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Reclaiming Female Sexual Power

Interview by Jana Astanov.

[photo credit Laura Weyl 2017]

Katie Cercone was born 1984 in Santa Rosa, CA and is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, curator, yogi and teacher. Cercone has performed or shown work in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum, Whitney Museum, Dallas Contemporary, Momenta Art, C24 Gallery, Dodge Gallery and Aljira Center for Contemporary Art. She has published critical writing in ART PAPERS, White Hot, Posture, Brooklyn Rail, Hysteria, Bitch Magazine, REVOLT, Utne Reader and N.Paradoxa. With her collective Go! Push Pops she was awarded the Culture Push Fellowship for Utopian Practice in 2014. Her work has been featured in Dazed, MILK, Interview, Japan Times, Huffington Post, ART 21, Hyperallergic, Frontrunner Magazine, PAPER, Art Fag City, Washington Post, Art Net TV, BronxNet TV, Abiola TV and Calyx Journal among others. Cercone has curated shows for Momenta Art, Sensei Gallery, Cue Art Foundation and NurtureArt. She is co-leader of the queer, transnational feminist collective Go! Push Pops and creative director of ULTRACULTURAL OTHERS Urban Mystery Skool. Cercone was a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow for the U.S.-Japan Exchange Program in Tokyo.

3:AM: What made you a performance artist?

Katie Cercone: Since I was little I would create “shows” for my parents in the living room using furniture and household objects. I would direct my younger sister and together we would get pretty wild. Then and now it was therapeutic in nature. My Brother always accused me of looking at my own reflection (in an adjacent sliding glass door) too much as I performed. I shot and edited videos on the family camcorder. My mom was a natural “showgirl” (although saying it now that term feels sadly diminishing) and I sang and performed with her often in semi-professional gigs she organized while also being a Mother of three. In undergrad I was studying Women’s Studies and fell in love with the 1970’s Feminist Body Art. At the time I was too shy to perform. Coming of age for me was rough and I was in hiding for the time being.

3:AM: You are probably the best known as a co-leader of Go! Push Pops? How did it all start? What was the idea being the name?

KC: During graduate school I met my co-leader of Go! Push Pops Elisa Garcia de la Huerta as well as Anna Souvorov (a co-founder). Our first performance was a pilgrimage to see Portia Munson’s Pink Project in Chelsea (TAPED, 2011). We agreed to all wear pink and I brought a flag and waved it, it was such a great feeling to get out of my own head and individualistic studio practice. We unofficially started the Push Pop collective casually in the student lounge coming up with the name as a group brainstorm. My Mom explained it best later on when she said Go! Push Pops are “pushing culture forward until it pops.” The name was consciously “pop” and sexualized because we are taking our power back from a consumer capitalist system that runs on the objectification of womens/people of colors’ bodies and peddles disembodied desire. Our collective energy built on itself. At the heart of everything was the concept of “Embodied Feminism”… which we eventually translated as GODDESS WORSHIP.

[Go! Push Pops “Mud Joy with Grandmother Willow” photo credit Laura Weyl]

3:AM: How important is the collaborative process in your practice?

KC: I’m actually a very secretive Scorpion, a loan wolf. I’d happily spend most of my day alone doing yoga practice and meditation, writing, research and making art in solitude. The collaborative work is much harder, and it’s a space where I am able to grow and evolve. Given that our work reclaims female sexual power, sometimes I have to ask, is performance art church or hell? I’ve lost many friends, estranged family members and been the target of personal attacks doing this work healing cultural trauma around race, gender and sexuality. Competitive dynamics and micro-aggressions that operate within any peer collective is also a challenge. Removing ourselves from community and collaboration to the extreme that we have here in our modern culture of liberal individualism cuts off the flow of the cosmic drama. Desire churns the world. These relationships we magnetize into our space are here to allow us to grow and evolve through, not despite, our desire.

3:AM: Where there any people who influenced you in the choice of performance?

KC: I definitely went through a period of being really inspired looking at Feminist Performance Art including Punk/Riot Grrl – Le Tigre, Narcissister, Annie Sprinkle, Miranda July, The Blow, Tracy and the Plastics, Woman House, Tracy Emin, Coco Fusco, K8 Hardy, Lorraine O’Grady.

3:AM: What are the themes that you explore?

KC: Embodied feminism, transcultural folk-mythology, the shamanic impulse; holistic hip hop and other indigenous mother tongues; the commodification of Yoga in the West and influence of Eurocentric beauty standards, puritanical Christian values and community-eroding consumer capitalism; alternative conversations around cultural appropriation; the relationship between the snake/rainbow or “Celestial Serpent” – symbols of Kundalini Shakti and the ancient gender-blending shamaness archetype; the queer body and birthing mother as prehistoric shaman figures. A major goal of my work is the preservation, cultivation and ultimate resurgence of the worship of the Great Mother Goddess, the reinstating of women as spiritual leaders worldwide, and the restoring to sacred status women’s genitalia and symbols of fertility.

