The New York-based artist Tschabalala Self recently moved beyond her acclaimed collaged textiles, canvases, and sculptural pieces into performance work. Last year, at the Performa 2021 Biennale in Harlem, Self wrote, directed, and produced her first live performance piece, featuring a scene of two actors exchanging non-linear dialogue. Hosted in the amphitheater bandstand of the Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem to the tune of music by a Boney M cover band, the act reflected humor, sincerity, emotional communication, and gender roles in intimate relationships. It garnered acclaim for Self’s ability to produce a short play—and even design the set—as well as explore an entirely new medium.
Today, her interest in performance work is expanding. Most recently, she collaborated with Bombay Sapphire to present “Creating Worlds”—a video series that dissects the perspectives of artists in various disciplines. From a lighting designer named Timeboy to a multidisciplinary musician and producer named L’Rain, Self spoke on camera with varying creatives to document their approach to building creative worlds.
Ahead of her solo show named “Home Body” at Pilar Corrias Gallery in London this October, Self spoke with Whitewall about her collaboration with Bombay Sapphire, how she’s getting messy in the studio, and what new themes she’s exploring in her art-making now.
WHITEWALL: Why was Bombay Sapphire a brand you wanted to collaborate with?
TSCHABALALA SELF: Bombay Sapphire has always had a longstanding history of working with artists from all disciplines—from bartenders to artists and emerging creators. The brand ethos is “Stir Creativity,” and it’s about inspiring people from all walks of life to engage with their own inspiration. They have a great track record of supporting the arts and the community, so I was thrilled when they approached me for a partnership as I know we both believe that creativity is essential.
Over the years the brand has done a lot of work to empower people to explore their individuality through their artistry and our hope is that through the ‘Creating Worlds’ video series, people will be inspired to break out of their creative ruts and seek exciting experiences that spark passion in their everyday lives. It is my greatest delight to share my own experiences with my art and how I work through a creative black with people far and wide that I might usually not get a chance to reach.
WW: What does your series, “Creating Worlds,” encourage the public to understand about multidisciplinary artists?
TS: The Bombay Sapphire “Creating Worlds” series features myself and the amazing artists Timeboy and L’Rain, where we discuss how they springboard their creativity and stay inspired. The series is all about exploring and finding inspiration even in the more difficult moments when you might feel uninspired. It’s an exciting project that allows viewers a better perspective into the work of multi-disciplinary artists through a simple conversation with their peers and visualization of their practice.
WW: This work continues your recent exploration with performance art, which you first began at the Performa 2021 Biennial. Why was performance art a space you wanted to explore?
TS: When I was first asked to participate in Performa, I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure what my contribution would be, given that I’m not a performance artist. I spoke with curators in depth about my practice and work, eventually coming to the realization that there were many performative gestures in my studio art practice. I’m heavily invested in narrative, and interested in the idea of an interpersonal dynamic, so I thought: Let me try to write a dialogue.
That dialogue became the foundation of the entire piece—this conversation between two lovers, who I imagine as creative types. It centers around a conflict that exists because of this stage, which can be a metaphor for a number of things. I didn’t think of the performance as being a traditional play. It was far more experimental. I wanted to explore the medium of performance art as a means to broaden my practice.
WW: What is a typical day in your studio like?
TS: A typical day for me in the studio involves me arriving in the late morning, cleaning up a bit, and then creating a big mess. The mess is where I find all my best ideas!
WW: How did the pandemic impact your view of your practice?
TS: I feel the pandemic forced everyone to be more introspective while simultaneously showing the world the value and need for community.
WW: You currently have a show open at Le Consortium entitled “Make Room.” What does it feature?
TS: My current show at Le Consortium in Dijon is my first solo exhibition in Europe and tackles a new theme in my practice—the domestic.
WW: This summer, it feels like people are emerging for the first time to experience the joy of being out again. How are you doing that?
TS: This summer I have taken the time to travel and reconnect with places and individuals I haven’t seen in some cases for a few years.