Artist Kevin Beasley Talks 'Black Rocker,' His One-Night-Only Sound Installation Debuting at the DMA

Renowned multi-medium artist Kevin Beasley's CV reads like a solid career's worth of exhibitions and achievements, complete with an exemplary eduction as its foundation. Except, Beasley's only been at this thing for roughly nine years. His future is exceedingly bright, and gaping. This evening Beasley will debut a new, site-specific work entitled Black Rocker. This interactive sound performance piece, commissioned by the Dallas Museum of Art, and part of Dallas' inaugural arts and music festival SOLUNA, centers on the physicality of sound and its nuanced acoustical relationship with(in) space and time, underpinned, too, by an examination and celebration of "Blackness" in America. The Black Rocker installation will be activated between 6 pm and midnight in the DMA's atrium. In anticipation of this evening's debut, we sat down with Beasley to gain some insight on this exciting new commission.

What can audiences expect with Black Rocker? I kind of framed the evening under this title Black Rocker, which comes from a premise to think about music, to think about sound, to think about "Blackness," in an abstract way. But also for me, which is kind of comical, whenever I'm making a work, or I'm addressing something that's sound-based, I'm always thinking about what's necessary--what's urgent. And what was urgent for me, at the time, was having this moment of reflection, to stop and think about the context I'm in. Like really basic existence. I'm curious what's generative about that, and how that's activated. So, for Black Rocker, the [DMA] space from 6 [p.m.] to midnight will be in this sort of contemplative state.

How would you say these concepts and aims tie in with the theme of Blackness that you mentioned? When I think about Blackness, I think of aesthetics and I also think about stereotypes. The stereotypes are in some way something we all understand and gravitate towards. I'm not interested in stereotypes because they leave out things that are very essential to an experience of a human being. So, it's taking Blackness as a premise and understanding what it is to be just a person in the world. Blackness is very amorphous. It can be something that we haven't experienced before. In how it evolves and how these different thoughts and notions of what is Blackness can be redefined. What's essential is that the experience being created is one that connects to people.

Is Black Rocker somewhat occasioned by the current racial issues facing America--the idea of a police-state, the rampant prejudices we're witnessing, etc? It's kind of present. It's always there. I'm really conscious of the way we speak around these things. I'm also hesitant to make declarative statements because there's always a lot of complexity to how one instance turns into the other. For this work, it's a space for me to think about a lot of these things--to raise more questions, to further develop a language around it that maybe just about having an experience of something and saying "OK, maybe I have a better perspective of what can be called or defined as Blackness, because here's a black artist making this kind of work." Maybe that can set a precedent in some way. Like how Neil deGrasse Tyson talked about role models. He said that if he had looked for a role model of what he wanted to be he wouldn't have become an astrophysicist, because he didn't see any black astrophysicists. But by him becoming an astrophysicist and taking this path of a really intelligent black male, then he ends up becoming the example he wanted to find. So then being an astrophysicist also becomes part of Blackness.

What I'm trying to do is process: how do I approach this conversation?

What do you see as the aim, function, or purpose of your sound-art specifically, whether that be abstract or concrete? I always feel like it's another way of me considering context. A lot of my work is about a curiosity of why I as an individual do things that I do, why do people react and respond the way that they do, and how those actions affect my surrounding. Sound is just another way that I know of to process the world. Part of it is that within the constant re-contextualizing of objects you gain some type of perspective about what something is, what its implications are. That recognition alone can generate an experience, the creation of a conversation. That's important to the work. That's why I share it.

For audiences who are unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your sound-art or your art in general? I think it's a very nuanced inquiry of our bodies and the way we use them, and the way we interact with the world. My curiosity with sound is another form that complicates what those answers could be. It raises more questions than it gives answers.

What do you see as the future directions that sound-art needs to explore and also retreat from? From my perspective, what I have found to be the most generative is the contextualizing of these "moments," these performances, and the music itself. By which I mean the way they reach the public. There's something about being booked as a musician vs working with a venue or institution, and I think the approach in that can help facilitate the reception of whatever these sounds are. Changing the context [of the performance] changes everything.

For musicians, it's usually a standard stage, theater-style performance. And I think when musicians are performing in an art context, or a context that has yet to be labeled, that you find that the way the music is approached, the relationship to the audience, and the reception of that has some flexibility in terms of changing. Which I think really informs the music and how one performs and how their bodies are implicated. For example, Albert Ayler used to talk about why he would not perform at spots like The Village Vanguard--and that's a big, classic jazz spot. He said that there was something about that space that was not conducive to listening, but, instead, conducive to a social experience. Things like the clinking of glasses and the pouring of drinks were distractions to him.

See Black Rocker from 6 p.m. - midnight Friday night at the Dallas Museum of Art, as part of Late Nights. Admission is Free.

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