Hailed as “heady, euphoric, singular, surprising” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “universal and personal, comforting and jarring, ethereal and earthy” by Electric Literature, QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO has long been active in the collusion and collision of art and social justice. Her conceptually-based interdisciplinary projects integrate her fiction, poetry, memoir, and essay with her original photographs, performance, and video. These semi-autobiographical projects inhabit occluded and obscured sites over time, and dwell within complex histories at the intersection of gender, disability, queerness, and race, with a special focus on human rights aftermath issues.
Her more than 35 projects are published, performed, and exhibited internationally. Her several books include the acclaimed collection of photographs and stories The Hope Of Floating Has Carried Us This Far (Coffee House Press) and the forthcoming novel with photographs A Long Curving Scar Where The Heart Should Be (Stalking Horse Press, 2017). Other work appears in magazines such as Tin House, Guernica, Conjunctions, the Kenyon Review, and Gulf Coast, and as well as in anthologies, artist books, and exhibition catalogues. Her projects have received multiple solo museum shows in New York City and Germany, including the Berlin Jewish Museum, F.A.C.T. (UK) and are presented in galleries such as Ronald Feldman Gallery (NYC) as well as in museum and public collections throughout the United States and Europe including the Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum Munich, and People for the American Way.
Her solo and collaborative live performance works are actively presented onstage, in museum exhibitions, and site-specific installation featuring live narration, video projection, and original scores by prominent composers. She performs regularly in New York City and elsewhere at venues including (Le) Poisson Rouge, Dixon Place, Bowery Poetry Club, St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, and more.
A human rights worker since 1988, her artwork is deeply grounded in collaborative and coalition-based organizing principles, long-term project commitments, and intersectionality. She is curious about the multifacted and often secret or unspoken legacies of human history that inform contemporary behaviors, beliefs, and events. Her work typically involves multi-year personal habitations of sites where crimes against humanity have taken place. Inhabiting the intersections of sexuality/gender, warfare/power, and mythology/shamanism, her final projects create sites for investigation and discourse around existential questions about humanity, our societies, and how we can navigate beyond the limited boundaries that we are taught contain us.
She holds fellowships from Creative Capital, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Theo Westenberger Estate, the Center for Cultural Innovation, and multiple residencies at Yaddo, including the Pollock-Krasner Residency. She is a member of PEN USA and serves as guest artist, visiting lecturer, and strategic advisor at multiple arts institutions, including the Millay Colony, NYU, and many others. She lives in rural Northern New Mexico, and when necessary in New York City.
“Author and visual artist Wikswo’s juxtaposes dreamy, surreal prose with shadowed, ambiguous, occluded dreamscapes to haunting effect—heady, euphoric, and full with loss. Wikswo’s singular lines strike like the tone of a bell while her beautifully composed images echo the surprising twists of language. [Her work] defies genre or distillation and instead takes the reader/viewer on a journey where myth, mystery, and the impossible have never seemed more real.” Publisher’s Weekly
“One of Brooklyn’s most engaging artistic and literary voices.” – Greenlight Books
“Quintan Ana Wikswo’s trenchant interdisciplinary investigation into the sites of massacres and other atrocities is a vivid reminder that art no longer serves religion, but is progressively supplanting it in terms of ritual and sanctity.”
– Thomas Micchelli, Hyperallergic
“[Quintan Ana Wikswo explores] humanity from the outside, not just crossing genres but exploding them. Quintan combines text and photography to give us characters who have left their bodies, and whose stories have become boundless. She writes with both a lightness and the weight of lives unlived, of remorse, and of loss.” – Pixelated
“A seduction and an insurrection: a paean to lovers, explorers, resisters, and those without borders.”
—Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
“It’s more than the way W.G. Sebald, Jesse Ball and Teju Cole have used photographs to punctuate and accentuate the narratives they write; there’s a sense of collage here, of the images being used to state things where words no longer suffice.” – Chicago Star Tribune
Watch Quintan’s talk about her artistic practice at her Creative Capital presentation:
“Quintan Ana Wikswo’s trenchant interdisciplinary investigation into the sites of massacres and other atrocities is a vivid reminder that art no longer serves religion, but is progressively supplanting it in terms of ritual and sanctity.” – Thomas Micchelli, Hyperallergic
CURRENT NEWS 2015 (for complete news visit Bumblemoth)
- Quintan Ana Wikswo’s new collection of short stories and photographs THE HOPE OF FLOATING HAS CARRIED US THIS FAR is now available wherever books are sold. To read all the reviews, interviews, and other press about the book, please look here. For book tour information, please check the calendar.
- Quintan Ana Wikswo’s essay CHARITÉ is included in the forthcoming QDA: Queer Disability Anthology. Read more here.
- In 2014-15, Quintan’s photographs and text from MERCY KILLING AKTION will appear in a six-month exhibition at FACT, (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), the UK’s leading media arts museum, based in Liverpool.
