Inspiring Films by Naima Lowe

I think that I may have had a better time at film school if I was asked to watch and consider these, instead of all the 1960s/1970s American "realism" that gave my professors a hard on. Oh well.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcV8_xKi9IE&hl=en&fs=1&]

Indeed by Naima Lowe

A fantastic couple of days of conversation with Charlotte Cooper and many other rad fatties and friends has re-upped my excitement about this project.

I will be bringing Richard 'Til You Die to you in full effect on September 12, 2009 in conjunction with a screening that I've co-curated with Sara Zia Ebrahimi called Weighty Proposition: Films about Fatness, Bodies and Food. It is part of her amazing series, Flickering Light.
More information coming soon...
In the meantime, I give (all three of you) this: 

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhZ2fYQj6IM&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00&border=1]

Some Outcomes by Naima Lowe

I've been sore all weekend long, and I can only assume that this is due to dancing my ass off with my most exuberant partner to date, Sarah. Sarah didn't have the most exciting outfit (dark colors and all) but she did fixate on several of the most delightfully ironic moves of the tape, including the "Hair Move," the "Egyptian" and the "I Will Survive" sequence. We also found ourselves getting increasingly annoyed at Richard's incessant insistance that we could "throw away those pounds."

At the climax of the tape, around minute 37, the bulb on my projector went out.

While Sarah seemed to think that this constituted the death blow that I've been waiting for, I feel a responsibility to adhere to the original terms of the experiment.

Experiments by Naima Lowe

So far I've played the tape around seven times. (Yes, I am that lazy.) I set up a projector and VHS player in my studio, and then invited some friends over after explaining a little bit about what I'm trying to do. I demanded that they wear fun outfits, gave them directions, and pressed play.

In the Beginning.... by Naima Lowe

Sometime around 1998-1999, a friend's mother lent Naima Lowe a copy of GoodTimes Productions' Disco Sweat, circa 1994. In her ongoing efforts to get healthy, Naima played the tape one time, getting through about twenty minutes before tiring of it and adding it to her growing collection of only once watched exercise tapes. Ten years later, in August of 2008, Naima was packing her apartment in Philadelphia and found these tapes, and found herself strangely unable to part with them. They had travelled with her to four states and at least five apartments. How could she possibly let go of it now that she was moving into her asbestos filled artists studio?

The tape remained in a stack for at least another four months, until in December 2008, it became clear that Naima's landlord in her artists studio was not going to be able to fix the heat anytime soon. So, in a desperate attempt to stay warm while video files rendered on her increasingly obsolete computer, Naima decided it was time to Disco Sweat.

Playing through a projector (coincidentally also from 1994), Disco Sweat filled the echo-y converted warehouse ice-box with analog pixellated colors and too many layers of nostalgia to even begin to peel back here.

As Naima punched, jumped, shimmied and kicked away the cold, she recalled that 1994 was a bad year to be fat and 15 years old. She wondered: "If I had known Richard Simmons then, would I still be fat? Would it have taken this long to learn to appreciate being fat? Or would I have learned it even quicker?"

She decided that the only way to find out would be to play this tape until it can't be played anymore. She realized that it was time for the dusty tape to see its end, but that the only way to kill it would be to play it until it can't be played anymore.

And so she jumped, and stomped, and leapt, and bowed, and bought a headband, and said: "I'm gonna play Richard Simmons 'Til I die, 'til it dies, 'til you die!"

I think this is real... by Naima Lowe

I wrote this today as a statement of artists intentions for a job that I'm applying for. It is longish (perhaps too long for a job application), and I'm not sure that it is what I'm suppose to do. But I think I really really mean it. So here it is. -----------------

Naima Lowe

Statement of Artists Intentions and Recent Work

Statement of Artists Intentions

I have a really good work ethic. For some, a good work ethic means waking up every day and getting straight to the drawing board. For others, it means feverishly toiling in front of a screen or on set at all hours of the night. My work ethic comes from a deep desire to treat everyone who takes part in my art work; collaborators, audience and myself; with deepest respect and care.

