Featured Artist: Millicent Kennedy
Work by Millicent Kennedy
Images and videos of the artist and of their latest show Reviver
Podcast Interview Transcript with Millicent Kennedy
(to listen to the interview, click here.)
Eniko Deptuch Vaghy: Hi, Millicent. Thank you so much for doing this. This was absolutely very generous of you and quite a delight for us.
Millicent Kennedy: Hello. Thank you for having me. I'm excited about it.
EDV: Oh yeah. I mean, I don't know, I have to say a special thank you to Jules because if I didn't know Jules, I would have never gotten to know your work.
Jules Wood: Yes, a special thank you to me for knowing Millicent in high school. I worked really hard to know Millicent in high school and you're welcome, Eni. Thank you.
MK: All the way back at Mississippi School of the Arts. Deep throwback.
JW: More than 10 years, right?
MK: I know.
JW: Yeah, more
MK: Yeah, it's been a while. I remember going back for your graduation because I was a year older, and you were the valedictorian, and you had a really lovely speech. I don't know, it was great. That's like, I was like, "Ah, Jules is so
cool!" And when you were moving to Chicago and looking for a place to live, I was talking to my roommate because I was moving. And I was like, "I don't know if you're cool enough to be roommates with Jules though."
JW: You know, it's so funny, Millicent. I'm so glad that I'm saying this publicly on a podcast that's going to be recorded and listened to by other people. But when I was in high school, I thought that you were so incredibly cool. And in addition to that, I had such a big crush on your boyfriend Ethan, that like, which now I'm a lesbian, right? Like this is all absurd. But I had such a big crush on your boyfriend and it was that thing of like, not only, like, "Millicent is like, is like so cool. They have the guy that I want." And you know, and [you were] just like this like untouchable person. So the feeling of coolness is absolutely mutual. And let's make good on the, on the coffee thing after.
MK: Definitely. Yes. That's so funny. I hope Ethan listens to this in some way. A very kind, gentle person,
EDV: Ethan's probably... I don't know, I do hope... that, that Ethan listens to this podcast. Actually, that'd
be kind of--
Em Williamson: I hope that Ethan is currently working on the YA novel about all of the drama that was just described to us.
MK: Oh my God, yes. That would be inspired. I love that, yeah.
JW: I'd read it, Ethan.
EW: This one goes out to Ethan.
EDV: It's like a missed connection show now. It's no longer about art or literature. It's about this connection.
MK: Well, isn't that what art and literature are all about? Misconnection, desire for connection?
EW: Oh, I thought you meant Ethan. I thought you meant all art and literature was about Ethan.
EDV: It's all about Ethan. You know, Millicent, that's like a really, really cool thing that you just said. Do you want to elaborate on that? Because I think that's pretty profound.
MK: I mean, I think in my practice as an artist, as an educator, as a curator, I constantly come back to wanting to feel connected. And I think I'm a person that really needs a lot of human connection and simultaneously a lot of alone time. So I think that the ways that that's worked out in my practice have really been bringing an idea to people and asking them to like collaborate on it and think about it and talk to me about their experiences. And then, you know, if there is a material thing that is part of it, like that's what I kind of work with and have more of my own license with. And so, you know, I just think about connection a lot and how none of us are like really alone, but there's also like all these times when we feel very alone. Like I was a kid that my siblings were much older than me. My parents both worked a lot and I spent a lot of time in the attic like going through all of their things and trying to understand them by these like you know organized stored pasts that they had and I really felt like I was like finding meaning in that and I think I'm still like drawn to objects in that way and interested in how we kind of like tell stories with the spaces that we what kind of like story they're telling overall as us, like, you know, as a collective for us. So, yeah. But I could go on about connection and industriousness, I think, are my pillars. Those are the two things that I stick with a lot. I don't know if you all have ever done your values from Brene Brown's book. I forget which book that one was in, but she's really great. And she had a book that was kind of focused more on business, talked about like business values and there was like some pushback from people who she was working with. It's like, "Oh, well, like business values or personal values?" And it's like, no, they're the same values. You know, like your two values are the same, no matter what. And, you know, you like start with this giant list of things that you're like, what matters the most to me? And ultimately, a lot of things are parts of, you know, your pillars that are the most important. Yeah.
JW: Millicent... and I definitely also noted like, you know, obviously industriousness, human connection, [are] pillars of your work. Curious how you see those fitting together, like what is the connection between industriousness, working, yeah, and human connection, exactly?