- Quintan’s photographs and texts from her project FIELDWORK are exhibited in Wave/Particle at Ronald Feldman Gallery NYC in March, and published in Guernica, with an extensive interview in Hyperallergic.
- Quintan Ana Wikswo’s work SIX NIGHTS IN IGNAZ GUNTHER HAUS is included in the performance anthology EMERGENCY INDEX (Ugly Duckling Presse)
- Her essay and photographs from the project “Nevada City as Zero Dimension” is included in the anthology PROCESSION FOR THE EXTRACTED (California College of Arts);
- Quintan has a series of new fiction, essays, reviews, and interviews in Guernica, the Rumpus, Golden Handcuffs Review, Confrontation, and other magazines. For a full list of forthcoming publications, click here.
- She will be a visiting artist at Colgate College and other universities.
- In 2013-14, Wikswo has three museum exhibitions of her texts, films, photographs and performance works: The Jewish Museum Berlin (October 17, 2013 – February 9, 2014), the Museum of Modern Art Ceret, France (August 5-19, 2013), and the Judisches Museum Munich (Feb 26-September 1, 2013).
In 2013, Creative Capital honored Wikswo with a multi-year grant in Emerging Fields. Wikswo has also received major fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pollock Krasner Foundation, the Theo Westenberger Estate, the Center for Cultural Innovation, ARC/Durfee, the Puffin Foundation, and others.
She has been artist in residence in literature, visual art, film, and performance at Yaddo, Djerassi, Villa Montalvo/Montalvo Arts Center, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Ucross, the Millay Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ebenböckhaus, Oberpfalzer Kunstlerhaus, Can Serrat, and more.
An agile writer across forms, her non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and hybrid texts are often integrated with her photographs and films. Her critically acclaimed debut collection of short stories and photographs The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far (Coffee House Press, June 2015) includes 150 color plates of her companion photographs. Her works appear regularly in magazines and journals including Tin House, Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, WITNESS, New American Writing, Alaska Quarterly Review, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Folio, Sidebrow, and many more.
Her writing is also published in artist’s books, exhibition catalogues, anthologies, and publications including a major exhibition catalogue “Alles Hat Seine Zeit: Rituale gegen das Vergessen” (Kehrer Verlag), “One Blood: The Narrative Influence” anthology (University of Alaska Press), and the limited-edition artist book “Schwarzer Tod and the Useless Eaters” (Catalysis Projects).
In 2015, ten selections of text and photographs from her ongoing project FIELDWORK were exhibited at Ronald Feldman Gallery in NYC; sixteen selections of text and images from her project SARAH BURIED BENEATH CATALPA BEANS were exhibited at the museum FACT in the UK.
In 2013, the Jewish Museum Berlin presented a five-month solo exhibition of her project SONDERBAUTEN, which explores state-sponsored sexual violence against women through photographs, poetry installations, and film. This exhibition continued from its nine-month solo exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Munich (February 2013-September 2014), exhibiting a series of 16 large photographs, texts, and a film installation, as well as performance works in collaboration with choreographer Alexandra Shilling and composer Arthur Kell. The Alchemy Suite, with Veronika Krausas, premiered at the Modern Art Museum in Ceret, France, in August 2013, and continued to Los Angeles and Paris.
The first solo museum survey of her work, PROPHECY OF PLACE: QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO was presented in New York City from August 2011 – March 2012 by the Yeshiva University Museum at the Smithsonian-affiliated Center for Jewish History. The nine-month exhibition featured her poems and stories, multi-panel photography, assemblage, live performance works, and films surrounding a thousand years of human rights crimes in Europe from the Crusades to the Holocaust, and questioning the marginalization of female, queer, and disabled experience within human rights and Holocaust narrative. Major works from the exhibition continue to museums in the United States and Europe in 2012-14, including the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
Wikswo’s works have premiered internationally at institutions including the University of Southern California, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Lyon Musée des Moulages, the Jewish Museum of Munich, Schloss Plüschow, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Beyond Baroque, MicroFest, the University of Colorado, Boston Court Performing Arts Center, California State University at Fullerton, the University of Maryland, Yeshiva University Museum, Kebbel Villa, The Composer’s Project, the International Alliance of Women in Music (IAWM), the National Center for Music Creation (GRAME), and in multiple galleries in Los Angeles (CA), Provincetown (MA), and Germany.
Thirty-two multidisciplinary live performance works are based upon her own original multi-genre texts, poetry, and other writings, and engage her photography, film projections, multichannel video, field recordings, and performance electronics. Through an adventurous process, the projects expand across music, movement, dance, opera, and theater via a creative team that includes composers Veronika Krausas, Andrea Clearfield, Arthur Kell, James Illgenfritz, Pamela Madsen, Anne La Berge, David Rosenboom, Tom Flaherty, and Isaac Schankler, choreographers Manfred Fischbeck, Alexx Shilling, GroupMotion Dance Theater, and a spectrum of actors, musicians, and performers. Wikswo has also begun performing her own solo works in New York City at Dixon Place, (Le) Poisson Rouge, Cornelia Street Cafe, SEEDS, and others.
