The New York artist twisting household objects into macabre sculptures.
Taken from the Summer Issue of Wonderland.
When Ser Brandon-Castro Serpas arrives in Chelsea, New York for her interview, at a coffee shop near Milk Studios, where she used to intern, her hand is bleeding. An art student now in her junior year at Columbia, she’s just come from sculpture class. “I love getting cuts in sculpture. Whenever I start bleeding I rub it all over whatever I’m trying to make.” Further up her arm is a tattoo with the name Brandi-Nicole, the baby girl name her mother had picked out for her while she was still in the womb. Behind her ear is tattooed “t4t,” which stands for trans for trans, which she got when she “started really making art and also having sex with all of my trans friends. It was the first time that I had interacted with femme people in that way, and I was like, ‘Damn. It’s lit.’”
Originally from Los Angeles, Serpas moved to New York for school in August 2013. Although she was originally looking to study somewhere with an open curriculum, she applied to Columbia after admiring photos of kindred souls who would become her closest friends. “At that point in high school I had butched it up and dumbed it down so that I wouldn’t get stared at at school, and so that I could finish my college applications,” she recalls. To escape from that world, she turned to social media.“I would always be on the internet looking at really cool club kids.” The person she was drawn to from the photos was then Columbia student Hari Nef, who was wearing “a white gown with weird Total Recall cyber microchips and a freshly shaved head. I saw this person and these parties and was like, ‘damn. I need to be in the city.’” She began messaging Nef, who assured her she could take astrology and psychology for science requirements. Serpas was accepted, and enrolled in Columbia.
When she came there, she didn’t originally intend to be an artist, but to expand upon her experience working as a community organiser in high school. “I came to school not really trying to do art work. I was under the impression that if I try to do it as a brown person, it wouldn’t be bought or supported. I went in trying to do poly sci and econ.” Disillusioned by the ignorance of her classmates, she emerged herself deeper into her creative friendship group. A mind expansion via Psilocybin mushrooms during Gay Pride in the summer of 2014, when she was interning at the Whitney, would change her life. “I decided to transition; [and that] I wanted to be an artist,” Serpas recalls.
Her drawings are made up of her own language of repeated body parts: hands, breasts, and genitals, free-flowing creations rid of analytical thinking. It’s a style she translates into her sculptures, 3D interpretations of her drawings. “Because I don’t like analytical style of things I rarely plan. In high school I would have planners filled to the brim. The fear of death, or God, would be the thing that would keep me going and keep working. But at the end of the day, that was just exhausting. Really exhausting.”
“I did each of those in one take,” she says, scanning through Instagram images of recent sculptures titled Breakup, pieces built around coat hangers inspired by a living situation gone awry after her roommate became aggressive in a mid-college crisis, made from objects he had knocked over in rage, including nylons and a Scream mask.
In a case of life turning full circle, these days when Serpas is on campus, she spends most of her time on social media, responding to queer and gender non-conforming kids, providing the mentorship role that Hari Nef once gave to her. With one more year left at Columbia, after graduation, she looks to spend time in Berlin, living a “roll-around- from-bar-to-bar type of existence for a bit,” a lifestyle that certainly provides great artistic fuel, although she seems set for her gallery show with fashion labelWomen’s History Museum at the end of the summer. From her impressive list of internships, her favourite has been her most recent, with stylist Ian Bradley, not just for the experience, but for helping to remind her that she has a future as an artist, echoing the encouragement her friends gave her. “Since I was a kid, I really couldn’t think of a life for myself later on. I was really nihilistic and self-harm-y. Starting to imagine a future for myself has been easier by the minute. It just feels cool to be happy.”
Photography: Michael Bailey-Gates
Words: Sophie Saint Thomas