Artist of the Week

Kasem Kydd

November 14, 2019

Kasem Kydd (they/them) lives in Chicago, loves food, wine, friendships, love itself, and is focused on being as hot as possible.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

I would say that I’m a black and indigenous trans and non-binary person, constantly evolving, surviving, and with a bit of flair for the dramatic. I’m obsessed with sci-fi, ruins, archives, eclipses, and the earth and ocean. I’m a scorpio venus, so my flair for the dramatic really shows there. A lover that loves hard. I dance, make sculptures, performances, performance scores, sound works, videos, and DJ. Mainly, I make cocktails 4-5 days a week. I’m trying to get a motorcycle and a pickup truck. Basically I want to be hot as fuck.

What are some recent, upcoming, or current projects you’re working on?

Not much on the up and come, trying to organize my life. I am really excited about this book club a friend and I are starting in November. It’s a queer, TGNC, black and PoC centered book club where we will be reading lots of cool poetry, essays, novels, etc. Very laid back and communal hopefully. The first book we’re reading is Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha which is sooooo good. Aside from that, working on some performances and sculptures for some shows in 2020.

The Sisko (Body Bundle 3), 2017
Raft and Sail, 2018

You were at ACRE recently, which is a partner residency of LVL3. How was that? Did you start any new projects?

Yes!!! Acre was honestly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. Such a beautiful place even though it’s the middle of Wisconsin. It was so good to be outside and see the Milky Way, the stars, all of that. The staff and volunteers were also incredible and really generous, special people. Especially Danielle Rosen who was the ceramics tech and made a beautiful atmosphere for everyone. It had been a while since I’d made anything prior to arriving there so it was really nice to feel rejuvenated and inspired to make again. So many beautiful souls. The other residents, I have almost no words, I’m still obsessed. It felt like I fell in love over and over again. Endlessly. All around incredible people who I miss and would love to do karaoke or dance with ASAP. One of my favorite memories was one of the last parties before we all left for good. It felt extra special because I was in the last session, so it felt like a  farewell to summer, end of an era party. My life also fell apart when I got back so, lol. I remember DJing and this really intense thunderstorm is rolling in over the hills and it begins to pour and there’s lightning and thunder. I was playing a lot of classic disco hits, and it all pretty much started happening during It’s Raining Men. It felt perfect. I can remember Charles twirling in the middle of the stage, and everyone including myself was dancing in the middle of this storm. So yeah, absolutely sickening. 

Was, Is, An Eclipse, 2019. Photo by Levi Shand (@lshand)

Do you see DJing as something separate from your fine art practice or do they coincide?

I think that DJing is a part of my practice tangentially. The reason I started DJing in the first place was because I wasn’t seeing myself in parties that I would go in Pittsburgh at the time in terms of the music, the DJ’s, the people attending, everything. So I started learning and playing little parties with my friends. I wanted to see myself and also just party to music I thought was fun. I think it is linked to my practice through my performance work and my research. Like there’s so much crossover between things I think are really moving in music and clubs etc and what I make work about. And I think I’m also very intentional about who I’m playing out or listening to and what kind of mood or energy I want to manifest. Sometimes more so in mixes, intentionally trying to create a scene or narrative. I also think club music, techno, electro, disco, like all of it is black and gay as hell. The “club” and parties are so powerful sometimes. I think this sometimes rarely happens, but when it does you genuinely feel it. Like even in Chicago right now there are so many people and groups doing that work. Molasses, Swoon, Rumors, Ariel, Small World Collective, etc. One of my first experiences as a teen in NYC was going to The Spectrum, and I think that altered my life. I truly believe in the power of black sound, of ritual, drums, choirs, etc. It’s the longest tradition. I think Nkisi touches on that.

Describe your current studio or workspace!

Empty, I just moved into a new studio which I’m very excited about. It’s a corner studio so it gets lots of light. Has plenty of space, and I’m sharing it with two amazing people.

What is influencing your work right now?

My work right now feels like it’s being influenced by so many sources. It’s easy for me to lose motivation when there are lots of competing forces grappling for my attention. Like work, bills, moving, breakups and heartbreaks, the impending collapse of the world, transphobia, therapy, and death. I think instead of me trying to fight these forces, I want to accept that they are inescapable parts of my life and incorporate them into my practice. Instead of complaining that I’m broke and have no time, maybe just asking myself “what can you do with what you have?”. Otherwise, I think that my experiences in therapy, relationships with myself and others are playing huge roles in terms of how I’ve been thinking about making. My therapist and I spend a lot of time talking about trans shit, my body, presentation, fear of my family and myself, desirability, ownership, timelines, literally everything. And I think talking about all of these things including loss, uses of the erotic, love, etc with them and friends undoubtedly make marks on my work.

