2017/18 Jerome Fellow Interview: Joshua McGarvey | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

2017/18 Jerome Fellow Interview: Joshua McGarvey

By Zoe Cinel on April 26, 2018
Storms Never Last Routine (still), 2018, video ; Joshua McGarvey
Joshua McGarvey

In this interview, Josh McGarvey shares his insights into the symbolic nature of his elaborate costumes and how his performances reference both the personal and historical.

Can you share something about your working process? Do you start with written ideas, visual references, material explorations, or something else?

My work is very personal, and I use many materials and ideas from my life. For example, I created 107 copies of the sweatpants I accidentally urinated in on stage in kindergarten and presented them to gallery guests as tokens of my Humility. The gesture questions the motivation of the art object and artist persona. I also incorporate historical references like building a copy of Robert Falcon Scott’s sleeping quarters in Antarctica and putting it on wheels in a piece entitled Parade Float. I am driven by the idea that objects can hold information.

When making work, in what ways are you considering your audience? Are there ideal viewers out there? What would you want them to take away from the experience of seeing your work?

I want the viewer to be curious. I like the history of objects and the relationships those histories can have between each other, so someone that wants to dig and make connections between works would be more rewarded in my opinion.

What is the role of costumes in your performances and video work?

My concept of performance is linked to my father’s occupation as a preacher. He would wear a robe when delivering sermons, which also cued a different persona to emerge. In my mind, the idea of the costume acts as a transformation, or at least I am trying to confront the idea that it does. I use costumes aesthetically and conceptually as cues for emotive, biographical information. In my work, sweatpants symbolize an evolution of personal experience related to humility, but I also adorn sweatpants for videos with sequins, embroidery, patches, and items I have collected. I am always layering lots of information visually, like symbols in painting.

How do you perceive the difference between live performance and video performance?

The main difference has been the interaction with an audience. My live performances have asked the viewer to do more than watch. For my exhibition Closet Song : Whole Milk B-Roll, I dressed up in a turquoise suit made of all my leftover sweatpants (from Dressing the Future In My Humility) on my golden birthday and served cake on the pants as I ripped them off my costume. The exhibition also featured another performance marking the end of the show where viewers came in and helped me clean the copy of my parents’ walk-in closet I had built. I read a passage about my turquoise sweatpants through a microphone that was amplified through the walls of the closet while everyone scrubbed the glossy-white surfaces of the space with milk and turquoise sweatpants.

The videos are a solemn activity most of the time, although I am finding ways to incorporate others into my process.

How has winning the Jerome fellowship affected and/or changed your work?

The opportunity to meet with local and national critics is wonderful. Also, the financial support has allowed me to take some risks I might not have been as willing to without. Like I had a bunch of masks of my own face made. I am trying to work with other performers in the studio, which is incredibly different for me. I work alone mostly, but I am trying to challenge that, so the masks are my way of working other people into the studio but as me or a self-perpetuated version of me.

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