While much of Kingston-born, Brooklyn-based artist Yulan Grant's work so far in her career has found its home in art spaces, music has never been far from the equation. Chances are there's a significant number of NYC clubgoers who have no idea that the artist behind the SHYBØI moniker has also done work with MoMA PS1, the Walker Art Center, and the CUE Art Foundation. Grant has described her work as dealing with "ideas of identity, notions of power, perceived histories, and the entanglements that happen within these topics."
In part it's this commingling of disciplines that makes the queer art collective KUNQ member's work so intriguing, which is something she has talked about in an interview with influential tastemaker Kimberley Drew. "I operate within a certain amorphous blob in regards to my work, whether it be in video, curating or DJing," she explained. "It's not always obvious at first, but within that amorphous being, definitions of femininity are being expounded upon, shattering and collapsing onto each other."
When Grant reached out to us about premiering a mix we jumped at the chance. The set was recorded live for American artist Kevin Beasley's Listening Room event at Fridman Gallery last month, as part of the New Ear Festival. Offering more background for the mix, entitled "Guzzum Power," Grant explained: "taking inspiration from Jamaica's conflicted history with obeah, this piece will serve as an excavation of past traumas in an attempt to create a better understanding of the ongoing paradigm of power we're currently trapped in."
THUMP caught up with SHYBØI to talk more about "Guzzum Power" and how music fits in with her artistic aspirations.
THUMP: Can you expand on the description you gave via email of "Guzzum Power" more? How do you see music as an effective medium to try to work through this kind of understanding?
SHYBØI: When I was asked to be a part of the Listening Room I immediately knew I wanted my set to be one that was healing, especially for myself. It explores topics I've been thinking about in the past year, police violence, interrogations of racial and gender identity and the violence that's enacted by others due to these identities. In the end it's solemnly celebratory and hopeful. Jamaica is a very oral culture, so sounds, music, oration, chanting and storytelling are things that are inextricably linked to all of my pieces as well as everyday life. It's a natural instinct.
As an artist you also do a lot of visual/video work too. What appeals to you specifically about doing music, and how does it fit in with your other work?
It's the only medium that I work in where audience participation in a physical sense is extremely important. My sets follow the same modus operandi of my visual work which is to interrogate ideas of identity, notions of power, perceived histories and the entanglements that happen within these topics. In the club I want you to shed those demons, in my visual work I want you to confront them.
This was originally performed as part of the New Ear Festival, specifically Kevin Beasley's Listening Room held at Fridman Gallery. Was there an overarching theme to the performances that night? The description seems pretty open-ended.
It was very open-ended and I'm quite thankful to Kevin for that, he essentially allowed us to go wild and free no questions asked. All of the audience was seated so it was the perfect opportunity to have folks to just sit and listen or let it wash over you quite casually as you sip on some wine.
As someone who DJs clubs regularly, how do you feel about doing music-related work in the gallery space? It seems to be a recurring theme within the KUNQ world, as you also recently did the "Rapture Punks" performance at Fridman with Marco Gomez (False Witness) and D'hana Perry (Battyjack).
I was in art spaces before I started DJing so I'm as comfortable in the white cube as the club. Sound is inextricably linked to to my visual work and showcasing music-related work in a gallery space comes as second nature. I staged a performance with Marco aka False Witness at MoMA PS1 titled "WE BEEN HERE:CATACLYSM" last year. It was an environment that essentially called for the convergence of sound, the body, and imminent destruction. KUNQ as a collective has also provided a live soundscape for "A/S/L," an adaptation of "Loose", D'hana's ongoing documentary and performance project that examines how gender expression, and racial identity intersect when trans* and gender nonconforming people of color navigate public space.
Listen to "Guzzum Power" below. Also, revisit the video she edited and directed for fellow KUNQ member Rizzla's tracks "Iron Cages / Twitch Queen" here.
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