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Studio Magazine

Wherever my people is at, that’s where my studio is

Starasea Camara

From his welcoming embrace at the entrance to his studio at The Studio Museum in Harlem’s 127 space, to his cheeky grin as he reflects on his upbringing in Cleveland by the Black women in his life who have poured into him, Cameron Granger now pours love into his interdisciplinary practice that teleports him from Columbus to Harlem and back again.

Studio Museum Artist in Residence 2021–22

As an artist working at the intersection of new media and installation, Granger sources personal and communal histories, homing in and amplifying specifically those of Black folks in the Midwest. These histories arise within his work as a virtual reflection of his lineage, his loved ones, and most strikingly, himself. Granger describes his practice as occupying the crossroads of a “site for memory making and as a means to strategize new forms of remembrance in our age of mass media.” He explores these strategies through storytelling. By utilizing cinematic styles, such as dystopic fantasy and documentary techniques, and applying these frameworks to his local community, the artist maps out new ways of being with ourselves and with each other. Further, he establishes a legacy of his family’s tree, roots, and the fruits to be borne from this labor. By turning the lens onto his friends and family, Granger reminds his audience of the value of documenting our own narratives. Through this labor of love, one film at a time, Granger presents “open-chested, open-heart” work that centers Black presence and heals generational wounds.  

Installation view of Cameron Granger, Heirloom, 2022 in Heavy as Heaven at No Place Gallery, May 14, 2022—July 9, 2022. Photo: Jake Hollar. Courtesy No Place Gallery

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Granger remembers the early days of social media, video games, anime, and exploring the internet. This exploration became a haven for his creative vision and expression. Gaming served as an extension of himself, and its style, design, and aspects of community reappear throughout his current practice. In addition, being raised by his mother, Sandra, and late grandmother, Pearl, instilled a strong sense of intuition at a tender age. Within these early years, Granger mined the overlap of virtual and physical presence. When reflecting on his upbringing, Granger notes that his family gave him “the room to be soft,” and further expanded on this, stating, “I never felt the pressure to be hard or anything more than what I was and I am super grateful for that.” This softness enables Granger to create from a space of deep introspection formative of his personhood and, as a result, the grounding of his artistic practice.  

We witness this softness now with Granger’s excavation of the depths of personal memoir across his expanding body of work. In his short film Heavy as Heaven (2022), Granger investigates the concept of spatial memory by questioning how the places we call home hold and “speak” their memories. Set within his grandmother’s home five years after her passing, a dialogue between human and home spans a spectrum of themes encapsulating personal trauma, spirituality, and an analysis of the abode as a living entity. In the eleven-minute video, the main character, Dominique—played by Granger’s close friend Dom—enters the seemingly empty home. Cast in red lighting, the house is occupied by a vengeful spirit—voiced by Shala Miller—who has a charged discussion with Dominique. The spirit states it is “the structure that supports the home.” Guttural sounds reverberate throughout, personifying the deep intensity of our secret thoughts within the domestic space. The exchange is juxtaposed with scenes of Dominique reclined on a plastic-wrapped sofa, personal photos of Granger’s family on a table, scenes of ocean swells, and a beating heart pulsating within the frame. Granger says, he was “Thinking of the house as an entity with history and scars of its own. The body of the house keeping its score. A living thing that is in distress navigating entropy, and decaying.”  

Installation view of It's time for me to go: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2021–22. MoMA PS1, November 17, 2022–February 27, 2023. Courtesy MoMA PS1; The Studio Museum in Harlem. Photo: Kris Graves

The structure fills the intimately cropped frame; its very being envelops the viewer as a black hole in the center of the frame expands. The expansion forms a portal, an abyss, representing the emptiness left behind by those we’ve lost, and the physically present void within the now incomplete home. Throughout the film, a broadcaster thanks us for tuning in. Their voice pours in over isolated radio static while they announce the impending danger of the “Titans.” These Titans, the antagonists who loom throughout Granger’s recent works, are informed by archival research that explores the rise of western civilization and its connections with modern geopolitical movements such as the ongoing gentrification of Black communities. Enacting such systemic oppressions that plague us daily, the Titans reappear throughout Granger’s works. Yet, as the radio fizzles out and the structure rumbles, Granger reminds us that all that remains in our absence are the memories held within the spaces and communities we have forged. 