MK: Yeah, I don't know. I think it's a lot of working with what you have and being in the place that you are and that being something that can matter and that can bring you closer to the life that you want. Like you have the life that you want with what's already around you. It doesn't have to be a fantasy. And so I think that that's like something I'm really kind of drawn to is working with what we have part of that is very practical, but part of it is like, that I just think that it's really beautiful when you assess your space and where you are and the everyday can kind of become a mythology that you build every day. So I think that that's how I kind of think about it. And that industriousness can also be something else. One thing that I really found a lot with the What We Kept series, where I was asking people to donate something that they've kept for a long time and are ready to let go of, was, you know, these are all these mass produced objects for the most part. Like, none of them were like handmade things, but they still hold a lot of meaning to people. And what that kind of resulted in with like the show at Belong Gallery specifically was a lot of people being like this, like, you know, hair clip takes me to this specific time and place in and like I see and feel that and you know, I feel like the sadness of it being broken and I, you know, like I'm interested in this idea of like making like a little memorial to all these things that you know worked and have been part of our lives and so I think that there are like some connections between them but also like a way that like working with what you have can connect you to to other people because we're like really all living in this shared experience where you know there's like a finite amount of of stuff in the world, even though it seems outrageously expansive. And we share a lot of these experiences.
JW: That's so interesting that most of the items that were given to you in that series were mass produced. And I feel like that is, you know, I think that like, if I was to imagine the kinds of items you would have been given, I would have thought they would be handmade, precious, like that the actual work that went into making the objects would have been what was like valuable or sentimental to them. Divorce[d of] the like labor of production from its sentimental value and how that's like a, I mean, especially since, you know, part of the part of the ask was it be something that they were willing to let go of? Like, I'm sure there are many things that people were like, well, you're sure as fuck not getting my this box that was woodworked by my grandfather, but in--
MK: Right, and nor should I have it, frankly. Like, absolutely. They should have that forever.
JW: --the space of like, this is sentimental, this is precious to me, but like it also has that kind of like, like fungibility to it at the same time.
MK: Right, yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, I think too, you know, like there were some things where it was like a set of charms that are from random things that someone like collected over time, you know, very YA novel like-ish. And, but like there were things like, it's like, oh, a cut off Barbie foot or like a like toy from like a vending machine. So it's like, so though like the final thing is kind of like this amalgamation that has like a different identity. It's like, I think that's really interesting. I mean, and you know, like one person did like the last day of my residency where I was working on that project. Someone reached out to me and was like, I have a sex tape that I did with my ex-wife 10 years ago that I want to, or 20 years ago that I want to give you and my wedding ring. And I was like, okay, can you come over to the studio? I need to talk to you right now. Like, I am fascinated. And we, like wanted to take the tape apart together. So it's like gonna be like part of the process for him. And he actually like cut part of the tape to like keep, which I thought was really interesting too. I haven't had anybody like negotiate that. It's like, oh, I'm gonna give it to you, but also I like need to have some part of it, which I, you know, completely makes sense as an exchange. But yeah, and we talked for a while, talked to like a lot about like, you know, objects donated are from past relationships, like be it friendships or marriages, partnerships, all kinds of things like that. So that was a really interesting part of it too. Yeah.
EW: And I mean, I think like going back to, you know, there's so many things that we can tie together here, I feel like, from this conversation, right? Like in terms of like the fungibility of these mass produced items, right? Not being a thing that you had considered or, um, you know, it wasn't like part of this project, right? You didn't go in specifically asking for a mass produced item. That's just what you've got, right?
EW: But that, that necessarily alters, right? That like those like tendrils of connectivity that you were talking about is being so integral to your work, right? Both in the sense of like, you know, how you then interact with those objects and how you use those objects in your art making practice, but then also in how others are going to read and interpret the subsequent works of art, right, based on the items that you were just sort of like randomly given, right--
EW: --which I just think, I think, you know, is that like that circuitry of once it has an audience, right? You know, that's where that the most kind of like interesting and provocative forms of connectivity happened to me,
MK: Yeah, absolutely. I was I was talking with some students the other day, like one of them is making paintings where she's like listening to specific songs while she's making paintings. And like the songs are very much like a part of it. And so we started talking about like songs in general. And I said to them, like, Oh, you know, do you ever have this experience where you like learn like the songwriter's influence for a song and you feel immediately disappointed that it's so specific and so small? And like, you know, like, I think that the way that we work with music, it tends to be more understood that whoever listens to it, it belongs to them and they get to access it where they're coming from. And art does that, but also doesn't sometimes, you know? It's like, it is the ideal, but I think there's also so much of an expectation of artist having like specific artist statements that really clarify things. And I think that there's also just like a little bit of disconnection between our like shared experiences in such a way that it like takes more of a leap, right? So context is really pretty important for that. But I think you're right, I think it's like, is something that's really important to me increasingly. Like, I don't really know if I feel like a work as finished until I've shown it to people and talked about it with viewers. Like I did a similar kind of process where I was quilting tools that had been left at my job that were like in a drawer. They were like not going to be used. There was like falling apart rubber. It was like, you know, things that were not going to get, that were not really functional or parts of an assemblage that doesn't exist anymore. know, like that kind of thing. And I quilted them into these frames that happen to be ovals. And because they were ovals, I think, like people kept saying like, oh, they're mirrors. And it's like, you know what, you're right, they are mirrors. And I really love that idea of like, that these objects are a mirror of a place or a portrait of a place or a situation or of, you know, like a moment in time. And something about that really, really feels cool. Yeah.
