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Conversations with the Inspiring Alyssa Taylor Wendt

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alyssa Taylor Wendt.

Alyssa, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Austin, Texas. Originally from New York City, I have lived in the Southwest and on the West Coast. I began my career as a photographer, musician, underground film actress, and antique dealer. I returned to my native New York to earn my MFA at Bard College in 2008 and subsequently moved to Texas so I could live as a working artist. All of my previous experiences in the arts converged and created the perfect platform for my multimedia work, especially in film. I make dark, non-linear video installations that use all my skills for the soundtracks, production design, wardrobe, props, and image-making. I exhibit my work internationally, am on the board of three non-profit arts organizations in Austin, belong to a 20 member arts collective called ICOSA, curate shows in Austin and beyond and spend my summers in Detroit, where I made a film five years ago. I hope to continue to make my work with the supportive arts community in Austin and hope to open a museum of cultural artifacts within the next five years.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I wouldn’t say the road to my current full and blessed life has been particularly easy, but I welcome and relish the challenges as opportunities to become a better person and artist. Starting with family dysfunction, divorce, childhood illness, and several moves, my young teen years were full of rage and delinquency. I survived this time mostly due to live music and found a community of outcasts, geniuses, artists and unique people that continue to inspire me to celebrate myself and work hard. This support and alternative family of people are part of an extended community that has helped me through dark times. Once I embraced myself as an artist and the path of my life which is not the norm, I found that things organically fell into place and I can consistently make opportunities for making the work that keeps me sane and thinking outside the box.

Being a strong woman in modern society has been particularly challenging and I have experienced the same misogyny, sexism, bias, and condescension as many have. I have tried to surround myself with people who relish my leadership and strength and not ones who are threatened by it. I would tell young women to believe in themselves, use their story as a springboard and provide compassion and support to other outsiders and minorities who they can empower and help.

Please tell us more about what you do, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
My process- and research-based cross-disciplinary practice uses video, sculpture, large-format staged photographs, sound, and performance. The projects embrace animism, in that all the physical objects resonate with spiritual energy. I am most interested in exploring questions of inherited memory, material degradation, and temporal engagement, overlapping history and healing patterns- to investigate how much our work plays in the reinvention we employ to process our given identities. The mythos and cosmology that people recognize in my work come from a dark filmic world of interiors, both architectural and spiritual and most undoubtedly, a projection of my own consciousness- mysterious, complicated and full of possibility.

The latest pieces are unapologetically aesthetic, mythic and conceptual responses to questions of mortality and transformation using a cosmic, complex and somewhat occult approach. I am working to examine my identity as a woman and an artist in times of upheaval and change, working to actually bring more conflict and confrontation into the presentations. Cinematic and mannerist in its appearance, all of the projects gather complexity the more time is spent with them and encourages active interpretation, encouraging the viewer to use their own metaphysical lens with the works. My most recent notable projects include: Curating, producing and participating in a 60+ artist group show at DEMO Gallery about death called Good Mourning Tis of Thee; Collaborating on a two-person show with Kate Csillagi at our ICOSA Collective Gallery in Austin about scars, transgression, alchemy, and kintsugi; And exhibiting a three-channel video installation H A I N T after a five year process that premiered at the Visual Arts Center at UT Austin in January 2019 and won the International Istanbul Experimental Film Festival; Inclusion in multiple group shows in Los Angeles, Lubbock and at MASS, Dimension, Northern-Southern and Grey Duck Galleries in Austin.

Recent work such as the aforementioned epic video project H A I N T have long examined and inverted notions of ruin and monument- a metaphor for urbanism, cultural upheaval, truth and repeated cycles of history. I use these questions to push both myself and the work into uncomfortable explorations of power, healing, and collective memory. For my next series of films and work, I am researching the concept of genetic memory, that we inherit more than DNA from our ancestors and carry the habits, failures, pain, joy, and actions of those that came before us. I want to know where the boundaries of cultural interaction lie within these parameters of memory.

I have started a new film called The Memory Inheritance and a small excerpt work-in-progress will show at an upcoming exhibition that I am curating called Sanctum that opens at Big Medium Gallery in Austin on September 6th. This group show includes some incredible artists: Beili Liu (Austin), Scott Vincent Campbell (Detroit), Jaime Zuverza (Austin), Birthe Piontek (Vancouver) and Cordula Ditz (Hamburg, Germany). Art and the art community continues to give me the foundation that my given life did not and this is the cure for a fervent imagination, marginalized visions, shadows and the inheritance for our cultural bedrock.

Looking back on your childhood, what experiences do you feel played an important role in shaping the person you grew up to be?
My childhood was an unusual one. I was born in New York City but moved upstate and was raised in an unorthodox household of a menage-a-trois with my mother, father, and other women. I had no brothers or sisters and we lived in an ultra-modern house on top of a mountain in the Catskills. I was fairly ill as a child and spent a lot of time alone with my imagination. I wasn’t allowed to have commercial toys, so my creative self was encouraged to think outside the box from a young age. I made cities out of trash and wanted to be an inventor. I do feel like my dreams have been fulfilled as each project I undertake is like a new invention to me. Additionally, that house was built on what I believe to have been haunted land and I saw many spirits as a child that I did not understand, but definitely accounts for the dark and otherworldly sensibility of my work today.

As a teenager, I delved into a world of delinquency and punk rock. The power of the music and the DIY community inspired me and I learned that I can do anything with enough passion. This ambition, fire and anti-establishment sensibility has guided my life to this day and I am so grateful for those early experiences and that I stayed mostly out of harm’s way through it all. I got to live in New York City in the mid-’80s, a time when the outcasts and artists were few and far between. At an impressionable age, I met a diverse array of cultural pioneers there who gave me something very valuable to aspire and live up to.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All artwork photographs courtesy of the artist Alyssa Taylor Wendt, Bioimage of the artist taken by Scott David Gordon

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