Our contributing art editor Riki Moss recently had this exchange with Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees, our Issue #21 featured artist. Here’s what she had to say about the creative impulse, the inspiration found at the intersection of cultures, and her work depicting histories of Vermonters.
You speak of yourself as a person at the Crossroads. You’ve written that where roads cross, “cultures, ideas and beliefs collide and find both dissonance and resonance.” Can you elaborate? Is this a way of speaking of the creative impulse?
I was born at the crossroads of 3 cultures and moved between those cultures and 3 languages by the time I was 10 years old. I also believe that I thrive and find the greatest access to the creative impulse in the tension of the crossroads where cultures, ideas and beliefs intersect and sometimes collide. I find that to be a source of generative tension for me. I also live at the crossroads between the visible world and the invisible world, which is accessed through intuition, imagination and awareness of spirit.
I imagine that a person exploring this place where “what is magic and what is reality shift” might lunge for a handhold. Does one need a teacher like yourself, a lyeska to regain balance? Or is balance contraindicated for the creative impulse?
I believe that the handhold is one’s own core or essential self rooted both in the Earth and in Mystery. Remembering this does not require anything more than staying awake to ourselves as multidimensional beings linked to something greater. Everyone has access to this awareness. Balance is dynamic in the flow of life and living and the creative impulse is part of that flow.
I came across this on your website under the topic of Crossroads: “Deep observation, awareness, and alignment allow us to map the territory of our inner realities in relation to all else that is.” Is this a “guide to living” from your indigenous heritage? Does it apply just to humans? Or do other sentient beings naturally live in relation “to all else that is?”
It is a guide to living that is deeply relational in which humans understand their appropriate place and are capable of understanding themselves as a detail of the landscape along with all the other sentient life that is non human. I was given this as a teaching from both my Lakota and Kongolese relatives. My grandmother taught me that all living beings live in relation but that humans sometimes forget and that all beings are sentient.
The installation piece you created for Of Land and Local at the Shelburne Farms Coach barn sponsored by the BCA in 2015 filled a large room with fabric dipped in bees wax, a tree anchored in the ceiling and floor (earth and sky), piles of cloth boulders, etc. The sculptures hold the stories of marginalized Vermonters and through them a history of the land that is often hidden. Can you talk about some of this history? And did it draw you to this land?
As a Black Indian I was very interested in how my multiple heritages and ancestors might live in the landscape and where the people were whom they could call relatives. Most of what I hear about the Abenaki made them sound like historical figures rather than contemporary living people. And many of the African Americans I met came here from somewhere else. So I began to search……for living Abenaki and their stories and for descendants of slaves from the underground railroad. It was through this search and the history of Eugenics in Vermont that I came to the stories that were in my installation and were meant to reflect the incommensurate histories of Vermont. This, however, is not what drew me to the land. I was drawn to Vermont and Burlington in particular by the spirits in the woods. Everything else came after I moved here.
The sound scape emanating from the sculptures all at once at times felt like the humming of the bees. You’ve done a great deal of work with bees: books, writing, installations like at the Coach Barn. What do the bees mean to you? Are you speaking to their plight as an example of a world out of balance? Or are they of a deeper magic?
I have been deeply connected to bees for decades. They are an embodiment of love in the universe and also a connection to the ancestors. I point to their plight both as an example of a world out of balance and also as honor to love and the ancestors. And I do believe they are part of a deeper, larger cosmic magic.
How is the creative impulse linked to the concept of beauty in service of social change, spiritual practice and the expansion of imagination?
I am not sure how to answer this question without asking about the meaning of beauty in the same sentence as social change, spiritual practice and expansion of imagination. I believe the creative impulse is linked to a cosmic consciousness. Through that understanding I would say that it can be linked to the expansion of imagination and spiritual practice. Beauty in that context can also serve social change by opening hearts and minds to the dynamic balance of the continuing creation of our world. It causes us to examine whether our own living contribution to this creation is toward its making or unmaking.
You’ve given me this quote: “Reality is held in place by agreements with space, time and mind. Magic, medicine and the creative impulse are ways that humans can re-negotiate one or more of these agreements.” How does this understanding inform your personal work? For example, the Black Queens, your featured work in this issue of Mud Season Review.
When I am making work I do not have this thought in mind but after the work is created I can see/feel/know which agreement is being renegotiated. In the Black Queens series I believe the work renegotiates the agreements of mind and space bringing these black female icons into relationship with the bees, the plight of the bees and the sensuousness of the smell of the bees. The series is called Wild Hives- Black Queens. So these hives I have created are meant to invoke the wild bees and hives and bring them into constructed domesticated space. This is a renegotiation of space.
To what extent do we consider beauty (artworks) that come from the communion with the Creative Impulse as an essential part of consciousness? What’s the equation for you of beauty with art? Is beauty inevitable when it is an essential part of consciousness? To put this another way, when art springs from the creative consciousness, is it by nature beautiful?
I believe that the beauty manifest from the creative impulse is expressed in multiple ways, many of which are not considered artworks. I do not conflate beauty and artwork and I do see the creative impulse as an essential part of consciousness. I believe that beauty that is linked with art has much more to do with culture and aesthetics than with the creative impulse. I see my work as a maker as trying to be open to communion with the creative impulse and the result is an artifact of that process. I am continually exploring this communion and its artifacts as well as other objects, beings and environments through my own understanding of beauty. I find the culturally constructed ideas of beauty (particularly Western European) to be limiting.
You’re exploring beauty, consciousness, creativity, within culture and technology. Are we in danger of losing interest in beauty in the service of science? As neuroscience broadens our knowledge of the brain, what will be left of magic? Or beauty? Or the work of the hands?
I definitely think that in American culture the creation and appreciation of beauty has been diminished by the current fascination with science. Our cultural preference for science and knowledge of the brain has created disconnects between ourselves and magic. I believe that this disconnect has made many of us unaware of the increase in magic and beauty at this time.
Forgive me if I’m getting too personal, but would you talk (in length) about your obsession with Bollywood?
It’s not that it’s too personal but rather that I am still trying to understand what has so captivated me in Bollywood. It began with a friend introducing me to Bollywood films and using them as a distraction while I was in a lot of pain with a back injury. I loved the color, texture and grandness of the films. I also was fascinated by some of the recurring themes, imagery and nonlinear plot lines. I found myself watching more and more Bollywood and being unable to go back to watch any American TV or films. I really know very little about the history and multiple cosmologies of India but what seemed to be a part of every story was an infusion of the spiritual. It felt very familiar and nourishing. I continue to be completely engrossed in the lushness and sensuality of some of these films. At the same time I am refining my taste in certain directors, composers, actors and plotlines but mostly to continue to feed whatever in me is being expanded and nourished as a multidimensional being through this medium.