MASS MoCA, Saxophonist Tia Fuller, and more
Discover two exhibitions by Annie Lennox and Trenton Doyle Hancock at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Then, the Grammy-nominated musician and teacher Tia Fuller sits down to talk about her career and what it's like to work with Beyoncé. Plus, the collage art of Kristi Abbott.
>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,
WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture
from around the region and the nation.
I'm Jared Bowen-- coming up onOpen Studio,
sweet dreams are made of this.
Annie Lennox'sMound of Memories at MASS MoCA.
>> She wishes that everyone could have a mound.
Um, this idea
that we don't have a way of metabolizing memory.
>> BOWEN: Then, from Beyoncé's band
to a Grammy-nominated album,
saxophonist Tia Fuller is relishing all that jazz.
>> Many of the, the vocations out there, um,
in the performing arts and beyond
are dominated by men.
But a lot of the building blocks have been built by women.
>> BOWEN: Plus, an artist and her paper chase.
>> It is really a combination
of multiple layers of imagery and papers.
>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.
First up, our recent tour of the Berkshires continues
with a stop at MASS MoCA,
the sprawling contemporary art museum in North Adams.
So sprawling that it's the only place in the country
some artists can show their monumental works.
Among the installations now on view:
singer Annie Lennox's life in pieces.
>> ♪ I've got so little left to lose ♪
♪ That it feels just like I'm walking on broken glass... ♪
>> BOWEN: She is a singer and songwriter
of soulful and palpable depth.
Annie Lennox's career can be easily recorded in awards
and some 90 million albums sold.
But at MASS MoCA,
the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art,
we find her life lived and left.
>> Annie is Scottish
and is thinking about the form of a burial mound
as a space where we, uh, place objects after people die.
>> BOWEN: Alexandra Foradas is a curator at MASS MoCA,
where Lennox approached the museum a year ago
about creating this installation:
a giant dirt mound crowned with a piano.
Lennox describes it
as "a dreamscape of memory made manifest."
>> You are first faced with objects
from Annie's past as a music-maker.
And as you move around the mound,
it gets increasingly personal.
>> BOWEN: Lennox has titled the pieceNow I Let You Go...,
a decidedly definitive title for someone who continues to wrestle
with her bond to material memories.
And what material she has.
You'll find David Bowie here.
And her own lyrics.
There are mementos of her work as an activist
fighting H.I.V. and AIDS in Africa.
Closer to home, her children's shoes.
>> She wishes that everyone could have a mound.
This idea that we don't have a way of metabolizing memory,
of working through the objects that are left behind.
>> BOWEN: But not all of us can be as sparkly
as Annie Lennox,
whose mound shimmers.
>> Annie talked about the mound as looking like a performer
standing under a spotlight onstage,
wearing something glittery.
And that notion of the mound as a performer,
the knowledge that sharing these things
and being vulnerable in this way,
is in its own way a performance.
>> MASS MoCA is a place that people come
to experience full-on.
They wear it like clothes.
>> BOWEN: Joseph Thompson is the founding director
of MASS MoCA.
He opened the place in 1986
in a series of brick factory buildings
that once served as a textile mill
and later an electronics plant.
Today, it's where art and ideas are made,
unlike anywhere else.
Since it doubled in size two years ago,
this has become the museum where artists come
to create work that often can't be shown anywhere else,
sometimes because of size,
often for audacity.
>> This is not necessarily, you know,
a perfectly polite place,
where the walls are white and the light is coming from above,
and the guards are dressed up in suit and tie.
It's... you get to work for it here, just a little bit.
MASS MoCA rewards curiosity.
>> BOWEN: Is "museum" the right word for this space?
>> No, this is not a museum; I don't know what it is.
I mean, uh...
We stick with that word because it's in "MASS MoCA."
Uh, it's a center.
It's a lab.
It's two turntables and a microphone.
>> BOWEN: Right now, you'll find mammoth sculptures
by late artist Louise Bourgeois;
a fully immersive and enveloping series of light installations
by James Turrell;
and more mounds--
these from the mind of artist Trenton Doyle Hancock.
