Interview with Artist Shiloh Ashley: On Constructing Language, Relationships, & Identity

Shiloh AshleyIntermedia Grad Student Shiloh Ashley has been hard at work preparing for their thesis show, including the arduous task of constructing their own language. Our Art Editor, Regan Henley was lucky enough to get some time with Shiloh to talk about this process and see what exactly this whole project entails.


Regan Henley: So, my understanding is that you are creating your own language as part of your thesis. Can you speak a little about that?

Shiloh Ashley: I am very interested in languages, codes, puzzles, and games, and the ways in which these things intersect during play. I wanted to deepen my knowledge and expand my understanding of the how language, codes, puzzles, and games influence communication and interpersonal relationships. I felt that the best way to investigate the dynamics between the intersections of those elements and how they lead to transformation would be to create my own language.

RH: This project is obviously a huge undertaking. What has been your process throughout this work? Have you been following some outline for creating language or is it more of an intuitive task?

SA: I am working intuitively with a plan of action, which means that I set aside time to focus on only writing, only music, only building, etc., and the work develops from there. It helps me to corral my thoughts but not limit them too much to a set of expectations as I find art has a way of making itself regardless of what, I, as the artist think it should be.

RH: Has language always had an important element in your work, or is this a more recent fascination of yours?

SA: Language has been a constant in my work.

Language is important to me because I believe languages are adventurous journeys to new worlds, not just verbal or gestural languages, but also languages like mathematics, coding, and the use of acronyms in cyberspace. There are many different ways to say the same thing, there are similar ways to say different things, and too many ways to say the wrong thing.

RH: Do you think language plays an important role in defining personal identity to you? And if so, what are you saying in creating your own?

SA: I grew up in a multilingual setting. My family is Lakota from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, and so I grew up around English and Lakota. I got in trouble in first grade for coloring out of the lines on a picture of a pig that we were going to cut out and put on a wall. In protest of getting reprimanded by the teacher, I called her a name in Lakota and was sent to the principal’s office. I learned that there was a lot of power in terms of what is said, who is saying it, and who what is being said is being said to.

Also around that time, my parents worked at a summer camp along the Missouri River, and the majority of the counselors were international coming from Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Australia, Jordan, and Japan. It exposed me to the world in a way that still informs my curiosity about people and how lives are lived across the globe.

Outside of those experiences, I took a couple years of Spanish, learned to read music, became interested in technology, and am learning to code.

I have in the last year started to learn Lakota. The extent of my knowledge comes from language used in ceremony and things I remember from my aunts and uncles. My parents spoke mostly English. It is important for me to reconnect with the language of my people because it connects me to who I am, where I come from, and the values of my people. All of these languages are important to me because they help me understand and process the world. I am creating my own language because I feel a responsibility to communicate sincerely with the world in an attempt to join in on the conversations that address issues related to our planet and the future of humanity.

RH: The idea of ceremony definitely seems present in how you construct language. Last semester I got to see you do a performance art piece at a live art platform in which you used audience participation and line dancing to teach participants your new language. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

SA: Line dances and dance crazes interest me because they facilitate space for temporary communities to come together for about five minutes to just have a good time. Momentarily, race, sex, class, gender, politics, and prejudice are suspended, and people just dance. There are other ways of looking at it, but I am focusing on work that brings people together, and I felt like the line dance was a good way to integrate learning, performance, and participation into the work.

RH: Will you be following this line of thought (doing any more line dancing/performative elements) in your thesis show?

SA: I sure hope so! Bring your dancing shoes just in case.

RH: This work has definitely been a long time coming for you, given your background and experiences it seems. What have you learned throughout this process?

SA: The most helpful thing I’ve learned is about having the patience to allow space for the work to evolve and to trust that it will eventually come to make some sort of sense. It is new territory, and I am very excited about the process moving toward thesis show as I am approaching the work in a more focused manner now that the foundations of the language have been established.

RH: Last but not least, where can we see you and your work?

SA: You can find my work in progress website from 2010 at www.shilohashley.com, updates coming soon. I post images of my process on Instagram (@shilohmfa) and if you are into music you can check out my band, Ashley at https://soundcloud.com/ashley-musicaz.

Shiloh’s Thesis Show with open at ASU Step Gallery in Grant Street Studios on April 1st.

