In Conversation: Adrienne Tarver

by James Powers 


Adrienne Tarver, Installation Shot: Eavesdropping at BRIC Arts Media, 2016.  Photo Credit: Jason Wyche

Adrienne Tarver is an artist and educator working in New York. Her work was recently the subject of a solo show titled “Eavesdropping” at BRIC Arts Media, March 1 – 27, 2016. In this interview, she sat down with James Powers. James Powers is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He runs the Fastnet Project in Red Hook, a shipping container turned gallery, studio, and gathering space.

James Powers: You have picked the life of a young, black female that you came upon at a thrift store. Do you think about yourself in recreating the environs of her life

Adrienne Tarver: Yes, in some ways she’s an alter ego, or surrogate, I can use to live out alternative realities or possibilities of my life; not directly, but emotionally. Thinking about her hopes, dreams, aspirations and whether she was able to fulfill them–does she still have time/energy to fulfill them? What factors contributed to her successes and failures–relationships, family, societal pressures and expectations? Where is she in her life at that moment in that photograph?

The hope is to evoke some sort of emotional response from the viewer, and for that to work I feel it has to work with me first. As the creator, I’m just as much a voyeur into her life as the audience, so I’ve tried to access the things that would make me sad or uncomfortable or curious were I to stumble upon random details of someone else’s life.

JP: Do you have nostalgia for the suburbs?

AT: I do have nostalgia for the suburbs, but I wonder how much of it is rooted in the idea that I have not yet and may not live the suburban life again. That seems too final to say aloud, but it’s true–or at least in the way it has been accepted in past generations as the traditional way to you grow up–move to the suburbs, have a family, live a life that looks very different from your younger self.

It’s interesting to think about that decision to place her house in the suburbs, because I don’t think I thought about it much when I started to build it. I’ve lived in cities, in apartments, for my entire adult life, so living in houses with yards, for me, is very much rooted in my childhood and adolescence.

JP: Our idea of the suburbs, (as we dogmatically live in chicken coops in Brooklyn), is constrained by antiquated and problematic stereotypes. As we get priced out of the city, I think we are going to have to revisit and redesign this predicament.

AT: Thinking about owning a freestanding house, especially after living in expensive cities for so long, feels so far removed from my version of adulthood that to think of her as my alter ego, owning a house definitely feels like an alternate reality–another element to distinguish her and her life from myself. What I thought about more than the idea of the suburbs was the question that arises of who can own their own house–who is she and how can she have this house? Does she own it? Whose house is it? What assumptions do viewers come to the work with directly related to the size, shape, and apparent location of the house?

JP:   There is a curious human presence in your exhibit. There is a trajectory that could go in two directions – towards the harmless and amicable, or into a cauldron of violence and fear.

AT: There is a bit of the nightmarish intention as well. I was thinking about Hitchcock and film noir – so much of the nightmare comes from the darkness, what we can’t see, what we don’t know. The suburban houses are these private havens. As opposed to apartments where walls are shared and building entrances are communal, suburban houses have multiple levels of trespassing (peering through bushes, walking on someone’s yard, crossing a fence, breaking into the house) and each level brings with it a heightened sense of fear and invasion.

JP: In “Eavesdropping”, the birds chirping add to the tension…

AT: Yeah, that’s another cue from film where we learn to anticipate bad events. Any sign that things are too normal, or so quiet that you can hear the birds or crickets is an indication that something bad can or will happen. The videos also have subtle one-sided phone conversations happening from within the house–I don’t think anyone can hear exactly what’s being said other than me, since I already know. But it was important that you are aware of the ambient sounds and hopefully strain to hear what else is happening–another form of intrusion.

JP: Works like Veil seem like a departure, with the tropical vines and palm trees, but it may also be allegorical. Is it occurring in the same time-frame as “Eavesdropping”?

AT: I think Veil exists independent of a specific time-frame. I would definitely say it’s more allegorical. Walking around it, viewers become shadows in the piece, and in that way it’s always changing and the time frame can only be the present moment. Eavesdropping starts to point to time periods, you can narrow it a bit, but it’s never defined in order to keep it ambiguous. They both speak to barriers. The audience is asked to intrude, break some type of barrier, but are still not given all the information, just shadows.

JP: Are you telling a story here (“Eavesdropping” and/or Veil)?

AT: There is definitely a story in “Eavesdropping”, but I’ve presented it as non-linear, which is also how I’ve created it. There are only pieces and the pieces aren’t given a specific order, so there could be many different versions. The only constant in the story is the place of the viewer as voyeur.

JP: What is your next project? Will it be a continuation of this work?

AT: I’m still interested in this woman and building on her story. I’m thinking of delving into her past a bit more. Where did she live before this house? What about her parents? I’m not bored of her yet, and think there are a lot of different avenues I can explore through her.









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