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Q+Art: Performance Artist Alexis Rivierre Aims to Break Black Mental Health Barriers

Q+Art: Performance Artist Alexis Rivierre Aims to Break Black Mental Health Barriers

Alexis Rivierre was busy developing work for her latest project, Take Care, when the coronavirus took hold of St. Louis. The interdisciplinary artist was scheduled to put on impromptu performances throughout her home town when social distancing abruptly halted her plans. In lieu of a physical space to perform, Rivierre took to the internet, sharing her work on Instagram throughout the pandemic. Never one to shy away from digital media, Rivierre adapted to her new circumstances by incorporating the pandemic’s influence into her evolving body of work.

Q+Art is a regular column from NOT REAL ART featuring contemporary artists from all over the world.

Now based in Brooklyn, NY, the interdisciplinary artist works with a wide range of media, including textiles, photography, video, and performance, to create the pieces for Take Care. The work, initially meant to address communal healing in the wake of gun violence, took on added meaning with the pandemic’s onset. “I realized that the pandemic will influence this work, requiring it to grow into an expanded wellness conversation; one that investigates the state of this moment, one of overwhelm, media over-stimulus, and a desire for interpersonal connection,” writes Rivierre in her artist statement.

The main thrust of Take Care, pandemic or not, revolves around recontextualizing the relationship between Black women, community, and any overlapping anxiety or trauma. “Through an interdisciplinary, fractured, process I create visual narratives that investigate the ways in which the representation of race through language and visual media plays a role in how we are socialized in the United States,” Rivierre notes. “My work casts a critical lens on the performative nature of Black womanhood as it relates to our historical placement specifically within the American tale.”

Though Rivierre’s work is rooted in personal narrative, the artist relates her experiences to broad stereotypes propagated in film and television. She investigates how Black bodies have been depicted as threatening (as seen in the Angry Black Woman trope) or merely as objects (represented by the hypersexualized “Jezebel”). Going one step further, Rivierre also questions how we might reimagine authentic Black identity through performance, representation, and a commitment to self care through community support.

In Today’s Q+Art Interview…

Alexis Rivierre discusses checking in with her future self, navigating the world of digital performance art, and considering the labor involved in her craft.

Working with an assortment of media, artist Alexis Rivierre recontextualizes the relationship between Black women, community, and overlapping anxiety or trauma.
‘Melt/one who breathes’ composite

Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?

AR: Art on My Mind Visual Politics by bell hooks, Emergent Strategies by Adrienne Maree Brown, Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ways of Seeing by John Berger, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees by Lawrence Weschler, Professional Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajai Jones, Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell.

If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?

AR: Wangechi Mutu.

What are you trying to express with your art?

AR: My work is a form of therapy/processing, and it functions like a mirror. It reflects a fragmented variant of our daily realities with the hope to cultivate introspection and collective dialogue.

Working with an assortment of media, artist Alexis Rivierre recontextualizes the relationship between Black women, community, and overlapping anxiety or trauma.
‘Exhale (one who breathes)’ performance still
Working with an assortment of media, artist Alexis Rivierre recontextualizes the relationship between Black women, community, and overlapping anxiety or trauma.
‘Exhale (one who breathes)’ performance still

Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?

AR: Unfortunately, I have done this before; however, the answer for present and future projects is simply no. Exposure is not a currency that one can use to procure art supplies, buy food, pay down student debt, or pay living expenses.

What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?

AR: Can we check back on this with future me? Like, I haven't had a greatest achievement yet─I just keep trying.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

AR: Consider how labor factors into my work─where does it exist? It exists in the research and the various forms of execution, and that I needed to make sure it is evident in the work's fabrication as well.

Working with an assortment of media, artist Alexis Rivierre recontextualizes the relationship between Black women, community, and overlapping anxiety or trauma.
‘A recipe: Push Down & Turn/(one who heals)’ composite
Working with an assortment of media, artist Alexis Rivierre recontextualizes the relationship between Black women, community, and overlapping anxiety or trauma.
‘one who heals and The Guide (Cardinal)’

Is a formal arts education worth the money?

AR: Depends. it can be, but I maintain that there should be more art business training that would send our creatives into this entrepreneurial arts journey prepared─then it would be a definite “yes.”

What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?

AR: Inclusion─there is room for everyone.

Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?

AR: I still believe I can have both…so both.

‘Moodroom’

What are you listening to in the studio right now?

AR: Depending on what aspect of my practice I am in, my podcast usually rotates between 90s R&B/ hip-hop, gospel, jazz, or a podcast like: Professional Troublemaker Podcast by Luvvie Ajai Jones, In Class with Carr by This is Karen Hunter Podcast, or I Like Your Work by Erika Hess.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?

AR: I already had a studio practice since completing grad school that has been run out of where I live, so not being able to go into the outside world gave me ample opportunity to lean into hand sewing garments and masks for my current work. For a while, my impromptu public performance engagements were halted due to the pandemic, and I began to negotiate what virtual performance would look like.

What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?

AR: Since I've gotten to play with a more virtual performative presence, I am excited about integrating animated characters, glitches, sound, and gifs into the performative works.

‘one who breathes’
Alexis Rivierre

Alexis Rivierre: Website | Instagram

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.

Want to be featured in Q+Art? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.

Morgan  Laurens 

Morgan Laurens is an arts writer who lives in the Midwest and enjoys saying "excuse me" when no actual pardon is needed. She is the founder of So Long See You Tomorrow, an organization that helps artists and creative entrepreneurs write about their work, craft a story, and get back in the studio. Learn more at: https://solongseeyoutomorrow.com

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