When I think of Alexandra Violet I see pink fur, Photo Booth videos of her eating and singing, the piercing in her lip, ice cream melting, and lambs. Xan Violet was introduced to art when she ate a crayon at age one. Twenty years later she creates prints, installations, sculpture, and performance art that among other things explore themes of liminality, personal motives, shame, ritual and shared experience. Xan is my friend.
She is filled with quiet care, big eyes. Thoughtful and meaningful, an Aquarius, a friend I often ask for advice. Prints of her lambs line my walls. I was enamored once to find an email sent on Christmas Eve called “Learn about lambs . net,” an explanation of the characters in her work. I’m lucky to get a behind-the-scenes kind of view of her process in real time. In this interview we reflect on things that are brought up in our day-to-day communication about Instagram, the high art world, and the themes that exist within her work.
Mad Penny: Do you think there are limitations in the high art world?
Alexandra Violet: Yea. I think to contribute and be a part of the high art world you have to accept certain capitalist values. I think that’s the biggest deterrent for a lot of artists. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of making art for the art world and then losing direction.
MP: Would you want to be a part of the high art world?
AV: I’ve kind of been thinking about that a lot lately. I’d like to get an amount of recognition and then I question my motives and I’m unsure about that. I think I would rather exist with recognition from communities and individuals I respect. If I was receiving recognition that would make my name, my work, or my piece more recognizable it would be easier for it to be co-opted by people who I wasn’t intending to see it. You can’t be as selective of your audience as you want to be. You can have closed performances and closed pieces but you can’t keep word of mouth from spreading or anything like that you can become a part of something you don’t want to be apart of because of commercialization and stuff.
MP: Why do you think accessibility of artwork is important?
AV: I thought about that a lot today with limits you place on who you want to view your art. Sam [Sam Dodd Ph. D of Art History] and I were talking about rich, morally corrupt people taking people’s art who are otherwise moral to a degree and how that isn’t preventable. Especially in art auctions and art sales where the artist isn’t handling their own work or finances because they have reached a certain point of success. So that would be limiting accessibility in one way where you are taking it away from people just on your selective bias. Then there is accessibility in terms of high art and low art and kitsch. I think that making art accessible is in line with making everything accessible and should be put forward in line with schools.
MP: Do you think there is certain responsibility for an artist?
AV: I thought about that a lot last year because it was hard for me to make work since I was thinking well what is it doing? is it doing anything? does my voice need to be heard? But I think it’s important as an artist to be as conscious socially as possible. The art world is a community and changes can happen within the community more realistically than changes can happen within society.
MP: What is success as an artist?
AV: I think it isn’t one thing you achieve. Success is better explored through small goals. You can be successful or satisfied by a way you have conveyed a concept. That is a certain type of success. Or if you could be successful in assisting another artist’s practice or another non-artists understanding of the world. That is something that should be considered as an accomplishment, but to be a successful artist is a determination that should generally come from your own values and morals.
MP: How do you channel intentionality?
AV: I think it comes from questioning myself constantly. Not second guessing myself, but asking myself why? I tell myself every single morning and night don’t lie to yourself. It’s hanging on a banner next to my bed.
MP: Would you consider your Photo Booth videos art?
AV: No, but I think other people do.
AV: They have a certain amount of intimacy and curation because it’s a recorded action. I think especially if someone knows me, they can assume there is a certain amount of intentionality. I don’t really think they are art because I’m not doing them to accomplish anything in making, they serve a different primary purpose for me.
MP: What is that?
AV: Just pure observation and enjoyment which can be art, but only secondary to what it is in a genuine and pure form.
MP: What kind of experiences do you try to emulate in your work—specifically the ice cream piece?
AV: I like to create environments that are measuring time in obscured ways or creating space that have a certain amount of repetition or creating environments that are liminal.
With the ice cream piece the timing and the environment becomes measured in a way that is not normal, but it is still a measure of time. No one has the knowledge of how long it is taking, but they know that it’s passing. I created a space that has a certain amount of excitement because of the the nostalgic value of ice cream and childhood which creates a certain amount of fascination because of the imagery and how it changes. Watching transformation is inherently interesting because the viewer experiences growth over a short period of time. Then at the end of the piece you realize thats it’s melted now and that the imagery is mostly gone and there is nothing to do about it and that is all your left with.
