The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2019

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FEB 2019 Issue
Art In Conversation

KEVIN BEASLEY with Yasi Alipour

Portrait of Kevin Beasley, pencil on paper by Phong Bui.
Portrait of Kevin Beasley, pencil on paper by Phong Bui.
New York
Whitney Museum
December 15, 2018 – March 10, 2019

Kevin Beasley has gained a reputation for his playful sculptures and activated sound-installations where everyday objects and dismissed voices are turned into signifiers to reflect on culture, politics, and history. A view of a landscape is a project that started in graduate school, and now, after many productive years, it is brought to the public at the Whitney Museum. Separated into three rooms—a running cotton gin motor encapsulated, an immersive sound-room dedicated to its forgotten voice, and three sculptural reliefs in the hallway that narrate Beasley’s journey—the exhibition becomes an occasion to reflect on the artist’s unique practice and his deep concerns: political, historic, and ever-so personal.

And so, on this occasion, we met in Kevin Beasley’s studio in Long Island City. It is a big and bright space in action and on the move. We begin our conversation at the front, in the studio’s homey kitchen and around a worn wooden table, a reminder that there is more to this space than the mere production of objects. This is where gatherings and conversations happen. The same dynamic becomes foundational to Beasley’s work. We gradually move to the sound room on the other end. Surrounded by a large synthesizer and a complete drum set, we place our two chairs at the center of the small room and delve into a conversation. A view of a landscape becomes an invitation to think about art, value, institution, race, family, history, and ultimately the limits of language itself. Through it all, Kevin keeps us grounded, perhaps by holding on to his firm belief in the potentiality of art.

Kevin Beasley, A view of a landscape: A cotton gin motor, 2012-18. Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2018–2019. GE induction motor, custom soundproof glass chamber, anechoic foam, steel wire, monofilament, cardioid condenser microphones, contact microphones, microphone stands, microphone cables, and AD/DA interface. Courtesy Casey Kaplan, New York. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

Yasaman Alipour (Rail):A view of a landscape has come to the Whitney after a six-year process. It started when you were in an early stage as an artist and now after doing many projects and exhibitions, you’ve brought it to the Whitney. I wanted to begin by hearing in your words how it started? So much of the writing around the exhibition covers your family’s land in the South and the cotton gin found on eBay. I understand you may be tired of telling the same story, but I want to hear your version.

Kevin Beasley: I appreciate the desire to speak to its origin because, for me, the moment where the motor was acquiredwas not really the origin. But then, what is the origin? And then that question starts pointing to time and ancestry and different kinds of relationships to people, places, and things. So, when I talk about where it came from, it’s always a difficult conversation because what are we talking about, really? I have sort of tracked a moment in time, an experience that I had—as one that was filled with a lot of emotion and a lot of questioning. And that is, for me, a kind of rupture in whatever way I was thinking about my relationships to the land and the property that’s been in my family for literally over a hundred years. So, I think a lot about that. And how maybe for an audience it’s important to think about these objects—and the people and events that we experience on a daily basis—as having a bigger context, right? That they’re not just singular moments. But for me it’s also a way of navigating.

So, I went to Virginia for this family reunion. Going to these family reunions was something that I grew up doing, and I hadn’t been to one in a while. It had been several years. And when I went back there was a kind of sensitivity, given that I was in graduate school at the time. So, I was already in a very vulnerable space and questioning a lot. So it was like being at one for the first time. I was very aware and observant. And then I saw that the fields were planted with cotton. That was like “whoa.” I had never seen the property planted—although it used to be a farm. That in itself was a first and very personal. But then there was also the first experience of seeing a cotton field. I grew up in Virginia, I grew up in Lynchburg, and I hadn’t seen a cotton field before. And that was a deep realization of the proximity here. I’d been so close to it for so long but I hadn’t really reconciled it. That sort of became a moment for me, where I was looking back, like, “Okay, well who’s picking cotton now? What is going on? What is my relationship to this stuff?” This is all, you know, I feel like I just got on the train or something. It’s had a journey. There’s already something that’s been developing. And then that sort of unfolded into me acquiring a motor after spending time on the property, coming back in December of 2011, and developing ideas and making objects on the property to ground myself in some way. I picked cotton and had this material. Something that was very emotionally in my head, there was an immediate desire to deal with this in a kind of physical way.

