“Coming out Party,” an Interview with Alex Remnick

Alex Remnick’s thesis show, Coming out Party, opens March 12. Alex uses a variety of media to explore issues of identity, body, and emergence. Just months ago, the artist came out publicly as queer; his recent work explores and abstracts the emotional process of questioning the way we define ourselves. These revelations also offer new context to earlier work on display, as the artist emerges from a series of hiding places and obfuscations. 

We chatted about the work before he installed the show this week. 

JY: Alex, when did you start your artistic practice and relationship with image making? 

AR: I was born in 1990 in New York city. I’ve grown up here most of my life. I went to college in Philadelphia, where I studied art with a concentration in photography. I’ve been taking classes at ICP since I was about 15. In college, I was juggling art and photojournalism; I worked at the college newspaper as a photo editor. When I graduated, I shot for a newspaper for about four years. Eventually I burned out, and moved into digital media; I didn’t pick up a camera for almost a year. Out of nowhere, I started shooting again. I was taking myself on these little road trips and revisiting projects and ideas that I had started at the newspaper.

JY: How has the program at ICP-Bard informed your idea about art making? How has your work evolved? 

AR:  The biggest thing that ICP did for me was reopen that door of permission. For years, I didn’t really know who I was making work for. Part of the reason I got interested in performance was because I had a professor that I admired whose practice was based in performance and who was enthusiastic about getting his students to enter that world. A lot of my early performance work I think I made to impress him.

When I came here, the lid just popped off. Performance offered me the opportunity to trust my instincts and be impulsive with what I was making. Now, the downside is that I have to go back later and find the cohesive narratives in what I’m doing. An idea comes to me that I find interesting or sort of intriguing, and because I’m in art school that is deeply permissive (in a good way), I’ll just go for it. But then I have to explain it later and I don’t always know. That process of interpretation can feel really arbitrary. Making my board book last year was all about looking back at six to nine months of disparate, impulsive works which were not intentionally connected, and trying to find a throughline. One of my classmates, Hana, mentioned that she kept noticing that I was trying to disappear or to hide. 

I’ve been using the term obfuscation; it manifests differently in different work. There’s a photograph that I took last year of me wearing one of those clay face masks. Outside of the context of everything else I did, it’s just me doing some self-care, but in the context, it becomes something else, an obfuscation, a way to hide.  

This year has all been about the opposite: emergence. Both in my work, my personal life, and public life, as a queer person. In terms of my willingness to show “myself” in the work. I’m still interested in that tension though, between wanting desperately to be seen, and never really fully revealing yourself. Is the act of wearing makeup a revelation or is it another form of hiding? There’s an image in the show where I’ve taken a coat hanger and pressed against my face. In a way it’s me putting something in between my face and the lens. But it also reveals something far more genuine than I could show if it was just me staring at the camera. 

JY: I’ve noticed that you made a lot of collage recently. How did you come to making collages? How did it come to take such an important role in your show? AR: Actually there were a couple of situations where I found myself collaging. One of the graduates from last year, Gen Fournier, hosted a zine making workshop during her solo show. I found that process really exciting. Then, a couple of months ago, Justine Kurland did a similar exercise in one of her classes, where she brought in a bunch of her old photo books, and invited us to cut them up.

In my first advisory meetings with Justine she said “you should figure out what you wanna do with yourself for the next month.” So the past few weeks I’ve just been diving into this new way of making work. I’m starting to find a consistent visual language.

I’m always trying to find a balance between working impulsively and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Maybe I like collage is because it offers a new way to try to achieve that balance. You can work really instinctively, each piece of paper could just as easily go somewhere else. You’re trusting your lizard brain to put pieces where they should go. At the same time, finishing a collage is a really gradual process, so you also have to plan a bit for the end result.

JY: Right, collage is something you can do really instinctively and yet it still needs preparation. I am curious about the preparation part, where does the source material come from? Have you been collecting them? 

AR: They’re mostly from magazines and catalogs. It’s not a personal archive really. My sister likes to read magazines and tear at pages so I’ve been taking some from her and just sort of grabbing what’s around. One of my next challenges will be to figure out ways to make the source material matter as much as the images they create. The wall piece is starting to do that, because it’s so explicitly about bodies, but it’s also a reflection on what types of skin we see in media. 

JY: You’re also a musician. How has that factored into this show?

AR: Elements of sound design have started to creep into the work. Last year I made a couple pieces that involved electronic instruments that responded to touch. I have a piece in the upcoming show that’s partially a sound installation.

I’m also hosting a “music day” the Saturday of my show. I’m bringing in my studio monitors, a microphone, and my crappy MIDI keyboard, and I’m just going to work on music all day. Whoever comes through Saturday is invited to collaborate; we can record stuff, track stuff, etc. I thought it would be fun to show this other side of myself, and to try to break down this arbitrary barrier I’ve built between Alex the artist and Alex the musician.

JY: What are your next steps after school? 

AR: That’s a mean question.

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