Burke Residency 7: Molly Sydnor•
Posted on May 18 2020
**We'd like to preface this interview with a few details and updates. This was going to be a special and unique residency for a couple of reasons. One, Molly Sydnor is Maggie's second cousin, keeping it in the family to share some amazing creative talent! Two, Molly works in a wide variety of mediums so this was planned to be our first residency combining both fine art and clothing/textiles from one single artist! Three, this residency collection was themed around pride and was scheduled to be installed and launched with Long Beach Pride weekend. While sadly COVID cancellations have put a wrench in our timeline, we know pride can and should be celebrated at any time of year, and we plan to install Molly's work as soon as it is safe again to do so! But we decided to go ahead with the interview so you can get to know Molly in anticipation of the arrival of her works. Below, Emma sits down (virtually) with Molly to get to know her a little better.
Emma: Hi Molly! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!
Whoosh. It’s been a wild ride. We had originally planned to feature your beautiful work at Burke from May-July and to overlap with local and national Pride celebrations starting with LB pride. As we all know, we suddenly found ourselves in a pandemic that shut everything down, asked us to pause, and reorganize. I find myself reshaping our Q&A in this light.
I understand that much of your work is installation based—that was certainly part of the idea for the Burke residency—and I understand you were in the middle of preparations for some big installations in Texas when public spaces were shut down. How has all of this affected your art practice?
Molly: I work a full time corporate position and run a queer woman's collective. I do all of my art practice and design studio work on the side, so all of my time is basically sucked up with work in some form. I had a set plan to finish my group show at The Fort Worth Community Art Center, complete the biggest install of my career (8 months and counting) at Sweet Tooth Hotel, then head over to LA to install with Burke. I promised my partner I'd be taking the summer off (of everything outside my 9-5) and we were going to hit up Joshua Tree to kick off summer. Interrupted by COVID-19, my show at The FWCAC was cancelled, our LA trip was cancelled, and my install with Sweet Tooth Hotel was postponed. Lucky for me all the negatives came with blessings. My install was nowhere near complete. Instead of taking off work and running on zero hours of sleep, the pandemic allowed me a pushed deadline with more time to work. My installation is a couple weeks from being fully done and I am thankful for the extra time! My trip to LA to install with you guys and check out Joshua Tree is going to happen at a later date, and honestly my "summer off" has started even with me still working on side projects. The extra time home has given me more moments to breathe and relax with my partner. We are cleaning and fixing up the house, doing several small projects together, cooking, watching movies, working out, you name it! Last weekend we went on a 10 mile bike ride and are working our way to 20 miles! While my anxiety is focused on the danger and result of COVID-19, I fear the effects as it's taking lives, health, jobs, the economy, and so much more. It's devastating my community and everyone around me. My partner being out of work and the potential of me losing my job is scary, and seeing people being careless while a lot of us anticipate the next recession is heartbreaking. At the same time, I'm congratulating friends graduating med school and moving to become doctors, I'm watching my install become the vision of my dreams, I'm doing more outside and to the house than ever before, I even read for pleasure! My health outside of the pandemic is thriving and time is my new friend. I'm no longer anxiously awaiting deadlines I'll never meet, I no longer have to go to meeting after meeting at my job where I feel my ideas are ignored, I'm working out again, I'm leisurely finishing up projects I never thought I'd complete, I'm even working on projects at the house that had no deadline! My artistic practice is thriving, my ideas are spiraling, I've applied for grants and submitted proposals, I've made masks to sell and donate, I even made the dogs new collars. I'm trying to be thankful, frugal, and aware. I think that's the most a lot of us can do right now.
E: When I was looking into your work, I loved reading about your “Like a Girl” installation where you turned your own living space into an art gallery. I admire the openness, reuse of space, and mutual empowerment of that project. I think many of us feel an intensified need for modes of empowerment and change in the wake of the racist and colonial practices we’ve seen not only continued but amplified by the government’s response to COVID-19. It’s no small question, but I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts about how we can move toward long overdue corrections and if you see art-making as playing a part in that?