These original works take the form of solo as well as collaborative performance. Wikswo performs her own solo works in New York City at Dixon Place, (Le) Poisson Rouge, Cornelia Street Cafe, SEEDS, and others. With Alexx Shilling, she is the Co-Artistic Director of Fieldshift Further – a transdisciplinary performance company that creates and presents new works at sites with human rights and ecological impact.
In chamber opera, her work On a Sofa in Vilnius premiered in March 2012 at the CSUF New Music Festival, with music by Anne Le Berge and Pamela Madsen. Wupatki: Houses of the Enemies with composer Pamela Madsen, premiered at the University of Colorado in 2012. The Alchemy Suite, with composer Veronika Krausas and bass-baritone Nicholas Isherwood, will premiere at the Modern Art Museum in Ceret, France, and in Los Angeles in August 2013. Luminosity: The Passions of Marie Curie, with composer Pamela Madsen, will premiere in 2013 in Los Angeles.
In 2010, her first collaborative multidisciplinary work Waterland: Veronika Krausas, Andre Alexis and Quintan Ana Wikswo premiered at the University of Southern California (USC), Microfest, and the Composer’s Project, and internationally through the International Alliance of Women in Music (IAWM) and the National Center for Music Creation (GRAME). It toured to eleven countries on three continents.
Wikswo has completed twenty-one films and video installations based off her original concepts and texts. Most of these original films are created in collaboration with composers and choreographers, and designed for stage projection during live performance. Others are exhibited as museum installations. Projected onto screens, scrims, and public spaces, the films become an interactive presence with dancers, musicians, and actors, as well as audiences and visitors. Whenever possible, the films are projected to scale, so that humans take on a proportional size within the ecologies and architectures of the filmscape.
Wikswo creates her original films through a visual vocabulary drawn from many different cameras – a combination of salvaged 120mm and 35mm still cameras and hand animations, 35mm motion picture cameras, and digital cameras using salvaged vintage lenses.
Her first films premiered at The Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles) and since then have been featured in three solo museum exhibitions in New York, Berlin, and Munich as well as museums in Paris, Taiwan, and Los Angeles. The five DVD collections of her work include The Alchemist’s Suite (Vera Icon, forthcoming 2014), The Anguilladae Eaters (Catalysis Projects), Prophecy of Place (Yeshiva University Museum), Waterland (Vera Icon), and Apostrophe Catastrophe (Catalysis Projects).
A dedicated interdisciplinary teacher at institutions including NYU, CUNY, California College of Arts, Cal State Fullerton, San Francisco State University, the Honors College at Yeshiva University, Stern College for Women, and more, Wikswo’s primary academic teaching focus is to guide students and student artists beyond the boundaries of discipline, and into galvanic encounters with new forms and tools for intensifying their own practice, and encountering the world.
She maintains a lively reading and artist lecture tour throughout Europe and the United States, and presents master classes and workshops for programs in Creative Writing, Music Composition, Theater, Performance, Film, Visual Art, English, History, Gender Studies, Queer Studies, and Human Rights.
Wikswo earned an interdisciplinary BA with Honors from the University of Texas at Austin, with triple majors in Philosophy/Critical Theory, Gender Studies, and History, and minors in African-American Studies, Military Studies, and French. She was awarded an international fellowship in Gender Studies to the University of Sydney, Australia, and an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, where she was honored with the President’s Award and the University Distinguished Service Award.
Wikswo is the co-director of Contos+Wikswo, founder and Co-Director of Creative Capitals Comrade Truebridge’s (a cross-disciplinary workgroup for NYC artists), and the Co-Artistic Director of Fieldshift Further, a transdisciplinary performance company creating new works at sites with human rights and ecological impact. She is a performing artist and founding member of FlashPoint, a NYC-based text-and-music live performance ensemble, and a core artist with Los Angeles-based Catalysis Projects/LA, an interdisciplinary collaborative new works company.
At the heart of my work are questions surrounding the construction and depiction of reality and realities. I am curious about how tactics of storytelling and narrative are used to create mythos and historicity – as weapons of hegemonic power, but also as tools of resistance and liberation. I investigate how narratives are coded into the human body, mind, and psyche through a potent matrix of sexuality and erotics; trauma, violence and militarism; and altered states of consciousness.
For several decades, I worked for human-, civil-, and gender rights organizations in the United States, Europe, Central and South America, and various North American Tribal Nations. Within this work, I focused on projects with which I had first-hand personal experience – I therefore stood simultaneously as witness and as instigator, as activist and victim, insider and outsider, survivor and bystander, solution and problem, rescuer and betrayer.
