Video Artist & Director
Corinne Spencer is a deeply talented artist and director, focusing on the black feminine body, reality, violence, and desire. She creates worlds that thrive on tensions between the physical and the fantasy and the conscious and the subconscious. Even after her videos and performance pieces end, the emotions one feels linger. Her work, while very personal, allows viewers the freedom to reflect and to feel. Having found the impulse to create art at a young age, her artistry is a natural extension of herself, which brings her to see, question, and collect pieces of the world around her.
tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a video artist and director based in Brooklyn, NY. I am deeply interested in exploring the inner world--the space within us where our outer experiences mix with those murky images, drives, and sensations hidden below the surface of the subconscious. This inner world, this interior landscape is something I am interested in vividly materializing through immersive work that deals with both the body and the natural landscape. I think many people spend their lives living primarily in the mind and its analytical perceptions of the world of form, divorced from the unruliness of the body, the unruliness of emotion, and the unruliness of the subconscious. The work I make is about transcending that analytical mind space and being viscerally plunged into the wet, black soil of that unruliness. To me, this is one of the richest places to work from--it is a world without rules, a world deeply connected to the watery path of intuition, and a world where knowledge and meaning is passed not mind-to-mind, but through a sensory body-to-body transmission.
when did you realize you wanted to be an artist and what made you choose performance art as your medium?
I have wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. My father is an artist and my mother is a very creative, intuitive person. My orientation toward making things was always very evident, even as a young child, and I was lucky enough to be born into a family and community that recognized and nurtured my interest in literature and the arts.
I went to art school with the intention of studying filmmaking, but had the good fortune to end up in a highly interdisciplinary program where I first began experimenting with movement-based performance work. I was incredibly shy at the time, but had always fantasized about working with performance and dance. Coming into contact with different movement-based performance practices was pivotal for me--I found a kind of power and language in using my body as the site of my practice that wasn’t accessible to me in other mediums, and in that way my body become my first voice.
Though my practice has shifted away from performing my own work and toward directing other performers for video, the body has remained a key element in my work. I find so much magic and mystery in the body, especially in stitching lines--visible and invisible--between the body and the land.
how much of who you are is embedded in your art? Are we exploring and experiencing you or another version of yourself?
My work is and has always been deeply personal, though I have not always been conscious of to what degree that has been true. Because I use such intuitive processes--dreaming, wandering, meditating, spontaneous action, playing--to form my work, there is always something of me in my pieces, though the work may not be strictly autobiographical. These intuitive processes generate the foundation of the work which is then further embroidered into with images and ideas pulled from other sources, so there is a measure of distance in the work as well. I think the interplay of these two aspects--both personal and found materials working in tandem--brings in a dynamic tension that doesn’t exist in the same way when those aspects are operating on their own.
can you tell us more about your process and what inspires/moves you to create?
My process is primarily intuitive and revolves around following fascination and the collection and reception of images. Following fascination takes many forms for me--it can be research based around a topic or theme I am investigating, it can be about seeing the work of other artists, or it can be about exploring new techniques for making. The most important thing for me is to maintain a state of nonjudgmental curiosity about what I am exploring. Maintaining this sense of openness is critical because following fascination is a meandering path which, on the surface, lacks an immediate cohesion. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to impress order and logic on to a set of investigations when a new creative motivation is still forming.
As this artistic motivation begins to form, I move into a process of collecting and receiving images. When I am collecting, I spend a lot of time walking in nature and in the city, often with a still camera and a notebook. I practice looking and listening very carefully, watching for visual and sonic moments that strike something in me--the interaction between two people, the sensation of being beneath a bridge as a train passes overhead--and I record them. The process of receiving images is similar, but involves more stillness, dreaming, and meditation. Images, ideas, and, occasionally, fully formed works will appear to me in a dream or meditative state. I do my best to write them down with the same sense of openness I maintain when I am walking and looking at the world. All of these elements act together as different seeds which slowly take root before flowering into a tangible work.
This process of following, looking, and receiving excites me because of the way it allows me to engage meaningfully with the unknown. There is a kind of alchemical magic that takes place as ideas get ingested and then reborn in new forms.
your work is rooted in the black feminine body, reality, violence, and desire. What do you aim to accomplish or deconstruct?
What I most want to accomplish is a widening of the space available for the black feminine experience in the consciousness of the of the world. I want to create work which centers the black feminine within the mystical, the mythological, the turbulent, the joyous, the ambiguous, and the mysterious. I want to do this in a way which places the viewer soundly inside of the black feminine, which treats the black feminine form and inner experience as the central figure and axis mundi. White men have held this role in the dominant culture; the majority of celebrated western canonical works dealing with explorations into the mystical and unknown have been created by and structured around white men. But I am bored of whiteness and I am bored of men. I am bored of translating the experiences of the dominant class to fit me. So I insert myself into the narrative and carve out my own space, and I ask those whose experience is unlike mine to inhabit the work, to do their own translation.
your performances are beautiful, captivating, mysterious, and some are even melancholic. Your work puts viewers in a vulnerable position--balancing different emotions at once--is this intentional?
It’s very much intentional. I am very interested in placing the viewer in the midst of the work in a way that viscerally affects the emotions and the body. I think this is one of the most interesting ways to transmit an experience or a piece knowledge from one person to another. For me, it is much more meaningful to experience a work on an emotional, embodied level first before entering into the analytic mind-space which attempts to solve or understand a work almost as though it is a puzzle. The emotions and the body hold a different kind of truth in them, a different kind of knowing--that is the space I am most interested in working within.
last month our theme was on responding to toxic masculinity in our patriarchal society. How do you speak your truth into power? How do you take care of yourself?
I think one of the most important ways I try to speak truth to power is by fully and completely being myself. Authenticity and self actualization are so critical, particularly for marginalized people, for those of us living on the edge. Something I often say to myself is, “Remember who you are and what you came here for. Remember what’s yours.” I want to tell the truth about myself, my life, and what I see in the world, and I want to do it in a way that is uniquely mine.
So often, marginalized people are relegated to a narrow way of being in the world. We are reduced down to a single, easily digestible, easily recognizable narrative--our lives made flat and shallow. I reject that that flatness, that narrow lane, that shallow water. I want depth. I want the ocean, the night sky, black forest soil. I want every piece of sun and all the darkness of the moon’s hidden face. To be marginalized is to live on the edge, and to live on the edge is to live in the heart of radical, radiant self-creation. That is the most critical kind of self-care.
what is something that people may not know about you, but should know?
This is an interesting question that is a bit hard to answer. Perhaps it might be that along with valuing gentleness, curiosity, and vulnerability, I think that fierceness, rage, and anguish must also have their place and voice in the world. Our experience as humans is made of both light and darkness, both tenderness and violence. I think it’s an important and rich ground to work with all of the varied aspects of experience.
what’s next for you and how can we continue to support you?
For the last few years, I have been working on a cycle of video works titled, HUNGER, exploring a spontaneous, mystical encounter in which I experienced the abrupt removal of all boundaries between myself and the world. This work has been developed with the support of a number organizations, most recently the MacDowell Colony where I created an immersive video installation for the work. Excerpts of the video cycle and installation will be shown at Kniznick Gallery located in Waltham, MA, in Root Shock, curated by Susan Metrican. Root Shock opens to the public on July 15, 2019.
For more information about Root Shock, visiting Kniznick Gallery’s website: http://www.brandeis.edu/wsrc/arts/index.html.