MP: Would you say the ice cream installation is conceptually accessible?
AV: Yea, to the degree that it was open enough and vague to put as much or as little as you want into it. My professors would want to think as much as possible to think about it and try to dissect it. It’s even enough to just look at it and enjoy the image. I think that is the reason why artists develop a certain aesthetic code because they want their work to be at least interpretable or grotesque or whatever.
You can’t really trust what the artist says about their own work and you can’t trust what the critic says about their work.
MP: What are you trying to accomplish through your art?
AV: The thing I like to do most is to allow people to exist in circumstances where they are having a very, very specific feeling or they are in an environment that they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. It’s really important to me to allow people to have varied experiences.
MP: Why? What to do you mean outside the day to day?
AV: When you are getting to the point of why is anybody doing anything than that’s just like why are we existing? Part of existing is when you are having experiences. So having alternative experiences or ones you wouldn’t normally have, not even super deep or super emotional or super overwhelming, but having varied experiences allows people to exist easier.
If nothing matters than you can just decide what matters, you can just make things up
MP: Exactly just pretend! That’s my mantra. Do you ever get concerned the ideas and concepts you put forth don’t come through or reach the audience? Or is it you’ve just got the intention and the audience can think whatever they want as it is.
AV: I do, but I’m also really interested in perception and how people experience things differently specifically based on their individual life.
MP: Would you say there are common themes in what kind of experiences you try to create? Where do they emerge from within yourself?
AV: Liminality is my most common theme. In a lot of different senses. In general it means a space in between. So like after a ritual has occurred, but before the results of the ritual are enacted. When liminal is applied to the word “being” it has a more mystical connotation. It becomes surreal or the unreachable or the unidentifiable or un-understandable part of existence. That’s really fascinating to me because I think a lot of the time we aren’t considering how liminal parts of our existence are and how often we are waiting in between being one thing and another and how sometimes you will always be in an in-between place and I think recognizing that in timing and repetition and existence is really important to understand being a being.
MP: Why do you think liminality occurs so much in your work?
AV: Because I’m 21 I’m very aware of my growth and because I’m a university student that is on a 4-year measurable track I’m very aware of my growth and how I’m supposed to be reaching certain goals and milestones that influence the type of work I’m making. I do think that experience is based on emotions, but these emotions can be intellectualized because of the knowledge that I have and choose to give myself.
MP: What do you think of art education, do you think its stagnating to be in art school
AV: I think the way art school is structured can be harmful.
MP: What kind of environments do you put yourself into think? What creates the most energy for conceptualization?
AV: I really like to be alone, but if I’m in a group I like to be the type of alone where I’m fixated on a very specific memory. It’s like an attitude shift if I’m in a group of people. I’ll disregard what someone else is saying and then convince myself that what I’m thinking is more important. My thoughts become stronger then I’ll project questions onto specific people that are around or not around and I’ll answer those or imagine them answering those and kind of control an environment in my mind.
I rarely write down my ideas or make sketches I just think about things really hard and then just do it
MP: Would you say in your art practice that it happens more or less frequently that you do something without having thought of the implications and then through discourse you realize things secondarily? Or is it mostly you have the intention and then you go through the making process? Is there elaboration that is brought through discourse and audience reception?
AV: Most often I’ve considered really deeply the most minute parts of my art. Even how high I hang it on the wall and whether I use tacks or tape. I think about what those things mean in the arrangement of the spacing and some of them are less considered than others, but I generally like to think I can anticipate everything that will happen in criticism and interpretation.
MP: You did an artist residency in the woods a few years back. How were the woods formative?
AV: I developed my voice for performance. I didn’t talk to anyone for a month and I didn’t have my phone and I only talked to the people I lived with. They were all new so I was able to dissect the way relationships were formed and I formed relationships and how they would approach me verse how I would approach them. The environment that I was in was about not having supplies and making things with very little and that allowed me to do a lot of thinking. The actions I was doing had to do with surviving, I had to eat because I would hike for eight plus miles a day and I had to put things in a certain place before I went to bed so a wild animal wouldn’t come. A lot of my actions changed in that time period.
MP: Did your performance change because of the inherent performance of interacting with people?
AV: Yea and a lot of the work I did in the woods was about that. Exchanging and withholding information and understanding that and the things we have kept.
MP: What do you mean?
AV: You can only give so much information at a time. You are always holding something.