My job was the construction of official narrative: reporting on, crafting, and compiling oral histories, survivor testimonies, victim testimonies, white papers, government reports, law enforcement reports, social services and psychiatric evaluations, news articles, stakeholder reports, diplomatic briefs, and ghostwriting speeches and strategic communications for officials and powerbrokers on various sides of the prevailing power structures.
Today, my interdisciplinary projects investigate how states and their institutions and communities control and define the official stories of normalcy and belonging. How is narrative used to enforce control over human activity, and what are the methods of enforcement? Where – and on whose bodies – are official histories encoded over time? What are the processes for disruption and interruption of these coded stories? How do poetics and visual abstraction hack this code, and provide a renegade underground railway for insurrection and disobedience?
My bodies of work explore and inhabit unmarked sites where trauma has literally “taken place” – sites whose experience of atrocity have been erased, and where contemporary efforts continue to actively obscure or erase the aftermath narratives. I work at these sites over a period of years, using with salvaged military film cameras and typewriters manufactured by Fascist and authoritarian governments.
I create multi-voiced portraits of place over time, and time across place…constructing new evidence that resists erasure and interrupts the prevailing narratives. I work in literature, photography, video/film, and performance to create a single project. Each project is comprised of a constellation of independent but interconnected poems, texts, stories, essays, video installations, large-scale photographs, books, solo and collaborative performance works, and site-specific rituals and rites.
In my photographs, videos, texts, and performances, I work to dislodge these timespace situations from their habitual representations and contexts. I work with the instruments to actively interrupt conventions and disrupt narrative and visual controls. They exhibit inappropriate, intrusive, and distracting aberrations in spelling, focus, spacing, exposure, margins, characters, and framing.
Because tangible, material evidence of atrocity is typically removed from these sites, the place itself is a volatile abstraction in a constant state of destruction, construction, and deconstruction. Because the cameras and typewriters themselves are unlikely survivors of violence, they have unique capacities, wounds and histories.
My challenge is to incite new encounters and engagements with sites and stories that have been silenced. I am not interested in presenting an official story or replacing an old history with a new history. Instead, I wish to create a conversation with these disrupted voices and places to invoke a constellation of human realities that prevents communities from indulging in the worship of a single unified message.
– Quintan Ana Wikswo
For a full listing of current press, please visit: http://bumblemoth.com/category/press/
PRESS & PRAISE FOR THE HOPE OF FLOATING HAS CARRIED US THIS FAR:
“One of Brooklyn’s most engaging artistic and literary voices.”
– Greenlight Books
“These stunning, solitary and cinematic letters to the self (think of the Quays and Béla Tarr speaking together in dreamtime) bear witness to a world beloved and betrayed, the spent and brutal collisions of irretrievable loss with what might have been possible.”
—Rikki Ducornet on The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far
“You will find within these pages a marvelous alchemy of image and text, all of it radiant, sensual, endlessly layered. The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far is at once a seduction and an insurrection: a paean to lovers, explorers, resisters, and those without borders.”
—National Book Award finalist Sarah Shun-lien Bynum on The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far
“Quintan Ana Wikswo, in her unique and magnificent The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far, has ignited an extraordinary condensation of texts and images that culls together spirit, compassion, and dreams. Throughout her foray into extensions of the mind and the limits of the body she exudes an uncanny power of magic and wizardry.”
—Lynn Hershman Leeson, Director of Women Art Revolution on The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far
“In these stories, disasters in war and love trigger peculiar unexpected metamorphoses…Cataclysmic apocalypses such as hurricanes, political coups, and military invasions find equal footing with lovers’ quarrels, broken romances, and erotic negotiations. Instead of cause for destruction, these catastrophes become opportunities for transformation—especially from human to non-human.”
– Maxine Chernoff in Literary Hub
read the interview here
“[The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far explores] humanity from the outside, not just crossing genres but exploding them. Quintan combines text and photography to give us characters who have left their bodies, and whose stories have become boundless. She writes with both a lightness and the weight of lives unlived, of remorse, and of loss.”—0s&1s / Pixelated on The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far
read the interview here
PRESS & PRAISE FOR MERCY KILLING AKTION
“Quintan Ana Wikswo’s trenchant interdisciplinary investigation into the sites of massacres and other atrocities is a vivid reminder that art no longer serves religion, but is progressively supplanting it in terms of ritual and sanctity.”
– Thomas Micchelli, Hyperallergic on Mercy Killing Aktion
“The New York artist Quintan Ana Wikswo shows asylum photographs whose foreboding atmosphere is accentuated by technical simulations of the hypersensitive vision caused by post-traumatic stress disorder.”
