Chelsea A. Flowers is an artist who holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art (2017), and a BFA from Denison University with a concentration in Black Studies (2013). She has shown work at various art centers and galleries in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia. She expanded her skills and research by attending ACRE (Steuben, WI), Real Time and Space (Oakland, CA), Ox-Bow School of Arts and Artist Residency (Saugatuck, MI) and Art Space is Your Space (Cincinnati, OH) residencies. Her practice explores subversion to popular culture, how “otherness” is created through social and cultural critique of her environment. She explores these ideas through comedic troupes, physical play, nostalgic memorabilia, and participatory performance.
How did you come to work with your specific collaborator? Did you know them before this? Were you familiar with their work?
I had the pleasure of collaborating with Tyanna Buie. We were assigned to work with each other by the curator Jova Lynne. From my understanding we were paired together because of the similar themes and concepts our work addresses. I did not know Tyanna personally before this, but I got a chance to meet her at her gallery opening in Detroit. And I also heard her speak on a panel at MOCAD. So I was pretty familiar with her work.
Before the actual process of making, what was the process of deciding on what to make like? What was the making process itself like?
The process leading up to the show was pretty unconventional. COVID stopped everything in its tracks. We spoke pretty extensively back in February and March of 2020, before we knew what the impact of COVID was going to be on the show and really on the world. But as MOCAD opened back up and it became clear that the show would occur Tyanna and I spoke again and our thematic ideas about the piece changed. There was always the idea that we would create a video piece, but the topic of the piece changed. And really the change came from Tyanna’s research and inquiries with digital media and its representation of Black people. And furthermore my love of what she was creating. I was getting bits of it from her Instagram. I was really interested in the visual and comedic slapstick elements of these digital studies she was creating.
The making process was still a lot of conversation. It was a combination of my inquiries/confusion/interest in anti-mask rallies and the blatant oppressive inequities Black protestors are not afforded, but white “protestors” are. And just the absurdity of Anti-mask rallies. To create a duality of giving “space” to Black people, Tyanna made a lot of smart decisions and used the app Reface to place hers and my face on popular clips from (Black) popular culture. And I worked to stitch the videos together. The piece itself is a two channel video that goes back and forth as in conversation with each other. The videos are an interesting combination of two completely different parts of the internet; Black digital “communities” on social media, and anti-Black spaces on the internet.
What new possibilities were offered through collaboration that would not have been possible working alone? Did you feel any disadvantages compared to working alone?
The biggest new possibility from collaborating with Tyanna is the use of social media/an app to create the piece. With my background being in sculpture, and by extension expanded media, my approach to video and video art is very tech heavy, and the idea of using an app to structurally create a video never occurred to me. I wouldn’t say it’s a disadvantage, but when you’re working with someone you may not always understand or have the same ideas of aesthetics or quality of aesthetics. Finding a common ground on what values and aesthetic elements need to come out is very different when you work alone and don’t have to have those conversations with anyone. Also it’s tricky when you cannot exactly work in the same space because of a pandemic.
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?
Much of our collaboration was discussion based and an analysis of the representation of Black people in digital media. The insights from our collaboration are reflections of our society, so it can definitely be used outside of art. The conversations from our collaboration are both personal and political.
Going off of the title of the exhibition, how do you and your collaborator see your specific work differently?
That’s a good question. I’m honestly not sure. Maybe through the mediums that we use, Tyanna has a background in printmaking, and print media, whereas my background as I mentioned before is in sculpture and expanded media so I think our ideas converge or take on this duality from the medium of our backgrounds.