March 2017 Artist in Residence: Derrick Woods-Morrow

This month we are welcoming Derrick Woods-Morrow as our artist-in-residence! 

Derrick Woods-Morrow (b.1990. Greensboro, NC) is a conceptual artist working in photography, sculpture, installation, and performance. He is the recipient of the 2015 Professional-Development Fellowship in the Visual Arts by the College Association of Art, the Carol Becker Merit Scholarship (SAIC), the Graduate Dean Professional Development Award (SAIC), and is a Terry Plumming Scholar. He has attended the ACRE residency, the Fire Island Artist Residency, and was accepted into the Ox-bow residency. He has shown work at Xpace Cultural Centre in Toronto, The Sullivan Galleries, The Kinsey Institute, The Maier Museum of Art, the Center on Halsted in Chicago, the Student Union Galleries, Hyde Park Arts Center, ACRE and The Bureau of General Services – Queer Division: BGSQD (Feb 2017).

He has work in upcoming exhibitions at Context 2017 – Filter Photo Gallery, 50 x 50 Invitational/The Subject is Chicago: People, Places, Possibilities – Chicago Cultural Centre, Precariat – Hyde Park Arts Center & for The Petty Biennial – University of Chicago (Arts Incubator). He recently completed his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently is an Adjunct Professor of Photography and Teaching Artist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Read our Q & A with Derrick to get some insight into his practice.

How would you describe your work?

I hope that my work is slippery in all the right ways and that it ‘sort of’ leaves a frothy residue and inorganic taste in your mouth in regards to sexuality and at the same time gives some viewers hope for future explorations of your own sexual deviances. My work is most often my personal navigation of my sexual identity, the expectations that others have put on me, and continue to put on me even now. The work manifest itself in a lot of different ways, from sculpture, to personal narrative, to performance, to of course photography. Thinking about the work in an installation of some sort has become a fun challenge to how I see the work operating in front of an audience. I ask myself, will they labor to gain more information, or will they walk away with little gained? You may have to jump over crocodiles, do a few hurdles, or run a mile if you want to you understand what I want you to get to from the work – albeit you may never get there. And if you are willing to go the extra mile and not settle for some preconception of black queer identity and how it pertains to art-making maybe you’ll get a better understanding of who I am.

What pushes you to keep on creating work?

I grew up in a little rural part of NC, right outside the city of Greensboro. I’m really a little country boy from the south, who has grown up to live in a big city. There is this gear that shifts every time I come into contact with what people call “normal society.” As a boy I did, “normal” boy things. I also did some things that are considered abnormal – stories I write about in the work that happened with other boys my age. I always found them to be fairly normal and still do. The difference is maybe, I am open about my sexuality at this point in my life (queerness if you will) and many of my other friends remain closeted, self-defining as straight regardless of their sexual interests. Everyday there is a battle between binaries of right and wrong, black and white and of course masculine and feminine. Many people refuse to accept that there are a multitude of ways we can exist and be happy, outside of the expectations of our society. As I create my work, it is a challenge to that society. I push myself to try to make difficult, otherwise different images, that I strive normalize inside of my being. My hope is that others like me, can enjoy them and feel welcomed to be inside my space.

What is your process of selecting which type of medium you will choose for a specific series?
Do you ever use more than one and why?

Each of these embody shifting aspects of my identity and are meant to be used at different points throughout the work - often times completely interchangeably. I am often performing, aspects of selfhood, in order to gain greater insight into why people, men in particular, perceive me a certain way. This process has led to the creation of photographs, sculptures reminiscent of the feelings I felt during the interaction. In many ways my Installations subject the viewer to some of the blocks I’ve felt growing up closeted, including difficulties I encountered from my own community during the process of coming out.

What does photography do for you as an artist with your work compared to the other art forms you choose to practice?