A dialogue between the house and Dom begins with the Spirit’s charged question: “So, it was fear that made you leave?”, and culminates with a mutual “I love you” that yokes the realms of the living and the passed. Throughout the work, the scene is alarming, terrifying even, yet this discourse is vital. Granger demonstrates that the heart-work is often hard-work by guiding the viewer through a gut-wrenching process of grief, how it manifests both personally and collectively. This grief is layered and departs from expectations of performing positivity.

Throughout Granger’s work, the structure presents symbolic portals of alternate entry, whether a back door, staircase, or window. We are invited to gather and reflect with our community and with ourselves, acknowledging that, in the way we treat a guest in a home, this invitation comes with boundaries. These are intentional decisions made by the artist as he considers the balance of transparency within his practice and ultimately, who he creates for. He says, “I want the work to be for people who look like me and come from the places that I come from. I leave the door open, and if you want to put in that work to see these things, I welcome that. But I want my mom, friends, and family to resonate with this stuff. The people that are in the work, that’s the audience. That’s a part of the safety mechanism with the work.” 

Installation view of It's time for me to go: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2021–22. MoMA PS1, November 17, 2022–February 27, 2023. Courtesy MoMA PS1; The Studio Museum in Harlem. Photo: Kris Graves

Granger creates spaces for both himself and his community as a safety mechanism against “Titans” through thoughtful planning and production. From his personal practice of writing and revisiting his grief, to returning to Ohio in 2020 and visiting the home his grandmother left behind in Cleveland—where his aunt and grandfather continue to reside—he was able to cultivate a space for communal healing from the care he was immersed in all his life. For Heavy as Heaven, Granger led a production team made up of friends and close collaborators and leaned on his family throughout the project, bridging the pain of loss through an intimacy that is integral to his communal and site-specific practice. While Granger remains behind the camera, his personal collaborations and hands-on production evoke his presence throughout the scene. Using accessible materials and personal ephemera, such as his archive of books, the artist frames the local realities faced daily by his community. 

In its initial form from spring 2022, at No Place Gallery in Columbus, Ohio, Heavy as Heaven was displayed in a three-channel looped screening within a skeletal structure of a home. A wooden-plank shelf housed a stack of texts by writers such as Italo Calvino and Toni Morrison—some of which were opened, exposing the artist’s annotations and sticky-note-marked pages, and perhaps in turn inviting his audience into his process. A locket necklace created by Granger containing a photo of his grandmother holding him as an infant hung within a shallow relief carved in the wooden plank. In its current installation at MoMA PS1, the artist deconstructed the wooden planks and reframed and deconstructed the three-channel film screens to play behind a false wall. The texts are stacked and enclosed within a newly created structure, symbolic of Granger’s exercise in artistic autonomy in sharing such intimate work with a New York audience. In both installations, the structure, cast in crimson lighting, evokes being within a warm space, a body. For its Ohio opening, Granger partnered with the gallery to host a private gathering, simultaneously honoring his community, and his grandmother, “… sometimes I worry if I am giving too much, sharing too much of this memory. I trust my family to be the compass for these things.” On the evening of November 17, 2022, Granger’s closest companions, who also star in his newest feature, arrived for the New York installation, bringing the Midwest to the East and honoring one of the artist’s core values: centering his people.  

Installation view of It's time for me to go: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2021–22. MoMA PS1, November 17, 2022–February 27, 2023. Courtesy MoMA PS1; The Studio Museum in Harlem. Photo: Kris Graves

In the 2021–22 Artist-in-Residence exhibition, It’s time for me to go, Cameron Granger presents both this new and reimagined site-specific work, which brings his community, family, and Ohio, to the forefront, and interrogates the malleability and mobility of home. Through carefully directed new media installations, Granger reminds us that the most transcendent of dialogues are those in which we turn inward, those that empower us to be vulnerable enough to confront and to nurture, and to do so within our own communities. 

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