– The Guardian UK
read the Critic’s Pick on Carrie Buried Beneath Catalpa Beans
” Quintan Ana Wikswo…encourages visitors to rethink their understanding of mental health and wellbeing, by asking how far our personal wellbeing is related to the values of the society we live in and the impact of new technologies. By showcasing spaces formerly reserved for the mentally ill, Quintan Ana Wikswo provides insights into the historical context of mental illness and its surrounding power structures.”
“This survey provides a well-designed forum for Wikswo’s images, which manage to take us somewhere we don’t want to go, and to do it not with a hammer to the head or to the senses, or with accepted and expected visual histories, but with a glimpse of blue sky or a blooming dandelion juxtaposed with a dance of barbed wire or a priapic guard’s tower. That’s pretty much the way it really was, after all.”
– Tom Christie, B.L.A.T.C. on Sonderbauten at the Berlin Jewish Museum
read the review on B.L.A.T.C.
“Alone amid cacti, barbed wire, and phone lines, she is looking for something. The figure raises her rake — which seems like half claw, half witch’s broom — above her head, then returns to it to the sand. The sun radiates in cactus spines, but she is dressed in what looks like a fur coat and a long, metallic sheath made from a Mylar emergency blanket. Where her head should be there is a red beaked mask from which hang wattles and clawed fingers. She is the Vulture Vulva Vigilante, a symbolic, threatening creature, invented by artis tQuintan Ana Wikswo, who seeks out female remains in the desert and commemorates them, taking a fierce stance against gender violence in the process.
– Ashley P. Taylor, Hyperallergic on Fieldwork
read the interview here: In The Desert, A Vulture Spirit Follows a Trail of Femicide
PRESS ON “SONDERBAUTEN”
SOME SERIOUS BUSINESS (Director, Programs and Strategic Planning)
…Founded at the height of the Conceptual 70s, Some Serious Business incubates emergent expression in the arts, germinates intrepid new works and ideas, and presents diverse projects that celebrate audacity, experimentation, and surprise. Our core artist-driven programs and partnerships are both catalysts and sanctuaries that sustain visionary creators and thought-leaders.
Based on the principle that the artist always comes first, SSB supports hybrids and chimeras that traverse performance, literature, theater, dance, visual art, moving image, music, architecture and design, social practice, and fields of unforeseen possibilities.
CONTOS + WIKSWO (Co-Director)
…Matthew Contos and Quintan Ana Wikswo create multidisciplinary arts projects at sites with complex ecologies of memory, history, mystery, and mythos. At these sites, we work with literature, visual art, performance and ritual to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of place over time. In collaboration with communities and individuals, we invoke a space where divergent and sometimes formidable realities can be expressed, explored, experienced, and shared. At trash dumps and volcanic calderas, warplane runways and migratory bird nesting sites, we seek out meaningful and necessary conversations about how particular landscapes and places become archives of human experience and emotion.
We are drawn to the unknown within known territories. We are intrigued by how poetics, ritual, and abstraction can become methods for navigating – and expanding – the maps of conventional realities. We seek to expand the fixed routes we have come to accept, and to travel unexpected paths through the in-between and the unimagined, chance and accident, miracles and disappointments, the mistakes, the silences, the blindnesses and illuminations.
Beginning with immersive fieldwork and studio practice, we inhabit the landscape and listen to all its stories with all our senses. We explore how human experience has shaped the site socially, physically, and ecologically. We consider its folklore and myths, its heroes and villains, its historical contexts and sociopolitical structures, its cultural roles and identities, its presences and absences – its evolving position in time and space.
We then develop a series of actions (performances, gestures, durational works, participatory activities) and artifacts (texts, photographs, paintings, books). These become gateways and waymarkers that point towards the formlines of memory and perception. Rather than presenting an official story – or adding an alternative history to a conventional history – we make space for a poetic illumination of the unseen, overlooked, and unimagined mysteries in our everyday lives.
FIELDSHIFT FURTHER (Co-Artistic Director)
…a transdisciplinary company creating new performance works at sites with human rights and ecological impact.
FLASHPOINT NYC (Core Artist)
…New York City’s jazz and literature live performance ensemble, premiering original works since 2012 at (Le) Poisson Rouge, Cornelia Street Cafe, Pete’s Candy Store, and many more iconic literary and live music venues.
CATALYSIS PROJECTS / LA (Founding Director, Resident Artist)
…a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary arts organization that presents, publishes, and curates collaborative new works by leading California and international artists.
In 2014, Quintan Ana Wikswo will be forming an Advisory Committee for her Creative Capital Project, MERCY KILLING AKTION and OUT HERE DEATH IS NO BIG DEAL.
Please email studio at quintanwikswo.com for more details.
National Endowment for the Arts
National Endowment for the Humanities
Pollock Krasner Foundation
Center for Cultural Innovation
Anderson Ranch Arts Center
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts
It has become clear that there are exactly thirteen questions asked about my work. I have a fantasy of responding to these questions by number, like a desultory Oracle at Delphi on a time-management regimen, or a librarian who simply fails to comprehend why no one respects the efficiency of the Dewey Decimal System.
