Q&A with Artist Megan Solis

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Taken from the exhibition catalogue  Megan Solis: Christina is a Coward (Hello Studio, 2016)

As I walk into Hello Studio to meet Megan Solis for the first time, I am met with piles of costumes and fabrics, while brightly colored mixed-media collages are being assembled on tables nearby. The scene resembles a backstage setting rather than a gallery. Here, I discover an artist whose work is fueled by anxiety and various vices, and whose performances seem a compulsive attempt at recreating a lost innocence.

There is a bit of a “sweet and sour” element to your performance work. Would you agree?

It does have this attractiveness to it but also revulsion to it as well. There’s tension. I like the idea of people seeing these things that are kind of comforting and recognizable, but also seeing it out of context and in this different light which sort of breeds fear and discomfort. I think there are a lot of juxtaposing elements, the sweetness and the sourness, or the comfortable and the not so comfortable; I like that.

 It reminds me a bit of a Johnny Depp film, which always have these child-like characters yet there is something kind of menacing about them.

You mean, like Edward Scissorhands? Yes, I can see that. I think they are characters that want to be complete or they want to be this idea of perfection, and there is the sense that they are trying to obtain that, but they are always failing. There is this sense of sympathy or empathy people have for them because I guess these are traits that they see in themselves, and things that they are also insecure about.

Does film inspire your work in any way?

My favorite types of films are totally unrealistic and the type that get me out of my own head. The majority of the times I like to watch films like Disney that will make me feel not so horrible – things that will make me feel neutral or just make me feel good.

What about children’s stories?

I like the idea of innocence in childhood stories, and I kind of feel like I’m trying to do that with my work – like there is this sense of naïve appeal. As far as being inspired by specific children’s books, I don’t consciously do that. But I can see how a child would be attracted to the type of work I do because of the dolls or bright colors, but it’s not for children.

It seems masks and dolls are recurring themes in your work. Do you find it difficult to make yourself vulnerable in front of audiences?

I just started making dolls for this residency. I usually like performing in things that are covering me or things that change me and transform me into something other. I think that a whole lot of what I’m trying to do is just other myself from the general people. I think using the costumes in performances makes it easier because it’s not me; it becomes like this out of body experience in a way because I’m hiding my face and I’m putting on wigs…

You recently graduated from college. How has your work evolved in the years since you started?

It’s gotten way more vulnerable, honest, and self-deprecating. I had a professor who told me ‘don’t make art that’s just cool because that doesn’t last, make art that people – whether now, or in the future – will feel.’ That’s something that you should aspire to do as an artist rather than just doing things that are in the “now” or “cool” because that doesn’t last. I’d like to think my art has evolved from being something that was merely aesthetically pleasing to something I want people to relate to – whomever that may be.

Where do you see your artistic practice heading?

I’m always wanting my art to still be “raw,” but, at the same time, more conceptually driven and more performance driven as well. If I had money, I would like to do larger projects and more public works that a mass audience could enjoy. I would like to take it outside of the gallery walls into something that can be seen more by different audiences. I’d like to see it get out of the ‘white cube’ scenario.

 What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned in art school?

Although art school is great, you don’t need it to make anything happen. I think that the majority of things that I’ve done have been using the resources that I’ve gained on my own. If you don’t push yourself to get out of it a bit, you’re going to make work that’s too safe and that can mean just doing shows outside of school or doing a residency outside of the country. You don’t need school to be a good artist, but it’s great if you want people who know better than you do to call you out when you’re being lazy or when you’re bullshiting.

What did you find the most challenging during your time in school?

I felt like I was stuck in a certain city. I grew up in San Antonio and I went to UTSA so the hardest part was just being here and having to stay in San Antonio when I wanted to leave and not be here. There is something to be said about the artists who are making this city better – as far as art goes – but for me, just being here would not make me grow or be a better artist. As a person who grew up in San Antonio, who’s safe with their family, I feel like I need to push myself and really go for it. I don’t think I would be happy to just show in San Antonio or Texas forever.

 Can you elaborate on some of the ideas behind this show?