>> If there's anything that's our specialty at MASS MoCA,
it's providing space and time to artists with big ideas.
>> Trent takes us intoThe Moundverse.
The Moundverse is a space that he created,
beginning with Torpedo Boy,
when he was ten,
who was sort of the Superman to his Clark Kent.
>> BOWEN: A world all his own,
The Moundverse is charted out along a Candy Land-like lane
in MASS MoCA's largest gallery,
one nearly the size of a football field.
The mounds, according to Hancock,
are "depositories for memories
and bits of discarded humanity."
For children of the 1980s,
it's a colorful climb into nostalgia.
>> Trent is drawing on everything
from the Cabbage Patch Kids and the Garbage Pail Kids
to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
to Greek gods.
He is reaching back
not only into the depths of his memory, uh,
back to his childhood in Paris, Texas,
as the child of a family of evangelical Baptists,
but also back into mythology.
>> BOWEN: Now 35 years into her career,
artist Jenny Holzer has long ruminated over language.
>> She is interested in the way
that language is read differently
based on context and also material.
>> BOWEN: In this installation at MASS MoCA,
she returns to painting.
Her focus here?
Government documents obtained
through the Freedom of Information Act.
>> The texts are, uh, referring to violence
as a "wish list for interrogation techniques,"
or they are referring to abuses obliquely as "treatment."
So it is this kind of, um, this way of using language
to... to shield rather than to uncover.
>> BOWEN: How political is the work?
>> Extremely political.
Uh, the work deals, in terms of its subject matter, uh,
with the lead-up to the attacks on September 11--
fundamentalism and the violent tendencies
that might arise out of it.
And from there, she moves on
to the alleged abuses of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay.
>> BOWEN: At MASS MoCA, it's a moment of memories,
from the harvesting to the harrowing.
Next, saxophonist Tia Fuller
picked up a Grammy nomination earlier this year
for her jazz albumDiamond Cut.
Now she's paying it forward,
teaching at Berklee College of Music.
In a moment, we'll talk about all of that,
plus her world tour with Beyoncé,
but first, here's Tia Fuller
performing her song "Queen Intuition."
(playing jazz tune)
Tia Fuller, thank you so much for joining us.
>> Thank you for having me.
>> BOWEN: So great to listen to you.
>> Thank you. >> BOWEN: I'm so curious
as to how you landed on the saxophone as your instrument.
I know as a child, you moved from piano to flute
to, then, saxophone-- you come from a musical family.
>> Yes. >> BOWEN: But what was it
about that sound?
>> Well, I remember the first time...
My grandfather had brought me a saxophone
from the basement of his house.
And, um, at the time I was playing flute,
and, um, started off on piano at three.
And, um, ah, first off, my...
Because my parents are musicians, um,
my sister started playing some gigs with them--
she's older than I-- and, um, I kind of felt left out.
I was, like, "Man, I want to..." (both laughing)
"I want to play with the family band."
But, um, the connection happened
when the saxophone was brought, and, and I played a low B flat.
And I don't want to date myself, but...
Um, that's when that song,
the Beastie Boys song "Brass Monkey,"
was, like... (singing to "Brass Monkey")
("Brass Monkey" playing)
I remember it reverberating throughout the, the house.
And I was, and I felt so powerful.
>> BOWEN: Well, now that you've gone
from the Beastie Boys to jazz... >> Yeah, exactly.
>> BOWEN: How do you characterize,
for people who, who aren't as familiar,
how do you describe the sound
and, and what it just means to you today?
>> Oh, goodness, um...
To me, I mean, I think playing in general,
especially, uh, jazz, but any genre, um,
there's a certain level of liberation and freedom.
One of my goals, uh, especially now
um, with my recent release,
is really being able to reflect light, um,
throughout your life
and, and honoring those
who have poured the light into... to us.
But also giving back and recognizing
that it becomes a cyclic effect
of reflecting light and love.
