~Interview by Stephanie Rogers/June 7, 2016
Artist Shira Service mimics modes of popular media to express her personal understandings and invite critical dialogue. Service is a millennial-generation artist who examines her ideological and aesthetic surroundings in order to create provocative durational artworks.
Service is also one of the organizers of MUX: Asheville Video Art Festival, taking place at various locations in downtown Asheville, July 1-August 6. The title MUX is derived from “multiplexing” and the website, ashevillemux.com explains that the event “seeks to expand the field for new media and video art, easing the imbalance between artists and exhibition platforms.”
Below is an extensive interview with Shira Service explaining the origins of MUX: Asheville, her own creative process and future plans for video and digital media art in Asheville.
What brought you to Asheville?
I wanted to stay in New York for at least a year after school, just to challenge myself, but even Far Bushwick outpriced me, and it seemed silly to fight to stay when I couldn’t even afford to produce new work. I have a big family and many of them live in Asheville, plus I’ve visited multiple times per year since I was 5 years old. I told my sister and cousin, who had a house in Arden, that I was taking up their offer to do a “self-determined artist residency” in AVL. I ended up just staying and haven’t felt inclined to return to New York city (besides to visit), since. I also have important personal/artistic connections in South Florida, so I often drive there and spend time in the sun. Driving between FL and NC is much nicer than between FL and NY.
For an Asheville resident who has never heard of it, how would you explain Mux: Asheville?
MUX: Asheville is a contemporary art festival, or art show, that is taking place between July 1st and August 6th downtown. The show will have somewhere between 10 and 20 artists, local and from around the world, whose works will be projected, shown on monitors, and perhaps installed sculpturally at the Asheville Area Arts Council Gallery, One World Brewing, and hopefully projected around town outside, in at least one location.
MUX’s is described as “a stereoscopic approach to curating new media that establishes perspectival depth through the formation of a body of work.” This description is the type of sprawling idea that I imagine would take several people with varying experiences to construct. What is the story behind how the festival was formed?
When I moved to Asheville the idea of establishing a video art community, or of starting a video art festival, was unavoidable. I mean, Asheville is exploding as a city right now, and it is just asking for new media art representation. It was not completely devoid of this community (The MAP has been foundational in Asheville and has supported my initiative for a while now; also UNCA New Media department had it’s first “Downtown Digital” show last year), but as I continued networking and discovering what else was going on in video and new media, I discovered we needed more in Asheville, and that it had to be specific to contemporary video art.
Alessandra Gomez is a curator in New York City, and a close friend, and we’ve had a dialogue for years. This seemed the perfect time to collaborate on a curatorial initiative, and she jumped on board with the idea of MUX right away. Alessandra and myself worked together to develop our platform, vision, and texts. Once in Asheville, Curt Cloninger (of UNCA) kindly joined our conversation and agreed to jury the show along with Alessandra and myself. MUX is my baby, but doesn’t it take a community to raise a child? We’ve had so much help, advice, and guidance along the way. Glory Loflin is an artist and mutual friend of Alessandra and mine who lives in Greenville. She is coordinating our exhibition installation. Jordan, my brother, is constantly in dialogue with me and we discuss the philosophies, ideologies, and structures of MUX to degrees that surprise even myself. Every decision or implementation we make has significance and I care very much to support artists and foster a community in a highly moral and positive manner, creatively, economically, structurally, and even spiritually.
Tell me more about the theme for this year – the relationship between the language of information and systems of connection, and how that relates to the Asheville community in your mind.
It’s easy to interpret the theme as being about types of data or processing systems, literally – but it actually refers to systems and information of any nature. Artists should ideally create the language that they express their ideas through – it is a sort of language creation for the purpose of information dispersion. A system of connection could be any body that functions to unite other bodies, be they computer processes, political bodies, social cliques, church communities, and so on. The reason for our broad theme is because it calls on artists to reference the methods through which they create – and there is an endlessly broad range of creative methods for artists to choose from.