EW: It's so interesting because I'm a fiction writer, and the three of us here are writers. I know some of us dabble in the visual arts as well. But I'm always, I feel...I'm very scared of you, Millicent, because I'm terrified of visual artists in a lot of ways. I have so much respect. I like love visual art.
MK: Can I tell you something? That's how I feel about writers because I secretly want to be one of you. I write all the time, but don't share it with anybody. So it's a mutual thing.
EW: Ain't that always how it goes? But it's so interesting because everything you just said, it feels so much like our work is necessarily so different because we're working in two different media, right? But everything you said felt so familiar and true to me, right? That like, speaking for myself, I writing is very rarely is it an act of me trying to say something, right? Like it's an act of like discovery, of like trying to discover what this thing is, right? And I really, really appreciate everything you just said about like, you know, like just this was the shape I was working with and somebody else told me they were mirrors and that alters how you think about the project, right? I find that like that is like such a wonderful and kind of profound artistic experience.
MK: I live for moments like that. Like, I mean, my next response was that I did a series of mirror artworks where I was just like, okay, well, like clearly this is something I, like deep in here, I'm interested in, like that's the direction to go. So it was really, I just love those moments so much. And I feel like if you have the community that you need to like feed you, those things happen and it's really, really beautiful.
JW: I love this interweaving where it's like, you know, creating art that's like about the need for human connection, but then also the acknowledgement that it's not like that the artist is not producing something that is like a perfect like crystal object where your job is to figure out what their intention was, right--you said like that that connection is what produces meaning that the object
MK: Yes, exactly.
JW: You know, we have, we have our little ideas, we have our little intentions, but that's ultimately not, not, not the point and more so than, than the point like literally not what, what creates meaning as you're, as you're saying, I love that, that relationship.
EW: And so often our little ideas and little intentions are wrong. Like so often we're fucking idiots about our own work, I feel.
MK: It's hard to see something when you're close to it. You know? You need space. Yeah.
EDV: Millicent, I really want to go back to this identity that you don't know if you can assume as being a writer because I consider you to be a writer--
EDV: --because you have these wonderful artworks where you actually weave written fragments of text into the work and I find that to be wonderful because I think the interesting thing with writers is that oftentimes when we're taught how to write, we're taught at two-dimensional, kind of method or medium, like you're just gonna put it on the page and that's where it's going to be and we don't really get to learn about like the different levels and the different forms that language can take and like the aesthetically pleasing and important forms that it can take as well but I do feel that that you have achieved that and so I feel that you're like taking writing actually one step further and I wanted to ask you because even though we're talking about like little intentions and little ideas you You do have kind of these far-reaching background narratives of your work, specifically when it talks about the pandemic. A lot of your work that covers the pandemic was really, really profound for me to look at, especially the one, One Day Will Waltz Again. I hope I'm not messing up the title, but I really love that one. Actually, I wanted to ask you, what role do you see narrative playing in your work, but also specifically poetry? actually that far away or that writing is that far away from your identity as a creator.
