On May 3, Zackary Drucker sat down for a short interview with Eugene Contemporary Art’s Suzi Steffen in between her obligations to the JSMA.


The discussion ranged from the show to a film she showed in Quinn Nelson’s History of Film class to the formal aspects of her art and her background as an artist. Here is the edited and condensed version of that interview.


How did you and the gallery curate the smaller JSMA show out of the Whitney Biennial show?


Rhys and I were together for five and a half years, so the images spanned 2008-2014, and there’s thousands of images because we were [she laughs] pretty prolific.


How’d you pick the 46 photos for the Biennial, then? Wow!

It was tough, culling it down. We trimmed the fat, basically. We took out anything that wasn’t necessary, and really edited along a narrative thread and created a story, so it was more like editing a film than it was curating a photography exhibition. We think of the photographs very much as a footnote and a compendium to She Gone Rogue, the film, [at the JSMA] which is the layered and complex world that we cerated from the relationship.


Can you talk a little bit about when you showed a different film in Quinn’s class – They Answered in Unison – and the idea of honoring transcestors (trans ancestors) and creating a family?


I’ve always had a really deep investment in history. I think that the oral history of trans people is so sparsely documented that when I came out as trans, and even when I was moving toward that identity, I had such a hard time tracking the history of my people.

I found Flawless Sabrina really early; I was 18 years old when I met her, and she has really helped form who I am as an artist and as a  person. I think of her as a life collaborator. We’ve created a lot of works together over the years. They Answered in Unison is very much a meeting of our personal histories, of our internal worlds.


In terms of finding a chosen family in LA, especially when you’re from the other coast, how did that happen?


It happened slowly. A lot of my chosen family hearken back to my New York years before Los Angeles. The film She Gone Rogue features three of my godmothers – Holly Woodlawn, who was like an aunt to me; Flawless (http://www.flawless-sabrina.com/), who is like an aunt; Vaginal Davis (http://www.vaginaldavis.com/), who is like my mother.

That is one of the privileges of being queer, that you get to assemble a family that fits your ideology.

There’s this notion that transness and gender fluidity is a youth phenomenon, and that can only be offset by illuminating these figures from history as relevant sources of wisdom for today, and that’s true of all things. My mother is a feminist, and I talk to her often about the parallels between what she experienced as a feminist in the ‘70s and what I experience as a trans feminist today.


What do you think those parallels are?


The problems that trans people face are the problems that women have faced for thousands of years, and I think sometimes we neglect to recognize that common denominator. Misogyny cuts across many identities — queer identities, femme identities, anything that’s outside the parameters of cisgender masculinity.


Yes, and I am super interested in those topics. But! We only have a few minutes. Could we talk about the formal aesthetics of Relationship and She Gone Rogue?


Creating art in the context of a relationship is a rich site for sharing, bonding, collaboration. I think that we can get so much closer to each other just by creating, by co-authoring, by producing something as a community or as a team. So that’s one of the big common denominators in my work; I’m always bringing in the people that I’m close to and using art as an excuse to create with them.

Photography was my origin, and at CalArts I started making video, performance art, installation. And now I have no allegiance to any medium and just sort of … create. I think the idea forms the medium. The idea tells you what the medium should be.


In terms of collaborating, could we talk about the use of music in your films?


I have worked with a composer named Ellen Reid (http://ellenreidmusic.com/), who’s also a CalArts alumnus. Rhys and I met her while we were making She Gone Rogue, and we were looking for a composer, someone who can create a layer on top of the visual. Audio is its own layer of artwork. I love working with Ellen; she’s great. She uses a lot of unexpected instruments.


What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?


I’m working on a lot of things, oh god, lots. There’s a short film on OpenTV that I made with my mother called “Southern for Pussy” (http://www.weareopen.tv/open-tv-presents/southern-for-pussy),  and we wrote that and starred in it together, and I’m working on a follow-up for that.


Great! Thank you so much for your time, and your work.