Rail: Thinking about the family reunion and your introduction, it is interesting that it becomes an occasion to look at the landscape and, in that, unearth all that had preceded it—before your birth, going back generations. The gathering might appear as the starting point but it’s only a pause.

Beasley: Right.

Rail: You start this journey—to put it in words you have used before—to “process” this history and the weight of it…And you eventually arrive atthisone motor that ran a cotton field in Maplesville, Alabama—merely thirty miles away from Selma—from 1940 to 1973. But before getting into it all, I want to look back at the beginning. This project started around the same time, you did your performance I Want My Spot Back (2011 – 2012) at MoMA as part of Ralph Lemon’s series On Value, which brought many amazing people together, like Glenn Lowry, Fred Moten, Adam Pendleton, Glenn Ligon, Claire Bishop, Yvonne Rainer, and you. I read these three words repeated in A view of a landscape’s statement, “Race, Labor, and History” which could perhaps be used to describe the On Value talks. And now, six years later, the project that started then, finally finds its home in another major New York museum. Does On Value still resonate with you?

Beasley: Okay, so there is a lot there. I think there is a long stretch in the approach. I feel like my process is very much invested in, not just taking time, but in letting things marinate. So, the fact that I Want My Spot Back, On Value, and all these other projects kind of happened before this work was realized to the public simply shows that it has been an accumulative process. And a lot of it, for me, is really about observing what is happening and kind of bringing levels up as they seem fit. And the fitness of that is based in a combination of people, places, things, and all that has to happen. I never imagined even realizing this project this early. It still feels early. Because there is a lot to tease out, and this work is a part of so many other things. And I’ve always communicated this.

Rail: Hmm

Beasley: There’s literally other ideas and projects—not even just for me. I have this eight-part thing, and this is one part of that. But that’s how we work and how we live, right? We make a certain mark on something or you carry out an activity or a task where you go engage in something and it’s not without a context. So, for me, the connection between looking at On Value and thinking about the value of objects, or thinking about the value of the sound—I was having those conversations with Ralph when we were talking about I Want My Spot Back, which was also a graduate school project. It was also something that I had realized in a crit. We were having these kinds of conversations and it was sort of building. And you see this in Ralph’s process too. Things begin to materialize in all of these other ways, and they become important because they’re not just about completing a project. It’s about how things reach a surface and materialize in some way. It’s tough to speak about it because I feel like when someone says, “This is what it is” or the Whitney writes something that says, “This is what it is.” I’m like, “It’s not that!”It doesn’t matter what you write, it’s not that.

Rail: Yeah.

Beasley: I have always felt like I know that my language is inadequate. I always feel like language is inadequate in describing things and that the best piece of language is when it’s in conjunction with, or it’s actually a part of, the thing. And I’ve had to have that perspective around with the projects that reach an institutional level because they’re so reliant on the language. Then we really need to construct a language that will work with this and can be its own thing.

Rail: In another interview you mentioned that in your work you aim to be “rubbing up against” these thoughts. That seems really present in this work. You give us the urgency of the question, but your work cannot be reduced to a one-liner answer. There’s this push and pull. I think Ralph’s term for it is slippery.”

Beasley: Yeah…

Rail: There’s something really slippery about your relationship with institutions and museums. In the caption covering the engine in A view of a landscape you mention that the cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney. And then there’s a footnote to that which clarifies that Eli Whitney is not the founder of the museum, though they may have been distant relatives.

Beasley: Yes.

Rail: It was an interesting reminder that these texts have authors though they may be designed to hide that. I’m really curious to know more about your relationship with museums and how it came to be such a big part of your practice.

