BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — When did you first come to New York, and what brought you here?
TOURMALINE — The first time I came to New York, I was visiting. It was 1998, and it was the moment when hip-hop culture was spilling into the mainstream. The same way that I do art now, that music was my life. So much of that moment was moving through the city of New York, and I felt so alive. I just was like: “Wow. There’s so much happening in terms of Blackness and art and music.” I remember it feeling really generative. And so, my path of least resistance… I tried to go to high school here, and that didn’t really work out. And then, I went to college here. So, I moved in 2002, and I haven’t lived anywhere else since.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — So, it’s two decades. How have your feelings about the city evolved throughout that time?
TOURMALINE — It’s quite easy to time-travel in New York. I’ll walk a street, and I’ll be in the 1800s, or in the 1960s. I’ll walk a street, and I’ll be a younger version of myself. So, the same way I made art about Seneca Village, about the 1969 Stonewall riots, about Marsha P. Johnson, the same way I made it about pleasure gardens, those moments from the past felt like reasons why I was orbiting this geographical place.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I first came to know about you not only through your art, but also through your archival practice, and specifically this kind of personal, relational excavation of who Marsha P. Johnson is, her cultural significance, and the greater queer ecosystem of the world across space and time. It sounds like there’s been a shift from this excavation into the past to being more present- focused.
TOURMALINE — I would say that’s right.I think part of why I went on such a deep dive was ancestral stewardship, a place of connection, a place of figuring out how I fit in this longer line age that has allowed for all of us to be shining in the glorious ways we do right now. I think that is a pivot in my orientation. Where are the people right now?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Can you tell us about your Seneca Village project?
TOURMALINE — Seneca Village was a free Black community that was started in the 1800s, the only place where Black people owned land at that time. And the biggest gift of Seneca Village is happening in this now moment. It’s the inspiration of the new freedom, dreams, and desires. It’s, like, how in that moment in time, something that seemed outlandish was possible through real syncing up, being in the right place at the right time with the right people, in a moment in New York when no one was selling land to Black people. Knowing that that’s possible, creating a place of sanctuary and refuge, and then having that be an example of how — if we get in sync with our timing and our knowing — things keep coming.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I like thinking about what you’re describing as this way of being drawn to this archival work and this ancestral practice and connection, which then, step by step, brought you back into the present in a new, interconnected, embodied way. You use this term “freedom dreaming,” and I’ve heard you use that term a lot. I wonder if you could talk about what that means in terms of your work.
TOURMALINE — That term was popularized by Robin D.G. Kelley, a professor, a historian I worked for back in the early 2000s. I was his research assistant, and he wrote a book about freedom dreaming [Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, 2002], which is so powerful. His term is about that moment when you’re in the midst of a mess, when the conditions are challenging… Maybe you’re in a moment like when Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson couldn’t go outside without being harassed. And so, in that moment, they would sit around in their hourly hotel rooms and dream and speculate and ask questions about when things might be different. So, it’s not about having the conditions be the determining factor about what you believe to be possible, but about using those conditions as a place to launch from and imagine what might be possible. Imagining what might be possible about moving around outside, filled with ease, filled with knowing that you’re safe and protected and surrounded by love. I’m going to use that as the fuel to launch what I really came here for, which is: big dreams, innovation, taking what is and bringing it to what could be and what is possible.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — When I look at your self-portraits, I think about how those images conjure different levels of potentiality — to have these elements of harvest, abundance, fruit, and sexuality of the body, and relishing the pleasure of one’s own self-pleasure with their own body. I think about your piece with the astronaut helmet — this vision beyond this planet.
TOURMALINE — That’s right.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I’m curious about how it feels to have your work go from activism to art and to spirituality, and combining everything…
TOURMALINE — When I first came to New York, I was an organizer, and I was doing work around a whole lot of things — health care, welfare, police, prisons. The intent I had around it was really “for us, by us,” having the feeling of creating a campaign, an organizing moment, a work of art that was also tied into a campaign, and organizing and having it really held within a very — at the time — small community. In parallel, I think about how I love, in some moments, to go very, very deep and then, in other moments, to go quite wide. It felt so powerful and rich to keep working in that way. But then, I’m also eager for newness. And so, frequently I ask myself, “In this 2022 version of myself, what do I want?” That helps me understand that the intentions I carry today might be different from the ones I came into a while ago. A lot of my intent is about the fun. All my power’s in the fun, all my power’s in the pleasure, all my power’s in the clarity. There’s a deep spiritual component to my practice, and part of it is that every person is an extension of what people might call God or source or universe. Therefore, there’s an eagerness in all people to learn, to grow, to play, to seek out joy. So, I think I’m in this moment of learning how to talk to that God part of everyone.
BOBBI ALVÖR MENUEZ — Would you say that your creative process is mostly based on your emotions?
TOURMALINE — That’s right. Part of that means inviting all of me into every given moment. How I know is based on how I feel. My feeling represents the gap between who I really am and that kind of power and clarity and ease and pleasure, and how much of that I’m allowing in at any given moment. Also, there’s no judgment. It’s not a bad thing to be in a low moment. It’s not better to be up. It’s actually all part of the creative process.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — The last thing I want to ask you about is: how are you relating to the future?
TOURMALINE — I am honestly filled with a lot of excitement. I really believe that I have carved out a very lush and abundant, beautiful future. There’s a lot cookin’.
[Table of contents]
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SouvenirsRead the article
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Rectangular WorldRead the article
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The Girl In The PictureRead the article
Words Without MusicRead the article
Best of the Season Spring/Summer 2023Read the article
Ser SerpasRead the article
Laura PoitrasRead the article
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Screen TestRead the article
Puppets And PuppetsRead the article
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Matthew WilliamsRead the article
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Jonathan Lyndon ChaseRead the article
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