A conversation between Marsha Pearce and Llanor Alleyne
Marsha Pearce: Llanor, how are you? How are you handling this unfolding pandemic situation?
Llanor Alleyne: Thank you for asking how I am. This question, often casually asked as if the answer was already spoken, now carries more meaningfulness as we all endure the COVID-19 pandemic. I am, like so many of my friends, confronted with a roller coaster of emotions on a daily basis as we all practice social distancing and self-quarantine. I just moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in March, from Barbados, with a five-week stint in New York. I was invited to the Tulsa Remote program, a privately funded effort by the Kaiser Foundation to attract working freelancers and artists to Tulsa as part of a rejuvenation plan for the city. The beginning of 2020 was an exciting time of transition and possibilities, but as the coronavirus began to be fully understood, you can imagine how my plans took on a new level of stress. Just as I moved to Tulsa, a city I’d only visited once before, we were issued with stay-at-home orders, which will be lifted later this week [of April 27]. At the same time, I was named full-time editor-in-chief at the integrated technology media company where I’ve worked for the past year and which I do remotely. It continues to be a head-spinning time as I negotiate getting to grips with a new city (through delivery apps and online purchases), expanded work duties, and my ongoing commitment to art creation.
Congratulations on the new editor-in-chief post. What an incredible transitional phase. And yet, you have been making art while dealing with your move to Tulsa. On March 28, 2020 you posted on Instagram the first image from your new body of mixed media collage work “Fugitive Ecologies.” Since then you’ve kept the work coming. The works are a visual chorus of stems, stalks, leaves, buds – lyrical forms with bold colours. I find the idea of ecology so apt for this time we are in – this idea of interactions between organisms and the relationship between organisms and their environment. Ecologies are being called into question and reshaped as we speak. The pandemic has altered human interactions as well as how we relate to the various systems in our world at large. Tell me about your new work. How are you mobilising the term “fugitive ecologies”? Are you thinking strictly in terms of our relationship to the natural world or is nature a metaphor?
My move to Tulsa was greeted with immediate confinement, which meant and continues to mean that I live in a virtually empty loft. As lovely as the place is, its barrenness can be overwhelming. I managed to secure two large folding tables from Target to set up a makeshift studio corner and unpacked the one box I knew had paintings I’d made in Barbados and scraps from work produced in the past couple of years. The collages that make up “Fugitive Ecologies” are rebellious botanicals. They are sprouting up — in their unusual and unique forms — in a city that is heavily marked by parking lots and expressways, in a nearly empty apartment devoid of even one house plant, from seeds planted in the tropics. When I say “seeds” I mean the paintings that make up these pieces as well as ideas that were started in Barbados. I will not use work made outside of Barbados in the series.
In a way, I am always planting a garden in my work and for myself. I couldn’t get away from this impulse even if I tried. That the forms are familiar yet completely imaginary is an outgrowth of my ongoing fascination with innovation (as constantly pushed in the technology world where I also have some footing) built on prior and held knowledge. What can we make new from this thing we have already seen and think we know? COVID-19 is also fugitive; we are struggling to contain it, if not outright eliminate it. Its influence on my new collages is completely overt; beautiful ecologies continue to be born and exist, and in many instances thrive, in spite of this deadly, infectious disease. I think humans are just as resilient.
You’ve numbered these new works chronologically. Yet, there are two 7s: “Fugitive Ecologies No. 7” and “Fugitive Ecologies No. 7 (Reconstructed).” I’d love to hear about the making of these two works – the thinking behind them and the impulse to “reconstruct” the image.
I thought I’d got away with that sleight of hand! “Fugitive Ecologies No. 7” was pleasant enough, but I didn’t have that belly-fluttering satisfaction when I looked at it in the days after I’d made it. Because I am not gluing down these collages to make future transfers to larger archival paper possible (another aspect of the work that will probably play out in future), I dismantled No. 7 to create a more dynamic, lively ecology; something swampy and humid, which was perhaps influenced by the unusual warmth of the day. So, No. 7 actually no longer exists, but on that dismantled ground stands something new: No. 7 (Reconstructed).
Your work prior to “Fugitive Ecologies” features a series titled “Loud Dreaming.” Those images include floral forms, but the human body is also present. Explain the shift from those works to the “Fugitive Ecologies” series. You seem to carry some elements, and perhaps concerns, from one series to the other while rendering the human form absent in the new work.
The “Loud Dreaming” series of collages are heavily inspired by Toni Morrison’s novel, Paradise, in which a group of women escape a chorus of traumas to commune together in an out-of-the-way convent, to the displeasure of the local townsfolk. The women, in their isolation, come up with a form of group therapy called loud dreaming — a sometimes screaming, dancing session of releasing and healing. It is a theme that runs through much of the Black American and Afro-Caribbean literature I read in my late teens and early twenties, and I am now seeing how much influence those works have had on my art practice. That series will continue as I settle into my new city, but not now; I am still making room for the large papers and paintings that are needed to continue.
“Fugitive Ecologies” does carry some of the same elements because the patterns and paintings that make up “Loud Dreaming” are the same ones that are used in the FE series. The absence of figures in the FE work is a deliberate reflection of the state I find myself in currently: rebuilding my life alone in a place surrounded only by the things that could fit into three suitcases and a backpack. Wherever we are, we are creating our own ecosystems – pulling a bit from the past while trying to stay grounded in the now. FE is me, a sort of Caribbean runaway, trying to find a place where I fit. The two series are linked, and yet not. The work to come in the “Loud Dreaming” series, by virtue of my own displacement, will not resemble the two pieces that open the series simply because the paintings that grounded the series will no longer exist.
With this pandemic it feels like we are in a process of making a new world. What can we learn from the practice of collage that we can apply to this world-making process?
It has become almost cliché to say that making is a form of healing, but some clichés are true. Collage is world building for me. And it can be achieved with almost anything at hand. In my case, the making extends to the very paper and patterns that make up my work. There is a soothing quality to all of these steps: the finding of the desired pattern, the cutting of the shapes, the arranging of the pieces to find something cohesive, whole, and new. Now imagine doing that in a very real-life way. Say, “This system of governance, this system of healthcare, didn’t work in a time of crisis. How can we reimagine these infrastructures taking elements of what did work with elements we instinctively know will work and make a new community care system?” It is the willingness to think outside of what we have already seen, yes? Collage does that. And we can do that on a larger scale in the real world, post pandemic. We can’t be afraid to try.
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