With this show there are a lot of high school-themed pieces. I was thinking about how much that has carried into my adulthood and how much I haven’t changed, or have changed; how that kind of relates to making art for me. I’ve never been a person that has felt I was a part of anything. Even in high school I didn’t have any friends. I spent my lunches in the bathroom, or in the library and read. It wasn’t like it was horrifying for me because I wasn’t bullied, I just didn’t have anybody to talk to. I think that carries on into my adult life; I have a hard time making relationships with other people and there is a struggle for me to keep connections with other people. I think art for me is the only thing I’ve ever had that does that in some way, but also, it kind of pushes people away…

Christina is a Coward was held at Hello Studio in San Antonio,TX June 30 – August 5, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Q&A with Kit Williamson

EastSiders
Matthew McKelligon, Willam Belli, Satya Bhabha, Stephan Guarino, Adam Bucci, Kit Williamson, Van Hansis, and John Halbach star in the second season of the LGBT web series Eastsiders

The following is an  interview with Kit Williamson for Out in SA magazine conducted November 2015.

As star and creator of the dark comedy web series Eastsiders, Kit Williamson [AMC’S Mad Men] has plenty to say about producing a wholly independent project and the divided tastes among the gay audiences who watch. With the recent DVD release of EastsidersOut In SA spoke with Williamson over the phone about his creative process and what it actually takes to launch a successful web series. Now available from Wolfe Video, the second season of Eastsiders features a barrage of talent including actors Van Hansis [As the World Turns], and Constance Wu [ABC’S Fresh Off the Boat] who return in their starring roles. Also joining them for season two are Willam Belli [RuPaul’s Drag Race], Brianna Brown [Devious Maids], Brea Grant [Heroes] and Vera Miao [State of Affairs]

Season one and two of Eastsiders was financed by a Kickstarter campaign. Is it also your experience that fans or viewers feel a sense of ownership over the series?

I think they definitely feel a sense of ownership over the project, and they should because they are the reason that the project happened. We had over a thousand Kickstarter backers coming together and putting a vote of confidence in the show. The show wouldn’t even exist. There is just no other way we could have finance something of this scope. Where its complicated, is that people don’t always understand everything that goes into making a project of this scope. It’s not like going on Amazon and ordering a DVD; you’re ordering a DVD a year and a half in advance. We took three months to shoot, six months in postproduction, and three months to find the right distributor. It’s much more of a slower burn, but hopefully, you can start to foster a relationship with the project and filmmakers so that you can stay apart of the process.

What are some of the advantages of not being funded by a major network or studio?

Autonomy. There was nobody standing behind my shoulder telling me what to do, what stories I could tell or not tell. Those decisions were solely my own to make.

Aside from funding, what have been the biggest challenges in the creation of the series and being able to share it with audiences?

It’s truly an independent production so the amount of work is just phenomenal. You have to really brace yourself for working several fulltime jobs for free. That’s also the joy of it: to be able to put your hands on so many different parts of the project from the social media campaign, to the color correction, and sound mix. I was there for every single part of it and it was a lot of responsibility but it was very rewarding.

With the Internet and various streaming services changing the way we watch television, what are some of the other outlets you’ve considered?

Well, season one is now available on Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Wolfe on Demand, Vimeo of course, and DVD. And season two is just finishing up its exclusive run on Vimeo on Demand and will now be made available on other digital platforms and DVD. And were actually going to be a part of the launch of two new digital platforms in the coming months. What I love about being able to put the show in so many different places is that new audiences find it every time we go to a new platform, because everyone has their favorite ways of watching television. We don’t all watch television in the same place or the same ways anymore. That’s been a very exciting part of this process because you get the experience of having people discover the show as though you just launched it over and over again.

You recently spoke out against “slut shaming” and against a lot of the negative criticism that gay series receive when they openly explore sexuality or various sexual practices outside of monogamy. In season two of Eastsiders the two main characters experiment with an open relationship and have multiple sex partners. Do you feel that gay audiences have become increasingly conservative in recent years?

I definitely feel that gay audiences are divided at the moment. There are people who want to allow gay characters to just be characters, and be part of the story telling tradition that straight people are able to freely explore, and there are people who were very critical of the show, not just because of the promiscuity or open relationships, but for its depiction of drinking and smoking pot. I feel like there are people who view gay characters as role models because there is such little representation of our communities, and our stories that people want to place this pressure on gay characters to represent the movement. Unfortunately, I think that is just the death of interesting story telling. I don’t want to be part of a morality tale. I don’t want to write a bunch of role model kind of stuff with people walking around solving each other’s problems and patting each other on the back. I’d much rather write dramatically rich, conflicted characters that don’t necessarily know what they want. I think that’s much more human than somebody who doesn’t make any mistakes or somebody that doesn’t have any complexity…. The straight characters in Eastsiders are every bit as conflicted and flawed as the gay characters are. It’s a show about people who are doing their best to navigate difficult circumstances and don’t always make the best decisions

Is there a time frame for season three?