Beasley: Yeah, there’s always authors! Initially coming out of school, I had an aversion to even thinking about working within institutions because you’re aware of the complexity that they situate themselves in, which is politically, socially, and economically interwoven. And then I actually met people who worked deeply within the institutions, certain curators, certain staff. And…you’re like, “you’re a person…” [Laughs]. And that person has a certain level of malleability to them. And that person has a certain vision and desires and goals and all of these things. And you get to know certain individuals and you realize that the museums proclaim to sort of move through time, as one whole piece, as a collection, right? But all along, they’re being taken apart again, and re-brought back together. It’s all through the interchangeability of these positions, and the impact that these individuals have. And, so, my initial outlook became more optimistic but then it also evolved into, “Well, you just need the right people.” It always comes down to that, regardless of whether you’re working with a major institution, or you’re working with a smaller nonprofit, it just comes down to people. It’s not just about getting something done. It’s about getting it done at a really high level. And that can exist when you just have the right people—regardless of the scale of the institution. Sometimes the scale of the institution becomes a hindrance on actually getting something good accomplished, because there can be a really thick bureaucratic muck. Having done so many, I think of the range. I’m totally grateful to have been able to experience and have many opportunities to work with institutions. What I’ve learned—and am still learning—is how to be adamant about the things that you think are important. Those things are like basics, they’re like foundations.

Rail: Right.

Beasley: Then you are saying, “I have to put a certain foot down on what’s foundational to the work” and that becomes the zone you operate in. And then you work towards refinement. I mean, that’s one specific kind of conversation around institutions. But I think museums right now, on so many levels, are still highly coveted. But then also highly scrutinized. And I think, maybe they shouldn’t be coveted as much, and maybe they also shouldn’t be scrutinized as much. I think that there’s a certain reality, socially, to what the responsibility is within an institution. It’s like Fred Moten’s The Undercommons (2013). How do we go in and take what’s really necessary because, they’re still necessary. Like being at Yale as a student…

Rail: Right. And his take on the University and The Undercommons.

Beasley: … means access to amazing libraries.

Rail: True.

Beasley: Nobody’s gonna deny that.

Rail: Turning your back to the institution and pushing away is too easy. What does one do?

Beasley: Be critical and be very conscientious of your surroundings, and guard yourself, protect yourself. Like, yes, you should keep yourself safe for sure and you should be around people who are also invested in your safety—at all times. But also, don’t forget that there are resources to glean.

Rail: In your work, you always extend the institution’s invitation to others. There are often collaborative performances and happenings, which seem key to activating the work. So, I want to hear more about your relationship with collaboration?

Beasley: Right, I want to jump back really quick to one thing, to tie in and wrap up that idea. There’s a work in the exhibition now called Campus, whichkind of points at institutions.It looks at the university campus. Looking at a field and thinking about the dichotomy. Historically, you have institutions that have not made space for black and brown bodies, or women. And they’ve evolved, but those histories are still there, and you still sort of feel the reverberations of that, and the experience of being in that space where on one hand you have these amazing resources but there’s also a lot of generational trauma that’s related to it. Right? And that work, points to Eltis and Richardson’s Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2015), a book that is published by Yale University Press. And then there’s the fact that Elihu Yale was a slave trader. Like, of course, it would happen! And then, there is this brilliant book. That's the level of complexity in the relationship between the institutional connections. And this can point to those collaborations that happen because I think when you get invited to do a project and you’re someone who’s deeply invested in context, it’s not just a collaboration, it’s not site-specific, It’s just being hyper-aware of where, of what the fuck you’re doing.

Rail: [Laughs.]

Beasley: I’m gonna be making work and it’s gonna be in this context, so there are certain things that I know I have to confront and I have to take on. I know that I went to an Ivy League university. I’m not from the street in that way. I also have a relationship to certain institutions that, at least I should be able to speak to the context of that. It then feels the consideration of context, or consideration of other people in the room, can feel collaborative when both people are very aware and thoughtful of each other. And that gets to wanting to use that space to bring in people, as many people as I can, right? Because you don’t want to tell people to just come in to this space and that there’s no potential, benefit, or that there’s no exchange.

