The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Winslow Laroche is a Black artist living and working in Brooklyn. In a variety of mediums and with a conceptual rigor that continues to inspire and challenge me, Laroche attempts to reclaim the Blackness of modernist aesthetics from its colonial, whitewashed context. He also archives notable Black work at his blog, plants describing horticulture. We exchanged questions over email regarding art, race, and feelings. –Manuel Arturo Abreu
Winslow Laroche, Talc, 2016-17. Digital prints on card stock, red construction tape, found object. Image courtesy the artist and Motel gallery.
Manuel Arturo Abreu: Your recalibration of Allan Kaprow's post-art concept in service of exposing the violence of modernism is critical. Aside from having an indelible influence on me, it provides a “regular” audience with the tools to analyze the systematic treatment of black and brown bodies, aesthetics, and histories as raw materials for white art. A Larochean post-art makes it clear that the autonomous uselessness of the modernist object actually conceals the colonial, functional core of modernism. As long as modernism’s debt to Black and Brown practice is unpaid, there can be no “art.” In light of this, could you talk about what it means that you make work post-artistically? And how does the post-art concept figure into the seeming shift in your work away from photography and toward making?
Winslow Laroche: Hey, I'm just going by what has already happened and all the work Black ppl have done before me. All of that has shown me that all yt art is Black or Brown face and the only *original* art pieces r the cave paintings. What we are all doing right now is remixes or covers and I'm totally okay with that. Not sure about everyone else =p. I also know that Black art in yt spaces doesn't really help Black ppl combat yt supremacy as whole or Black ppl without access globally. Because of that fact, my post-art work rarely sees a white box for post-art is never intended to be in the white box but rather meant 2 be used within Black n Brown exclusive spaces only.
Yr brilliant essay "Against the Supremacy of Thought" explained the concept well 4 the rhetoric/formalist junkies, but I will try to define the concept over and over so it is as accessible as possible. Language is a limitation. I wish I never learned English: Post-art is art created 2 help Black ppl survive or perpetuate and/or archive proBlackness and Black culture through visual arts. As for the rest of my work (probably like 95% of works I have shown n will show in a white box), the goal is, like you said, 2 rip modernist aesthetics straight out of yt ppls’ hands and remind folks to stay in their lanes. Yt ppl think this is a game of capture the flag. Yt art needs 2 learn 2 leave Black art history alone. Why don't they make boring Rococo paintings like their ancestors did? Why don't they make bad yt culture inspired metal work like the Irish and Norse did? Why can't they make anything without *creating* something that a Black or Brown person hadn't already done? It is impossible for yt artists 2 do anything of value and/or make post art so they r in a pickle. For da Black artist who wants 2 make post art, they should ask themselves if their art speaks 2 the Black community or not. does their art get an invite 2 the cookout/bbq or not. would their aunties like it or learn or grow from it? does it speak to ppl outside of marketing target range of 18 to 24? would it help Black ppl if yt ppl push us into even more global chaos? will a save a nigga if they trapped in the woods? if yr work could be personified, which cast member of the movie GET OUT would yr work be?
MAA: Reclaiming the Blackness of modernism not only changes what we mean when we say “art”; more importantly, it is a way of expressing love for how black people make things (as quoted in your Smart Objects show press release). Due to my own concerns I may be projecting, but the impetus of reclaiming the Blackness of modernist aesthetics seems to overlap with the impetus of honoring ancestors, defending the dead, and reconceptualizing futurity. If this is true for your practice, could you speak on it?
WL: I think the best way 2 answer this question is examine how I process and create about 75% of my work recently. We are constantly surrounded by nonBlack ppl profiting off Black face so I pinpoint a particular vein of Black face and see what was stolen and look for the original Black source through a shit ton of research then build from Black sources only. When yt ppl think I am stealing from them, Im not at all. I am taking the Black parts of their Black face, adding my touch n doing it without Black face. We claiming Mozart these days, right? I feel like a lot of my work lately has been like the movie Amadeus and I’m that nigga Mozart fixing Salieri’s melodies on the spot without missing a beat. Im tired of old racist asswipes being the standard. Beverly Buchanan is my ~standard.~ Betye Saar, Clementine Hunter, Faith Ringgold, David Hammons, William Hawkins.... That is what Black art should be *measured against* within the art industry. Not Matisse. Not Van Gogh. Not Dufy. Not Michelangelo. Not ppl who were making I will not make boring art while niggas were getting hosed down in the same decade. Not some yt woman making work in the Southwest wearing white linen while niggas were getting lynched and Great Migration was happening. Canons only exist as they r now because of antiBlack capitalism and if they must persist, let's at least make them less fucking yt. Is that too much 2 ask? If ppl don't wanna actually change things soon, can we get ppl 2 know at least a few Black artists other than Basquiat and Kehinde Wiley?
