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Artist Spotlight: Emilee Lord

Since 5 August, the cover art for my new erotic stories have been created by the Brooklyn-based artist Emilee Lord. A friend and colleague for nearly twenty years, Emilee works across multiple disciplines, from drawings and video installation, to site-specific performance and durational dance pieces.

Similar to my previous collaboration with Lauren Rae, who designed the covers for stories #11-20, Emilee and I talk about the story before it is published, feeding off of each other´s ideas, before the words and the image come together. One new thing Emilee & I have been playing with has been creating a kind of "series" together, so that the visual vocabulary of the images is consistent for the interweaving of characters and/or places in these erotic tales. For example, our "Vermont Series -- Dress to Get Laid, Everything is a Drawing, and Just for You--all visually signal being part of the same world; whereas the "Jersey Girls" series--Sleazeside, Missing, and the third one coming next week--are made in a completely separate style and set of materials, because they are a different world, different characters, different tone.

Below is a conversation I got to share with Emilee during the final days of summer, talking more about her process and her work.

Christian Pan: Tell us a little bit about you. Give us the short version of the "Emilee Origin Story".

Emilee Lord: This may come as no surprise to you, but I haven’t done things in a linear way, or in a way that is at all connected at first glance. I have always had multiple ways I wanted to live and explore the world, and I have had my nose buried in a book since I could read. Actually my sister was a gifted artist and had drawing and painting classes as a kid. I played the piano and made obsessive drawings of repetitive shapes, or filled out junk mail for fun. Already looking at patterns and repetitions. I thought I would write books or music. I wanted to dance. But things have a way of evolving outside of our plans and I was curious enough to follow all the threads.

CP: Did you go to school to study visual art? What was that journey like?

EL: Yes I have a BA in Dance and Sculpture from Bennington College and an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Particular to my trajectory was that I chose to take all the drafting courses through the architecture department instead of in drawing and painting. I was (still am) enamored with the line weight and quality found in drafting, the almost mathematical clarity. So other than life drawing sessions all my line making education was on a drafting table next to a bunch of designers. I think that lingers in the work, although I am not as obsessed with accuracy these days. Drawing was not meant to be the primary practice but several things happened: as I said, I loved drafting, and the physical space and mapping through space of dance and sculpture were not enough - I found myself always looking for ways to have the physicality leave traces. Finally, once I got to Cranbrook in the Fiber department intending to figure out how to bring textiles into my fine art practice, I discovered that there was a lot lacking in critical theory for Fiber, and so I turned again to drawing. That time it stuck.

CP: You´ve said repeatedly that you make drawings, as a distinct form of visual art. Please tell us more about that. What kind of drawings? What do you draw? And why do you feel this artistic medium is so important today?

EL: It is important, when talking about my work, to understand that when I say drawing I mean it from an expanded definition. Let’s say drawing can be defined as “a mark on or into a surface.” Further, I am not interested in narrative structure or representation, but rather in the way one human leaving traces of activity for another to “read” is a language ripe for unpacking and continued exploration. Drawing, to me, like dancing, is saying “I am here,” or also “I see you,” and probably “yes.” Architectural detail and the visual language of maps are often found in the work. It’s a stand-in for human history because we so often contain our memories in the places we live and paths we follow. But beyond that I am drawing how I am experiencing the world, how I see it, what it feels like on my skin, how moving through it changes me and places my history space. Antony Gormly said, “I try to use the language of architecture to re-describe the body as a place.” What is my placeness? And yours?

So I make installations, dances, dance films, ink and graphite on paper drawings - these are all drawings in the expanded definition. I am marking on or into a surface.

CP: Your background includes performance as well as visual art. Please tell us a little more about that, and how they relate in your artistic practice?

EL: It all started with dance actually. And late. I wasn’t a baby bun head or anything. I was drawn to dance but didn’t have much training until college. But once you dig into why you love something for years you see other threads attaching from other parts of you and your practice widens. I am always drawing and I am often dancing.

CP: How do you link your visual art with your performance work?

EL: Performance is, in broad strokes, the thing that gets us to leave traces of ourselves and so it’s a tool for drawing. Bodies understand each other. Period. In movement we’re mirroring, seeing, contextualizing, reacting, being seen. How do we leave a record of this that is a work in it’s own right? That’s the question I have at the heart of my practice. I suppose that’s actually really present in the erotic fiction you’re writing, no?

CP: Definitely. The stories are often exploring how fictionalized bodies see and touch one another, as well as how the reader fantasizes about ourselves, and ourselves with others.

You went to Italy this summer, on a project. What was that about?

EL: I was artistic director for THE DECK, a new conceptual dance company started by artist and performer Ruby Amanze in collaboration with dancer Mor Mendel and myself. We traveled to Collezione Maramotti to perform a new work called Tell Me A Way You Pretend To Be Strong. It was an hour long performance with conversation. Or an hour of conversation through performance and joy.

CP: Sounds awesome! You also write critical articles on contemporary dance. Tell us more about that.

EL: Yes, I write for thINKIng Dance out of Philadelphia. It’s been an incredible process for me to develop my writing and seeing with this particular community. I will be covering a lot of Fringe Festival Events this month and am looking forward to seeing and reviewing live performances.

CP: What upcoming exhibitions and/or performances do you have coming up?

EL: I don’t have anything immediately but there are some long term projects in mind that I am starting to pull together now. With any luck it’ll be an adventurous year.

CP: Is there anything else you´d like us to know about you & your work?

EL: As you know I have this theory that everything is a drawing. I’d like to start doing something with the notion. So let’s say if you want to challenge me to prove to you how something is a drawing, you can message me on Instagram and I’ll see what I can do. I don’t know what I”ll do with this collection of challenges just yet, but it’ll be fun at least.

*Pictured above: Emilee Lord, Untitled Structure 1 & 2, ink and graphite on Mylar (2020). Used by permission.

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