I don’t know what the future holds. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on getting all of our Kickstarter backer rewards fulfilled and making sure that we promote season two fully, and make sure that it gets seen by as many people as possible, and then well recalibrate and see if we’ll do season three or not.

 

Review: Arte y Pasión’s ‘Colores’

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Arte y Pasion in rehearsal for ‘Colores.’ Photo credit: Facebook/Daniela Riojas

Despite artistic director Tamara Adira’s near disastrous decision to project works of art by local art luminaries as backdrops during the entirety of the show, Arte y Pasión gave one of their strongest performance in Colores, presented this past weekend by the Carver Community Cultural Center.

While much of the artwork featured in Colores may be quite splendid in person – there was Franco Mondini Ruiz and JD Morera among others – onstage it appeared garish, often clashing with the dancers and competing for attention. The stage here, really, should have belonged to the dancers.

In this latest production – a meditation on art, beauty, and our place in the universe, Adira has assembled a group of dancers and musicians from near and far that compliment each other better than any Arte y Pasión production in recent memory. Adira has never been one to hog the spotlight, and here she gives each featured dancer and musician ample time for them to explore their own choreography or musical compositions. The result is a series of beautifully executed and fully realized performances, each reaching an emotional climax that leave the audience more than satisfied.

In the opening number, Abre la Puerta, San Antonio’s own Chayito Champion and the San Francisco based flamenco vocalist Jose Cortes set the tone with an excellent a cappella performance set only to palmas or hand claps. Flamenco dancers Melissa Cruz (San Francisco) and Illeana Gomez (Albuquerque) give show stopping performances each time they hit the stage.

One of Adira’s strongest suits has been spotting and nurturing young talent and Colores is notable for its featured performances by modern dancers Stephan Gaeth, Rochelle Banuet, and violinist Darian Thomas. Thomas’s solo piece near the start of the show, La Folia, was simply stunning. Entre las Estrellas y el Agua, a conceptual piece choreographed by Gaeth, and featuring performance artist Daniela Riojas as the ‘Goddess of Time and Consequence,’ was only marred by the complicated backdrop.

The gender-bending and magnificent Angel of Gravity has never looked this good before, even though Adira and Gaeth, accompanied by Thomas and cellist Luke Bonecutter, have been performing this particular number around the city for several years now. While flamenco is best experienced in intimate venues, the modern choreography of Angel of Gravity was made for the theatre and finally finds a proper home in Colores.

In Brandenburg Concierto #3 and Movement #3 Adira pays tribute to her teacher – the late flamenco master Teo Morca by performing his choreography and showcasing her mastery of the castanets. Only four years earlier, I remember seeing Teo Morca dancing on this very stage at the Carver Community Cultural Center. His energy was infectious and it was hard not to feel the joy this man must have felt during his performances. Certainly, Adira has given a performance that the maestro would be proud of.

It was not until the second half of the performance that the show’s visual elements and performers finally came together. In one of the stand out pieces of the evening, also titled Colores, the silhouettes of three females, each dressed as a Minotaur, appear behind three separate screens. The visuals here are powerful. Together the three figures sway their arms seductively in various flamenco poses as a female voice, presumably Adira, reads through a poem. “The colors – the colors of all of us,” she can be heard saying. The segment ends as one of the three figures removes its large Minotaur mask revealing herself as Adira.

The final number sees Adira channeling masculine energies, accompanied by guitarists Luisma Ramos (Austin) and Alejandro Pais (Albuquerque), as she performs a Farruca titled Mi Sombra, Mi Luz. Here, Adira bares her soul and finally reveals her true colors. In previous productions, Adira’s strongest attributes have been her creative vision as director and producer with her own presence often overshadowed by the excellent talent she enlists. In Colores, Adira arrives as a dancer, surpassing the emotional intensity of her technically superior co-stars Gomez and Cruz.

It may not have been a full house on the Sunday afternoon that I attended, but the audience that was there, was fully captivated by the performance they had just witnessed.

‘Colores’ was presented April 9 and 10, 2016 by the Carver Community Cultural Center in San Antonio, TX.

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