I live in a world that feeds on fears of scarcity, pushes allies into competition, and is fueled by consumption rather than creation. As the daughter and granddaughter and great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter of jazz musicians, teachers, social workers, dress makers and field hands, I have the profound privilege of being reminded daily that I am nothing without my collaborators in the creation of joy and abstraction in the every day. In my work I push back against scarcity by being devilishly baroque, undermine competition by teaming with those who challenge me most, and treat all of my work (even the consumable parts) as lived aesthetic experiences in which process is barely distinct from product.

Recent and Ongoing Works

My work usually revolves around the strange complexity of identity formation, especially the way that we are both utterly fixed by our bodies and completely free to make it all up as we go along. My 2007 film Birthmarks explored the physical and psychic scars of violence through the ever morphing relationship between a father and daughter. In addition to collecting archival material and creating original writing and installation works to be filmed, I made a series of intentional spaces in which my father and I could challenge ourselves to look closely at the series of dark scars on his back that he received by being beat up by the Newark Police in 1967. The collaboration with my father largely revolved around a jazz improvisational model during which we agreed to a key and tempo (Newark, the riots, 1967), felt confident in each others’ knowledge of our instruments (him-Bass Trombone and storytelling, me-16mm camera and poetics), and then challenged each other to play our best. There were moments in the two year process of creating this film when I wanted to scream at my father for being inconsistent, or untrue to myself by pretending not to feel the pain brought about by the work, but I chose to remain present and accountable to my work ethic. I choose to remain true to my aesthetic vision while being kind to myself and my father. The experience was as unwaveringly honest, complex and affirming as I believe the film turned out to be. .

My more recent work has me delving more fully into the relationship between identity and historicity. In addition to research on the film work of Kara Walker and her status as a black post-modernist within the institutional fine art world, I have considered my own power as an artist to shape and mold the images of fictional and real subjects. In my work Mary and Sarah and You and Me: A Series of Tiny Spectacles, I have created a densely theatrical and spectacle driven world based on the lives of real life 19th century women. Stagecoach Mary Fields was a black cowgirl, and Mother Sarah Amadeus Dunne was the white nun whose story is entwined with Mary’s in the small white Montana town in which they lived. In creating this work I sought the help of a friend (Emmy Bean) and fellow alumna of a musical theater camp, whose life as a queer, white radical Christian echoed mine as a queer, black, artist brought up in mostly white central Connecticut. I knew that in order for us to go about writing, rehearsing, making music and videos, and researching 19th century pioneer life, we would have to deal confront ourselves pretty head on. Our joint work ethic included intensive weeklong sessions that were always punctuated with trips to the beach, time to see our families, and space to breathe and cry as needed. We warmed up by singing show tunes, and always made sure to have good food available for ourselves and anyone working around us. The resulting work is a layered experience for spectator and artist alike that includes storytelling, video installation, song, over-head projected photographs, and puppetry. We utilize some aspects of a stripped bare gallery aesthetic in order to situate our audience in a familiar mode of art consumption that gives the audience space to consider their own place and implication in the work. We also tell rich, detailed, visually dynamic stories about forbidden love, racial injustice, and religious fervor. These tales shift and evolve before the audiences’ eyes as we interrogate the integrity of our own project, and ask ourselves why we feel that these women’s lives are ours to reshape.

The mundane aspects of my creative practice may seem too vulgar to state as an part of my artistic intentions, but I have found it useful to remind myself and anyone I collaborate with of them. Too often I find that experimental filmmakers, video artists and performance artists, like myself, have given themselves over to solitary, auteur, obsessive, and self involved practices that ignore the pleasure and collectivity that comes along with our transgressions. I work very very hard, and I care a great deal about craft, make no mistake. But I have chosen this artists life for myself, and I intend on enjoying it.

