I grew up in an old World War II housing project in Tacoma, WA. Many people from different ethnicities lived in my community. However, people still asked me: What are you? That objectifying question eventually became imbedded in my practice.
People’s constant curiosity about my ethnic makeup made me wonder if it would be more satisfying if folks
just automatically knew that my mother was Italian and Eritrean and my father was Native American, and Italian. They made a brown boy with floppy hair. However, my lived experience of being a man of color in America has included a process of moving through and adopting from many different experiences, psychically and culturally. I feel that cultural identities that are too tightly defined can keep us from growing. I’ve come to see my body as a thing that has a name and casts a shadow. One could say I am an amalgamation of many things combined into one (I think you might be that way, too).
This notion of envisioning amalgamations is one entry-point for my work in the still-life genre. My photo series, entitled Amalgam (#’s 19-87), includes organic “sculptures” that I have built and photographed from an array
of different foods — fruit, vegetable, and meat — recombined into new structures. Familiar shapes are cast in different ways to the point towards appearances, so that theres a potential for an experience of an “object”
that is coupled along with it’s essence.
There are other times when I step in front of my camera, as a performer. In my video animation Purple Dave
I want to blur the edges between earnestness and irony. My sung performance is passionate but also playful. Underneath the comedic exterior of me belting out the song is the intensive animation process, which compresses time. So while the performance seems bent on abandon on the screen, behind the scene is
the dead-seriousness of layering this sequence in animated time. I am curious about simultaneity and how
time and history can be looped and disrupted. In my video performances The Cat, Myself, and the Bird
and Orthodox, I occupy multiple frames at once. These two videos point towards seeing existence as layered and deeply social. Orthodox is a dual recounting of my mother revealing that our family is Jewish. The Cat, Myself, and the Bird meditates on a desire to consider how I am seen in the world externally and how I see myself internally.
Within my process, people and things are seen as something that can become know-able. They are images
that search for their counterpart: a deeply curious viewer. I’m most interested in an art practice that becomes transformative, in the sense that the viewer comes to see more than an adequate mirror for confronting existence. One could say that part of my hope revolves around honing the ability to see and be seen. Structurally, things like sexism, racism, homophobia, classism and other oppressions are still important societally. They certainly blind us to one another’s humanity. I am quite conscious that these marginalizations exist, and they should be dismantled. Yet, my art shares metaphors for “Otherness” more in the imaginary sense. Asking what might happen if “Others” intentionally appropriated the objectifications that marginalize
us and fetishize us? My visual strategies revolve around formally encouraging us to revel in the particular and the specific, so that we can get on familiar terms with the unknown — to the point that we welcome it as family, even if it might confound us.