>> BOWEN: Well, light plays into the title
of your most recent album, Diamond Cut.
>> Yes. >> BOWEN: In which
you have inspired a lot of people,
you've been able to talk about it so much,
especially with a Grammy nomination--
congratulations, >> Thank you.
>> BOWEN: But what is the metaphor
in the title ofDiamond Cut? >> Yes, um...
So while I was writing for the album, I was really,
uh, I was going through a lot of transitions in my life,
and, um, outside of the fact that I do like bling.
>> BOWEN: I love the nails. >> Thank you.
The term "diamond cut" doesn't pertain to shining.
I know a lot of people think diamonds shine,
but in actuality, diamonds reflect.
And, um, and the more I thought about it, um,
in conjunction with my life and what I've been doing,
I have been poured into so much, from mentors
and my parents and, you know, friends.
Um, and that was... that is light.
And now that I'm able to give that back
and reflect that light upon students
at Berklee College of Music, and, and hopefully beyond,
like, on the stage...
>> BOWEN: Hearing you talk about being poured into something,
or, or what maybe pours into you,
a lot of people have commented on, on the spirit they feel
from, from your music.
And I'm wondering how...
what your creative process is.
That, how you feel that coming into you
and, and how you create.
>> So usually... My, my process isn't the same.
Uh, it's, I kind of just follow the spirit
of whatever the spirit is giving me
and just kind of going with that, um...
And many times, like, going to check out music,
or, um, going to the art museum, uh, we...
I just took my niece and nephew to the wax museum in New York.
And, um, those experiences inspire me,
and I'm, like, "Wow, okay, there's a song here
that can kind of correlate with this experience."
>> BOWEN: Something visually. >> Yeah, oh, definitely.
Visually, um, audibly, and then life.
I think all of my albums have been very, um, characteristic
of, of what I've been going through in life.
And to me, that's the most honest way to write,
whatever process that is.
But, um, I do recognize that I'm a, a conduit.
I'm trying to be a vessel for it to flow through.
So however it comes, it just comes.
>> BOWEN: Can we talk about Beyoncé for a moment?
>> BOWEN: You toured with Beyoncé--
and we'll get to the moment
where you didn't tour with Beyoncé in a minute--
but what was it like to, to be with her?
What did you take from her?
Because she is obviously an artist,
but she's also somebody who has been extraordinarily successful,
and you can't be without just being brilliant, obviously.
So what did you glean
from that experience? >> Oh, my goodness.
I think... excellence.
And what excellence feels like on a daily basis.
We would be in rehearsals for, like, ten to 12 hours a day,
with, um, the band and then the dancers, the lighting crew.
And she would literally come into our band rehearsals
for eight hours and sit on a stool and not move.
And, I mean, she would be there
really focusing on creating the show.
And, um, just seeing, um, the integrity that she has
behind her creativity
and how she always turns noes into yeses, like,
having a very clear, crystallized vision
of what she... how she wants her, her show to be.
And even, like, how she, um, speaks to her, her crew,
and as a bandleader, as a businesswoman,
um, as an entrepreneur.
And, um... she's very strategic.
And it's so, so many, so many experiences that I had, just...
Of course, being with an all-women's band, um...
And then also just seeing how her process of, of excellence,
and, and by no means-- you know, she's human--
but, um, she works.
>> BOWEN: You then you had this critical point in your life,
where Beyoncé called again to go back out on tour with her,
and you said no. >> Yeah.
When we took the time off--
this was after the four years I was with her,
and she had called back, um-- during that interim,
I just went full-fledged into my, playing with my band.
And, um, I was working a lot, I was touring a lot.
And then I was doing a lot of master classes and clinics
at different colleges and universities.
So, um, I literally couldn't...
I, I... I couldn't make her gigs.
It was between Beyoncé or teaching at Berklee.
And I remember praying while I was on tour with Beyoncé,
and I was, like, "This is a, a beautiful opportunity,
"but I'd love to be able to bring this back
to a school or college."
