Buie’s work has been acquired by major institutions and private collections nationally and her work has been reviewed on Hyperallergic.com and featured on Essay’d. Currently, Buie is an Assistant Professor/Section Chair of Printmaking at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI.
How did you come to work with your specific collaborator? Did you know them before this? Were you familiar with their work?
I was familiar with Chelsea Flowers’ work actually, and I was able to work with her through Jova Lynne, the curator of the exhibition, and she just thought our work would speak to each other very well, and I agree. I don’t really do video, and Chelsea does video projects, but also just a different kind of discipline than my discipline, I’m used to traditional printmaking mediums or a little non-traditional, but still for the most part 2D or 3D, but Chelsea is working in 4D. I always wanted to tap into that and this would be a perfect opportunity to see what the work would look like together.
Before the actual process of making, what was the process of deciding on what to make like? What was the making process itself like?
I feel like the process came organically. We knew about this show a year in advance, so we had lots and lots of time, and also it was right at the heels of the pandemic. We were invited to do this show before the pandemic, and I think we talked in fall of 2019, and so we went back and retreated, “we’ll figure it out, we have time.” It was supposed to be summer of 2020, so then we had more time. And of course all that time happens and you forget about the show, and in that time other things were going on, more pressing matters. And in that time I started working with Reface app. In fact I have a billboard going up today through Wayne State and Kresge, and it’s 100% me refaced. It’s going to be right above Hopcat.
So I was just messing around and trying to respond to all the ridiculousness in the world and also just having fun seeing myself as something else. I’ve been quarantined alone, and I’ve had to keep myself pretty entertained. I have experience with that, just cause of the way I grew up—sidenote— cause as you ask me about this it helps me think about why did I get into that medium, growing up my aunt was a homebody so my siblings and I were homebodies. I grew up in the house, and the front porch, maybe the neighbor’s house. That’s it. Our block was our lives, our apartment was our lives. So we looked to pop culture for an outside window to the world. I’m still that way to this day. I hold on to pop culture, I’m a fanatic of sorts.
I stumbled upon Reface through a celebrity I follow on instagram. I was like “oh celebrities get all the stuff.” But then she posted the credit and I realized anyone can do it, so I started doing it and posting it on instagram and I got so much hilarious feedback. Some people were like, “you need to go to bed,” but others were like, “keep doing this, this brightened up my day.” One night I happened to create an entire 8 minute story with me as the reface. I sent it to close friends and family and was like, “I think this is the next thing I need to embark on,” and they were like, “you do it’s pretty funny.” I was doing it on my couch, doing voiceovers and using the video shop app. So it all came together really naturally through the pandemic. I like this way of working, I can work from my phone. It’s a great break, it is a hobby almost because I’m gonna have fun with it.
When I met with Chelsea I didn’t know if she would like this at all. I was like, “I hope she’s ok with this and considers it art.” But knowing her work, she does some interesting things, like making games, making a whole scenario, so I thought she’d get this. I sent her the video of just the eight minute one I did just to see what she’d think. Mind you this is happening all online, we only met in person one time, and it was to give her a flashdrive. That’s the beauty of video, I was like, “wow video is great, I never have to see people.” So she saw it and liked it. And she chose to work in the more political space, like what in society is happening that I think is absurd. So the goal was she collects all the absurd news things that are happening and then I create the content of how we’re gonna respond. That’s where the “Call and Response” comes in.”
What new possibilities were offered through collaboration that would not have been possible working alone? Did you feel any disadvantages compared to working alone?
I think just having another perspective. If I would have done this by myself, the outcome would have been different, the display would have been different, I would have done what I normally think to do, which is put things on a wall. But then I don’t know how to get people to interact with videos, I know how to get them to react to still images, but non-static forms, that’s a whole different form. So I was glad to have been able to access Chelsea’s mind and not have to come up with all the answers. The toughest part of being a solo artist is you’re like, “I hope that works out.”