MAA: The power of canon-building can't be ignored, true. But ultimately all those projects rely on humanizing Blackness to white saviors, so I also have a lot of issues with the concept in general–especially as black people + aesthetics are always rendered outside or behind time even in the Black canon-building context. The contemporary is a continuation / concealment of the modernist treatment of Black and Brown people + aesthetics as raw material, and black canon-building often becomes a handmaiden for white cube periodization, so maybe you could speak to issues of temporality as they relate to Black (non)being. Strategies of encryption, vernacular criticality, and ephemera production weave throughout your practice to facilitate agonistic encounters, all of which speaks to a time-based aspect to your approach and the results of it. Do you ever think about the falseness of linear time in light of ancestors and peers?
WL: I strongly believe that Black liberation cannot come from what we describe as *art* through the lens of these antiBlack art systems. I do agree that Black canon building IS just tapdancing/humanizing Blackness 2 yt saviors which isn't doing much cause there is still NO yt art person going past ally theater and it does not seem like that's gonna change anytime soon. If they aren't gonna pay reparations at all, a *smaller* goal would be 4 art niggas n NBPoC artists 2 at least try 2 change the canon 2 ease the burden 4 the Black ppl who choose 2 continue the misguided art market path 2 stay afloat under capitalism. Artists wanna wear overalls/coveralls but couldn't last three months at an actual “blue collar”/“poor working class non-art job.” Said this online b4 but I really wish there was ink that only Black ppl could read cause nonBlack interference keeps fucking with Black liberation and Black community building cause we keep being reduced to materiality by nonBlack ppl 4 profit under a system built off the blood of our ancestors. 2 all art niggas: ~U r disposable n interchangeable 2 yt n NBPoC art folk. As soon as u stop performing proBlackness in a certain way while benefiting from desirability politics and start activating their fragility towards speaking on antiBlackness n their constant Black face, u will get dropped and they got another token who will make them feel *more comfortable* waiting on the bench. Success in yt spaces is temporary unless u continue to perpetuate antiBlackness~ Fuck codeswitching 2 help only survive being in the same room as yt n only 4 furthering ones career. How about codeswitching 2 help other niggas GET OUT faster? How about more confrontational works against yt comfortability in yt spaces cause they are gonna make all Black n Brown work into a fetish object anyway? Why not hold up the mirror instead of always performing trauma in these spaces? And time being linear is Western as fuck and my practice only aligns with that cause if yt ppl gonna lurk regardless, why not work linearly 2 be petty so they can follow along while i read them 4 filth n make money off fixing their Black face with receipts =p? I make pretty things 2 help fracture/disrupt the Western canon/yt spaces n utilitarian objects/archival objects/ceremonial objects 4 Black spaces. I know my work in yt spaces isn't radical AT ALL like ALL Black art in yt spaces (one more time: ALL yt art is Black or Brown face so i see u lurkers, xoxo) so I try 2 pull an Anansi on nonBlack ppl with my work 4 the most part. Slowly embracing my work being the African elephant in the porcelain shop over the years.
Installation view of Black Sabbath, 2016 solo show. Image courtesy the artist and Smart Objects gallery.
MAA: Could you say more about the relationship between receipts and the Black-exclusive archive? The way linear time and daily reality gaslight Black folks, and the way we must “coon or die” as you often say, makes me think that there is a way you're doing archival work that differs from canon-building and uncritical commemorative space. And of course the Feed, and reactionary archives that emerge like yours, are both necessary for survival and deeply labor-intensive. So I was wondering, how do you navigate this archival production in the context of information overload and antiBlack sensory stimulus?
WL: Damn, a big question that I don't think can be fully answered (in short) through an interview on Rhizome (what's good with y’all's white revisionism n white ally theater without statements explaining what’s really up, Rhizome?) in 2017, but honestly I think what it comes down to is “audience.” And this is not on some Black exceptionalism, cause I really do think ANY Black person can do what I’m doing, I ain’t special but what sets my archival process apart from most is that since a few years back, I’ve tried at all times to speak to Black ppl first and try to make it harder and harder for nonBlack ppl to follow what I'm saying and/or doing. Why is the FUBU minus capitalism mentality such a *rarity* amongst art, music and fashion circles when other ppl could be navigating the way my mutuals and I do? Can’t speak for my mutuals but I block non work whites n nonBlack ppl in general who turn Black ppl into intellectual mules and I don't answer nonBlack ppls’ questions about art or liberation theory under antiBlack capitalism for free. My archival process is dismissive 2 nonBlack ppl cause I still haven't met a nonBlack person who doesn't do physical or digital Black face to some degree. The process comes from prioritizing poor Black ppl n Black ppl who don't seek white validation as much. We must all coon or die (FOR NOW) but I hope archives like the ones I've been building for years now are examples of solid resource pools for Black ppl who can’t/choose not to perform proBlackness in a certain way 2 garner egotistical mobility and support under this generational genocide. Can't prevent hyper visibility of the Black body or the antiBlack image overload online but I CAN provide roots for Black ppl to see themselves without becoming a monolith of a social capitalist doing fuckboy figurative with mad violent white proximity.