[Go! Push Pops, YONI PUJA: Incantation to the Cosmic Cervix, photo credit Aria Eastwood]

3:AM: Are there any artists you look up to?

KC: Doing my MFA on the “Spirituality of Hip Hop” I was so immersed in the Fine Art World culture of SVA in the close proximity of Chelsea’s gallery culture I had to turn away from it and found inspiration outside the white box in Hip Hop “speaking truth to power.” This included looking back at classic female MCs of my youth such as Salt n’ Peppa, Lauryn Hill, TLC, Lil Kim and Missy Elliot as well as idolizing mainstream figures Lil Wayne, Nicky, Drake, Young Thug and Fetty Wap. Then I made my way into the queer underground hip hop/fashion culture here in the city, and was introduced to artists like Cunt Mafia, Cakes da Killa, Princess Nokia, Dai Burger, Jungle Pussy, Quay Dash and Xhosa. I consider my partner UNDAKOVA and my son Kali my “Ocean Teachers,” as both have been so pivotal in my recent transformations and coming into my power as a Mother/Strong Woman.

3:AM: What are some of your notable past projects?

KC: “The Clitney Perennial” Go! Push Pops performance-protest “attack” on the 2014 Whitney Biennial organized with Anne Sherwood Pundyk with 400 other women and feminist collectives of NYC.

Go! Push Pops YONI PUJA: An Incantation to the Cosmic Cervix. Five High Priestess representing the 5 elements of Hindu cosmology poured earth represented by yogurt, water by water, fire by honey, air by milk, and ether by oil over my yoni while I was pregnant with my son Kali Xion in a public ritual at Grace Exhibition space in 2016. We chanted the Kali Mantra and my partner UNDAKOVA beat the drum.

[Family Yoga with UNDAKOVA Hip Hop Yoga, Daya Yoga Studio, Bushwick photo credit Karrie Larsson]

3:AM: What is the Urban Mystery Skool?

KC: ULTRACULTURAL OTHERS Urban Mystery Skool is a new project I co-direct with my partner UNDAKOVA from our location on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s a wellness immersive program combining the best of the artist residency, shamanic initiation, alternative education platform and intentional community. We accept 3-4 artist-in-residence into our 1-month wellness immersive per year (you can APPLY on our website). I instruct PUSSY WHISPERING and MANTRA MEDITATION FOR PRIMAL POWER. We also offer self-studies in High Priestess Hip Hop, Divination, Eco-Feminist Permaculture, Sacred Twerk and more. Once a month on the new moon we come together for our wellness ritual Dream Beat that involves cacao ceremony, ecstatic dance, sound alchemy, conscious affirmations and collective effervescence. In September we’re offering a 10-day SOUND ALCHEMY INITIATION in Thailand.

3:AM: What should we expect from ULTRACULTURAL OTHERS?

KC: Our intention is to build a self-sustaining, mystical urban wellness collective drawing together an international network of radical creatives, activists, healers and mystics. This program came about sorting through my feelings of disillusionment with the New York “art world” and wanting to help young artists not make the same career mistakes I (somewhat naively) did. I want to rethink our reliance on institutions that don’t pay artists a living wage and the sale of objects. The commercial art world is a nepotistic black market that circulates large amounts of money among the hands of a few greedy “White Daddies” whose phallic towers and economics of exploitation endlessly pit artists against one another. ULTRACULTURAL OTHERS intends to generate new systems that work for humanity’s rightful evolution. The benefits of our program include: greater sense of self in relationship to community; a tool-belt of creative self-care activities; a greater sense of purpose, intentionality and integrity with regards to your creative path; a cultivated commitment to daily spiritual hygiene; greater earning potential – we believe your network is your “net worth;” a desire to work together for positive social change; an increased sense of self-worth and stewardship of the earth; and an increased social justice IQ, with an opportunity to reflect deeply on the dynamics of race, place, nation, virtuality and commerce that inform your art practice(s).

[Katie Cercone, Treemonisha DrankUP (Kakey Long Tongue REDUX), video still, 2012]

3:AM: If you were to come up with once sentence or a piece of wisdom for other women to include in their lives what that would be?

KC: Twerk it out! And by twerk I mean “T.W.E.R.K.” thoughtful. women. everywhere. raising. kundalini.

3:AM: As a character in art history, what impact do you think you’ve had? How have you changed the ways in which people look at art?

KC: I like to think I’ve inspired women to be more authentic and embodied in their power and leadership. In terms of changing the way people look at art I want to restore our faith in holistic art – TOTAL ART – that which is for and by the community; interdisciplinary art that occurs in sacred, transformative spaces where artists hold court as paradigm shifters and leaders.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, poetess and Priestess of Impermanence at Red Temple. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She published three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire and Sublunar. She can be found here: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, July 16th, 2017.