Rail: Right.

Beasley: This is something that we can all engage in and actually gain something from. The building of cultural capital is a collective one. There’s a lot of points to be made and a lot of critical conversation to have. I do feel like, in terms of how these performances have unfolded, I was really trying to invite people that I have an utmost respect for in their own practices and wanted to see if they were willing to engage in this kind of conversation. We’ve all had these kinds of conversations. It’s not just that they’re just doing something because they’re getting paid or because it’s the Whitney. It’s really like, “Here is a really specific project that is speaking to certain things and I want you to think about this with me because I really respect your work and I respect your mind and really respect who you are as an individual.”

Rail: In the improvisational elements of your performances, the depth of those conversations really comes through in a visceral way. I want to make sure we cover all of the exhibition’s three rooms. Starting with the encapsulated and silenced motor, I want to hear your thoughts regarding utility in this piece. One has to look closely to see that the motor is running since the sound is completely eliminated. But then you end up wondering, literally and metaphorically, “What happens to all the energy it produces?”

Beasley: Somewhere within the object’s life at this iteration and then somewhere with how we think about it, there becomes this desire to generate something—whether it’s generating a meaning, generating an emotion, a thought, or an idea—that tracks the entire trajectory of the artwork. And before it is even an artwork it’s navigating all of that. For me to get the motor running was to recognize that this was after it had not run for almost fifty years. So then to know that the last time this motor ran, it was actually operating a cotton gin. And now it’s never going to operate a cotton gin ever again. Now it’s operating and being utilized to generate a sound, meaning, an emotional experience, language, or whatever comes out on the other end that people get from that. The motor is driving all of that. So, utility becomes really important because for me I would make the argument that artwork is not without, because it is constantly generating something and there’s value in that. The fact is that we have to value that it does actually generate something. Then we’ll believe in its potency and how important it is to fight for certain representation, to fight for space, to fight for this kind of cultural residue.

Rail: A lot of times in your work, you point to the body in its absence. Here I find it more in how you work with sound. It feels like the sound becomes a stand in for the social body rather than the individual figure in your earlier sculptures. Can you tell us more about absence and the motor itself?

Beasley: Absence is tough in this. I think that’s something that I had been reconciling throughout the process of developing the work. On the family property, there’s a cemetery and it’s all my family from decades past, like a century or more. So, thinking about the land, in one way there’s an absence. Like if there was a house that your grandparents lived in and they pass away then that house is present as it also embodies a certain removal or a lack. Because you don’t experience things in a vacuum. You experience and understand objects as connected to seasons, as connected to people. When I was acquiring the motor, Bobby—who I purchased it from—walked me and my friend, Leon, through his life. When we arrived at the motor, there was a moment to talk about it. It was the final reveal. It was, “Here we go, here it is.” He said to me, “I still remember the way it sounds” and I said, “Can you describe it?” And he didn’t have words for it. He didn’t have the language. This guy who spent the entire day talking to us about everything—his whole story as someone coming from generations of farmers in Maplesville, deep south Alabama—this was the first time where silence kind of overcame me. It had everything to do with the potency of an experience of something. It was that deep, deep thing that was so intense that he had no words for it. Or that it was such a big part of his life like, “How am I going to talk about it? I’m not going to.” Like “Really, you want me to eulogize my father or my mother? How do I even? Where do I begin?” That sort of space felt like “Oh, there is something here that I should unpack.” And the fact that this motor was literally sitting here for so long, it had a history and a very specific one. I don’t even think it’s that special of a motor. It’s a mass-produced object. I think it’s special in what went into that thing, what people put into that thing, and it became something significant. We’ve forgotten about them and when you stumble upon one you’re like, “That thing still has so much in it.”

Kevin Beasley, A view of a landscape: A cotton gin motor, 2012-18. Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2018–2019. Custom Speaker system, subwoofers, amplifiers, AD/DA interface, Ethernet switch, mixer, modular synthesizer, equipment racks, and wood table. Courtesy Casey Kaplan, New York. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

Rail: [Laughs.]

