During March, London-based artist Phoebe Collings-James left London for New York, at the invitation of the city’s Still House Group collective, an emerging artist-run arts organisation.
Taking up residency at the guest space on the dock in Red Hook, with a view of the whole city skyline and Lady Liberty waving, Collings-James presents Pleasure Pieces, a series of new works in which her translations of desire are more consciously submissive than before – whilst, collectively, more explicit than ever.
Following the exhibition's opening at the weekend and ahead of Collings-James' arrival back home, Dazed Digital caught up with the artist to talk more of her stateside experience – and her readiness to being shaped by it.
Dazed Digital: You've spent a couple of months in New York, creating new work. How has that been?
Phoebe Collings-James: When I first arrived, a lot of the work being made at the studio felt very different to mine, in terms of the concerns and influences and mediums. I am also very used to working on my own, but it was actually those contrasts that produced some of the most important parts of the dialogue between me as the resident and the 8 artists who are permanent fixtures at Still House.
DD: How has the city influenced or made an impact on you?
Phoebe Collings-James: Even coming from London, another metropolis, it feels like an alien place to be. I feel so English, in a way I totally didn’t expect considering how connected the two cities are. One of the most exciting experiences I had here was at a vogueing night called Vogue Knights Tuesdays. My friend Matthew Stone took me there and I had never seen anything like it aside from watching 'Paris is Burning'. There were all of these different categories and houses and rules, so much to keep up with. I found it hard to refrain from throwing myself on the floor on the 'dip' round. The energy was insane, competitive and yet so warm, sexual and yet almost platonic in the mutual appreciation. I was told that I could compete in the women’s face category where you have to 'show off the face' though I just wanted to 'dip'. It brought up so many ideas of gender and sexuality and femme which related directly to the pleasure pieces I was in the middle of working on.
DD: What can we expect of your new work?
Phoebe Collings-James: I've been an outsider, an actual foreigner whilst making this work and I think that comes through. I came out here with grand plans of large sculptures made out of plaster and resin. Totems and effigies and monuments. But that just wasn’t the way it was meant to go. Zach [Zachary Susskind, an artist at Still House] and I spent so much time walking around the city, just letting ourselves be led by all the weird situations we came across along the way. One night we walked about 200 blocks from China Town to 78th St and back, imagining ourselves as flaneurs, urban rambling. That's how I met Mario, a 60-year-old concierge from Belize. He and I speak on Murder by Chocolate, a sound piece that is in the show. When I asked him why he wanted to come to New York 30 years ago, he conjured this amazing image he had of Richard Roundtree in 'Shaft', walking through the steamy streets of New York. His accent is so silky, Zach and I were mesmerised and I immediately asked if he would read with me.
Photography Clément Pascal
Phoebe Collings-James: Pleasure Pieces, until 3rd June, The Still House Group, 481 Van Brunt Street, New York, NY 11231.
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