Raven Chacon is a Navajo composer of chamber music, a performer of experimental noise music, and an installation artist who has little trouble keeping busy. When he first agreed to an interview with ICMN, he was in Athens, wrapping up a project, then he made his way over to Oslo. He returned to the states, where he posed for a group selfie with his art collective Postcommodity, in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Raven Chacon is an internationally recognized artist who recently received a USA distinguished fellowship and a $50,000 stipend from United States Artists and his work Postcommodity will be featured in the prestigious 2017 Whitney Biennial.
He is also a member of the Indigenous art collective Postcommodity, with whom he recently premiered the 2-mile long land art/border intervention, Repellent Fence.”
Raven Chacon is based in Albuquerque, where he shares a home with his wife writer/curator, Candice Hopkins (Tlingit).
In the midst of traveling between San Francisco and Vancouver, Canada, he spoke with ICMN about his works, including Repellent Fence, a series of huge air balloons with ‘false eyes’ that traverse the U.S. and Mexican borders.
Congratulations on the 2016 USA artists fellowship.
I’m honored to be among the Native artists they chose for this fellowship. It’s wonderful that this organization has nominators who are recognizing the works of American Indian artists.
Can you talk about the impetus behind Repellent Fence and Postcommodity’s selection to participate in the upcoming prestigious 2017 Whitney Biennial?
When Postcommodity completed the enormous Repellent Fence, we had started to gain some attention for the collective, and curators began looking at our past works. Among these were Whitney curators Mia Locks and Christopher Lew who came to visit us at our studio in Santa Fe.
They asked us to present A Very Long Line, an immersive four-channel video/sound installation. The images in the installation are of an endless border fence, shape-shifting through its various irrational forms, shot from the window of our vehicle as we traversed this arbitrary line.
With these works that focus on the U.S./Mexico border, our hope is to offer an Indigenous perspective on how this ongoing encroachment of a line/a fence/a wall, interrupts the land and the people who are birthed from them. We also hope that our work reminds American Indians that we have Native cousins south of this line, who are being stripped of their Indigenous identities continually in the border discourse.
How did you come to meet the your collaborators in Postcommodity?
I first became aware of Postcommodity in 2007, when the collective was newly formed and they had submitted a grant proposal to an organization I co-advised, called the First Nations Composer's Initiative. I’d looked up their initial works and projects and ideas and it stayed in the back of my mind for a year or so.
I’d been touring a lot back then, driving all across the U.S. with altered electronics, and Nathan Young [former member of Postcommodity] came to see me play at Soundpony in Tulsa. Funny gig playing for them cowboys, all kinds of ambiguous looks!
I always like to ask this of artists in Albuquerque. How does this place influence your work?
New Mexico is easy to talk about, but hard too, because if not done right, you end up sounding like D.H. Lawrence or some outside romantic. So I’m glad you asked about Albuquerque…Burque…'Be'eldilldahsinil'! I’ve lived in Albuquerque most of my life. I suppose I’m stuck here.
My wife and I have our horses here now. But this small city, and the people within constantly influence my work. Actually very directly, as most of my collaborators live here as well. There are amazing musicians who reside here, were birthed here, grew here. The work of my label (Sicksicksick Distro) for 16 years is to catalogue these artists, document these sounds as they slide around the surface of the sand. The best of these sounds are the ones that are nearly uncapturable.
What’s coming up for 2017?
The work never ends. This year Postcommodity will be debuting (at least) five new major to-be-announced works, some in Europe. We are also performing live quite often these days; we’ve been extremely busy.
Endlings, my duo with John Dieterich (best known as one of Deerhoof’s amazing guitarists) will be sharing something very, very soon. Hopefully new releases and live shows by Death Convention Singers and Tenderizor. Perhaps a solo record too.
Also, I am constantly writing new compositions for other musicians, so some new chamber compositions will also premiere soon. I continue to teach students in Navajo, Hopi, and Salt River Pima communities for the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project, and now Candice Hopkins and I have opened a small art park between downtown and Old town Albuquerque called Off Lomas… Lots!
Follow Jason Asenap on Twitter @asenap