MK: I think that's true. I definitely do write consistently. And I like to think of texts as a medium in my practice, because I think that it's kind of what I've become comfortable with, though I would be, you know, like I do make books. And I have like a lot of practical ability to produce and publish by myself something. It's not necessarily something I've done yet in that way. that the connection of stories and language really are part of something really palpable for me for sure. Yeah, the one about waltzing was specifically about not having seen my father in a long time during the pandemic, who is older and far more at risk. And it was a very, very hard time, especially as he's, you know, in Mississippi and it really felt like that kind of the way in which the pandemic was being treated there was not going to facilitate him living through it, you know, and he has like a frontline job. So I, I think that like, with that kind of performance, I was really just trying to be as vulnerable as I could, because it was like really the only way that I could talk about this absence was to feel it in my body. And I think that that is something that comes up a lot for me is that the process of making something and the language are kind of attached. I think that a lot of what I'm doing with hand sewing is kind of mending and bringing something together that maybe feels desperate. kind of like order out of chaos. And there's definitely like writing that I have done that relates to that. And yeah, I think that they do kind of have like a like a push and pull. It is kind of funny. I recently went on Valentine's Day with my partner and just like one of our friends to a pizza place because we were just like trying to be chill. And we didn't know that were having trivia night and it's like right next to Northwestern it was like very like college campus vibes. We were like okay let's pretend we're in college at Northwestern. What are our majors? You know and and my friend decided that I was a poetry major which felt right with a minor in archaeology. I was like actually that's perfect like that's that's pretty spot-on. That's exactly what I'm doing with my art practice. But I think it's like, it's like one of those things where if you feel like you are, like you belong or you're like in a track, you know, like, like I'm a visual artist. So therefore my obligations are to pursue my visual art. And you know, it could be argued that doing something else would kind of pull me out of that. But really. And what I am doing is poetry and archaeology of small objects that are in people's lives that carry stories and therefore poetry. So I thought she did a great job picking a new major for me. But yeah. Yeah.
EDV: That's so fantastic. That's so fantastic. I mean, also, I think it's intensely delightful that you would have this kind of fantastical narrative occurring at this, I don't know, during this trivia night. Being like, well, in these other lives, in these alternate dimensions, what would we be? What majors would we have? I'm so happy you brought up archaeology, because when I was creating my questions, I was kind of tussling with two words that kept on coming to mind when I looked at your work and the first word was preservation. But then I also see that you use the word like excavation, also in your descriptions of your work. And so I kind of wanted to ask, do you feel that you are, I mean, this is probably maybe a bit of a overly, it's a no duh kind of question or an obvious question, but do you feel like you do more preservation, excavation, or is this like a beautiful, between the two efforts.
MK: You know, it might be like, I think it is somewhere in between and that if it was preservation, it is truly a disrespectful, like intrusive kind of preservation, you know, where it's like, I'm just deconstructing this thing and then making it so you can't interact with it again, you know, and so it's in this new life. And so I like, I'm interested in this like tension between holding something up be viewed and seen in its sort of like dissected suspension. But it's also kind of shrouded. And so it's kind of, you know, having this like burial feeling at the same time. And, you know, I think that one thing too, like I applied for something recently. And they asked for like like thing ever like terrible. What are we doing? But mine was evidence and that felt like the most honest because you know I'm not I'm not keeping it exactly as it is. I'm interested in understanding it but in this way where it's like we might use up some of it for DNA testing or like you know it might like end up being you know in a in a different format than it started you know is kind of like attention in my work, where it's these things that are being held and like that's an act of love and kind of putting them in this situation where they're shrouded is also like a way of them not being used, but you know, they're broken. For the most part, they're not, they weren't going to be used anyway. So I think that it's like part gratitude and part like investigation that's kind of happening. tensely.
JW: I'm imagining myself having given you something that, like, again, like something I was ready to let go of, but that did have sentimental value to me. And I'm thinking about that as, like, on the one hand, the item has been transformed. It's been made into something beautiful. It's been, it's kind of at the heart of something that clearly took a lot of time and intention, right, to create, but then at the same time, I can't see it in the way it was anymore? Like that is so fascinating. Like both transformative, but also mournful. And in that way does feel like a ritual, but a suspended one. Like it's just always stuck in that moment of the process.
MK: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, and some of the first ones that I did were broken plates and cups and things, which at the time, because I'm always making work for where I am in here, just always. And it's not even really on purpose all the time. But at that time, it was in a very tense domestic situation. So this memorializing of a thing that's broken can't be fixed ever again that's like put in this state of destruction like suspended moment of deconstruction I think was like very important for me at at the time then and like and then you know this this act of holding like this kind of gesture kind of changes with with what it's relating to and I kind of that are becoming part of it.
JW: I'm really curious, Millicent, like because of our shared connection in Mississippi, I'm really curious how Mississippi continues to figure if at all in your work, because I mean, Mississippi's got its own mythology. Like that's a heavy place to be from. You know what I mean? Like you, I can only imagine all the associations and assumptions. And like. just like I feel like even just the question of how does Mississippi figure into your work? Like even the fact that you have to answer that question, I don't know if that would happen to someone who's from Pennsylvania. You know what I mean? Yeah, so I'm curious about the question, but I'm also curious about how you feel about that question and getting it all the time.
