distraction you are forced to make work. The conversation with other artist is much different also.
WD : Do you stay in touch with artists that you meet at residencies?
MM : Yes. I'm trying to get something going with artist and now my homegirl Cara Despain out of Miami.
WD : What are your go to items that you bring with you when you travel, in other words what type of traveler are you?
MM : Shea butter, good jeans, good shoes and everything else can be bought on the journey.
WD : I consider myself as a minimalist; I travel with one bag that contains everything.
MM : I do the same.
WD : Have you ever lost anything while traveling? Bags, Sunglasses…
MM : I lose things on every journey from large to small. It sucks when you finally realize it.
WD : Have you ever made out or had sex in an airplane bathroom?
MM : I'm not that cool. Plus when you have shoulders like mine just using the airplane bathroom is enough of a fight. A bull in china factory inside a Cracker Jack box ain't cute or stealth.
WD : Which Airlines is your favorite?
MM : Any of the ones with the TVs and free wifi for T Mobile users. In flight wifi seems so fresh to me. You can text people while you are zipping across the sky like whaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!
WD : What is your opinion of Art fairs?
MM : I’m a fan of art and artists. I will leave all the art fair back-and-forth politics to those with strong opinions about them. If we're talking hustle and getting money, I like seeing all the red dots for artists. If there is a place where people can go be collectors and artists can get money then what's the problem? Spare me the art for art's sake on this one for a sec cause life is real and bills are real, too. Artists put out so much by investing in themselves studios and materials, like a small business with no guarantee of a return or even interest in what they do. So to have some return on that investment is a good thing to me. Should artists always starve? Are ideas not valuable? So whatever to that. I think they are fun like Dragon Con for art nerds.
WD : Which one do you feel is the most important one?
MM : I'm not really sure so I can't answer that. I guess the one I'm in but I have never shown at an art fair proper.
Can you show me around your sounds?
WD : What did you think about the sounds that Hurricane Irma made on Monday did this affect/effect your studio work or did you take advantage of it in some way or nothing at all?
MM : It was amazing. It reminded me of the wind that destroyed my tent. 60mph gust ain't no joke. It's a hellish sound. One I have respect for now. The invisible is so dangerous. So I did lots of recordings and images. I also went to the studio to finish the couch in the storm. That seemed fitting because I'm trying to make a peaceful space inside and all the havoc is going on outside. It blew in new ideas for wind and sound works.
WD : Do you listen to music in the studio if so how is it curated?
MM : Yes and Yes. There are arrival themes. Working themes and detail themes. Sometimes there is silence. I like fight music when I first get there then I mellow out some.
WD : Have you ever made music?
MM : I have made music. I was an emcee in high school and college. I performed with rock and punk bands a few times with my awful vocals. In Atlanta I was in a group called Eva Trill. My stage name was Grease! It was short for Grease Lighting. We had a management deal with Jimmy Henchmen at Czar Ent. We did a lot of mixtapes with Ric Atari and Burn One. Gucci Mane- Chicken Talk Drop it off, Young Dro Born to Do it Pastor Troy TRock Eva Trill Lava was a hot one in the streets...Songs with Mr DJ who was OutKast Dj, I was in deep but art just won out after the manager crashed his motorbike and the deal fell through.
WD : Whose music is the best to have sex to? Luther Vandross, R Kelly, Marvin Gaye or Teddy Pendergrass. And what style of sex is that?
MM : I never was into Luther but I appreciate his music. I always made fun of R Kelly and just hated his voice in general before all of his scandal, so yeah, whatever for him. Marvin and Teddy I can get with the emotion they put into the music. I think I'm more of a Billy Paul and Sade, Bjork kinda guy. Soulful and Icelandic strange.
WD : Is it possible to have sex to country music?
MM : I'm sure you could. It would not be my go-to thing but start with some drinks and a little Bobby Gentry He made a woman out of me. Something with a good rhythm based out of soul and funk. Something to dance to. Then head on over to the Sirens song on O Brother that might work out after some lightning bug, creek and graveyard stories. When the buzz kicks in and ya feeling all fuzzy put on that Chris Stapleton Tennessee Whiskey cause you can buzz sing and slow drag, plus it shows your playlists depth and she's seen the viral video of the dad in the truck singing it to his little girl and that gives us all fuzzies. Meanwhile I'm like this guy in my head or this other guy. Bring it on home with some Patsy Cline do a little Walking after Midnight and some Crazy, then any of Patsy's slow drag songs after that and you could get to almost any country girls heart or make her miss her ex-cowboy.
WD : How often is sound used in your work?
MM : Sound makes its way to my work but not very often. I'm always considering sound as one of the other senses that could be stimulated in exhibition and project though.
WD : How do you get your music these days? Are you more into Vinyl or Downloading?
MM : I do little of both.
WD : If you had to cover a song what would it be and what is your favorite song covered by a musician covering a song?
MM : If I were to cover a song it would be Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe Que Lio. A song about a man who is in trouble because he loves a friend of his girlfriend. Mariana is her name. He wants to forget her but he can't. It's like on some sad gangster vibe. One can tell he really is having a hard time with it, but them horns though!
I would like to do Jimi Hendrix's Machine Gun. It's something so haunting that song. Like we never learn from the violence of wars or guns in general. The song has Buddy Miles in the background slapping the hell out of drums as machine guns, while Jimi brings a different type a hellish noise to represent the human scream, the missiles and even sirens of violence and death. Billy Cox is on bass just holding all the hell breaking loose in the pocket. It becomes poetic, a cry to me that only Jimi Hendrix, a fully realized far out counter culture black dude, could make at that time. I would like to do that one for sure but relate it today's police violence which we can't deny continues to happen. The song is 12 minute of raw soulful blackness.
I would also remake Allman Brothers Whipping Post because me singing that song would be purely badass.
My favorite little thing about cover songs right now is Etta James’s Rather Go Blind covered by Beyonce for the movie Cadillac Records, and then revisited by Chris Stapleton's Tennessee Whiskey. I think it's the deep and rich emotional tone in the song that Etta just nails. She is really hurt and you can hear that. Beyonce does something totally different to it but the emotional tone and depth is there. Chris simply reminds country folks of their connection to soul and gospel music like the Allman Brothers, something that country music has forgotten. So it's fun to see that song grow change and take different meaning but keep its deep emotional tone.
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