Where are they now: Q+A w/ Drake AV O.G. Alec Emery

Posted by Stacie Ant, April 27, 2017
alec emery

"If I'm ever forcibly ejected from a space, I'll know I've succeeded" Alec Emery shares his philosophies on art and experience as a former Drake AV member.

Kicking off the second year of Drake AV on June 1st, we're on the hunt for video artists! APPLY NOW , deadline is May 1st. But before we meet the new class of emerging video artists, we take look back at some Drake AV alumni. Meet Alec Emery.

Tell us about your art background. What are some themes you work with and what is your preferred medium?
I think if I couldn't make art, I'd become one of those smiley robot people you see on Breakfast Television. Some people think out loud. It's like that, but I think through art. It's a way for me to make my thoughts concrete, and it's a way for me to communicate things I might not otherwise be able to say.
Sometimes I think of myself as a conceptual artist. What's most important to me is the idea that informs a particular work, and then I have to find the medium that expresses that idea most completely. So the themes and mediums I use are always changing. I do works in video, performance, print and sculpture, but it's very holistic. And by that I mean, even though they're very different practices, they're all part of one discipline. What's most important to me is the idea of art as a discourse. I find art-for-arts-sake troubling. I also find it troubling when a piece presents a de-facto statement about something. If I had to say there was one theme that united all of my works, it would be curiosity. Art should make you curious.

How would you describe your work?

It's weird. It's radical. It's different. I worked with this artist once, Stephen Chen, and he has this video called “F*ART”, which is a contraction of Fine Art but also, obviously, reads differently and I really like that idea. It's all farts. You know. Eff – art, eff it. Make it yours. That's what it's there for. That's the only thing it can do. Eff-it. Eff stuff up. That's what I try to do. It's disruptive. I think that's valuable. I think disruption is so vital, and it's something we're forgetting how to do.

A friend of mine, Lou Beckett, wrote this incredible zine called “How to Vandalize Everything” and it really changed the way I think about art as discourse. Use everything. Re-use it. Ruin it. Nothing I make is precious. I think preciousness is the anti-thesis of art. Everything should be made to be torn apart.
I think my work is concerned with communication and discourse. I want to say something through my work, but I also want to hear something back. I try to position my works as perpetual questions. Answers are just so boring. It's like “What is that”, “Oh, well it's this”. Answers are such a lame duck. An answer is a narrowing of reality, narrowing your possibilities... Questions are so freeing.

alec emery

What was your experience like being a part of the Drake AV club?
I find it really hard to make work when you're just staring at a blank screen trying to figure out an art thing that sounds cool. The Drake AV provided a structured environment that encouraged me to make work every month, and that's a really valuable thing to have. I made a series of videos – a trilogy I've been calling “NO SIGNAL”, it kind of happened just really organically and I definitely wouldn't have been able to make it without the encouragement and support I got from the other Drake AV members and facilitators.

What are you currently working on?
I'm working on a video piece called “Lies & Slander”. It's all about the body as a site for confusion, and how gender identity and the way it's enforced in the larger society is kind of messed up. I think the ways we're taught to perform gender can be really harmful sometimes, and that just really sucks.

As an artist, how do you differentiate yourself?
I try to make works that are both high-concept and accessible. I also try and make works that are as radically different from my last piece, or series of pieces, as I can possibly manage. It’s really fun, it’s challenging and I feel like the general approach helps broaden the scope of the discourse I’m trying to have through my work.

Where do you seek inspiration from?
I get inspiration from ideas, so I read as much as I can. I'm reading Bakhtin right now. I see a lot of potential in his ideas about the carnivalesque, the mingling of the sacred and the profane. I look for inspiration from my life too, so a lot of my work is me thinking through things that are happening to me, or have just happened to me.

What are your hopes and dreams for your art career?
I told a close friend recently that if I'm ever forcibly ejected from a space, I'll know I've succeeded. I was just being cheeky at the time, but I really like that idea. I’m pretty hopeful about the transformative power of disruption. Some day I’d really like to be part of something that’s bigger than just my own practice.

alec emery

What makes a good video in your opinion?
I think everything should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, each piece should dictate its own aesthetic criteria that we assess it by. Think of it like, what was this trying to do and how did it try and do that? Other than that I like videos with a sense of narrative or voice. I think it’s really exciting how new video art is as a medium, so there isn’t really an academy, or historical precedent for what is or isn’t good video art.

Who are some of your favorite artists and why?
I just finished a book by Mike Hoolboom about The Funnel and it really opened my eyes to the historical precedent for underground cinema in Toronto. I was really blown away by Buffalo Death Mask, it has a sense of urgency and I think that’s really valuable, it’s a hard thing to do. I really like GB Jones and the way she fuses documentary and fiction. I can’t imagine working on something like The Lollipop Generation for fifteen years. I also owe a huge creative debt to Lou Reed, who I’m pretty sure is my spirit animal.

How are you hoping to evolve your artistic practice?
I’m trying to do more collaborative works, two heads are better than one and all that. I’m part of an art collective called Death Cookie Soup and we’re getting ready for some video pieces we’ll be doing in the near future. I’m also really interested in installation and merging video with performance, so that’s something I’d like to have as part of my practice in the future.

Posted in: Art