Versatility and Storytelling in the work of AJ McClenon
An Interview for Sixty Inches From Center.
My first experience with AJ McClenon's work happens to be my most memorable. It wasn't as part of an exhibition or screening, but while quietly seated in public solitude, headphones on and computer screen inches from my face. The first time I watched the collage video Things to do like breathing it set the tone for how I now prefer to view the videos and audio tracks--by bringing it in close, almost inescapable, sensory proximity. At that all-consuming distance, partially immersed but still aware of my surroundings, is where the core of the work presents itself--at least to me. It was there where my own anxieties found something familiar.
McClenon's layering of sound and image, and use of repetition creates a hypnotic agitation that is a signature of the work, particularly the time-based pieces. The form of the videos thickly coats the content, providing them a lens that works to help us as viewers to understand how things like the struggle with mental health, a shifting sense of belonging, and the jurisdiction we have over our bodies and lives impact how our stories can be told. It's artistry that requires us to look and listen closely for not only the obvious or more covert narratives, but also how they're being delivered. It can be easy to miss the message by reading it all as purely personal. Sound, image, and autobiography aren't the only things being stratified. Scratch the surface and underneath you'll find archives of McClenon that expand beyond a singular voice and into something that bridges a distinct east coast/third coast understanding and a historically-informed, contemporarily-centered but deeply personal exploration of the nuances of Blackness across spectrums of age, gender, wellness, and other ways of being.
As McClenon continues to build a presence across the city, we took some time to discuss how the current practice has evolved from focusing primarily on sculpture and painting to video and sound, the ways in which health can impact life and art-making, the ongoing efforts to collapse hierarchies, and the variety of narratives and storytelling techniques stretched across these different bodies of work.
Read the interview with AJ here...
Photo Credits, top to bottom:
Portrait of AJ McClenon at Beauty Breaks. Photo by Ally Almore.
Still from Busing, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.
Stills from Traveling, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.
Beauty Breaks, Session 1 at F4F. Photo by Ally Almore.