I’m naturally a collaborator as a printmaker. Historically printmakers tend to work with other people. You learn in a group setting, whether it’s an academic setting or a community print shop. So community is embedded in print media, especially working with images. So I naturally— I called everyone about the billboard. I have a friend/Godmom, but she’s also an art advocate, and I sent her a picture of the billboard I’m putting up because she’s in her sixties and I wanted to see if people in their sixties will appreciate this humor, and she thought it was great. So then I called my millennials. I have people from every different age group in my life that I’m checking in with if I’m feeling uncertain or insecure about an art project. I really want to have this universal trifecta.
I also even met with a lawyer just to be safe. So if I’m doing reface and I publish this could I get sued, and they were like, “I don’t know.” Here’s the tricky part— so the billboard, I immediately hopped on this when there was the debate between Pence and Kamala. I knew she was going to be a meme, and of course we knew he was going to be a meme because of the fly. But before the fly, Kamala was like, “I’m speaking, I’m speaking.” And I’m like, “that’s a very Black woman thing to do when they’re dealing with people who are trying to talk over them.” If you try to talk over me as a Black woman, we already historically feel silenced, we have no problem saying, “hey, I’m talking.” It sometimes can be looked at as disrespectful, “she was mean to him.” Ok you obviously don’t have Black women in their lives. We’re going to demand respect but she respected him when he was speaking. So of course that immediately became a saying and a meme. I remember in my zoom meeting after that I refaced myself as Kamala and just put “I’m speaking”. That was my image on my zoom meeting and nobody said anything, there were 100 people in this meeting. So I decided for the billboard that I would be Kamala, and I was originally going to leave Pence as Pence but I thought that might be a lawsuit, to take someone’s image and put it on a billboard without their permission, so I decided I’d reface myself as Pence too. I thought it might be to controversial for Wayne State but they loved it. It’s up through April.
Did working collaboratively provide you with any insights that could be extrapolated and used outside of art in either a personal or political context? Were there lessons learned that could be used in other aspects of life? What did it teach you about democracy?
I think so, and I also just think it alleviates the pressure. I have a newfound appreciation for collaborative artists. I do think it takes off pressure, some people think it adds more pressure. I’m not sure how Chelsea felt. We have different timelines, I’m like “if I don’t need to get it to you today you’ll get it when you need it,” but she’s like, “no I need it.” I do think it helps with negotiation. Not just with other people but also negotiating with yourself. So then you become like two people almost. I think that if you did not collaborate you would not know how deep collaboration goes, and compromise, and understanding, and me having to understand Chelsea as a person. Because you’re actually working with this person, so I’m like, “I need to actually like you”—or maybe not, we’ll probably never hang out, but we did a great project together and that’s ok, because what was the purpose and function of this whole thing? Was the purpose for us to be friends? No. The purpose was to make some really great content so we can see how our work individually can segue. Because there’s some things of Chelsea’s that I definitely want to take. I want to take her tinsel situation.
If nothing else I think you gain a whole new respect for other artists’ and their processes. Me teaching has taught me to be more sensitive to people’s process and not think if they’re not in the studio they’re lazy. That kind of rhetoric isn’t helpful and everybody is different. I’m a project based artist, if I’m not working on a project I’m watching TV and doing everything but art. But when I get into the mode, I’m there and I’m with it. I’ve been judged by that from other artists, like, “you’re never in your studio.”
Going off of the title of the exhibition, how do you and your collaborator see your specific work differently?
Yeah. The biggest hurdle was actually just my vision versus her vision. When it was all said and done I knew it wasn’t done, for Chelsea I think it was done, but for me it wasn’t flowing, “can you go back and do this?” I was driving her crazy. When we first got the video I was like, “that video should be on the left screen.” And she was like, “why?” And I was like, “because it’s part of the call, not the response.” And with both of us being tired and sleep deprived, we both teach, and I was like, “I know I’m being a pain but I don’t want to regret it (the video) not being on the right.” And she was like, “well no, me neither.” So it was just a constant—for her it’s like, “yeah”, but I wanted it to be story that threaded together. For her it could have been like a Tarantino movie pieced together, but I wanted it to thread together in a different way.