Q1. Who writes the poems, stories, and texts that you use in your projects? What is your process? Isn’t it a little peculiar to move around between disciplines of literature so much? And why do you work in multiple languages?
I write all my own poems, stories, essays, and texts for all my projects.
If I’m creating a site-specific work, I typically haul my salvaged government typewriters out to the site. These texts begin as an exploration of how I’m processing and experiencing everything around me – a transcription of my brain. But the process expands to include conversations I have with people – witnesses, bystanders, storytellers, rabble rousers, and that’s largely based on my background working with oral histories in a human rights context.
Sometimes the work is narrative and sometimes more about sound or language or mood. These pieces find their ways towards poetry or prose, essay or libretto. I am not at all interested in the conventions that segregate one from the other.
I write in English, and then I very often collaborate with translators to create “mirror texts” in German, French, Portuguese, Hebrew… I like to build worlds in which multiple languages create nested architectures and voices.
Q2. Who takes the photographs that you use in your projects? What kind of cameras do you use? Are you working in film or digital? How do you get those colors? Do you use photoshop to get all those layers?
I create all my photographs myself, using salvaged military film cameras that I find in junk shops, the internet, or are gifted to me by strangers during fieldwork. I work in medium format 120mm and 35mm film. Everything in the photographs is achieved in-camera, through old-fashioned mechanical and optical and chemical means – the colors, the layers, everything. There’s no digital manipulation at all, either in photoshop or some other computer software.
The layers that are apparent in the films are all created in camera, through as many as forty or fifty exposures. It’s all about calculating how each camera and film stock will respond to the amount of light. (That obsession is a good way to learn how to watch how the world glows.)
I use mostly broken and malfunctioning antique cameras, many of which I have adapted to encourage particularly unconventional responses to light and the chemical emulsions of film. When using film, it’s actual photons interacting with chemicals on the film. Because of that, the resulting photograph is the record of a fairly volatile organic process. It’s affected by many fluctuating variables – the chemicals’ age, their condition, their quality, how much light is allowed to contact them and under what circumstances, as well as the vicissitudes of development, digital scanning, and printing.
Likewise, when working with an 80 or 100 year old camera filled with rust, dirt, cracks, and battlefield detritus, each camera will respond uniquely to the film, to light, to lenses…most of their calibrations aren’t standardized. It takes a tremendous amount of time to build up a working relationship with each camera sufficient to produce even one image.
Similarly, it’s a challenge to find an intrepid lab willing to develop the film, and switch all the settings on a scanner that is capable of digitizing the unusual sizes and conditions and processing of the film. By the time all these variables have been managed, I don’t even have time left for Photoshop. (Although I admire people who push that software past its limits and into new terrain.)
Q3. Who shoots the films that you use in your projects? What kind of cameras do you use? Are you working in film or digital?
I shoot all my films myself, unless I’m performing site-specific works – such as Out Here Death Is No Big Deal – and in that case I have a really fantastic team of cinematographers and shooters with whom I work closely. (My earliest films – Waterland, Apimania, and Chemise Eyes Lies – use public access archival film footage which I adapted and oftentimes re-animated.)
I use about thirty different kinds of cameras to create my films…a mixture of digital and analogue film. A lot of the films are created using animated photographic stills, which is time consuming and often gives audiences headaches, but I quite enjoy making them. Others are very simple scans of the entire film negative, in a kind of meditative panorama that also often gives audiences headaches, but I also quite enjoy making.
In general, the films are intended to be shown as projections during live performance or within installations – in both instances, human figures of performers and viewers take on a life-sized scale within the ecology and architecture and invented worlds of the films. On small screens without live performers, it’s a somewhat different experience that I consider more a meditation than a traditional film or video art installation.
Q4. Who creates the performance works that you do? What is the process of working with collaborators?
I’ve begun performing my own work more and more – drawing on a literary tradition and a visual arts performance tradition…I’m certainly not a dancer or an actor by training. For some pieces, I work with various collaborators who have that kind of training.
All of the performance works begin with my own concept or thread of narrative, some sort of preoccupation that forms the bones of the piece. If I’m working with collaborators – composers, choreographers, actors – we work closely together to create the musculature: the sonic and movement vocabularies. In general, we do not all tell the same story, but instead work together to explore different and sometimes oppositional aspects of a world that we’re creating together.
Collaboration is an intimate relationship that in general requires trust, risk-taking, and exodus from the comfort zone. All of my collaborations have pulled me into new explorations and pushed me to acquire unforeseen skills and perspectives. As an evolving artist, collaboration can be an alchemical method for ongoing creative and intellectual evolution.