Beasley: Right? Like it has a lot there. There’s gold in it or you’re expecting it to go into another room and there’s gifts for everyone, like candy. Just because there was silence around it and there is a constant silencing. We’re seeing it now, when you neglect to represent certain voices from this particular time and you go back and you read and you let it out and you say, “Let’s put this voice up high” and everyone’s fucking blown away. Or it was there all along and we just weren't paying attention to it. And I think that the thing that I always try to do—or that I think is also important—is getting into an archive. I’ve spoken with Daphne Brooks about this. She’s a writer and scholar who teaches at Yale. The archive is no good if you don’t activate it. I feel this motor produces a sound that comes from 1915 production, a time when there were very few sounds. Things that are around now and produce sounds that are from then, they’ve become coveted antiques. If you were to take a field recording on midtown around 5th Avenue now versus forty, fifty years ago, it would sound different and that’s fascinating. It’s like going back in time. [Laughs.]

I don’t know, but I feel what’s really important is like “Okay now what?” Now let’s generate something. Okay, history is there, it’s in the work. It’s there but now let’s take that and do something with it. Let’s affect change. Let’s present something. Let’s generate something. It’s like I can say the motor is running now to then be present on the other end. And there’s going to be programming and performances and people that engage with it. There’s a module or synth or a speaker system that’s meant to shape and push and pull and form and mold. Then saying, “Okay, well now I have handles on it.”

Rail: Right.

Beasley: And maybe we weren’t given handles before. So now I got some handles and I want to do something with them. I want to drive this thing in a particular way and then hand the wheel over to someone else.

Rail: Here the machine stands as a witness, one that is definitely implicated in the violence of this history. That duality feels important, and it makes me think of all the mics and recording devices surrounding the motor in its box and wonder: are they trying to translate the voice of this machine, or are they somehow diagnosing it?

Beasley: It’s like a patient or something.

Rail: And then there’s the sound room. I was thinking about sound in your other pieces. There are usually a lot of references, right? To forgotten points in the history of jazz, electronic music, and sounds of protest. There have also been times where you included the viewers by using feedback loops. Sound is hard here because your only source is the engine. It is still live but it’s isolated. So, I wanted to know more about how the sound came together in this project.

Beasley: I feel like, again, this work doesn’t exist without these other points that we talked about, like protests or other things. There’s this general concern I have for the way that the world treats black bodies! Just to put that out there. And approaching this constantly in a way to understand what that is and how you navigate it and if there is a moment to affect and change these things. Then, maybe this can do that. And sound, the electronic sound, the acousmatic sound, I think about making this history of how electronic sound has evolved. I’m always looking for who’s pointing at a particular concern with the relationship of black bodies to those sounds. And techno becomes very important in that, just because it’s a sound that sort of originated from a particular demographic’s concern and experience with assembly lines and manufacturing. I felt it was important for me to engage in this and make it visible and that in doing this thing—knowing and understanding the deep narrative history that exists in all these objects and within the motor and the chamber—that I can also point to these electronic devices and the structure of this room. And if it hasn’t been claimed yet, it is now. If it hasn’t been, if there hasn’t been a relationship drawn between them or if we haven’t fully reconciled that, then this is going to be a definitive moment.

I used to do so many field recordings—now I only do a few—and I just got to this point where they became boring in terms of not being able to discern the difference between this field recording in Virginia and another one I did in Alabama. I just felt like I personally was coming to a point where my questions were no longer with the thing that I was recording. It was with the thing that I was recording with, the actual technology and its concern and its use. What does a microphone do? It records us but it’s also recording the space between us and its diaphragm. If you put a person here in front of these microphones then what you’re listening to isn’t just the people talking in the room, you’re listening to the people talking in the room with someone standing next to them or standing in front of the microphone. That points to the physical space and to the way we understand the recording. The recording technique or the microphone technique is so essential and crucial to understanding this thing, like tracking the history, and “accuracy.”

