On Location

Curatorial Intern Margo Cohen Ristorucci checks out Jacolby Satterwhite's latest project, Grey Lines

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  • Jacolby Satterwhite programming his technology, preparing to film visitors to Recess
    Image courtesy the artist and Recess Activities, Inc., New York

  • Jacolby getting his bodysuit on a mannequin for the window display at Recess
    Image courtesy the artist and Recess Activities, Inc., New York

  • Jacolby Satterwhite in costume, filming visitors  at Recess
    Photo: Margo Cohen Ristorucci

  • Curatorial Intern Margo Ristorucci performing an interpretation of the drawing given to her by Satterwhite
    Photo: Margo Cohen Ristorucci

Over the past two months, Jacolby Satterwhite has transformed Recess Activities’s Soho space into an interactive performance, inviting passersby to act out his mother Patricia Satterwhite’s schematic drawings for Grey Lines—the newest work in his series, The Matriarch’s Rhapsody (2012). Recess’s primary program, Session, grants artists funding and access to its Soho and Red Hook locations to use as studios, exhibition venues or hybridized spaces of artistic experimentation. Over the course of his Session (August 17–October 12, 2013), Satterwhite created a 3D animated video incorporating drawing, CG animation and improvised or mediated performance.

Similar to previous installments of the series, the video content for Grey Lines directly derives from drawings by the artist’s mother. A diagnosed schizophrenic, Patricia Satterwhite’s drawings of everyday objects were originally conceived as designs to be manufactured and sold on QVC (a cable channel where entrpereneurs can sell goods). Interpreted as imagined aids to the body, they are at  once sensual and sinister—her simplified forms and crisp lines resonating with a sense of unease. 

Until Grey Lines, the videos in the series have exclusively employed the artist’s own body. With his latest work, however, Satterwhite solicits the collaboration of strangers.“What inspired the Session was that I needed a new databank of inspiration, because I was putting one of my series to rest, which was "Reifying Desire" (ongoing) and I am moving more toward another series of works,” Satterwhite said at the closing reception for Grey Lines. “I felt like archiving and outsourcing movement from others was going to give me the opportunity to increase the complexity and the surrealist possibilities that I normally outsource from the drawings or from videotaped public performances.  [Another person's] language, movement and responses in these Recess performances are a rich resource of new possibilities for how I can make video.”

Upon entering Recess, each participant is greeted by the gregarious Satterwhite, who is decked out in one of his signature silver catsuits , and given one of 300 graphite line drawings that the artist has selected for the Session. Satterwhite allows participants time to review the drawing and then situates them in front of his camera. Between Satterwhite and a green screen, each participant announces the number on the back of their drawing, places the drawing on the floor offscreen and begins to imagine with their body what Patricia Satterwhite draws with pencil. Participants’ performances range from thirty seconds to three minutes. After finishing, they return the drawing to a stack that will soon join the walls of fluttering pages that have already been enacted. 

I received an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with the word “scissors” above almost expressive   depictions of scissors and mixing tools. With Satterwhite’s encouragement, I began to snip away at the air around my body. Satterwhite explained that the textual and visual depictions of objects in his mother’s drawings function much like props did for Fluxus, Dada and Surrealists artists. They provide the genesis for his work and in my case, guided my movements.“Text is a place for me to string together incongruent ideas and find a way to shape them into some kind of unity,” he said. “I am always borrowing language from others and repurposing it—so like, my mother’s drawings are text, what you did with the scissor movement. I don’t know what you meant by it, but I know what I saw, and I know how I am going to use it.”

In fact, it is from the liminal space between the artist and his inspiration that Satterwhite developed the title for the Session. “That’s where I think art lives, in that grey space,” he reflected. “That why I call it ‘Grey Lines'.” Because it is literally grey lines, but the grey lines is what I’m searching for.”

Jacolby Satterwhite received a MFA from University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in 2010 and a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore in 2008. Previous Studio Museum exhibitions include Shift: Projects | Perspectives | Directions (Spring 2012) and Fore (Fall/Winter 2012–13). Satterwhite is included in the upcoming Fall/Winter 2013–14 exhibition, Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, opening at the Studio Museum on November 14, 2013.

Margo Cohen Ristorucci is a Fall 2013 Curatorial Intern at The Studio Museum in Harlem