When I hear the theme, I picture information networks or people networks. I picture a satellite image of North America’s lights at night. What is fascinating about Asheville is the mobility and growth of the city right now, making it a more active hub within our national network. It is almost bizarre – one second I think Asheville is suddenly a metropolis, the next I get the feeling it is a quaint town, which usually lasts longer. It reminds me of the satirical article that claimed that Asheville is an imaginary, non-existent town. It’s hysterical – you should take a look at it if you haven’t seen it yet.
Asheville has a reputation for being a quirky, artistic oasis in the South. But, everyone who does more than travel through here as a tourist knows that Asheville can look quite different from the inside out than the other way around. In your mind, what are the strengths and weak spots of the Asheville art and music scene? How does MUX add to what you perceive as the existing scene?
No other place has a creative scene and cultural scene made up of the same stuff Asheville has. I’ve always perceived Asheville as a place that homes the oddballs or outsiders who feel they don’t fit in elsewhere, but I also see Asheville’s creative strengths as being very united and specific. Music, brewing, and (I might get beat up for this) traditional appalachian mountain arts. What I mean by the third is that the dominant fine art mediums of Asheville continue to be painting, ceramics, and sometimes sculpture. There is definitely more than that, but those are the things you’ll hear about first. I was super excited to see how well Music Video Asheville has done. It’s the only music video festival I know of, and truthfully, it is a brilliant idea to develop a community around music videos considering how strong the music community is in the region, AND considering music videos are more popular than ever. They’re dominating YouTube. I love all of these other scenes, but they are just very different than video art, and I think Asheville is so ripe for it; even more than we realize.
Video art has a tendency toward big cities (like New York, LA, London, Jerusalem, Chicago..), because artists have turned to video much more rapidly than organizations have been able to create formats to represent and exhibit the video work, while maintaining profit. So the video art representation starts at the city-hub, and then mid-scale city video artists are forced to submit their work to a far off place. But if all the WNC video artists send their work to NYC, then NYC benefits from the access to the work, and WNC is devoid of the cultural development that its artists helped create. Asheville will benefit directly by having outside work accessible within its own walls, AND from having a platform that local artists can submit directly to.
What are you excited for this year for MUX:Asheville?
This is the first year of MUX. I am excited because I had no idea how the whole thing would turn out, and it has already surpassed my expectations. We received more submissions from around the world than I had anticipated, and local support has been impressive, and it is only continuing to grow. The truth is, this show is just the beginning of what MUX will become, and I am only holding back on jumping into further ideas for the sake of not biting off more than I can chew in our first year.
Can you give any sneak peeks? (Totally fine if not)
I want to form a nonprofit out of MUX that invites any artists who have been exhibited at a MUX show to join our collective, which will provide for a new media community and dialogue. The collective will be based upon an economic model that I’ve written about here which is somewhat radical to art world conventions, and somewhat simple and inevitable in progressing how we support new media artists. The essay provides some examples as to why a new model is important and highlights a few artists whose work relates to my subject. Medium.com says its a 13 minute read… I don’t know if that is true or not, but the paper definitely sneak peeks MUX’s most exciting next steps.
I read a Junot Diaz interview the other day and this part struck me: “Spend three years out in the world and getting torn up and tearing it up, because there is nothing in our craft that needs to be pursued with such talmudic concentration, but what does need to be pursued in our culture…is a passionate engagement with the world.” What are your thoughts on the tension between experience and creation? How have you negotiated this in the past?
I do think that an inherent calling on human nature is to create and to progress our world through conceptual and expressive progression; but I also think most people are unaware that they are called to this. For me, it takes a lot of boldness and faith to step into the creative authority that I feel responsible for. It requires ignoring much of what has been established in the world around me and expected of me as a person in our world; but the insights or stories that are born out of my experiences, and out my desire to develop understanding through cross disciplinary analysis and patience, are my responsibility to share. That’s basically the heart of it: creation is a process that yields the sharing of experiences, and our whole society is benefiting like never before because of increased accessibility and open-source trends.