Q5. You make a lot of work about the Holocaust, and gloomy things that happened in Europe a long time ago, like the Crusades, the Witch Hunts, and the Inquisition. Why?
The United States was a colony of France, Spain, and England. I’m interested in the lacunae that exist between our continent’s indigenous roots, and the recently acquired/imposed culture of the colonizers. In the United States, it’s a tempting illusion to imagine a new idealistic society free of the draconian legacies and limitations of Europe, of the past, of history. It’s equally tempting to think the atrocities and catastrophes of this new country are new inventions. However, the United States – as a nation – began as a grand experiment by the empires of Europe.
My initial intellectual interests were primarily 20th century US civil rights work. Yet each thread that I pulled seemed to stretch back across the Atlantic to far more ancient methods of constructing societies. History is comprised of a series of patterns, almost all of which lead back an astonishingly great distance through time (if not through space).
There is very little that is new under the sun, and it’s a preoccupation of mine to link current events to those of a very distant history. It was difficult to work on the US-Mexico border in the midst of epidemic femicide and not wonder, while grasping at theory-straws, about the witch burnings. It remains difficult to see how the Catholic Church responds to the epidemic sexual abuse of children, and not wonder about patterns established during the Inquisition. It’s impossible to encounter a crematorium at a concentration camp, and not be aware that outsiders in Europe have been burned during all empire-building psychoses.
There have been many instances of genocide throughout human history, but none as comprehensively documented as the Holocaust. Because of this, it’s particularly illuminating to seek out those aspects of the Holocaust that nonetheless remain hidden or taboo, and ask questions that begin with why and how…
I have known many Holocaust survivors during my various jobs in human rights. I was at times a ghostwriter or editor for their memoirs and autobiographies, and also worked for many different organizations that provided them with limited reparations or social services. I took the oral histories of people who survived the sexual crimes and medical crimes under the Nazis – their experiences were largely silenced or expunged from public testimonies. I also met several past and present Nazis, as well as their descendants who, like many Jews, wrestle with painful complexities of ancestry, legacy, otherness, and family secrecy. This constellation of voices and realities is central to my cosmos.
Some branches of my ancestors were refugees from many different suffering corners of Europe, and quickly began to pollinate within many different corners of North America. The tragedies of Europe were their intimate family tragedies, including the Witch Hunts and the Holocaust – centuries apart, but both quite unpleasant for families with epilepsy.
Q6. You make a lot of work about the South, and a lot of it is pretty sad and gothic. Why?
I grew throughout the Southern Half of the United States, half in the “Old South” and half in the “Old West” – rural Appalachia, the Shenandoah Valley, the South Carolina Sea Islands, New Orleans, and many nooks and crannies of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. My family comes from both places, both before and after recorded time.
As for the Old South, I was a small child looking deep into some of the most raw wounds of this young nation. None of these wounds have healed, because no justice has been served – the perpetrators walk free and spread lies. The South is a place of euphemized horrors that have been largely sanitized and dismissed.
In my childhood, I found it to be deeply segregated, profoundly sadistic, and a far worse place than most folks felt comfortable openly acknowledging in “mixed company” – it was violent, bigoted, cruel, petty, frightened, arrogant, and ignorant. Everyone I loved was frequently and publicly and joyfully tormented by roving mobs, usually with guns. The violence and policing was vigilante, as well as state-sanctioned.
And of course it’s where I learned what civil rights are, and what kind of people fight for them.
And how to find a queer speakeasy.
It’s beautiful, soulful, wrending, passionate, transcendent, profoundly sensual. Senses that exist nowhere else exist in the moist dark places of the American south.
It remains the frontier of genocide and crimes against humanity of a scale that has yet to be officially recognized in the United States. The reverberations of these catastrophic injustices seem at times to become pop culture cliche, but at their core it’s simply vast human pain placed within the confines of narrative.
Gothic is just a catchphrase for bounded torment, wherever it might occur.
Q7. You make a lot of work about the desert, and Mexico, and the Southwest. Why?
Beginning in my early adolescence, I started a still-unfolding journey across nearly every inch of the US-Mexico border. I was a child in the south, and an adolescent and adult in what is or used to be Mexico, or Spain, or Comanche lands, or Navajo territory, or Hopi, or….
In the desert, I learned all the things one is supposed to learn While Wandering In The Desert, and then I learned a bit more. In the desert, between all the many languages, there was a word for everything, for anything. If you could not find it in your own language, you could find someone who would teach it to you in theirs. I found many that for the first time described who and what I felt I was.
Intellectually, I’m attracted to a borderland whose friction has yet to resolve. Living in the Southwest, many people seemed convinced of their Americanism, and it’s the last seemingly shameless frontier of European colonialism. Europeans arrived with nearly universal contempt and disregard for the highly evolved and complex societies that they encountered and demolished. Today, the conditions imposed on many Indian Nations remain inhumane, including the Tohono O’Odham Nation where I worked, which encompasses some of the most complex communities and transcendently sacred land on the planet. Lands that white people experience as “new” instead contain the clearly perceptible presence of tens of thousands of years of vibrant human and nonhuman experience.
