March Artist in Residence: Alejandro T. Acierto
LATITUDE is excited to welcome Alejandro T. Acierto as the March artist-in-residence!
Alejandro T. Acierto is an artist and musician whose work is largely informed by the breath, the voice, and the processes that enable them. He has held solo exhibitions of his work at Roman Susan, SUB-MISSION, Corner, and HUME in Chicago, Institut für Alles Mögliche in Berlin, and performed solo projects at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Issue Project Room in New York, MCA Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Defibrillator, and Center for New Music and Technology in Berkeley. He has upcoming solo projects at Box Gallery and Boundary in Chicago, and performance works at the KANEKO in Omaha and as part of the Generator Series and at the Resonant Bodies Chicago Festival. Acierto has also held residencies at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, VCCA, Banff Centre, High Concept Laboratories, Chicago Artists' Coalition and was an FT/FN/FG Consortium Fellow and a Center Program Artist at the Hyde Park Art Center. A 3Arts Awardee, he received his undergraduate degree from DePaul University, an MM from Manhattan School of Music, an MFA in New Media Arts from University Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and is an Artist in Residence for Creative Practice in Critical Race Studies at Michigan State University.
Q & A
As an artist and published author, what strategies do you use to overcome a creative block?
For me, I find it really helpful to find productive distractions, or really, to just take some breaks from whatever I’m engaged in. Often times, I’m engaged in multiple parts of a work simultaneously that move in and out of relation to each other, sometimes coalescing into one piece or multiple works which offer me the ability to let some parts of the work to slow while others are moving quickly. I say this partially because it creates a somewhat sustainable studio environment that allows for works to be staggered so that some pieces that are “newer” can develop and “mature” while others are being slightly adjusted or shaped. Ultimately, when I’m immersed in a project or process of multiple works and projects, it's easy to forget to step back and allow the work (or works) to emerge naturally and organically.
Whenever I realize that I’m having a hard time with something, whether its part of the conceptual framework of a project or in the materializing of it, I think it's partially because I’m trying to force something out of the work that its not. I need to allow it to evolve and change as the ideas and framings are changing while they are being made. So in stepping back, reflecting on what it is and what its doing, while also asking how the work speaks to multiple aspects of my practice, I try to allow the work some room and time so that it can open up other possibilities or ways of being while the rest of the work continues to take shape. This doesn’t necessarily solve the “block”, especially when deadlines loom, but it does help to cultivate a practice that allows for a flow, even when the amount of actual “studio time” might be limited.
You have been a member of the Ensemble Dal Niente, a Chicago based contemporary music collective, since 2005. Can you recall a powerful or significant memory from your 13 years with the collective?
There are so many! But if I were to pick just one, I would say the project that we recently completed with trombonist/composer George Lewis at the Art Institute of Chicago was an incredible weekend that I was really grateful to be a part of. I think what was most exciting about it was not only that it was a weekend of outstanding collaborative performances and programming, but that it was a really expansive view of the entanglements and intersections of art, music, thought, and participation. Planned as a mini-residency with George, AIC and Dal Niente presented a handful of events; from a talk with the composer and the Joseph Cornell collection, a record release show, a longer form structured improvisation, and improvised works by ensemble members in the permanent collection galleries. I think part of it’s impact for me was the diversity of experiences one could have as they engaged with Lewis’s work on multiple levels, and it gave us as an ensemble to showcase the different types of musicianship that the artists bring to the group as an active collective.
What will you be working on during your residency at LATITUDE?
I’ll be working on the initial stages of a book project that looks towards a speculative retelling of the history of the Philippines in the context of US colonialism. Over the last year or so, I’ve been working with various institutions and collections to navigate an analytic framework that is driven from the body (as well as an expansive understanding of “bodies”), or more specifically, how the US employed technologies of control in relation to the breath. Within this book project, I’ll be working through different texts, images, materials, and design strategies to help navigate the complex and nuanced ways US colonialism has sustained its presence within the Philippines and hope to offer different forms of resistance within and through that framework.
Much of your recent performance work is centered around using breath as ways to articulate mechanisms of control. What initially attracted you to using breath as a material?
The short story version is that I arrived at the breath while working with the voice after having spent a lot of time thinking about language and culture. At the time of the early works for voice, I was establishing relationships between performances of the voice and how the voice is understood to signify different formations of identification. For me, it seemed that the voice could not immediately escape a gendered, racialized legibility from within the logics of white cis-hetero patriarchal hegemony. If the voice was a signifier for a racialized Other, a fixed entity that carried the burden of exclusion and notions of a “sub-human” or even “subaltern”, the breath then became a bodily space that could not be easily identified as such. Though it gives us an abstracted version of a body, for me, it a created an opening into the body and its presence that was elusive and variant in its nature while also remaining consistent and continuously evolving.
For historically marginalized bodies, the breath gives us a way in to understanding our continually adaptive selves in light of systemic oppression, one that reminds us that when we are breathing, we are still present. Despite the conditions that render us silent, the breath offers us the ability to renew ourselves, to be patient, and restore our sensibilities and commitments to ourselves in ways that are often forgotten. In turning to the breath, I wanted to make space for the body that could gesture towards its human-ness while situating it within a process of process. The breath offers us a site of becoming, a constantly shifting process where we are reminded that the utopic vision we have of ourselves is already housed within our own body.
Are there any fun facts about yourself that you would like to share with our community?
When I was seven or eight, I remember having a newt named Sammy, the third in a series of other newts also named Sammy that I had gotten over the last year or so. One particular weekend when my parents took my sister and I out on a short weekend trip out of town to visit family, we came back to the tragic reality that my newt had gone missing, apparently having snuck out from its tank despite the whole interior that was smothered in Vaseline. My parents told me that Sammy must have managed to sneak out and made its way back to Lake Michigan though my sister thought that our dog had eaten it after he found it dead in the basement, still upholding the idea that the newt escaped from the perils of its capture. Though I ultimately don’t really know what happened to that newt, there’s always been a sneaking suspicion that my parents just got rid of it because it’s tank was taking up too much space in the hallway…
Are there any current movies, books, magazines, or podcasts that you recommend for people to check out about art and/or music?
I somehow manage to always return to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s book Dictee though it was written in the 80s. It's an incredibly beautiful and poetic book that floats between spaces of legibility and abstraction that resonante and reverberate across each section. There’s something about the way she develops formal and conceptual resolve in the spaces that you least expect it, and how themes and ideas that get repeated are elusive yet consistent. It's hard to really place why the book is so beautiful for me, but I think its power is in the seamless construction that at points don’t really matter but are so effective and poignant.
I’ve also been really excited by the work coming out through the Center for Art and Thought, an online blog/exhibition space featuring the work of Asian diasporic artists and the book that the Curatorial director Jan Christian Bernabe and Laura Kina put out called Queering Contemporary Asian American Art out on University of Washington Press. Not only is it really good, but it's great to see some friends’ work being featured and published in an academic context.
For more information about the Acierto's artistic practice see: alejandroacierto.com