India Salvor Menuez
New York native India Salvor Menuez grew up in a fantasy world of her own that later blossomed into a creative collective that she started with a couple of friends at age fifteen. Nowadays, she is mainly focusing on performance with topics such as Ecology and Equality on her mind.
I talk to her about bohemia, Naturalism and norm-breaking fashion and her upcoming projects, including the performance series “BOOKLUB” at the MoMA, two feature films she co-wrote, one of which she co-directed as well, and also, her continuing work with her performance alter-ego CHIBI CHERRY.
Ann: Can you tell me a bit about your upbringing and where you found your interest in arts?
India: I grew up in New York with young, reasonably cool parents and I am always grateful for the open-mindedness they raised me with. I was an only child till I was 12, spending most of my time in the fantasy world of my head. I drew a lot and was always working on some kind of art project. We didn’t have a lot of money, but when you are a kid, a cardboard box and some markers is enough. I think I developed a notion of “availablism” early on before-more recently, learning about the idea which now, still really resonates.
Some of your work has a Naturalistic sensibility; a kind of traditional bohemian vibe mixed with big city energy. Can you tell me a bit about that?
I think trying to keep things natural manifests in how I approach materials and in how I structure my performances. For example with my soymilking work, I am not just using the milk as a visual tool, I am thinking about the unique journey and symbolic value of the material as it is. A lot of my favorite art is strong to me for its ability to use its materials to its full potential. I think a lot about energy and cycles, and I am a sucker for satisfaction. And I structure my performative work always with room for and a reliance on improvisation, so that leaves some looseness akin to the bohemian way. Looseness keeps things alive and moving and also leaves room for failure, invited with open arms. This is an attitude I adopt from people I look up to, like Vaginal Davis; I always loved Leigh Bowery’s quote: “Embarrassment is the unexplored emotion.” Ideas about availabilism that I have learned from following Kembra Pfahler’s work have become important to me in this approach to materials too. At the moment at least, I don’t have anyone but myself funding these performances, so my materials are limited but in the spirit of availabilism I can celebrate this limitation in pushing the materials I do have to do the most they can for me. It has it’s big city energy because that is where I am, that is the realm in which I am gathering these materials from.
What is your favorite medium to work in at the moment?
Performance. Because for me it feels the most direct and scary. As a medium, it feels the most aware and in acknowledgment of the fact that there is no pure viewer, that, as in quantum physics, a viewer is actually a participant, even if only latently. To me, this acknowledgment is very important.
What are issues you wish to bring up, and thoughts you want to provoke with your art?
The world has a lot of problems, but also offers a lot that still glimmers, feeding the fountain of hope in me. The big ones for me are Equality and Ecology. If what the second-wave feminists said is still true, (which for me it is), that the personal is political, then everything I make in my daily attempt to explore and expand my personal ethics, should communicate and be in action of that.
What is Equality to you?
Equality should be simple. In a realm of equality, everyone is granted the same rights and judged only for their actions. Differences should be celebrated, not dwelled upon. Not understanding where a person is “coming from” should never be an excuse to disrespect or discriminate. If someone challenges my understanding of a what a person can be, I am grateful for the opportunity to expand my understanding.
And what about Ecology? How do you integrate that as a topic into your art to provoke a possible conversation?
I enjoy the idea that confusion can be a tool of counterattack consumerism. For example with social media, when we follow each other we subscribe to the brands we now have created for ourselves; as the number of followers, like stocks, rise there grows a real commercial interest. But because “everyone” uses the internet and uses it so intimately, we now experience advertising alongside personal information. Which is totally perverse, invasive and often subliminal, but also can keep things in perspective. It is disorienting to see a glossy campaign image, next to one of natural disaster, next to a maybe “TMI” sad-girlselfie. The danger is in finding your feet in this information-whirlpool. But I think there is a very particular apathy that grows from this and leaves one quite uninspired to shop. Playing with this idea in the experiment of crafting an online identity allows us to throw wrenches into the stream of information, in hopes of getting the consumer-follower and the consumer-self to stop and question the feed.
I read that gender- and norm-breaking issues are something close to your heart. What are your thoughts surrounding that?
I think I could and should be breaking down “the norm” a lot more. I am actually constantly berating myself for not being radical enough, but I also don’t want to make a statement where someone else’s voice should be heard. There are a lot of other people living against the expectations of society in a much more brutal way then I have to. I am not always OK with being a woman but being in conversation with that emotion is at least an interesting and important trajectory. Look at me in this editorial, for example, I wanted to wear more from brands that look past the traditional ideas of dressing to gender, brands like Moses Gauntlett Cheng, Gogograhm, Vaquera & Eckhaus Latta, but as things in fashion often go, it didn’t work out…
So what are your thoughts on fashion as art?
If you are really obsessed with what you make and pour your soul into it, anything can be art. I often consider many of the meals my partner Jack Shannon cooks to be perfect works of art.
Absolutely! Although fashion can, but doesn’t necessarily have to be a statement of sorts. For example, you mentioned brands earlier that you would have liked to wear in this feature for reasons that are beyond the aesthetics of the clothing. So where do you draw the line between pure aesthetics and thought provocation through “style”? Or, how do you make them co-exist?
I think visually and my parents always let me wear anything, so it is a big part of how I see and understand things, specifically identity. I am very sensitive to the styling of things. I don’t know where I draw the line between pure aesthetic and theory-based style because maybe I don’t believe in pure aesthetic. Even if an image seems to be saying nothing, silence is an indication of its own. The thing about reading those indications from an image is that the intention doesn’t always translate through; and with the rise of appropriation through globalization, it becomes increasingly convoluted to find style generated directly from provocative convictions.
What have been some of your favorite past collaborations?
Working on my first role in a feature film with Olivier Assayas was kind of a dream of an entryway. He worked us actors like porcelain, with a perfect combination of a firm hand moving delicately. Later working with Maiko Endo to co-write Technology, “favorite” feels too soft a word to describe the essential sensation of making that film happen... And more recently creating the score for “the world of CHIBI CHERRY” with my dad Ross Menuez (aka RAWS aka Various Ways of No Way).
You have been fortunate to travel to some really inspirational places for work such as Iceland and India…
I feel very aware of my privilege when I am able to travel as I do, though almost always for work in one way or another. Because New York is such a bullseye for so many different people, and often people who are shaping the world the most, it is easy to think New York holds everything. But getting away is always an important reminder of the relativity of that “center point”, it’s my reset button. I have a few very close friends who live in other countries and are far removed from the New York scene I associate with, to be in conversation and collaboration with them feels important to a process of broadening the relevancy of my art.
Do you have anything fun coming up that you can share?
We are in post-production on two features I co-wrote, one of which I co-directed as well. These are kind of the biggest projects coming up that I am excited about. Also bringing my performance series “BOOKLUB” to MOMA under the context of 8ball’s “the Newsstand” is just crazy, surreal and SO exciting. I am continuing a lot of work with CHIBI CHERRY, both performative and video, so that is nourishing. Editing together a fat drive of footage from a trip I did shooting BABY SKIN dance collective during their residency at the Freezer in Iceland. Hopefully, I can go to some festivals with some films I acted in in the last two years that are almost done now. I keep pretty busy…