 

 

Guest Blog Post: Dixie Salazar

Dixie SalazarBeing both a writer and an artist, I often get the question of how can you switch from one medium to the other? To be honest, I don’t consider that I’m switching. It’s all in your head (or mine, I suppose). There are so many elements that cross over from one medium to the other—metaphor, imagery, form, symbolism, etc. that I don’t think I need to belabor that point. And of course there are very narrative artists such as Magritte or Joseph Cornell. And there are many other artists who are also writers or actors or musicians (William Blake, Terry Allen, Tony Bennett, Patti Smith, to name a motley few). And when I lived in New York, it seemed that everyone was writing a screen play, sculpting and playing in a band or photographing, juggling and tap dancing or putting together dance, jazz, projected painting performances or some variation of any of the above. Doesn’t all creativity spring from the same source?

I suspect that I’m sounding a bit defensive, and I guess I am. I’ve sometimes felt the need to justify being a photographer who prints and hand colors her photos, a painter who works in almost every medium (I started to say except printmaking, and then I remembered that I did those mono-prints once) and a writer of both fiction and poetry. “When do you sleep?” I have translated in my own head into “What kind of freak are you?” or “Maybe you should just do one thing…” (“really well”, my ego defense system adds). And then there’s the “prolific” problem—the most commonly used adjective bounced around my studio by new visitors. I have grown to dislike the word, which I associate with weeds. And I hear myself sounding defensive when I answer that the studio contains years of shows with, yes, unsold works still lurking about, and let’s say you put up a show of thirty pieces and you sell two, and you have at least one show a year, well…you do the math. And of course there’s other work that you do that doesn’t go into a show. Other times I just say, “Yes, I’m productive” (a “p” word I can live with).

But I started out to write about the crossover, which I actually wasn’t that aware of until I had to do a presentation for the writing class of a colleague. I got together slides and poems and suddenly realized almost all of my poems and art pieces had some element that reverberated from one medium to the other. For example, I found paintings and photos with eggs and then discovered any number of poems also hatching eggs right and left. Which came first the painting or the egg, or the poem?

One of my most fun and challenging experiences involved a collaboration with a sound artist titled “Out of the Darkness”, inspired by Roethke’s poem of the same name, projecting double exposed slides of scraps of my paintings and other abstract images with a one to twenty second dissolve, triggered by a tape of new music composed on a (at the time) very sophisticated synthesizer. Part of the fun was setting small plastic figures on fire and photographing them and going on excursions to record the traffic or the wind. The final effect was very much like a film, with images overlapping and dissolving into each other at different speeds.

Maybe I should have gone into film, which combines all the elements: imagery, narrative, sound, metaphor, color. Instead, I’m on the board of Filmworks a local group that brings alternative, independent and foreign films to Fresno. Last year, as a fundraiser for our organization I dreamed up the idea of combining jazz (another love) and poetry and invited a local jazz saxophone artist, Ben Boone as part of a quartet to collaborate with Phil Levine and Peter Everwine. I called it THE JAZZ OF POETRY, THE POETRY OF JAZZ. Herding all the people and elements involved together was harder than herding cats, (even cool ones) but it all evolved as probably the best jazz or poetry does in a very casual, spontaneous, and improvisational way and was a huge success. In fact, Ben and Phil have gone on to other jazz/poetry collaborations.

I confess that sometimes when I’m dry in one medium, I just turn to another which maybe says more about my own obsessive/compulsive tendencies than I’d like. But I do think that dipping into another medium can really open up all kinds of possibilities for your primary medium. If you’re a poet, take up piano or painting or puppetry, not necessarily to start a new career, but to stir up the creative waters. Nothing is more exciting or scary or (scary exciting) than the new blank document. When will you find time to do all this? When will you sleep? I don’t know, but when you do, you might have some wild and crazy dreams.

Meet the Review Crew II

Poetry Editor Carly Corderman

Through her experience with Superstition Review, Carly hopes to gain a firmer sense of an editor’s responsibilities, as well as the skills to fulfill these duties. While she plans to continue writing in many capacities, Carly would also like to help members of the general public to understand the value of written expression and communication, most likely through editorial and teaching positions.

Beyond writing, Carly has interests in music, dance, and running. Although some of her earliest memories pertain to writing stories, a progression in musical development caused her to tie the two passions together at a young age, in the form of lyric-writing and musicianship. Fortunately, Carly has gained a greater understanding of writing’s intricacies since then, and plans to continue improving in the future.

