Words: Sara Blazej
Autumn Casey is a visual artist and musician whose oscillating practice moves between collage, sculpture, and video. Her physical works consist of found items laden with cultural and personal significance that are assembled into poetic groupings from which associative meanings emerge. In placing the precious and the pedestrian into conversation with each other and the viewer, she subverts her own economy of materials and question notions of subjective object literacy.
One of the few artists I’ve known from Miami to dig in and set up shop in the city of tropical transience, Casey has developed a successful creative practice, most recently evidenced by her solo show Balancing Infinity at Primary Projects, which closed last month. Since graduating from New World School of the Arts in 2011, she has been influential in shaping Miami’s underground art and music scene, notably leading one of BFI’s infamous Weird Miami bus tours, which located sites of wealth disparity and highlighted artistic uses of spaces in decay. Casey has exhibited at MoCA North Miami and The Perez Art Museum (PAMM), among other institutions in Miami, New York and Philadelphia. Running alongside her art practice is her band Snakehole, which launches its new record on March 31 at Silent Barn in Brooklyn. We met up for coffee in the Lower East Side to discuss her process, practice, and finding the balance in it all.
Why do you choose to mainly work with sculpture and collage?
A lot of times I find that my work is very reactionary. Depending upon situations, given materials, and often self-imposed limitations, I tend to carve something out from what’s available, which in a way is a self-portrait. I think I like to work with sculpture and collage because they both allow me to combine disparate objects, time periods, feelings, and memories to form something succinct that allows me to reflect something extremely personal, and at the same time offer it up in a more democratic or universal playing field. By using what’s available to many, I display my subjectivities through the selection and combination process.
Do you ever incorporate your dance background into your practice, or make any other performance work?
I’ve done a few performances in the past. I screamed really loud at all the (Miami) art fairs one year. That piece was called Cicada, named after the magical bug that comes up from the earth and screams. I felt that was a pretty fitting metaphor for Art Basel - it’s once a year, when all these things and people are coming to the surface to scream and get attention. Also it’s kind of about being an artist and feeling the pressure like you need to do something. So I was like, “What if I literally just screamed?” I did it a few times: I did it at the Vernissage, I did it at Art Miami and I did it at NADA. I just screamed really loud and then made a quick exit.
Were there any incidents with security?
At Art Miami I got asked to leave. And I had people asking if I was okay. Everyone’s reactions were so different: some people would be scared, some people would clap afterwards, and some people would laugh. And then it was like, “Back to the next thing.”
“Back to business.”
Yea. And in regard to incorporating dance into the work, I do get really physical sometimes. With my sculptures, a lot of it is about balance. It’s trying to make weird things actually balance. Sometimes I’m squatting, sometimes I’m hunched over for a while just balancing the thing.
So, in balancing objects in your studio, you’ve noticed a vocabulary of postures emerge that recall your dance training, like holding various ballet poses for long amounts of time. Sounds like a very elegant endurance performance. Have you ever recorded yourself working?
I took some pictures once. I’ve also filmed myself in a video when I was getting rid of all my shoes. Sometimes I feel like after I do something, I need to go do the opposite of what I just did, to not ever conform into like one thing. My last show, Balancing Infinity didn’t have any videos, and now lately I’ve been working on a lot of music videos.
For your own music?
I have in the past, but right now I’m doing one for Nick Klein. It’s a track for that L.I.E.S. comp. It’s pretty fun to make a techno music video. There’s so many beats, so many chances to click the blade button, you know?
Totally. How did you come to direct a Snoop Dogg / Boys Noize music video a few years ago?
The gallery I work with, Primary, are friends with some of the people involved in Boys Noize’s management troupe. They told me that Boys Noize and Snoop Dogg would be in Miami and they were looking for someone to do a music video. It just so happened that Alex (Ridha, of Boys Noize) was looking for something more artistic and with a gritty underground vibe, so I kind of fit what he was looking for. It was a dream come true. I built the set, directed, filmed with my iPhone, and edited the video. It was so much fun.
How do you balance your own band, Snakehole, with your art practice?
That’s an interesting balance because Snakehole is very cathartic - well, art’s cathartic too, but the band is very cathartic in a way where I’m physically screaming - sometimes even to tears. It’s where this rage gets to come out and it’s very unbridled, whereas my art is a lot more delicate and composed and balanced. It’s kind of like a ying yang.
How do you source the materials for your sculptures?