MK: Jules, that was such a beautiful way to ask that, because I imagine that you've been through this too, where you can feel this immediate unease in any Midwestern person when you say you're from Mississippi and you're a white femme-appearing person, because frankly, white women have a lot of problems that they've got, specifically in the South. And I think that it is something where I feel like when I tell someone I'm from Mississippi, like they seem like they get drained and that it's like something that they're like afraid to have a conversation about. And I see that in that it can be a lot of really hard conversations. And I'm not ashamed of being from Mississippi. There are a lot of amazing, resilient people. There's so much history in the Civil Rights movement. There's so many people that we've seen do amazing things. And I'm not ashamed of being from there. I am ashamed of a lot of legislation that comes out of it. It's very difficult and fraught. And I think that people want to assume that because they're in the North, of their history and that truly isn't real. You know Martin Luther King Jr. said like when he came to Chicago to to work with people on housing here that the only difference between the white people in Chicago and the white people in Mississippi was their accent and Chicago is still one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. And so this is stuff that I like if people like really want to how it's so messed up that like Jackson is the only capital in the US without like good drinking water. And it's an 83% black city. Like it's, it's so terrible. It makes me so mad. And like, I know that there's so much work to be done there. And I think that it's like having those conversations with people shifts it where they think about it a little bit differently. But I don't know. I think that it's really hard. And I by no means am like the most well-spoken about all of these things. I have a lot of passion for it, but I do think that it's a difficult conversation to have. And I have talked to people too, like, where, like, if I'm making work that's about industry, like, with my show with Michael, that was at Purple Window Gallery, for those who toil, we were, like he was making work about the steel workers history in Chicago and I was making work related to textile work. And, you know, I had some studio visits where I was talking with people and they were like, you know, like, your family has a background in industry in Mississippi is that like something you're interested in talking about because my God, there's so many stories of my family of people like losing their family. fingers while doing logging work. And there's so many hands in my work already that it's like this is like, it has historically been something that I like talk about in my work when I'm talking about trauma. But I think that there is kind of this interest in people wanting to see me be a little more direct about that. And I think that that's interesting. It's just that I'm kind of like, in love with being where I am and I feel like I talk more about Chicago because that's where I am You know, so I think that it kind of like shifts like that for me But yeah, I'm trying to think I feel like I really went off track and you can reign me in any time you want?
EW: I think that was all so well said. And I think what you're speaking to, I'm from the South as well. I actually was born in Mississippi I was born in Hattiesburg--
MK: Oh my gosh.
EW: --lived near Hattiesburg for like nine years, and then spent the rest of my childhood in Kentucky. But like, so everything that you're saying about how like that origin can consume the work in a lot of ways, in ways that are very unfair. brings very true and I think you spoke to those things all very eloquently, so thank you. But like in Jules, I was going to ask a similar question actually, but I'm glad that you asked it because I think you got to the heart of the matter much better than I could have. But it also occurs to me like I don't know if I'm ready to label you know like textiles and textile based art as a uniquely southern tradition, but I think I'm almost ready to do that, right? Like it does there is there are a lot of southern textile artists right like Double Wells and Aaron Sanders Head and like the Gee's Bend quilt makers for God's sakes, right, and so I just wanted to I guess I just wanted to ask a question about like, you know where does that interest in textiles emerge from for you and like how long has it been a part of your art making practice? And do you see those kind of like you see that bleeding over into your Southern (roots)?
MK: Totally. I don't ever remember a time when I didn't sew, actually. And so that it's definitely been, I think that you're right. I think that there's like also this connection between textiles and anywhere where you have to like make your own space. You know, so anyone having to practice some sort of self-reliance through history in America has probably had. But I think that in general, textiles to me are so powerful because it was really our first technology. They made it so that we could move materials around. We could live in inhospitable environments. We could sleep comfortably in places and we're around them pretty much all of the time. And there's also something about that relationship to textiles that does again feel like being held. And I think that that relates to my work as well, where it's this embrace that can feel very affectionate and very powerful. But it can be very varied. Our relationship to all these different textiles is different from one another. And as a young person, my first place where I was making things was the, back room of my dad's veterinary clinic. So it's like, was like past the operating room, I would like go hang out back there and like, sew and play with Legos. And I, I think that there was like, you know, kind of all of this time that I like needed to fill. And for me, it was like, well, I'm around all these things here. And you know, I'm going to like make something with what I have. And I'm still kind of doing that. But yeah, I mean, I think that there is like an amazing history of it. My mom tried to teach me to sew with a sewing machine when I was maybe like six or seven and she's not a patient person. And so it didn't really go well. So I started sewing by hand because I knew that I was interested in this. I knew I was very drawn to it. And I think that that slowness really just worked for me and as a space maker in this kind of meditation that you can see accumulating. And so I think that that was like kind of what as as a young person really drew me to it. And you know there is like so much about textiles that it can be related to you know reclaiming women's work, it can be related to self-reliance and you know deciding that we get to remake the world that we get to like seize the means of creating something in a world where the expectation is that we buy and throw away something in the same year. You know, like it can like really provide a lot more opportunity for like making your space. It like also has so many culturally relevant situations where it signifiers of different things and is like just so full of of content at every turn. And so I think that I just have a really deep love for textiles and the people that make them and the slowness and meditation that it provides. I think it's very cool.
