In Conversation with K.r.m. Mooney

Ribbon, metal and long, thin lightbulb arranged on the floor
K.r.m. Mooney, Joan Green, Bimetal III, 2015; the Aldala Collection of Diamond-Newman Fine Arts

Erin O’Toole: You are trained as a jeweler. How did you become interested in jewelry making?

K.r.m. Mooney: I consider ornamentation a generative tool—one that comes with a great amount of agency to code oneself and to be encoded by others. We are all implicated in this process. I was always interested in textiles and in constructing garments, but before I learned metalsmithing I didn’t have an object-based practice. Through jewelry I arrived at a curiosity about the body as an unstable site—both in terms of our materiality as biological beings and in terms of the ways bodies act as sites where political structures that influence the social formation of identity play out.

EOT: What instigated your move away from work designed to ornament the body, in favor of a more sculptural practice?

KM: I think learning to work intertextually has shifted the way I approach producing and exhibiting objects. While learning to make jewelry was very productive and requires a committed interest in materiality as a form, it is quite limited in terms of scale, display, its canon, and how it interacts with the body. I wanted to make objects and put my work in a context of ideas, to be engaged with art history and aware of what came before, while also having permission to work spatially.

EOT: You’ve called exhibition sites “contact zones” and “animated spaces.” Are you aiming, through your work and your presentation of it, to alter the ways that bodies and objects typically interact in these spaces?

KM: Using those terms helps me understand the range of contexts and conditions possible within exhibition spaces. In a general sense, I’m interested in an object’s ability to act as a political agent, to have a voice and participate in public life. Creating the conditions that situate my work within a given exhibition site means understanding how objects, bodies, and space persist together as physical entities that are always contingent on one another. For me an exhibition is a way to position these concerns and bring them together—and to hold open a space for this understanding to occur in others.

EOT: You often present your work on the floor. Is the low horizontality of such installations a way of shifting perception?

KM: Horizontality plays a meaningful role. On a very basic level and an art historical level, it’s a spatial orientation that I believe prioritizes the body. I was also very influenced by the late scholar José Esteban Muñoz, whose work often includes the phrase “on the horizon.” How can we actively speculate a future that may be more empathetic, more survivable for those who move through the world while embodying and engaging in difference? It’s through this speculation and relationship to ongoingness that one maintains a set of tactics for surviving the ethical and political structures at play within one’s present world.

It has been important for me to internalize the politics around the horizontal field to a point where I’m not always in the position of using speech to vocalize my intent. For me, horizontality engages both spatial and subjective histories. I want to move on to learn and work through other strategies while valuing the lineage of thinking that Muñoz provides and that continues to inform the positions my works take on.

EOT: Do you find that viewers engage differently with works installed directly on the floor than they do with works displayed on pedestals or mounted on the wall?

KM: Verticality seems like the primary viewing position in art history, and it sets one up to prioritize sight over other senses. At eye level, the work isn’t necessarily asking you to change or move in order to engage with it. But if a work is on the floor, there’s a shift in positions that a viewer might partake in. You have to come close, to kneel down, to literally change your physicality in order to engage with it. I experience works that are placed on the floor in various ways, but always through an attention to the physicality of the artwork, to its affective volume and the space in which it’s situated.

EOT: Materiality is clearly central to your work, and you seem to be particularly attracted to materials or substances that are mutable. What does the potential for reconfiguration or reorientation offer you?

KM: I’m interested in the idea that there is far more multiplicity in the way we are structured than we give language to. This is an ontology that connects back to post-humanism and the act of ornamentation, which I’ve always considered a form of prosthesis. I don’t use the term cyborg, as it is coded in a specific set of visual references about technol-ogy, but the idea of the cyborg insofar as it derives from a trans-biological context has been an important part of my thinking.

EOT: What about the concept of cyborgs interests you, setting aside the problems with the term? Does it relate back to the potential to become something else?

KM: Yes. I think there’s a kind of folding and unfolding that is specific to prostheses or bodies that are reconfigurable in various ways. As someone involved in trans politics, I consider rearrangement to be a tactic of survival. There is something truly at stake in this potential.

EOT: A focus on materiality is often linked to a reaction against the virtual, to a desire to make objects that you can touch and hold. Is that a concern for you?

KM: Multiplicity can play out in important ways in a virtual context, and I feel like there have been productive conversations about how subjects are formed through new technologies. But there’s something about the physicality of form and matter that I feel aligned with; it provides a process and a way of learning I want to pursue.

Excerpted from an interview conducted at K.r.m Mooney’s studio in Oakland on February 21, 2017. Originally published in Jenny Gheith and Erin O’Toole, eds., 2017 SECA Art Award: Alicia McCarthy, Lindsey White, Liam Everett, K.r.m. Mooney, Sean McFarland (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2017).