This interview, between Noah Becker and artist Jason Derek North, was originally published in Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art.
I spoke to artist Jason Derek North who recently participated in Satellite Art Fair, Miami. Publisher Charlene Stevens’ popular art magazine Arcade Project was a sponsor at the event which took place during Art Basel week 2018.
Noah Becker: What does entertainment mean to you?
Jason Derek North: Well that’s a big one!! As a whole I would say entertainment is an immense multifaceted beast. I’ve been entertaining my family and close circle since I could walk. So for me there’s a sense of selflessness in the giving of joy to my audience. But let’s be real for a second, performers perform for themselves because they HAVE to. Entertainment transports and allows us all to escape into other worlds and scenarios, some not earthly possibly. But most importantly entertainment should make us feel something, anything. Love, nostalgia, lust, shock, disgust, connectedness – the emotional destination through entertainment is limitless.
NB: You studied fine arts at Pratt, what aspect of photography changed for you as a result of attending Pratt, what was the breakthrough moment?
JDN: Pratt Institute was where I truly discovered photography. I always had an interest in high school but not the opportunity to explore the darkroom. I started my degree in Fine Arts knowing I would find the medium that spoke to me the strongest through trying everything. Keith Sandman was my first photo professor at Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute which is a sister satellite to Pratt. Lesser known fact, I really love science and the marriage of aesthetics and chemistry in the darkroom sealed the deal for me.
NB: What does the term “art” mean to you?
JDN: Another big one!! Again like entertainment I staunchly believe art should makes us feel. And unless words are your medium I don’t want to have to read a several paragraph thesis explaining a demure work to imbue it with meaning. Don’t get me wrong conceptual art can be incredible but for me a statement about visual works should create more layers of depth and understanding of an already provocative aesthetically powerful piece that can stand alone sans explanation. Show, don’t tell 😉
NB: You really transform space, tell me about your approach to set production?
JDN: Thank you!! My aesthetic tends to lean towards sexy immersive inviting environments, with a drizzle of unease. I was blessed to be a part of the Sleep No More family in New York for several years and learned so much about transforming space and transporting participants. I believe the days of confining an audience to a seat has been ushering to the sidelines much in thanks to productions like SNM. I want my audience to HAVE to interact with the sets I create. Something will brush your shoulder, you may get wet, wear white or dry clean only at your own risk. An audience plays an intrinsic role in any production and I want their participation in crafting the whole experience. No one has ever seen that 4th wall so let’s stop pretending it’s there.
NB: You have that wonderful sensibility between theater and film, photography and performance. Is there a moment when you decide which aspect of your varied skill set is put into use while making art?
JDN: Thank you again! Well honestly I pull from all of the tools in my tool chest. Photography trained my eye and detail to composition, and then my years in production showed me just how many little parts need to come together to complete a large-scale vision. I’ve been collecting skills for years now, and for a long time wasn’t sure that my darting interests would add up to anything. But there was this moment this past year when the curtain was lifted and it all made sense to me that the culmination of these skills have prepared me for producing and creating experiences through art and entertainment.
NB: How do you come up with ideas? I’m assuming it springs from your involvement and in real time situations. Is there an intent there or is it less of a search for meaning and more experiential?
JDN: I’m constantly inspired by the incredible mega talented humans I’m blessed to call my community. And New Orleans is a sweet hot nurturing incubator for creativity, if you treat her right 😉 I do draw a lot of my inspiration from what’s going on in the world, but more so what’s present for myself and peers on a day to day. I think we’ve all experienced the power of work that comes from the heart and soul of its creator, spoken out of their truth unabashedly unafraid. I try to make work that shares my experiences and specific perspective in this life, and I find the more honest the stronger people connect and relate to the work and see themselves in it.
NB: Where is the intersection of drag and performance art for you? Leigh Bowery comes to mind but he was also specifically about fashion as opposed to being strictly about performance – difficult to define. Do you think about fashion and performance in that sense or is it kind of a mixing pot of influences and styles?
JDN: Well I’d like to start by saying I do not consider myself to have the privilege of being regarded as a Drag Queen. I have the utmost respect for all the queens and kings out there putting in ceaseless hours and dollars into their personas, costumes, numbers, make up. I’d say I’m still a baby in comparison to the dedicated relentless talent out there. Drag to me is the personification of living one’s truth above all else. I spent a year shooting drag performances building up a portfolio to show at Art Basel Miami. The images I was rewarded with are stunning, but the true gift was being present to these performers baring it all. That experience cranked the volume on that little nagging voice I’d been quelling for years, the one that had been speaking MY truth, GET ON STAGE!! And I was granted that opportunity from a now dear friend and collaborator Lady Lucerne who took a chance on me.
Intersection perfectly describes what I’ve witnessed blossoming in drag, performance and art down here in New Orleans. These communities seem to be bleeding into each other and the result of these combined forces is extremely titillating!!
Fashion and entertainment are like Siamese twins. Fashion facilitates fantasy, making it tangible, accessible and transformative. We can emulate our idols though fashion, become a completely different anyone we want. What you put on and in your body 100% affects how we feel and who we are in the world, and the people in it.
NB: So Satellite Art Show at Art Basel Miami 2018, what did that entail and what’s next?
JDN: I’ve had a busy year and reached out to Brian Andrew Whiteley, founder of Satellite and a good friend, and said I’ve been performing a lot this year and don’t have a body of work to exhibit other than my own but would love to come support. His response, “Please come run my bar and make it amazing.” So I happily accepted as Ive had a concept for a bar and cabaret space brewing for a few years now. Thus the actualization of Spicy Curtains Bar Cabaret & Boudoir!!! I had the pleasure of teaming up with Charlene Stevens of Arcade Project and New Orleans Rum Company who both sponsored our installation in a 40 ft shipping container. Arcade Project had a gorgeous vision for an outdoor lounge and photo studio set up with the incredible photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel. His brilliant work and our installation was just featured on World of Wonder!!
As to what’s next, no rest for the wicked as they say. I’ve just accepted the role of Special Projects Director with Satellite Art Show and we are taking on Austin TX at SXSW in March. Currently preparing a two act immersive performance art play I’m developing with Brooke Sauvage, a writer, clothing designer and ride or die bae. Still in the early stages but we are tackling the concepts of fear vs love, the end of the world, cosmic existentialism and the vices and distractions we all drown ourselves in unearthing our personal truths.