I usually just go for things that I’m instinctively attracted to. And then it lives with me and hibernates with me until I can figure out how I want to interact with it or how I’m going to make it come to life.
Once you live with this collection of things, what informs the process of putting them together? Is this also mostly instinctual or is it based in formal composition?
It’s a little bit of both. Sometimes it can happen really fast, like I’ll bring something home and immediately know it belongs with this other thing I’ve been saving for a while. Or I’ll see something and I can automatically see what I want it to do. It’s an ebb and flow of these interactions.
How did you apply this intuitive process to your show Balancing Infinity, in which the pieces are based on specific tarot cards? Did you have to adapt to accommodate the “prompt” of the card?
Well, I would let them make themselves and then I would figure out which card it was. For instance, I didn’t set out to make the Chariot. Me friend was like, “I found these two horses on the road and I thought this would be good for you, for the Chariot.” So I painted one white, and in that way it was kind of guided in that direction.
I love what you did with The Hermit.
I like that one a lot. The Hermit was kind of an accident. I bought that clown just to cut off his arms. I wanted his arms. But he just had such a funny posture so I just painted him black and put him in the corner. The Hermit is about being alone with this little light that’s yours and you’re just mesmerized by it.
How did you receive your first tarot deck?
I got it at a Christmas party. We were doing Yankee Swap, and I picked a gift and no one tried to steal it from me. Then the guy who brought it to the party came up to me afterward saying, “It’s weird, I kind of had you in mind when I brought this gift.” So that was weird. I would diddle around with them a little at first and then my relationship with them grew.
Were you interested in any kind of esoteric tradition before that?
My grandmother grew up in show business and she would say, “All we did was talk about astrology” - in show business. So growing up with her, wherever we went she would ask someone their birthday - the whole thing. We didn’t go to church, we were really raised with astrology. Like my mom’s version of our church was watching Touched by an Angel on Sundays. But that’s the closest I would get to esoteric traditions. The cards would reference certain astrological signs, so it was like a gateway.
So what are your sun moon and rising signs?
Pisces sun, Cancer moon, Libra Rising, Venus is in Aquarius
That’s a very gentle triangulation.
My friend Tatiana, who’s a psychic, says I have a trine in water. Apparently, if you have a trine in something it means you’ve mastered that sign. It make sense that mine would be in water because that’s like emotions and I’m very sensitive to emotional vibrations.
Do you know a lot of psychics?
I just know this one lady. I went to Honduras with her back when the world was going to end in 2012. I was working at Churchill’s and she came in and could tell I was fucking over it and she was like “You should come to Honduras with me for winter solstice.” And I was like, “Okay. I will.” And so I quit my job and went to Copán and we watched the sun rise on the top of a pyramid. It was good.
Did anything magical happen?
I swear I saw something…it was a little glimmer in the sky.
What was it?
I don’t know, apparently it’s the center if the Milky Way! She was like, “If we watch the sunrise on December 21st, the planets will be aligned and you’d be able to see the center of the Milky Way.”
Whoa, and you did.
I saw the glimmer.
You saw the glimmer.
You mentioned that working with collage and sculpture allows you to combine time periods, feelings and memories - kind of commemorative in a way. Is articulating those memories to the world - by making them physical or visible - a way of immortalizing them?
That’s how I describe that video I made of my nana, and it was like “this would be to immortalize her." And it was something that was so personal, and yet I’m sharing it with people, you know, it’s also about just trying to be honest with myself.
That video was so beautiful. I still think about it, two years later. I saw it was just acquired by the Perez Museum - congratulations on that.
Thank you, it was pretty wild. To make that video was to immortalize her memory, and now that she’s in the permanent collection of the PAMM, it really takes it one step further, to this extra place. Now my nana will live forever in a lot of people’s memories.
What is it like for you to practice art in the current political climate? Especially making work that’s so tethered to emotionality and lived experience, have you drawn inspiration from it? Has it presented any challenges?
It’s hard for the nightmare that is the current political climate to NOT seep in. I have noticed that things have taken a more sinister, darker turn, however subtle they might be. Lately, at times, it seems harder to engage with my art practice because it’s easy to start to feel helpless when everything seems like it’s going to shit and it feels miniscule compared to all that’s going on. But then you realize you just feel crazier by not engaging in your art practice. Like its the only thing that can start to keep you sane. And then from there hope to make something meaningful that can reflect and speak to the current situation, and create community around it as well. The anger that I feel comes out in a more visceral and direct way when I play music, and from that- it’s definitely a source of inspiration, something to react fiercely against.