I’m influenced by so much in the world. Mainly eclipses, geology, archeology, archives, oceanic detritus, oceans or bodies of water, graves, time, sci-fi books, the black tradition of sound, dance, clubs, geological time, asteroids, I think I can go on for a while. 

Ancient Tableau Depicting An Ass or Rudder, 2018
From The Hold, 2018

What’s your collection or assemblage process like when creating sculptures?

My collection process pretty much consists of finding things at thrift stores that I like. Like a color of fabric I’m into, or a texture. Finding things on the road and taking them home. Depends on where I’m located at the moment too, like it’s different to be collecting things in a city like New York vs Chicago or Pittsburgh compared to rural Wisconsin or a beach in Florida.

Can you talk about the piece ‘ Opecean Wounds: We Are Still Alive, Like Hydrogen and Oxygen? ‘

Yeah I can definitely talk about that piece. It’s one of my favorites and kind of was in the middle of a big shift for me. It was definitely influenced by Rashaad Newsome’s Shade Composition , specifically the Screen Tests iterations. You can watch them here.

I’ve shown it in multiple different iterations and I think it works best as a 7 Channel work. For me it’s primarily a performance for video that is then installed as this video sculpture I suppose. I think the multiple monitors and viewpoints were important for this piece because it is partially about fracture. Generational fracture, geological fracture, etc. It’s about living out of time in position to your ancestral home and moving through time as a black, queer person living within a settler society. 

Opecean Wounds: We Are Still Alive, Like Hydrogen and Oxygen, 2018

The other huge inspiration for this work was this excerpt from Dionne Brand, Verso 55.

“When I finally arrived at the door of no return, there was an official there, a guide who was either a man in his ordinary life or an idiot or a dissembler. But even if he was a man in his ordinary life or an idiot or a dissembler, he was authoritative. Exhausted violet, the clerk interjects. Yes he was says the author, violet snares. For some strange reason he wanted to control the story. Violet files. Violet chemistry. Violet unction. It was December, we had brought a bottle of rum, some ancient ritual we remembered from nowhere and no one. We stepped one behind the other as usual. The castle was huge, opulent, a going concern in its time. We went like pilgrims. You were pilgrims. We were pilgrims. This is the holiest we ever were. Our gods were in the holding cells. We awakened our gods and we left them there, because we never needed gods again. We did not have wicked gods so they understood. They lay in their corners, on their disintegrated floors, they lay on their wall of skin dust. They stood when we entered, happy to see us. Our guide said, this was the prison cell for the men, this was the prison cell for the women. I wanted to strangle the guide as if he were the original guide. It took all my will. Yet in the rooms the guide was irrelevant, the gods woke up and we felt pity for them, and affection and love; they felt happy for us, we were still alive. Yes, we are still alive we said. And we had returned to thank them. You are still alive, they said. Yes, we are still alive. They looked at us like violet; like violet teas they drank us. We said here we are. They said, you are still alive. We said, yes, yes we are still alive. How lemon, they said, how blue like fortune. We took the bottle of rum from our veins, we washed their faces. We were pilgrims, they were gods. We sewed the rim of their skins with cotton. This is what we had. They said with wonder and admiration, you are still alive, like hydrogen, like oxygen.

We all stood there for some infinite time. We did weep, but that is nothing

in comparison.”

Trying to place yourself but having no concrete location for what home is. And maybe to solve this I want to find and place myself within the tradition of black sound, black time, black movement, and the belief that my whaling ancestors, my ancestors that are now a part of the ocean as sand, rock, water, and organic life that still lives on, were black, trans, and are still coursing through my veins and the water I drink.

Who would be your dream collaborator?

My dream collaborator would either be Torkwase Dyson, Dionne Brand, Elysia Crampton, Kelsey Lu, Rin Johnson, or Tiona Nekkia McClodden. I can’t choose.

What are some of your favorite books?

I guess this question is very much in line with so many things I’ve been working on recently.

Here’s a list of five.

A Map to the Door of No Return – Dionne Brand
Scenes of Subjection – Sadiya Hartman
The Broken Earth Trilogy – N.K. Jemisin
Demonic Grounds – Katherine McKittrick
Time Slips – Jaclyn Pryor

And two more one for fun and the other highly recommended to me.
The Three Body Problem –  Liu Cixin
Imperial Debris – Ann Stoler

There’s too many.

Interview Composed by Madeline Olson