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Jacolby Satterwhite at LA MOCA
Jacolby Satterwhite at LA MOCAPhotography by Joshua White/ for Step and Repeat at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

LA MOCA’s Step and Repeat gets cyber-sexual

Performance radical Jacolby Satterwhite and off-the-grid DJ Ashland Mines join forces for a hyper-charged double act

Step and Repeat has been LA MOCA’s series of high voltage experimental live arts nights featuring fearless acts that confound expectations. Poets and performance artists have been jammed together with DJ’s and comics in a high-energy chaotic experiment. With The Saturday night series crunching categories and encouraging crossover, performance art has been smashing its limits.  

The series highlight was the dynamite collaboration of NY-based artist Jacolby Satterwhite – known for his hyper-charged performance and dazzling animated videos – with LA’s legendary underground DJ and club night king Ashland Mines (aka Total Freedom) member of the Fade to Mind crew. For one night only, Satterwhite’s cyber-sexual performance answered to Ashland Mines’ wild underground beats – and the result was electric. As this year’s series comes to a close, Dazed catches up with Satterwhite to find out how their inspired collaboration came about. 

How did the collaboration between Ashland Mines come about for Step and Repeat? 

Jacolby Satterwhite: I’m a big fan of Ashland’s work and I’ve often rehearsed to some of his mix tapes in the studio during my green screen film production. I feel like his way of approaching music directly parallels the way I approach visual art. We are data hoarders, archivists and collectors of disparate things. He takes things from a high and low and middlebrow context and forces them to assimilate to his sensibility in this magical way. In my work I’ve combined lewd, explicit, public and abrasive with soft, melodic, private, lyrical and poetic things. So that’s where Ashland and I match up in my opinion. I love that he blurs urban, pop, Intelligent dance music, experimental, and whatever remains of the avant-garde into one cohesive statement.

Music has been incredibly influential to your visual and performance work. Who are your musical influences?

Jacolby Satterwhite: I come from a really gritty part of Columbia, South Carolina. I grew up in a very urban musical space but being a child of the internet and the 90s gave me a kaleidoscopic point of view. It wasn’t until 1999, when I simultaneously discovered the used bin at our local record store and downloaded Napster. I consumed any and every genre possible, researching the producers of those genres, regions that influenced them, and artists and music video directors affiliated. I also had two artistic brothers who are over a decade older than me. They travelled a lot and shared fashion trends, music, and art with me at a very young age.

Being a child of the MTV generation led to me digesting cutting edge music videos by Mark Romanek, Chris Cunningham, Steven Klein, Michel Gondry’s Bjork videos and Spike Jonze. I developed an automated synesthesia with music and visuals that kind of pivots how I perform. My work is a hybrid of a Madonna/Janet Jackson World Tour DVD and a Final Fantasy video game suite. I think a lot of people in this generation naturally operate in this way where anything can be repurposed for a completely different intention. It’s because when we came of age there was a certain kind of social media and streaming internet landscape that reduced culture to mere fashion. We combine and queer things. We’re completely omni-referential.

“I developed an automated synesthesia with music and visuals that kind of pivots how I perform. My work is a hybrid of a Madonna/Janet Jackson World Tour DVD and a Final Fantasy video game suite” – Jacolby Satterwhite

How did you both work the collaboration?

Jacolby Satterwhite: I feel like it was a very subjective call and response type collaboration. I just stream-of-consciously wrote a long list of my sonic alchemy, everything that has built me as a person. What I think of as a performer; What drives my movement; What drives my videos and narratives. We went back and forth with our inspirations and sonic influences and digital influences. The conversation built up naturally about what we were going do. It all just melded together in an Exquisite Corpse-type of way.

What happened on the night?

Jacolby Satterwhite: When it happened it was very organic. The performance built up slowly, and Ashland’s soundtrack went along with that. He started off very slow paced and atmospheric and then it got more frenetic, chaotic and sporadic as the projections were building up. The music pivoted what I would do with the audience. My movement and dance style became more kinetic and sporadic, and I begin to solicit participation from the audience.

Did the audience become another part of your collaboration?

Jacolby Satterwhite: Yes, the spectator role became more blurred. I wanted to shift it. Sometimes I would bring people on stage and have them perform for me or I would film them. I wanted to get them in an uninhibited space of ‘total freedom’. By the end of the performance there was no stage, no subject, no object – we all became one. There was a massive destabilisation in the end.

That must have brought a lot of unpredictability to your performance?

Jacolby Satterwhite: The best of performance art are the mistakes, the unexpected and allowing the flaws to come in. In order to do that you have to bring in more variables and potential surprise and I felt like I had several guest members in the performance that fulfilled that variable for me. That’s how my practice is even in the studio. I’m constantly bringing in other performers – a rapper or a porn star, or a person off the street. I feel like other performers are one of the many archives I’ve used. It really helps me develop a language.

So what can we look forward to next?

Jacolby Satterwhite: I’m working a solo show opening at OHWOW gallery in L.A. on November 15th. It references really antiquated landscape painting where one goes into nature and makes studies to develop back in the studio. It’s just about the poetics of observation. The whole space is going to be built like a desktop browser and I’m going have several large scale digital paintings. I 3D-modelled this architectural populated landscape like a Peter Paul Rubens painting. Everything that I’m referencing is going to be drilled on top of it – all my mother’s drawings, found photographs and snapshots in the landscape. It’s just about how the crystallised grid and the network is such a zeitgeist-y thing right now. If this show gets pulled off, I’ll say 2014 was quite a magical fantasia.