I go back to my youth a lot when I think about where I am now. Growing up there were two art forms, painting and drawing. Of course there were more, but if you weren’t doing either of those you weren’t considered to be an art student. I remember specifically in middle school thinking about what art was, and saying I wanted to do that, but I couldn’t paint or draw, so I couldn’t be an artist or so I was told. While in undergrad, I played college basketball and managed to wiggle my way into a darkroom photography class and found something that at the time I loved. It was sort of a romantic solitude, a beautiful place tucked away in the dungeon of an on campus building. By day I’d play sports, and, by night, alone in a basement, I would twirl around mixing chemicals and developing film – that place was for me. I feel in love with it and as much as I transition through other mediums in my practice, there will always be something about photography, maybe through first-love, and first acceptance, that will do something special for me. Now-a- days we are a bit estranged. Photography and I have a back and forth relationship, but in a way, I hope that shows up in the work. I used to find it perfect, now I focus with critical eye on the imperfections available from a tool that provides visibility to some and invisibility to others.

This will be your third residency, which is pretty incredible! What have you learned from the ACRE residency and the Fire Island Artist Residency that you’ll be bringing to LATITUDE?

ACRE really opened my eyes. I hadn’t been in a community like that before. I was sheepish at times, and a bit over zealous in others - I definitely tripped over my feet a few times, but when it was time to go I was sad. I can only imagine every residency being a bit like that. To be honest, I cried a bit after FIAR. I felt like I had left pieces of myself all over the island – blistering pieces, small shards, large chunks of whoever I was before I arrived on the fairy. Each one reallyholds a place inside of me – ACRE which broke the seal & FIAR where I really began to find myself. I’ll be bringing the work I began at FIAR with me to LATITUDE to push it, prod it, make it better, maybe destroy it, who knows…!

What will you be working on during your residency at LATITUDE?

I’ll be working on a project titled, Consent (-) / 42 Encounters. It is a body of work created during my time on Fire Island. During the Fire Island Artist Residency, I collected images found on the phones of men I had sex with, and shortly after coitus, I printed them on color instant film using the IMPOSSIBLE PROJECTS’ instant lab technology. Each polaroid became an instant receipt to the transaction of a sexual encounter, and was captured based on a written contractual agreement between each sexual partner. I applied to the LATITUDE residency with hopes of pushing that project further, having access to equipment needed to conceptualize the work and make it more thorough and realizing it into a strong and diverse form.

Are there any fun facts about yourself that you would like to share with our community?

I went to undergrad to play college basketball, and came out of it making photos about men –my work upon graduating in the final exhibition at the Maier Museum of art, known for its collection, albeit a conservative one, contained the images of scantily dressed men, many of which were athletes from the college. It was a whole ordeal. There were signs posted warning against public indecency and everything. I truly saw the work as academic, outside of what was innately sexual curiosity, I was portraying the words of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl [one of my absolute favorite poems] so If anyone around is a lover of beat generation literature [Thank you Dan Stiffler for introducing me to this genre] please let me know – I get so very excited to talk about it… [ I also love Cheez-its & Gummy Bears, so please share if you have any :)]

Are there any current movies, books, magazines, or podcasts that you recommend for people to check out about art and/or photography?

If you have a chance check out the SIP podcast which his Chicago based. It’s black & Queer & well-rounded. Sometimes they’ll have you laughing and other times you’ll be crying because the stories shared hit very close to home. Also everyone must must must check out the new Web series Brown Girls, that was released this month [Absolutely stunning]; Lastly, this should go without saying, if you haven’t seen Moonlight (2016) by Barry Jenkins you must see it. You cannot go through life having missed the opportunity to see this film.

Lastly, what is your favorite spot in the city (Chicago, IL)?

Honestly, I am a home body. I really like the inner sanctum of my apartment. They talk about introverts and extroverts – and I always pegged myself as the latter, but the more I go out, the more I retreat back into books, housework, my couch and a shot of Mezcal. There is something about the familiar dust on my celling fan, that odd crick in the floor board on the left side of my bed, and that empty wall, that art never made it too – maybe its all too comfortable, but its my home.

Check out more of Derrick's work on his website.  Many thanks to one of our sponsors Canson for providing photographic paper for Derrick's residency in March.