A Strange White Box by Naima Lowe

I have rented and currently inhabit a 520 sq foot studio in a converted warehouse in an industrial/residential neighborhood in NE Philadelphia. This is by no means a strange state of affairs. I am like many other young (and older) artists, craftspeople, filmmakers, t-shirt makers, musicians, and entrepreneurs who take up residence in these spaces, working to fulfill our creative dreams, to fulfill our landlords dreams of gentrification, to fill these weird empty boxes that once housed industry.

I like the imagine that they still house industry. I suppose in the case of some of my neighbors, this is true. There's the recording studio next door and the paper maker downstairs and the jewelry designer down the hall.

I do something else entirely, and I've somehow decided that the best thing to do with this THING that I do is house it in a big cube that I've painted white and filled with equipment and paper and paint and brushes and books and fabric and other shit that I've collected over the years.

That is the magic potion, right? Mix collected shit, good ideas, ambitious new MFA holder in a nice big asbestos filled container and WHAM, BANG POOF! You get art.

eh.
Not so much.
It is an interesting trick to train myself to to do my art in this space. My practice is so much in my head. I read books, I have conversations, I pace up and down, and watch TV. I apply to things, and then I read more books. And cull video footage on occasion, and then I hatch this gigantic plans that do, in fact, require space and junk... But in the meantime, its that other stuff. I'm making art RIGHT NOW (said the girl about to drink some Ting and watch Bravo), and I'm not in my studio. What does that mean? Will it be lost forever because I haven't hatched it in the place where it will be best nurtured? Will it die on the way to its nursery?

But, this is what discipline is shaped of, and I think that discipline isn't such a bad thing. I sit there for 2-3 hours at a time, and I read, write, apply for things, organize things, look at videos, and pace up and down. I give myself a break. I read some more. Those 2-3 hours started out as nothing but fear of even showing up in that place. And then it was 1 hour, and now its 2, and in a while I'll probably stand to be there for days and days at a time.

In my cauldron, my cube, my asbestos box, my obligatory art cubicle with its total lack of heat and shitty ventilation.

Teaching and Blogging by Naima Lowe

I'm teaching two classes right now. Well, technically I'm teaching three. Two sections of a course called "Media and Culture" at Temple University, and one section of a course called Cinema Arts at University of the Arts. My Uarts students have a blog, in which they post reviews and commentary about films that they watch outside of class. I'm really excited about the blog because I get to see what my students are thinking about outside of class. It's also a way for me to think about films that I might not otherwise watch. Hooray for technology.

I chose not to do a blog for my Media and Culture students, but I'm regretting it now. I think it's a great tool for getting students to write and take some accountability for what they write because it is out in the world. It is also a nice record for all of us of the work we've done in class.

Material Girl by Naima Lowe

This elongated process of packing up all my belongings into a new house and a new studio has me anxious and excited. As usual, I go through all of my books, papers, clothes and letters and remember things about myself and past... Really finding out about myself, once again, through objects.

And in the process I'm discovering my fascination with objects, and forging new project ideas around these objects. I want to deal in the physical and tactile. I want sentimentality and dust in my nose. I'm talking about burying and digging up burlap, stacking up VHS tapes and buying old red telephones from ebay. I don't expect much to come out of this... Just a messy room in a converted fastener factory.

It is strange to start with writing, get educated in image making and end up caring most about things I can hold in my hands. It is strange to suddenly feel like something of a formalist, or a materialist, or maybe a situationist or another one of those words that I don't quite understand. But then maybe we're all formalists at heart, even the people who claim concept above and beyond all else. Aren't, after all, my body and thoughts made of SOMETHING. Aren't there aesthetics in the everyday?

