Artist Series: The Spacesuits

Interview By Lissa Alicia

Can you tell me a little bit about your background? 

Winston Scarlett: I’m a slacker. I spend a lot of time curating DIY shows at an art space I manage in New York City called Nola, Darling. I also have zine that features work from POC-identified artists and musicians. My work is to make space –physical and metaphysical for fellow POC weirdos to unite in.

Anaïs Duplan: I write poems, usually about womanhood or dead animals or both. Some of my poems are published. I have a little tiny book coming out in October with Brooklyn Arts Press. Other than that, I facilitate projects like this one. I find irrelevant ways to put my anthropology degree to use.  I come from the planet Jupiter, etc.
What is The Spacesuits?
WS: It’s a family of artists. We’re inspired by afrofuturists, and soul convinced we aren’t from this planet.
AD: It's a collective of astronaut musicians from around the world. All of them rad enough to let me send them strange prompts like, "Go into the street. Videotape someone dancing." It's funny – I've had to answer this question so many times for various reasons that I've lost track of what The Spacesuits is, which I think is a good thing. I never want to have a firm handle on a project. I want it to surprise me, to let the project tell me what it is, rather than the other way around. The Spacesuits is, in part, an arts initiative, certainly, but it's also a group of individuals who are not from this planet and who come together at the intersection of paradise, apocalypse, and creation. We make sounds, videos, images. In the summer, we'll make installations and play music together. 

Madeline Johnston (Sister Grotto) – "Creation Myth"

How did you both meet and begin working on The Spacesuits? 
WS: Through work. Through the internet. We weren’t really looking for each other, but somehow our mutual interests and intuitions brought us together.
AD: Winston and I met through a mutual friend of ours, Gabe, who did a show at Winston's space, Nola, Darling. At the time, I was looking for a New York venue and Gabe connected me with Winston. It didn't take long before I asked Win if he'd be interested in helping me with the entire project, not just the New York show. This entire thing wouldn't be possible without him. We were both born in the same distant galaxy and in that galaxy, a comet exploded into two halves and fell down to planet Earth, destined to become whole again someday. Or something like that. We're alien babies. We're happy together.
Have you worked on any projects that were similar to The Spacesuits?
WS: New and uncharted territory.
AD: All of my projects before this have involved collectives in one sense or another. I'm really interested in bringing groups of people together on a temporary basis around a very specific topic. I did a performance event with a friend, Kione Kochi, called Communitas/structure. It was all about this concept of 'communitas,' which in anthropology just describes the peak of communal feeling in rituals. So I invited seven friends who were also performance artists to design interactive rituals. The idea was that, by the end of the night, we'd have reached some bizarre form of communitas. It was great. We yelled into microphones that looped and overlapped our voices, we danced and sang, we ate bread, we sewed a giant tapestry, and my friend David put on a blue dress and a plastic mask and delivered a sermon while we all sat on the floor in a circle holding hands. I like to make things weird. I like to start groups that exist for the sole purpose of making things weird.  

Lyndsay Langano Murray (Ripley Snell) – "Appropriation"

Why was it important for you to create The Spacesuits?
WS: We need each other.
AD: Lots of reasons. First and foremost, my forefather Sun Ra started a mission and I felt the need to continue that in my own way. What fascinates me the most about the legacy of Mr. Blount is how easily he could've been dismissed. The voice of a black man in the fifties and sixties who claimed to be from Saturn, who claimed that his people were all angels, would've been very easy to extinguish. But people were transfixed by Sun Ra, which isn't to say he was understood. I think he was misunderstood widely (which he was aware of and which I think he perpetuated in his own way) but people tuned in to the message even if they weren't sure what the message was. They respected it. I think Afrofuturism is an outlet, a very important outlet, for marginalized people in America. It says, "It's okay that you feel like you don't belong here, because the truth is that you're from outer space." It opens up not just a whole new world, but a whole new universe. On an individual level, I think it gives people of color a place to put their anger, their sadness and their need for a sense of belonging. Honestly, as with all my projects, The Spacesuits came from a very personal need – namely, the need to carve out a piece of Earth for myself where I could feel okay about being an alien. And I mean 'being an alien' in the sense of being a black queer female immigrant from a third world country who grew up in-between cultures and in-between homes. That's permanent resident alien status. I don't ever expect to feel like I fully belong anywhere. So instead I focus on creating temporary refuges. Temporary spaces, temporary communities. Residing always in the bizarre.
What affect will The Spacesuits have on its participants and viewers?
WS: Well, first and foremost, our participants will realize their potentiality of being gods on this planet. But before one can become gods on this planet they must realize that they are not of this planet. In this way, we ask our participants to tap into their divine connectivity to the non-earth. The non-place. Experiencing this connectivity will create a consciousness both ancient and fecund, delivering us from evil, and more giving us our skins.
AD: No clue. We'll find out.

London Modular Alliance – "Photo of Humanoid, c. 3015"

Would you mind speak a little bit about what it is like to be a black woman in Iceland.
WS: It’s cold.
AD: Oh wow, I have no idea. I wasn't there long enough. I can't speak for people of color who live permanently in Iceland, and I can't speak for people of color who spend most of their time in the capital. I lived in a small and beautiful community on the eastern fjords, surrounded by people who were full of light and love. Everyone I associated with was an alien to some degree, so it wasn't as though I especially did not belong. But something happens when, as a brown person, you go for a long time without seeing another brown person. It becomes all you think about. And then it becomes really difficult to talk about. There's really no space or context for race discussion when you're the only one who is overtly preoccupied with it. I think in 'progressive' but racially homogenous populations, like Iceland's, not talking about race is maybe considered a mark of 'colorblindness,' or of a 'post-racial' society. But I grew up in family that talked about race, gender, and class almost nonstop. My mother is a radical feminist lesbian who was arrested for participating in Marxist rallies on the streets of Port-au-Prince when she was my age. And as immigrants (I was born in Haiti), talking about those things was a way of making sense of America and where we fit into it. So I guess it was difficult to not have that outlet. Not to be able to say, "Hey, let's sit down and talk about how weird it is that I'm the only brown person here."
How do you challenge stereotypes in both your personal and professional life?
WS: I don’t challenge stereotypes. I let the truth surface itself. It is what it is.
AD: I try not to spend too much time thinking about what's expected of me based on what I look like. If I'm challenging stereotypes, its only because I am what I am. 
What is your favorite piece off of the Philadelphia Printworks and why?
WS: James Baldwin is my homey.  

AD: This one. Lightning.
Are you working on any projects outside of The Spacesuits?
WS: The next issue of my zine, Slackgaze.
AD: There are always more projects. Now&forever.

The Spacesuits is currently on tour throughout North America and Iceland.  For more information on The Spacesuits please visit their Website or Facebook

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