EDV: Your description of your family's history with work and with being marred by that work and losing fingers or limbs. It's making me think of this one piece that you have. It's a tray and you've etched somebody's hands onto that tray. And when I saw it, I felt like there was this cross in my head between Salome or Salome. However, somebody wants to pronounce it and holding the head of John the Baptist, but then also you having this this like personal family history with that is is really like what we serve you is ourselves kind of idea--
MK: 100% wow that is so beautifully said. They're actually my dad's hands, and so, you know, I love my family very, very deeply. I think that, you know, like we, I was raised in a very Protestant, like Baptist home. And I think that there is a lot of this really deeply ingrained Protestant work ethic that where we show love, and that we care and that we're like laboring for something is with our actions, with our hands. And you know so I think that that really that really resonates. Yeah absolutely. I actually, I started doing these drawings, I don't, maybe right out of high school of my grandmothers and my father's hands and my dad, because I asked for them once, like started taking pictures and sending me pictures of his hands through time. So I have a lot of them now that I can use for reference drawings. But yeah, I feel like there is definitely that connection of labor and love. And what does that ultimately mean? Because there are parts of that that can facilitate an agenda that I don't want to do. I'm not interested in romanticizing the grind. I make a lot of art because it's how I feel free. And like it makes, you know, it feeds me. And when it doesn't, when it's like getting to monotonous, I rest and I do something else. And so, you know, like I do like have that kind of like short conversation with people semi-frequently where they're like, oh, but you're so prolific. Like, how are you doing all of this? And it's like, well, I mean, it's like what we see on Instagram, right? But like, you know, I can take a nap and watch hours of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Like I'll do it.
JW: That's such a, I think that's such an important distinction to make about your work because you're right that one interpretation could be like, you know, not only like, I love that association that you're making with your own productivity, right? Like because because you, I mean, that's part of the marvel of your work that you're producing is you look at it and you're like, holy shit, how much time did that take? How did...you know what I mean? Like, how like you there's this very...like embodied mind boggling... like encountering your work where it's just thinking about the labor and intensity that went into it right. But then on the other hand, like, for those who toil, that association, this was an effort of labor, I am like, this is this is about labor, there's totally a path that you could take intellectually that would be like, Ah, yes. Millicent--
MK: "Labor is love."
JW: --is working exactly. Yes, exactly "labor is love." Millicent loves working.
JW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I think that that's a really important distinction to make between, you know, that like, as you're saying, the grinding out of productivity, prolificness, like honoring laborers without necessarily like, I don't know, how would you all put the difference there? Like honoring laborers without, what would be the other side of that.
MK: Without fetishizing it.
JW: Yeah, there we go.
MK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I was actually pulled from the review that Annette from 60 Inches from Center wrote about that she said like, Because we all have this dynamic with labor, pretty much all of us. And yeah, she said that it's often fetishized. And it's like, you know what? You're right. That is accurate. You really see that a lot.
EW: And it's such a sticky wicket with art in particular, where we live in a culture where so often art is considered superfluous. And it's considered on the outside of what we might call labor. And yet, we have people fetishizing the labor that goes into a work of art, like Jules was saying, like the time that it must be. have taken the effects on your body, it must have caused. And so I think that it's important for artists, both visual artists and literary artists, to bear the kind of contradictions of all of that in mind as we embark on these endeavors.
MK: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, I've had more than one interview for like an art job, air quotes that I was told they wouldn't pay me well because the reward is working with art. And that just is disgusting. Because you know, like labor is labor and and, you know, one thing I really feel strongly about is just solidarity with workers. In general, anyone that works treated well. And so yeah, absolutely. I think that there's so much of labor in the art world specifically that gets kind of pushed to the periphery, where we're not honoring it. We're not talking about it. There's credits at the end of movies for everyone that worked on the movie. Why can't we do that? the museum wall. Like why can't we have something where we just like at least give people like their name and acknowledgement and because like what we get socialized to see is the artist's name is on the wall and you know, so that perpetuates this idea that art is a singular genius making their vision happen and the museums just find out about it and they know and the truth is that it's like this huge beautiful network of people that are working collaboratively and making amazing things and they all should get to have a voice. Yeah.