So everything was working in, in light of that.
And, and after I let go of the, the emotional connection
and, you know, the artificial connection
that, that sometimes arise when you have a large gig like that,
I was, like, "My purpose really is to take this experience
and then move on and keep it going."
>> BOWEN: We Have a Voice, this initiative that you started,
it's really reacquainting people
with the fact that jazz, despite popular belief,
hasn't always been dominated
and created by men. >> Yes.
>> BOWEN: How much have you been able to shift that conversation?
Especially in the light of the MeToo movement?
>> I'm a part of, um, a group of 14 women
in the performing arts,
and we're a collective.
And we're all volunteer-based.
And basically, we've all collectively created
this code of conduct that...
Basically, it's talking about equity in the arts,
in the performing arts,
and how to create more of an equal playing field.
This code of conduct basically is a...
a template of accountability for all of us to hold ourselves to.
And, um, and it's really a rubric for young women,
if they feel like they're, they're experiencing sexism--
and not even the young women, but men, as well.
Because many of the, the vocations out there, um,
in the performing arts and beyond
are dominated by men.
But a lot of the building blocks have been built by women.
And unfortunately, especially in jazz,
the his-story books is "his story."
So yes, this is something that I've definitely taken on, um,
and taken to heart and really just trying to...
Speaking to my students at Berklee,
we have these conversations all the time.
>> BOWEN: Well, this is where we, we have to hope...
Well, we have to hope it's going to change among our society.
But I think we're really relying
on the next generation... >> Yes.
>> BOWEN: The students that you're encountering
at Berklee on a daily basis-- are they getting it?
Do we have hope by what you're seeing in them?
>> There's definitely more of awareness,
in light of the MeToo, Time's Up movement,
which is encouraging, because there's a certain...
There's a higher attitude of compassion
that I'm just seeing that's happening more
in the... in the classroom.
And, um, that's also going to be, you know,
transferred to stage,
and then hopefully all of the performing-arts arenas
and beyond. >> BOWEN: Well, you are doing
such great things. >> Thank you.
>> BOWEN: Thank you so much for joining us.
And you're going to play us out with "The Coming."
Just tell us a little bit about this piece.
>> (laughs): Yes.
So this song was actually inspired
by one of my mentors, spiritual mentors.
He basically has written many books
that have been honored by Toni Morrison.
And this particular book, The Coming, is, um,
a slave's narrative of the Middle Passage.
And so when I read that, the book,
I was, I was in tears, because it was such a vivid account
of what our ancestors have gone through.
And so this song is basically indicative
of, um, the Middle Passage,
and I broke it up into four sections.
>> BOWEN: Well, Tia Fuller, thank you so much,
again, for being here, and it's such a delight
to speak with you and to be an audience to you.
Thank you so much.
>> Thank you so much for having me.
(playing jazz tune)
>> BOWEN: Next, Minneapolis artist Kristi Abbott
constructs elaborate collages.
Built layer upon layer,
her works depict beloved icons and landscapes.
And it all makes for a very textured paper trail.
>> (chuckling): Oh.
Where is this paper from? This is just beautiful.
This is a must, I like this one.
That really looks three-dimensional.
All right, let's keep going.
This is good.
My paper collection started actually
about seven years ago in Sydney.
The right paper can make or break a piece.
Oh, I like that one.
This one's beautiful.
I'm going to start like, a Dundee pile.
(laughing): And then...
You know, it's really grown into something.
I now have big paper, you know, printer drawers full of paper.
I'm like a kid in a candy store.
I'm, like... (exclaims)
Within my latest body of work, I've really tried
to push the typical idea of collage as an art form.
Crocodiles actually do feel
kind of leathery and rough like this.
Not that I've felt too many crocodiles, but...
The biggest surprise people have when they see my work
is realizing that it's made from paper.
Aye, you're going to have to stop me
from going over the top here.
When I was younger, I used to do a lot of jigsaw puzzles
and spot-the-difference puzzles,
trying to find hidden imagery in artwork,
which was children's storybooks.