 

 

Poetry Editor ChristiAnne Lunsford
She fell in love with language since first attending grade school, and entered an early engagement with poetry in the third grade after selecting a dusty volume of Edgar Allen Poe’s works from her parents’ bookshelf in the family living room. To this day she still recalls the beginning lines of “The Raven” with distinctness, “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,/Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…” Since this immersion, her relationship with the world of poetry has flourished like wild fire, traversing out of the Gothics and into the sentiments of poets such as Pablo Neruda, T.S. Elliot, e. e. cummings, and William Shakespeare. She attempts to produce similar stylization in her own poems that she finds in her favorite poets: elevated language, experimental typography, and precision in imagery.

 

Nonfiction Editor Harrison Gearns

Harrison owns way too many electronic devices. An avid gamer to the core, Harrison plays World of Warcraft, where his level 85 Holy Paladin protects weaker characters from harm by healing their wounds. His favorite part of these Massively-Multiplayer games is letting the more rude characters die from a lack of healing – his roommates included. Harrison likes to pretend this philosophy does not invade his private life.

Harrison hopes to get a job in script writing for video games, and ideally would go to graduate school in either poetry or nonfiction. Harrison is also exploring teaching English in Japan. He lives in Mesa, Arizona, with his girlfriend, Sarah, and his cat, Oscar.

10 Survival Tips for AWP Newbies


AWP won’t come around again until next year, but if you’re thinking of attending, it is never too early to start preparing. We’ve compiled a few survival tips to help you navigate and adjust to the dizzying pace of your first AWP conference.

 

1. Wear comfortable shoes. AWP is the biggest writer’s conference in the US, meaning it will be sprawled across an enormous venue. You’ll be doing a lot of walking between panels – and possibly some running if you’re lost or trying to see more than one panel per hour. Leave those fancy shoes, high heels, or dress shoes that pinch your toes at home.

2. See more than one panel per hour – at least on your first day. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave mid-panel (although to be polite we suggest you do it during applause or between speakers). Take advantage of the multitude of offerings to see and learn as much as possible. Using this strategy the first day will give you a good idea of what kind of panels are useful to you and which ones are way over your head or just too basic.

3. Find overlapping topics in order to narrow down your panel list. Dying to see that panel on political poetry that conflicts with the one that offers advice on submissions? See if there are other panels that deal with politics in literature. Finding overlap is a good way to narrow down your list to those panels that you just can’t miss.

4. Wear pants. This mainly applies to women (though gents, it’s probably not a good idea to show up without your pants). You’ll most likely end up sitting on the floor, walking up stairs, or as we mentioned earlier, running (there is a lot of running), so if your heart is set on wearing a skirt, make sure you can still sit on the floor comfortably.

5. Sit on the floor. Popular panels get crowded fast, but don’t let it discourage you. You don’t necessarily have to see the panelists’ faces to absorb their great advice. Plus, it’s easier to leave between speakers when you’re not trapped in the front row with all eyes on you.

6. Try not to step on the floor-sitters’ appendages. Take it from me — having your foot or your fingers stomped on hurts.

7. Scope out nearby diners for coffee and affordable food. Chances are, the prices at your hotel are going to be high. Even the servers treat their prices like a joke. “Will you be ordering off the menu, or would you like to try our sixteen dollar breakfast bar?” one waiter asked us with an ironic smile. A little bit of walking will keep you from emptying your wallet just for a bottle of water.

8. Bring snacks. With all those panels, there may not be time for lunch, and with those amusingly high prices, keeping supplies with you can end the temptation to buy that $16.00 bottle of water. We writers aren’t exactly a wealth-soaked group, so no one will judge you for pulling out a sleeve of Ritz crackers during a panel. Just remember to clean up after yourself and try not to make a mess.

9. Go to the dance party, especially if you’re over 21. Nowhere else in the world will you find so many half-drunk writers shaking it like a Polaroid picture on the dance floor. Make a game out of it. See how many poets & fiction writers you can find doing the Macarena or the Robot. Remember to tip well at the bar and ask for two drinks at a time in order to avoid the long lines. Use whatever time you do spend waiting in line to make new friends.

10. Hang out with the friends you made at events and panels. See where they’re going for dinner and tag along. Visit their tables at the book fair. Don’t be shy. Being at AWP, you already have a lot in common.