EDV: That was beautifully said. That was lovely. Absolutely lovely. I went to with my boyfriend, we went to the Art Institute yesterday and I was just imagining, I was just going back to my memories of that afternoon in my mind as you were talking about this and just like, yeah, there should be like a rolling, I don't know, or like a continuous like piece of text that's always being unspooled in some way. Yeah, yeah.
EW: And this is where we slowly fade in. There is power in a union, right?
MK: Oh, absolutely. Oh my gosh, yeah. Someone was like, in an intro video for my residency at Little Street was like, so what should people come and talk to you about? And I'm like, honestly, unions. I'll talk to you about building and negotiating for a union anytime and cats.
EW: Two of the all-time greatest things.
MK: Exactly. Exactly. Thank you.
EDV: Because this is not going to be like a visual document on our website. So for those of us, for those who are like tuning in that can't see Em's beautiful cat Funyun$ jumped on their lap and has been just a, I don't know, a little muffin of deliciousness and cuteness. I'm getting cute aggression. When I see Funyun$, I get cute aggression. It's kind of like, I just, you kind of want to, I don't know, nibble him up or something. Well, sounds weird. No cats were hurt in the making of this podcast. Funion$ has been adorable
EW: Since we're filling in the absence of visuality for listeners, it should also be noted that Jules is not amused by any of this.
JW: --not cracked a smile. I am patiently waiting for the topic of conversation to turn. Funyun$ is my enemy.
MK: So, Jules, you don't have cats then is what I'm hearing.
JW: I, I, why generalize? Funyun$ as an individual cat is my enemy.
EDV Wait, why am I just hearing about this now?
EW: Jules spends many, many hours in my home. We have standing work days where we just sit across one another and work and somewhere and in those many hours together it was decided that there is bad blood between these two.
MK: Man, I should have recorded this at home, so you could have meant Coffee and Doughnut, my cats. But--
EDV: That's their names? That's so cute.
JW: I love those names. I don't think coffee and donuts will be my enemies. I'm gonna lay that out right here rightnow
MK: They're basically pillows. Like they don't do much. Yeah. Yeah.
JW: I love that. Just briefly returning, Millicent, I just, I'm just kind of processing what you're saying about like, you know, the difference between honoring and fetishizing labor. And I just love that you, as someone with such an impressive artistic practice, that you're pushing against that idea and that you're saying like, yes, a lot of labor goes into my art objects, but it's labor that feeds me. I do it when I want to do it. I do it when, like, that like, whatever that like creative current like running through. And when I don't, when I don't feel that I don't do it, I feel like that's so important, because I do think that, again, a reading of you as an artist could be like, Wow, they're really doing it. They're really like, like, that is praxis right there. And it's like, Well, well, no, they're, they're still Millicent is still like, taking the time that you need resting when you need, and that is not reflective of labor practices in the United States, right? Like you are not a reflection, in fact, of the grind. Very importantly, I think, yeah.
MK: Yeah, I mean, I think like finally working in a place that had a union did like really shift a lot of that for me because if you don't ever get told that your safety matters in the workplace and you deserve to have free time and you deserve to get paid more when you shouldn't normally be working. If you're never told those things, like, of course you don't know that that would be better, you know? But it's just kind of interesting how there's so much anti-union rhetoric by people that would really benefit. That's all.
MK: I know! It's so hard. It's so hard. We just, we all deserve communities and workplaces that support and respect boundaries. And, you know, it'd be cool if they even loved us back, you know, but that's not, that's probably not gonna happen. And we don't need to like love labor. So I think that's fine. Yeah.
EDV: I think we have time for one more question before we ask Millicent where we can see more of their work, but any takers for more questions?
EW: I nominate Eni.
EDV: No... I don't know why I said no so feebly I'm the one who started this podcast. That's the whole point about asking questions.
EW: You've been enfeebled by the podcast as well.
EDV: I have. So yeah, I think I, because you just sent me a message actually on Instagram about this upcoming show that is going to be on Friday, and I'm going to it because I missed your last show and I was like kicking myself. I was very upset that I couldn't go. But yeah, so what opportunities are coming up of where we can go and see your work and give you the praise.
MK: Yeah. When is this coming out? Like when people listen to it, what day will it be?
EDV: It will be probably, oh, it'll be the last day of March. So the whole issue will go out that day.