At night, the desert looks and feels like outer space: stars are lurid as diamonds. The gold in the desert mountains was brought there from distant asteroids. Scratch the surface of the desert, and a glimpse of the cosmos emerges.
Q8. Why is so much of your work about sexual and gender violence?
Despite the fact that the human female population is systematically subjected to socially-sanctioned male violence that transcends race, nationality, ethnicity, class, age, and every other variable, talking about it is considered deeply questionable. This is infuriating and absurd, like nearly everything, but more so.
Invariably, everyone wants to know if “it’s personal” for me. Should it matter? It’s a subject that’s been censored for several thousand years, and millions of women have died because of that imposed silence. So yes, it’s personal – as it is for every human that issued forth from a female uterus.
In terms of gender, it likewise remains astonishing that so much depends upon the correlation of genitalia to social roles. If I had my choice, I’d have been a falcon or a mantis. Some humans, gifted with imagination, have envisioned for themselves ways of being that reach beyond the confines of anatomy or cultural conditioning. I like to spend my time around those ways of being, and it’s reflected in my work.
Oftentimes, those humans are singled out for particularly atrocious persecution. And that’s reflected in my work, too.
Q9. Sometimes I can’t tell what is going on with sex in your work.
The first time I sent stories to a magazine and they were accepted, the editors wrote back welcoming Mr. Wikswo to their pages. I realized that while I was writing first-person lesbian love stories, I was widely (or narrowly) understood to be a man named Quintan writing modernist tales in which a male narrator writes about his sexual conquests of women.
I think there’s always the assumption that the male sexual experience is universal and relevant, and everyone else’s should be content with the specialty shops.
There’s a lot of overt and subtle scrutiny about who we love, who we have sex with, and oftentimes that directly affects whether and how and where we get to publish or exhibit or talk about or share our work. Each time I’ve created a work that involves queer sexuality or eroticism and I sense a kind of audience surprise, I feel angry that this because nearly all of us were forcibly prevented from creating or sharing these works over the many centuries.
My desire is simply to create a piece in which I openly recognize and represent my own psyche. But sometimes that turns out to be transgressive. I think that happens to almost everyone, and it’s a worthy challenge to keep on expressing your own experience.
Q10. How do you find your sites? And how do you decide to create projects in particular places?
Have you ever been somewhere and felt like something is a little…strange? It’s hard to put your finger on it. It’s just a sense that something is a little…unusual. I bring a socially-coded camera and an old typewriter and sit down and refuse to leave for several hours or weeks or maybe several months or even far too many years, and I gradually begin to see tiny details – things that would almost seem invisible to the casual passer-by. It’s as though my eyes themselves begin to change.
Eventually, as people become aware that I’m just sitting there, they start to share little details about what happened in that otherwise inexplicably strange or unusual spot.
And sooner or later, the unusual and the strange seem like my very oldest friends and adversaries. It’s as though I didn’t find them – they found me.
Q11. You make a lot of work about shamanism and witches. Is there something you want to tell us?
I’m deeply wedded to a state of being in the brain that, over the centuries, has resulted in both exaltation (as shamans, saints, and holy figures) and condemnation (as defectives, demons, and possessed witches). Some people call it epilepsy, others have different conceptual rubrics.
Our brain systems are dynamic and elastic, they transform over time and can grant access to transcendental states, altered states, visions, prophecies, and are very adept at navigating the cracks between the confined mundane world and the cosmos…if we keep them agile and brave.
Our global human mythos is built upon the adulation of figures who are godlike, spiritlike, demonlike, witchlike, and we are raised on their exemplar lives from birth (Jesus, the tooth fairy, Baba Yaga, Snow White, La Llorona). Yet at adulthood there is a threshold after which all but a few of us are goaded into becoming unnecessarily mundane humans. It’s perhaps the most occluded crime against humanity.
I’m also interested in how shamanism has been afflicted by control and policing by societies and states. Looking at the history of shamans is looking at the history of colonialism, and fascism, and a lot of deeply repressive social movements that began by clearing out those who could cross worlds and borders. The Witch Trials, the Inquisition and the Holocaust all targeted people with certain , and murdered them.
Q12. Your name is a little unusual. How should I pronounce it?
Yes. It’s a vestige of the very complicated ancestral broth in which I cooked.
(It sounds something like Kwintin Ah-na Wicks-Woah)
Q13. What are you?
Dust in the wind.
BOOKS & ANTHOLOGIES
Procession for the Extracted / California College of Arts (forthcoming, November 2015)
Anguilladae Eaters / Vera Ikon Productions
Anguilladae Eaters / Catalysis Projects