MAA: You're known, for better or worse, for publicly critiquing folks’ complicity in violent capitalist systems. Of course, of necessity black people need to engage these systems to survive, but you refuse ethical ambivalence and are perhaps harshest of all to yourself (though I'd also caution, especially to myself, that self-loathing is not self-critique). In light of this, what advice would you give to a young black artist looking to ethically express themselves and navigate the violence of existing in antiblack patriarchal capitalism? And how would you respond to someone who says “SMH Winslow is doing a Rhizome artist profile, after all their critique of engaging capitalist whitewashing.”
WL: I only said yes to this Rhizome interview to get paid to help survive antiBlack capitalism and to clear up shit for all my nonBlack and Black social capitalistic lurkers cause my real friends and mutuals already know what is up. Also, here is a segment of an answer I gave on that app/site (most of us are gonna regret in a few months) Sarahah [https://yungarchangel.sarahah.com/] because I stand firmly behind these words with how I navigate the arts, music and fashion circles: [i call out mostly white ppl, NBPoC ppl who could not last a week without Black face and Black social capitalists/Black capitalists with mobility through antiBlackness as a Black person who doesn’t benefit from power dynamics like them so I am not ‘trolling’ when I combat shit online the way i do. *trolling* also implies gatekeeping or having power over something or some1 n all the ppl I call out have more power OVER me so I’m not *trolling* n I’m tired of me n other Black ppl getting that forced label 4 how we combat the bullshit. look @ it through an intersectionality lens instead of allowing white liberalism 2 twist identity politics so it slightly overlaps with respectability politics.] If the scene didn't let soooo much bullshit go unchecked, I would be much less ~vocal.~ If white ppl weren’t getting away with so much Black face and co opting our liberation tactics, I would be much less ~vocal.~ If my ancestors told me to be silent during my oppression, I would be much less ~vocal.~ It isn't *fun* putting myself in danger or watching a Black mutual putting themselves in danger for calling out shit that most art/music/fashion ppl r too afraid to say aloud and only say in private. Hate seeing other Black ppl make the same mistakes so I speak up cause no one *warned* me and no one was honest and said what was really good. And I really don't want mobility, I'm trying to make it to 35, I'm trying to see my brothers make it to 35 and all my mutuals make it to 35 but in this country, we currently DO NOT have ANY networks or systems to help support Black ppl who don't seek only white validation and social capital. Gonna be kinda broad cause we got mad nonBlack lurkers out here and like i said before, they looooove rebranding our liberation tactics to help themselves…Black ppl should leave the white controlled art industry, become “Sunday artists” and focus on and building with as many Black owed spaces/networks as possible that help Black ppl with less mobility and access than themselves. I know not all Black ppl can cut off their white proximity in a clean break cause of their location and class but Black art ppl should try to cut out and combat white proximity as much as possible, as quickly as possible. If Black ppl are gonna be in the white controlled industries, at least try to make it ~cool~ to only say yes to shows with white ppl to make money by creating some completely vapid bullshit with performative proBlackness not attached or making something that disrupts whiteness directly with less Western classist jargon/wording. Always remember Black artists: nothing is based on merit in the white controlled art, music or fashion industries and even if you get vapid mobility through antiBlackness or desirability politics, YOU ARE REPLACEABLE TO ALL NONBLACK PPL. NonBlack ppl don’t fully know how to take in or crit Black art well so Black art will always be tokenized by nonBlack eyes. That's all y’all get, Rhizome and the lurkers. If a Black person without a degree is reading this or an actual friend (<3), hit me up whenever and I'll gladly elaborate on any part of this interview. Everyone else reading this is either a Black person with more mobility and access than me so they SHOULD be the ones ~schooling~ me (oh, wanna air this out even more - I challenge ANY, i repeat, ANY ivy league art professor, current art student or art alumni to an public forum debate, I’m always ready, are you?) or they are nonBlack and can kiss my Black ass and figure it out on their own. SMDH (I kept retyping this sentence and that’s all I got.) The reason why I haven’t lost faith in *Art* is because I will never lose faith in Black ppl at the end of the day and I KNOW there was *Art* before white ppl and there will be *Art* after we fuck up white supremacy and it won’t be tied to and fully controlled by antiBlack capitalism and white mediocrity like it is now. Hope I could laugh at and enjoy this interview in the future.
Location: New York
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology? [answer]
Where did you go to school? What did you study? nondegree artist. mad ppl have asked me what grad school i went 2 and I’m like none, nigga. u just ain’t putting in that work =p.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? I work as a security guard at a museum. all museums r super antiBlack n that’s all i can say legally about it. I worked freelance and at a bar before that.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!) omg i have many photos on my desktop, you get no photos of that cause i don’t even know all the photos on it and some of them might be unreleased pieces or scraps for new work so i gotta keep it wrapped up. attached is photo of some of the names for my folders and screenshots from inside a few of them. And also a blurry desktop photo
Top image: Winslow Laroche, Ghoul, 2014. Glass, porcelain dice, air conditioner insulation, spray paint, paint marker. Image courtesy the artist and Kimberly-Klark gallery.