MK: So when this comes out, then my show that's opening this Friday will still be up. It's called Reviver, which is a palindrome. So it's the same forward and backward. So it's like a mirror. And this is the series of mirror works that have objects in them, some are tools from one of my jobs. Some are things donated specifically So they are like really embedded in my, you know, process of having the residency, things that like are from there, like the former doorknob to the dark room that's now covered in emulsion and doesn't work anymore, things like that. Broken key, broken locks, things like that. And so Reviver is a series of seven. seven mirror pieces and some prints, and it'll be in the first floor of Lillstreet Art Center in kind of the like gallery space. I see, you know, it's first come in. And that'll be up March 24th to April 15th. And I have an artist talk on April 15th, which is a Saturday at five o'clock. That'll also be at Lillstreet on the first floor. So you can see it the last day, learn more about my secrets in sewing and such. And yeah, and if you're in the South and don't hate me yet, I do have a show in North Carolina in, this opens in May. That'll be at the upstairs art space with Arden Cone. It's a two-person show. And the name of the show is... Time's Witness.
EDV: It's a beautiful title and just for the record, because I want this to be documented. I don't think anybody normal could not like you.
MK: That's really sweet.
EW: That's a slender fraction of people though: "normals."
JW: Like us!
JW: "Normal people."
MK: I was talking to somebody about like going to MSA and how like being there with all of the weirdos from all over the state just made me be like, I can go anywhere. I don't have to stay in my like little town. I can do anything. You know, so it's like, you got to find your people and you're normal.
EDV: Thank you so much, Millicent.
EW: This was so, so great. And big shout out to Ethan.
JW: Ethan! Such a sweet dear man. I truly love Ethan.
ML: Um, I don't know. We're, we, we like, we're on tenuous terms. I think that we're friends now. I think we're fine now. I don't know.
EW: If you're not and he listens to this, it's gonna be real real awkward.
MK: It's gonna be real awkward. I know.
JW: Yeah, let it be known. I did not check in with Millicent before airing all of our personal high school drama. Oh God.
MK: We could do a whole episode of just high school drama for everybody.
JW: Round two, we just are doing Mississippi School of the Arts.
MK: We have to describe everybody's wild makeup, weird hair colors, outfits, miscellaneous activities.
JW: I have to tell you one story, and this is good medicine for everybody. So this was people in my year. So Millicent was a year ahead of me. But as you know, right, MSA, very invested in scoping out who are the lesbians, who are the gays, who are the queers, and making sure that they don't live in the same room together.
MK: I feel like they failed on that a few times though.
JW: Oh, did they this is what I mean. So if you're an idiot like me, you're just like, "I'm bisexual, I want to kiss my roommate." And then they they make you move, right? Because that's stupid. But I found out that there were there were a couple, there was a couple, no one knew, not even their friends knew. And they they dated for two years and it wasn't until after they left MSA that they revealed that they had been a couple the entire time. Even their close friends. Like they played it so so cool. Like I just I think about that that couple and I'm just like good good for you. So they they knew how to play the game. Shout out shout out to the to the lesbians and queers of MSA.
EDV: That's the queer youth I would have liked to have had. I'm having like second hand jealousy.
JW: Me too, honestly. Me too. Yeah, they did it. They made it happen.
MK: Wow. Imagine like also just like simultaneously having this like really lovely like first love or early love experience but like not being out to anybody and being a secret. I don't know. Something about that makes me like, oh, Christ, that sucks. But you know, I guess it was working for them. That's awesome.
EW: It's a rare instance in which queer people benefited from the mechanization of the closet, right? Like...
MK: Yeah, right. Yeah, it's true.
JW: Love them. Awesome. Well, Millicent, it's so friggin' fun to talk to you. You are so incredibly smart, and I love your work so much. I'm happy you're in the same city. And I'm going to message you on Instagram in two seconds, and we're going to put a date in the calendar.
MK: That sounds great.
EDV: Thank you again, Millicent.
Millicent Kennedy's (They/Them) art practice collaborates with materials and time through performance, fiber, and print. They frequently work with donated objects, and interview people about the objects they live with and use. The themes explored in their work often pivot on the tension between the lasting and fleeting nature of our material experience.
They received a Bachelor's Degree from Northeastern Illinois University and MFA from Northern Illinois University where they were awarded the Helen Merritt Fellowship. They’ve received solo exhibitions from Belong Gallery, SXU Art Gallery, Roman Susan and Parlour and Ramp, as well as site specific installations with Charles Allis Art Museum, Terrain Exhibitions Biennial, and Purple Window Gallery.
Kennedy serves as the Curator of Exhibitions at the Fine Arts Center Gallery in Northeastern Illinois University and has previously served as the Gallery Director at Rockford University, they currently teach classes and workshops in and around Chicago, where their studio is located.