New York–based artist, writer, and performer Juliana Huxtable brings her trenchant voice and #shockvalue flair to two new publications out this year: Mucus in My Pineal Gland, a book of her musings copublished by Wonder and Capricious, and Life, an apocalyptic sci-fi narrative cowritten with Hannah Black and published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König. Here, Huxtable discusses her writing style as well as her debut solo exhibition, “A Split During Laughter at the Rally,” which is on view at Reena Spaulings Fine Art in New York through June 4, 2017.
I AM FASCINATED with Emory Douglas, who is perhaps best known for his work as the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party. He came up with nearly all of the imagery for their posters and newspaper. For this show, in addition to other works, I’ve made paintings loosely based on the style of Douglas, and then I took photographs of those paintings and overlaid text onto them. There’s also a video on view about conspiracy surrounding political protests, looking at protest chants in connection with call-and-response, rhythm, co-optation, and the history of hip-hop.
The show departs from a point of inefficacy—or, to use a problematically gendered concept, political impotence. There is an eclipsed sense of possibility in the prevailing models for engaging political action. This past November I went back and forth, but in the end I voted, and it felt so absurd. Yet I think there’s an inherent desire to exercise political agency, and our ability to navigate spaces in which this should happen is in peril. How can we start the process of animating something that might ultimately be generative?
I’m interested in conspiracy as a way of thinking through forming community and its slippages—as a productive strategy for coalition building that might speak more directly to the conditions we’re in than the Democratic Party, for instance. I think conspiracy can be radical in the sense that it’s engaging or seeking out information. You’re actively questioning what’s going on around you. And even if there are some loopy links and you’re filling in the gaps, there’s something there that’s different from apathy or nihilism.
I wanted to get into the aesthetics of conspiracy and American paranoia. If you delve into it, recently there has been a lot of Illuminati and UFO imagery. But a lot of that symbolism and the way that those images are laid out is actually directly related to imagery distributed by leftist radicals from the 1960s and 1970s; the image of the worker kind of gets replaced by the image of an alien. It’s interesting to me the way that the symbols within a sort of conspiratorial mode have been used, co-opted, adapted, and sampled. There’s enough symbolic power in the residual imagery to carry something.
My style of writing—whether for my recent publications or my artwork—is directly informed and inspired by the notion of schizoanalysis. Schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, and bipolar disorder are different clinical designations of structures of thought that at this point are inherent to the social and epistemological conditions we’re in, which conspiracy is inherently linked to and carries the stigmas of. I don’t like to present things too directly. I err in the direction of ambiguity in a schizo way of processing. As opposed to the idea of what a single subject means, what a subject’s voice represents, and how that voice expresses itself as indicative or elucidating of the conditions that we’re in, I like the alternative idea of a schizophrenic voice: one that can’t reside with any stability in the first person, third person, and so on, and that doesn’t even permit a predictable relationship between subject and verb. You’re jumping between persons, switching characters and exploding history into a play place. Allowing myself space for that mode of writing and thinking to happen is a more honest and dynamic reflection of how I’m processing the world.
I wrote a lot of the text for my show, but I also found a lot of text that I repurposed: comments on YouTube videos about the destruction of the black family, and a quote from conservative right-wing radio talking about the infiltration of trans people, for instance. That’s one of the things that excites me about text. It’s slippery, but you can try and condition the space in which that slippage occurs. I would like to think that my practice is about conditioning a productive space for thinking and processing, so you’re getting spontaneous fragments and they’re settling in different ways.