Rail: That makes me think of something you mentioned once in another talk, recalling your early field recordings and how now it kind of feels funny to listen to them, and imagine yourself standing completely still for hours—to avoid being heard, to become invisible.

Beasley: Yeah.

Rail: And then as you mentioned, your concern regarding the treatment of black bodies and especially the violent history of this country. Suddenly, there is a lot of meaning in this recalling of your frozen body in the past.

Beasley: I was doing that when I was doing field recordings, that’s it. I was trying to be very quiet so that I’m not heard in the microphone because what was important was something else, not the actual presence of me doing this thing and I was like, “Wait a minute that’s backwards.”

Rail: Or like, what is…?

Beasley: What is that? I’m eliminating myself from that because of what? Because that’s how field recordings are taken? Because that’s how the industry is defining it? That as a person you would want to be absent and just capture the subject—what you deem to be the subject. Then we can do that. We can develop techniques and you can go to school for it and you can learn how to capture the singular thing you want to point out, and I’m like, “But there’s other stuff.”

Rail: Then for me there was so much about the benches you have placed in the sound-room and their vibration. This is a nerdy question, because sound does confuse me, but are there recording devices that capture the motor’s actual physical vibrations?

Beasley: Yeah. There are four contact microphones that are actually on the surface of the motor.

Rail: And this gets transmitted to the benches?

Beasley: Yeah, there’s three benches total and they’re picking up different signals.

Rail: It’s really effective to feel the shivering of the machine transmitted into our bodies as viewers. On one hand it’s a familiar experience bringing back childhood memories, and on the other, the reverberation becomes a stand-in for the rippling of history and its trauma in our politically troubled contemporary moment. After spending some time in there, the buzzing really stays with you.

Beasley: It settles into your mind and there is a groundwork created. I felt that for me, the work comes from a very personal place. I’m talking about my parents in a major public institution and I am aware of that. How do you say that this is really important, not just because it’s my story or that it’s related directly to me. That’s where I’m pulling from. But here’s the thing: I can draw a straight line from this to these major institutions and a global history, and I’m going to do it here. I’m going to do it in a space and I’m going to do it with objects. I’m going to physically do it here and that’s the challenge, how do you allow for someone who doesn’t have even the book knowledge, right? I think very well-educated people who study here in the States and have a global view can say, “I know a little bit about this history,” or, “I’ve read about this and I know some of these things.” But that’s not everyone.

Rail: Right.

Beasley: And even on a scholarly level, not everyone is operating in the same space. And then to say, “Oh he’s got really personal, he’s got this little personal story,” and “Oh it’s weird, is he nostalgic about it?” I get really invested in trying to say that all this is so relevant because we know we are witnessing something on a broader political stage—a global political stage—unfold. There is a way that we remove ourselves because we don’t feel the effect in your living room or it doesn’t touch your skin, you know?

Rail: Yeah. The benches and their buzzing kind of bring that reverberation back to the body on a very visceral and personal level.

Beasley: And I feel there are levels of proximity here and they’re all really relevant and there are varying degrees but they’re all relevant, but we gotta get good at paying attention to minutiae and things that may feel distant on one level. And then all of a sudden you throw in “this person was a slave-trader” and that “this actually is carried out in this region of the world” and “this person that founded this institution spent a major part of his life in India, right?” That’s where Elihu Yale gained his wealth, in Colonial India. He wasn’t even the most significant benefactor for the institution, yet it bears his name. And I think that I have a deep interest in—at least in the work—trying to allow for there to be an entry point for so many people and maybe, it is just like a buzzing, maybe it’s like you go in and it’s the purple carpet or something, I don’t know. And there’s an aesthetic value to it, but there’s also a sensibility that I hope people feel. They feel something and then we can start to unpack the specifics of the history.

