Queer Poet Juliana Huxtable Is Helping Art Regain Its Stride
The artist is out in full force.
For the record, Juliana Huxtable takes care of her people. This much was clear during her poetry reading at McNally Jackson Books on Sunday night, which summoned an audience of the poet’s friends and denizens to the store’s makeshift theater.
The gathering celebrated the publication of Huxtable’s first self-selected anthology of literature, Mucus In My Pineal Gland (2017), which she entrusted poet and co-publisher of WONDER Andrew Durbin to edit. Her old collaborator even recited a text of his own at the launch, after artist Diamond Stingily christened the night with a series of readings. Notably, Riley Hooker, the graphic artist responsible for designing the book (also known as “General Rage” from the art collective the House of Ladosha) was spotted in the crowd.
Huxtable comes to us as a graduate of Bard College by way of the Bible Belt town Bryan-College Station, Texas. Upon moving to New York in 2010, she took a position at the ACLU and supported herself doing odd jobs. Huxtable worked on the catering staff for the New Museum’s 2011 gala, only to present her own works for the Museum’s triennial four years later. Since then Huxtable has become a darling of the contemporary art world.
The poet’s 184-page achievement crystallizes a number of familiar texts, including “UNTITLED (FOR STEWART),” and “THERE ARE CERTAIN FACTS THAT CANNOT BE DISPUTED,” which premiered as an eponymous performance she presented for Performa at the Museum of Modern Art in 2015. Other entries, like “HOOD BY AIR,” contain passages that some might recall as prints at the 2015 New Museum Triennial, “Surround Audience.” In its entirety, the collection is a remarkable literary expansion of what Huxtable identifies as her process of “conditioning.”
In her interview with Alex Fialho for Artforum, Huxtable sites the “notion of schizoanalysis” as a source of inspiration for her style of writing, adding: “I don’t like to present things too directly. I err in the direction of ambiguity in a schizo way of processing.” To borrow from Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the French philosophers who developed the concept of schizonalysis: “Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.”
It’s fitting, then, that Huxtable extends her writing—and its potential for surveying— as a palpable element in her show at Reena Spaulings Fine Art (a gallery co-founded by artist and longtime friend Emily Sundblad). Titled “A Split During Laughter at the Rally,” the exhibition opened to the public earlier this month and remains on view through June 4. The show features a selection of Huxtable’s posters, a video piece, and a flow chart, all exploring “the aesthetics of conspiracy and American paranoia.”
Huxtable accomplishes this by examining and remixing enduring imagery that, in her observations, retain “symbolic power.” Beyond the works’ formal properties (posters, pins, magnets, a film that was likely recorded on an iPhone—all nods to protest paraphernalia), the show succeeds at isolating and reframing certain tropes in American countercultural tradition.
Take for example Huxtable’s video piece, in which members of The House of Ladosha embark on a narrative that traces the history of protest chants and their “connection to call-and-response, rhythm, co-optation, and hip-hop.” Refreshingly, the presentation, which is woven together by an omniscient narrator (Huxtable with a blue lip), isn’t without its moments of horror or levity.
Huxtable notes that political inefficacy formed the show’s point of departure. Amidst a body politic binging on episodes of its own fantastical, dystopian demise, her frustration isn’t uncommon. But what’s of particular interest here is Huxtable’s decision to investigate conspiracies. As she told Fialho: “I think conspiracy can be radical in the sense that it’s engaging or seeking out information. You’re actively questioning what’s going on around you. And even if there are some loopy links and you’re filling in the gaps, there’s something there that’s different from apathy or nihilism.”
This impulse, perhaps, best contextualizes her process of conditioning. Whether we encounter Huxtable’s work in her literary configurations, her visual offerings, or as DJ and House Madame for the nightlife project SHOCK VALUE, we can trust that the poet, artist, and DJ is curating a heartening, multifarious ride that effectively re-centers art as a realm worthy of exercising the political imagination.
In the case of a mind whose output transcends prescribed limitations, what Huxtable will do next is a treat we can all look forward to.
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