New Yorker Xaviera Simmons is an artist of many mediums. Inspired by the Big Apple as much as the rustic landscapes of the US, the sun-kissed vibes of Jamaica and life as a superstar DJ, Simmons’ multifarious installations marry shocking, striking illustration with specially-commissioned music, photography, sculpture, and performances. The elusive auteur spoke to Wonderland about her unique methodologies.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

I’m from New York City, but I grew up simultaneously loving the countryside and all sorts of rustic and rural landscapes. I spent time every year in Maine and went to high school in Connecticut, so I had kind of the best of both words in that sense. I currently live between New York City and Paris (though my heart is always in the landscape and peoples of Jamaica and in rural upstate New York).

You are from New York. Is your art driven by the energy of the city and if so, how?

The work is driven by the push and pull of New York City. I need the city and its multifaceted environment to drive me but then I need to leave this city to explore the multitude of landscapes and peoples that are available once one leaves here. It’s a cycle that I’m understanding more and more; it’s the cycle that provides nourishment for me personally and also for my work. I live part time in New York and part time in Paris where my partner lives, so I am fortunate in that I always have a moment to shift and reflect as I leave one place to travel to the next. And I make it a point to travel to the amazingly beautiful and inspiring island of Jamaica at least once or twice a year where I always feel refreshed, rejuvenated and replenished…

When did you start to combine photography and music in installations?

I’ve had a DJ practice for a while and I live in Williamsburg Brooklyn, which has a deep music community. Some of my closest friends live in Williamsburg and make music, some successfully (as in commercial acceptance) and some for the love of it (as in the hundreds of local bands that play every day in the neighborhood). So it made sense to start engaging music with my installations. The first installation I produced combining music and photography and DJ practices was at Art In General in New York in 2007. For this work, I constructed a jazz salon entitled “How To Break Your Own Heart” and it involved a large scale record album cover installation, experimental musicians, a six month DJ practice and experimental performances in their store front, street facing space.

You currently have an installation in the exhibit “The Record” at the Miami Art Museum. Tell us about this.

The photographs are looking to the landscape and the characters that could inhabit it. I’m always looking at small plots of land and what peoples or characters could or should inhabit these spaces, especially when you are looking through the lens of political, social and art histories. Certain characters have historically inhabited and constructed in certain landscapes so I am always looking to complicate those types of narratives. The photographs for my project “Thundersnow Road” were constructed because I knew that they were going to be maps for songs, for the songwriters on the record.

What new projects will you work on next?

I am working on new photographs, sculptures, performances and videos for the culmination of my Artist In Residence at The Studio Museum In Harlem, which happens in early June. And I’ll be traveling to Sri Lanka as part of the US State Department’s SmART Power Initiative where I will work with diverse communities and arts organisations in Colombo.

“The Record” runs until June 10th.
Words: Heike Wollenweber