Rail: You had once mentioned that this project began with a need to “process” your relationship to the landscape, the history, and the motor itself. I would like to hear your take on the relief, The Acquisition (2018) which is made up of materials found in that field surrounding the machine, and objects from your studio. But here the two localities becomes fairly hard to distinguish. So perhaps that’s a good place to wrap up the conversation; to think of the studio and the journey to process the historic and socio-political context. Very small question. [Laughs]

Beasley: Well it’s great that you’re recognizing the melding of these spaces because what I felt was necessary about making The Acquisition was pointing to this moment. Bobby had walked me into his workspace. It was a business. There was a tractor company that he started after the cotton gin closed. The cotton gin motor was in a building. It was the thing that drove all of the mechanization that separated all of the seeds, filtered it, and baled it. So, the motor ran the building. Again, there’s the object which is the thing but then there’s also the context which is the space. I was realizing that the field and the space is Bobby’s studio. If Bobby and I were to switch places, we would be doing the same thing because Bobby keeps all of these personal objects, things that he has gathered for years and decades; that were his grandfather’s; and that he loves to hold on to. They’re antiques and he likes to show them, and he hangs them on the wall, and he points to them and he can talk about them and they’re all there and he goes into this space all the time and he just spends time in there and I’m like, “I do the same thing!”

Rail: Right.

Beasley: I take all of these things that are important to me, that I feel have value in my life, and that remind me of people that are close to me, and I do things with them. And I try to understand their complex relationship to the world and so I felt like The Acquisition was this moment, the transition. It was the handing off of the motor. It was like these two people who have these kinds of approaches to objects and understanding things in the world and having a personal connection to them, are making an exchange. And the exchange is so essential in the studio for me. That’s where the potential is beyond just production. There is the possibility of what the space can be. That is where we can actually make different kinds of exchanges and so that’s a shared space. That’s where you let in people that respect you and that you respect. And there’s all of these sorts of objects around there. There’re tools, there’s these things that we can utilize, in order to create something, to develop meaning. That work was essential because although all of the objects that I make—and all of the work that I’m making contains objects from the studio—in some way become portraits of the studio, this was a very deliberate narrative point to depict the studio. I’m going to make a work that has all of these things, so there’s an old mixing board that I used when I was at Yale, there’s a speaker that I had been bouncing around for a while.

Rail: You know how to break a sound artists’ heart? [Laughs.]

Beasley: They can still do levels up and down.

Rail: People do love that. [Laughs.]

Beasley: You know Bobby gave me one gift: the belt from the motor and that’s the thing that’s coiled in the bottom corner of The Acquisition. That belt is just as old as the motor and is placed in the relief as a way to point to a really specific time. There’s an arc in all of that and it’s just compressed and condensed into this object.

Rail: That was the one thing I couldn’t specifically identify in that piece. There is a lot held in thinking of the illegibility of this gift/time stamp for me as the viewer. Finally, is there anything else you want to say?

Beasley: No, I think that feels good. There are so many different things within the work, I think that it’s best to leave some things unsaid. I feel like when you have a conversation with someone, it’s important that everything they’re saying is there. Everything that they’re communicating is important and you want it all to be there because it’s a question of how you get from talking about this thing to the other thing. It’s all a trajectory and little transitions are important because they give you more than just the words themselves. They give you the atmosphere.

Rail: It’s interesting that we started this conversation thinking of the impossibility of words, even when we really need them, when we really need to have discussions, when we really need to talk.

Beasley: I think that’s what it is. You recognize impossibility only because you’re really engaging in those conversations. You’re constantly doing it. You don’t know if something is impossible or not, if you’re not engaging it. That’s the thing. I have to always write and have to always be talking about these things and wanting to engage in conversation. You know, just because it’s impossible, it doesn’t mean we can’t get extremely far with it.


Yasi Alipour

YASI ALIPOUR (Columbia University, MFA 2018) is an Iranian artist/writer/folder who currently lives in Brooklyn and wonders about paper, politics, and performance. She is a teacher at Columbia University and SVA and is currently a resident at the Sharpe Walentas Studio program. For further information, please visit


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2019

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