M: I LOVE that you think of it as a "reuse of space", that brings a whole new set of eyes to the concept and truly warms my heart! Unfortunately I fear COVID-19 making things worse. As the pandemic is largely affecting poor, marginalized, POC (people of color duh!), I am seeing large groups of privileged people gather as bar and restaurant doors open. We are seeing people protest the stay at home orders, gather in large groups, and ask "but what is the real death rate?". I fear the rich getting even richer and the poor even poorer. While some people have adapted quite well to quarantine (myself included), the government doesn't seem to care about people who cannot adjust. Not everyone has money to stockpile food, not everyone has the internet, and A LOT of people (also me) have health conditions that could kill them from getting sick and not having proper access to medical attention. Before the pandemic, we already knew our health care system was a capitalist joke, no one really talking about all of the people living paycheck to paycheck, or the uninsured. The government was as fast as possible stripping away LGBTQ and women's rights in front of our eyes... and CONTINUES TO DO THIS DURING A PANDEMIC! Don't even get me started on the racism. Art won't "save us" from dying, but with trauma, hate, anger, struggle, and all negatives comes art. The best art is always made in pain and suffering. My work is largely based on my body and the bodies of queer women of color. My work sends messages and shares my voice spreading words that are often neglected, ignored, and erased. My work offends people, upsets many, and isn't always pretty. I see beauty in sharing my voice and relating to people who are also feeling overlooked. We are already seeing creativity and adaptation to this quarantine. My main hope is that we can come out of this and grow into a society that can mutually benefit everyone. I don't want things to "go back to normal" because normal was not great. We can be better, we deserve better! I want to learn from this and grow from it. I'll definitely be making some life changes and so will a lot of my community. I can only hope that everyone will try to make changes for the better.
E: Since your residency was intended to overlap with Pride, I’d love to hear about your work with Lady Queer Collective (LQC Dallas). Do you find that your work in fostering community connectivity feels like effort that is separate or more of an extension of your art practice? How is working in each of these capacities similar or different for you?
M: The Queer Collective has really grown itself. I simply guide it with the help of some friends and the community it fostered! Don't get me wrong, I do A LOT OF WORK for it. I put almost as much time as my full time position into this collective with not much return, and all volunteer based. But without the community it's nothing! It feels both separate as well as an extension of my practice. Right before our first meeting to plan LQC Dallas and its first event, I was looking at grad school. I looked into a program where I could get my masters in art/business. It would have been a way for me to get a business degree that's geared towards art. It was also $60k+ a year for two years and I would have absolutely had to either quit my job or fall to part time. I spoke with a friend who has a business degree and he gave me solid advice. He said if I go to grad school I should figure out how to get my company to pay for it, figure out a full ride, or find the dream job I want and see if they require that degree. He then said something that will stick with me forever.... something along the lines of "try to get there in your career/life without going back to school and if a year or two goes by and you cannot do it without the help and guidance of school then reconsider. Figure out what you need for your dream, do all of those things, then apply to your dream job and if they say you need that degree go get it." So when a friend asked for help starting a queer women's collective I was all in! The school had a focus on nonprofit work, so LADY Queer Collective it was! I've put all of my time and effort into cultivating what I felt was missing in my community. I also wanted to help create more opportunity and more things to do for queer women. While grad school is still something to consider in the future, LADY is something that I can hone in on and gain the experience I need for a potential career change. It's also something that could potentially lead to something more. It's gained so much attention, it's given me so much experience, and it's done so much for the community.
E: One of my favorite things to think about is how different mediums enable us to convey thoughts and experiences in ways that are particular and inaccessible through the use of other media. I’d be curious to hear if you had any thoughts about this since you work in so many different mediums. I’m particularly curious about fiber art!—what communication and exploration does it open up for you that other media doesn’t?
M: In all honesty I don't think fiber opens communication that other materials don't, personally. I really can find my voice in any medium. I bounce between mediums and often combine mediums. I even tried to combine my degree and do both photography and fiber... but you know rules and money... I would have had to stay an extra year. I choose fiber a lot of the time as my work deals with feminism. Fiber art is often known as women's work and historically its been seen that way. It's a way to explore my feminist voice and fight back. I also enjoy the 3D element of it and the challenge it always gives me. Weaving specifically is so mathematical and scientific. It was a dream of mine at one point to have over 50% of my closet be thrifted and or hand made. I've found solace in buying slow fashion made and produced by artisans I love or handcrafted by people all over the world vs shopping anywhere fast fashion. Fiber is how I create my sustainable wardrobe as well as create my art!
E: Ok, I feel like I’ve asked you some dense doozies… (thank you for bearing with me!) I’d love for you to share something fun and joyous with us, anything you’re feeling inspired to share at this time.
M: Right now I'm feeling excited about making paper! I have been saving up scraps from my install because it breaks my heart to produce so much waste. I have stacks of paper from bills, notes, and work stuff too! I plan to recycle all of it and make some paper. Hopefully this is something I can share with the store!!
E: Molly, thank you again. We are so thrilled to finally have your work with us and up at Burke!