I guess the way that I would describe my work,
it is really a combination of multiple layers
of imagery and papers.
It's really trying to,
to gather a lot of stories and, and messages in one piece.
My father is a native Minnesotan,
and my sisters and I were all raised in Sydney, Australia.
There was a decade there
that I worked side by side with my parents,
and we ran a very successful training business,
but the artist in me was very much crying to get out,
and so I decided to leave that role
to move to Minnesota and follow the dream,
which was to become a full-time artist.
This here's my latest studio find
that I use for my large pieces of handmade papers.
Sometimes I'll pick up a paper,
and it'll be in my drawer for, you know, six years.
I won't know when I'm going to use it.
And then a perfect project will come along,
and I will be, like, "Yep, this is the one."
I'm going to show you a few of my favorites, though.
In here, we've got my reds and oranges,
and this is one of my absolute favorites.
This is a beautiful handmade paper from Japan.
The reason I use papers,
I found, with paint, I could never really get the,
the fine, beautiful lines that I wanted.
And it was when I started working with papers,
using a scalpel and a blade,
I got these beautiful fine edges.
I have almost an unlimited scope of what I can play with.
Some more Indian papers
and then some more beautiful papers
used in my foliage and trees.
I think the biggest step in my development as an artist
was, was actually, really,
moving into the Lowertown Lofts Artist Cooperative,
and being around other artists that I could get feedback from.
And actually that's how I moved into collage.
I decided to do some studies that were all in paper.
And I brought them into my studio
and I brought in two of the ladies,
and I said, "Guys, what do you think?"
And they just looked at me and they said,
"You should be working in paper.
"You can do stuff with paper that I, you know,
I can't even dream of."
But at the moment I am working on two pieces.
I really decided to look at who are two stand-out characters
that tell a bit of a story of Australia.
You know, Ned Kelly and, and the Crocodile Dundee,
one talking about historical Australia
and one talking about modern Australia.
My series has, well, kind of developed very organically.
For example, I'd been working on my pinup series,
a subject matter I was very comfortable with,
and I have a background in fashion and theater design,
so the costuming element was great.
I was showing at a few different fairs,
and I had a lot of people coming up to me and saying,
"Oh, wow," you know, "This is beautiful, but..."
You know, "Have you done Marilyn
or have you done Audrey or Sophia?"
And so there were all of these fabulous women
that they werehoping to see,
and it really got me thinking, that's a whole 'nother area.
So I went back and I decided
to pick a Audrey Hepburn, and then I embed
all of these other fabulous women
that have done great stuff for girl power
over the last century
within that piece.
And so that was really the beginning
of this new style of work that I'm doing.
I feel I'm creating something
that's much more than the popular cultural images.
How I feel, I guess, I'm really adding to the,
to the art world in my, in my way,
is by weaving in this fabric of papers
and also this fabric of hidden imagery.
I could maybe use the two of these and then maybe use this.
I think that could look pretty cool.
I get this feeling sometimes when I'm driving.
I've left the studio and I'm on my way somewhere,
and it's almost like a, a tingle all over,
and I can tell you,
it's the most unbelievable happy feeling in the world,
to think that I took a chance.
You know, it's scary sometimes.
Actually, it is scary, not just sometimes,
but it is scary to put that kind of faith in yourself,
to be out and make it work.
And to be able to now write,
when I go back to Australia, on the customs card,
"I am an artist, that is my occupation,"
is a very, very cool thing.
I pinch myself often, but, um, I'm very happy.
>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
Next week, we're reconsidering one of the great forces
in 20th-century American art,
Much of his work was a matter of life and death.
>> He was exploring the human form,
often in images of autopsies and cadavers.
>> BOWEN: Plus, Nick Cave putting his joyful spin
on the Cyclorama.
Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.
Thanks for joining us.
As always, you can visit us online at WGBH.org/OpenStudio.
And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
(playing jazz tune, accompanied by ensemble)
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