Today I... by Naima Lowe

Rented a Studio!
I sort of couldn't be more excited about that fact. I didn't realize just how much I needed/wanted to have a little space to call my (art) home. I've been working in my apartment for the past four years, which has been nice and all but... Well, for one thing I'm moving in with my special lady friend, and I want our home to actually be our HOME. Also, this space is actually designed for the kind of work that I'm doing. In the 500 square foot square of loveliness, I get to build, paint, light things, video things, run, jump, dance, not to mention store all of the shiiiiit that I use for doing the aforementioned projects. I am very excited to paint the whole place a pretty color, bring in a mini-fridge, build some bookshelves and start moving all my shit into its proper home.

Done and Not Done by Naima Lowe

The first incarnation of my project "Mary and Sarah and You and Me: A Series of Tiny Spectacles" was by all accounts a success. We performed the project at The Parlor this weekend, with a lot of help from so many wonderful people, and I can't believe how much I learned from the process. Emmy Bean is a rock star, and such a good collaborative force. I feel so proud of us both.

When I say that it was a success, I don't mean that everything went perfectly, or that everyone loved it, or that we were perfectly happy with all of the outcomes. It was a success in that we stuck to our ideas, pushed ourselves way beyond our usual limits (Naima Acting! Emmy Yelling at People!) but in a way that felt supported and sane and towards good ends. I also feel successful because I feel a few steps closer to doing the sort of work that I've been dreaming of for years, and wishing for the courage and resources to get done. So, with a whole lot of help, not to mention gaffer's tape, wiring, and prayer, I managed to put this thing together. (Video documentation coming soon)

I also feel excited for what the future holds. We have big dreams for this project, in terms of taking it farther and faster and better and more. Next stop seems most likely to be somewhere in Western, MA so that Emmy's community can get a look at the work. Also we're hoping for a New York showing in the late fall or early spring. No details yet, I don't want to jinx it.

My friend Amy Walsh wrote something really keen on her blog about the economics of art-making, as she's been entering a new phase of taking control of the distribution of her work in order to make a reasonable living.

I think about these things as well (what artist doesn't) though in some different ways. I too find myself wondering how much I'm at the mercy of the dream of art stardom, though I feel very lucky to have grown up around many working artists (musicians mostly) who weren't stars, but who made livings, made good work, and had that core of appreciators of their work that made all of it so livable. I've also seen one of those people, who I happen to be very close to, end up in the latter years of his life with relatively few resources at his disposal. It is always hard to see someone you care about suffer in any way, but in light of the ways that I've been trying to pursue my art-life dreams, it feels so frightening.

But I wonder what it is that really scares me so much? Is it really the threat of being broke? I mean, that is a real threat, and something that is on my mind quite often. However, I am a fairly well educated, capable, able bodied person. I have many advantages in this wild world of capitalism working in my favor, including a community of people around me who are invested in my success. I can find work, and I can live cheaper if I need to, and everyone dodges the student loan man for most of their lives, so I think I can handle that.

The real fear, I think, is that I can no longer pretend that I'm "trying" to be an artist in any sense of the word. I am one, in terms of making work that is public, known, recognized, controversial... Some of it is good, some of it isn't so good. I have to stand up for myself and the ideas that I put out into the world, which I suppose I've been doing for a while now, but somehow seems more REAL right now because I'm about to work without the net of being "a student" or "doing this on the side."

In the next few weeks I'm going to go about getting teaching jobs in the arts that pay crap, I'm going to get a studio to work out of, and I'm going to start applying for all the grants and residencies that require things like a portfolio, a bio, a resume, an artists statement...

These are all very reasonable and not at all strange next steps, but somehow they seem so incredible right now...

The Devil is In by Naima Lowe

Details, details, details...

It seems there's nothing more. There is something strangely soothing about that fact, but also so exasperating, as I seem to enjoy the big esoteric though process so much more. But, the details are what makes meaning, or so it seems right now.

So, we buy rubber matting, bulbs, poster boards, bottles of water and we worry about timing and scale and height and light.

I think that this has officially become WORK, though I'm not entirely sure what that means.