CHS Crow | APRIL Festival edition — Wendy and Søren

Wednesday, APRIL did its best to summon the spirit of Alice B. Toklas from the walls of the Sorrento along with Rebecca Brown, Joshua Beckman, Jan Wallace and “musical accompaniment.” (Images: Alex Garland)

APRIL Festival 2015 has been keeping the literature calendar packed with unconventional events for most of the last week and it all wraps up today with the grand finale — APRIL’s annual small press book expo:

Sunday, March 29
Hugo House, 11 am – 5 pm
Our annual book fair, featuring more than 40 small presses from around the country.

Thursday night, the CHS Crow stopped by the independent literature festival’s annual collaboration with art gallery Vignettes — hosted at an offsite location this year — and chatted with poet Wendy Xu and artist Søren Nilsson. What read as a playfully deconstructive video by Nilsson was one of the eight works responding to Xu’s book You Are Not Dead that made up the exhibition. Works by Ripple Fang, Susanna Bluhm, Max Cleary, Francesca Lohmann, Klara Glosova, Aidan Fitzgerald and Paul Komada were also featured. Check it out.


C.IMG_3260 Who are you, what are you all about?
I was raised in Iowa. I was actually born in China, which is something that has only recently started to inform my work. But I was raised in Iowa, briefly in upstate New York, I graduated college in Iowa, then took my MFA in poetry at UMass Amherst, which is a wonderful, wonderful community. And now I’m back in New York, teaching writing.

How’s that going?
Good, it’s going good. You know, I wish that adjuncts made more money, but I do it because I love to do it. I teach creative writing students at Queens College, and they’re great. It’s a really rewarding experience.

What brought you out tonight?
APRIL Festival collaborated with Vignettes, which to my understanding is a great ongoing event. APRIL invited me out to teach a class at Hugo House, which I did this afternoon. And it was really great. And then to do the reading here and to be a part of this collaboration. Every year they choose one book, and individual artists turn it in to an installation you can walk through.

20150326_204718What was it like experiencing those visual responses to your work?
I said this during the reading, but it was amazing and humbling to know that each of the pieces came from, in some way, my work. But also each piece stands on its own and it does something, it evokes emotion, or cerebral reaction, without an attribution to my poems.

And also, on a very sort of basic level, it’s terrifying to inhabit a physical space made up of objects that you dreamed up. But it’s also exciting.

Can you say anything about your work and where your process is at right now? 
Recently for the first time since I’ve been writing poetry I’ve been writing prose. And I’ve been trying to have a longer, sustained thought. To write something that suspends itself in thinking not just one, two, three … but, you know, a book length. It’s been new and fun for me. And I still love the sort of discreet one page, kind of half-page poem.

But recently I feel like I’ve for the first time been interrogating my language background — English is not my first language — and also my family’s kind of immigrant experience in a way that I wasn’t engaging before.

So new concerns together with new form, I guess.

You read some new work tonight, does it reflect that?
Yeah, at the end of the night. That’s an excerpt from this ongoing longer piece that’s interrogating those exact things. And I meant what I said at the reading. I decided to read that because everybody here felt like nice, supportive, great people, and I felt safe. And one can’t count on always feeling like it’s the right audience for the thing that you’re reading. So I felt very grateful that I was able to read something new, and to feel like it would be heard.

What do you have to say to the people of Capitol Hill?
I actually was lucky enough to stay in Capitol Hill last year for AWP Seattle, and it’s so quaint. And in New York right now, at this moment, nothing is in bloom. And I came to Seattle with the promise that things were alive and blooming, and Capitol Hill is really doing it.


C.IMG_3253Who are you?
I’m Søren. Right now I’m a senior at the University of Washington. I’m majoring in interdisciplinary visual art and comparative history of ideas. … I completed my thesis for CHID last quarter. My thesis had to do with food, digestion and sensuality. … I’ve lived in Seattle for the last five years, in Capitol Hill for the last two years. And Seattle’s a great town, I love it.

And my work, I’ve been working mostly in video, and I do a lot of social practice work, and I do a little bit of drawing and things as well.

What brought you out tonight?
I’m out for the show, and to see the other artists, I’m in good company tonight. Ripple Fang, Max Cleary, Aiden Fitzgerald. All artists I really admire. There are lots of great artists, but those three are some folks that I know. It’s exciting to have my work shown with theirs.

Tell me about your piece tonight and what it was like responding to Wendy’s poetry?
It’s really great to read Wendy’s poetry. I don’t read a lot of contemporary poetry. So it was a really nice. It took me to a new place, got me thinking in a new way. I really like the way Wendy deals with language.

The video was really fun to make. It took me about two or three days to make. It involves a lot of my favorite songs right now. And it involves the work of LaTurbo Avedon, who’s a sort of net artist based out of LA. And most of the songs are remixes that are done by LaTurbo of top-40 songs. And I’m just singing along. I love those songs.

20150326_202925 (1)How did it feel having your body being exposed on a looping video, sitting back there running, while you were here hanging out in the space?
So in the video I’m in my underwear, and I’m almost naked. It was really nerve-racking.

I’ve been looking at a lot of art by what have been called digi-feminism, or web-feminism, [artists]. And a lot of that work, specifically the show called Body Anxiety — — which came out in January … a lot of those artists deal with representations of bodies and kind of the politics of representation. I don’t know, I feel like that’s a really important issue. And I think I sort of had that on my mind while I was making this work.

And so while it’s nerve-wracking to expose my naked body, it’s also sort of empowering

Empowering maybe to exert control over your ability to be put that out there?
Yeah, and exerting control over how my body looks, as opposed to standards. Obviously representations of women are very charged and that’s a big issue, and women’s bodies are often sexualized. I am a man. So that’s a very different political situation. But I think — I’m a gay man — there are also standards about gay men’s bodies and I think there’s an interesting dialogue to think about, for sure.

Can you say more about the social practice work that you do, what that is?
I’m not a “maker,” as they say, I don’t make objects all the time. I work with groups of people, facilitate experiences, or stage interventions, hoping to bring a critical awareness to certain situations. It’s fun.

Is there an example of work like that you’ve done recently?
I did a piece a while ago, it was called “Facilitated Frolicking.” And I set up a station, on UW campus in fact. It may have been during finals week. And it was a sunny day. I got people to stop what they were doing and sort of prance around with me with colorful sheets, which were actually featured in my video today — those very same sheets. It was fun. I like having fun. A lot of my work is about having fun, or involves having fun.

What do you have to say to the people of Capitol Hill?
Keep on truckin’ folks. Keep it together people. You hear a lot of [talking], a lot of people: ‘It’s changing, it’s changing.’ And, like, that’s cool, you know. I think we can still — the community is so strong in Seattle.

I’m from Utah. And I moved to Seattle and learned a whole lot of stuff from folks who have been through a lot. Like queer folks. And I think the queer community on Capitol Hill, we got this, we’ll be good.

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