Art

In Conversation With Artist, Poet And Activist Ser Serpas

Ser Brandon-Castro Serpas’ tells us about her history, her practice, and the apocalypse.

In Conversation With Artist, Poet And Activist Ser Serpas
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I’m in love with Ser Brandon-Castro Serpas’ sculptures, poetry, and paintings–I say this without hyperbole. Each piece feels like a strange and beautiful amalgamation of tiny pieces taken from real life (whether found objects or emotive confessions) and transmuted into something both heavily transcendent and mighty real. Serpas has been a community organizer and activist since high school, facilitating workshops and, these days, utilizing her presence to call out structural inequality and provide support (and powerful inspiration) for those who need it. We spoke to the Los Angeles-born, New York City-based artist, now a student at Columbia University, over e-mail, just before she headed home for winter break.

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My political education communicated that black and brown artists don’t get bought, sold, or circulated, just mood-boarded.
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Tell me about your upbringing. You eventually switched to an art major in school, but I’m wondering if you found ways to express yourself creatively, even as a child.
As a kid, I shared a room with my mom till I was 16, junior year of high school, and she hated clutter. [I] never really had home spaces to decorate and I was a community organizer all through high school, so much of the art I did lay more in interactions with people and facilitating workshops that would include collage and drawing components. As soon as I got my room senior year, I turned it into an installation of sorts that still stands today.

What inspired you to apply to Columbia? I read in an interview with Wonderland Magazine that you saw images of Hari Nef, and that was part of your decision…
I met Hari through Tumblr/Facebook, and she looked over my application after I’d finished up in time for the early decision round, Fall 2012. I got in and we Skyped a ton till I got to town; she’s been Mom ever since. I wanted to be in New York ’cuz any other Ivy/full-ride institution would have landed me in the middle of the woods with hella white people and that was more than enough of a detractor.

Like Hari, you’ve become supportive and inspirational yourself in the online community. I am hoping you can use this space to tell me how that came about, what that’s like.
I’ve really let my ADHD guide me. I read into everything, mostly out of my early political education. I had a Chicano organizer as a sociology professor in my first college class at ELAC [East Los Angeles College] during my freshman year of high school — around when I started organizing. He imparted that the most important thing to know about any book or pedagogical thing was who paid for it or commissioned it. I take that into everything. Nothing is objective. My friend Manuel Abreu has a line in one of their poems–I believe from “Transtrender” from Quimerica Press–“every gesture is a 1000 years.” That’s not the exact line, but the bone’s all there. This is how I approach everything, especially constructing objects, situations, and prose.

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I love working with energy-imparted objects that have a history.
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You didn’t necessarily come to school to study art, but what helped you make that switch? What was life like at Columbia at first?
Columbia was very ‘U.S. fratty college’ at first in a way I didn’t anticipate. I couldn’t work in Columbia libraries any longer at all, so I dropped Urban Studies. Freshman year was a sexual free-for-all; all the dudes were cucks, their white women being a sense of safety in the binary, to which I’ve responded by being–completely enveloped in letting my ADHD-ridden sex life take center stage–Papi Chula. I let my dad slip into every man and institution I meet, smgdh. I was also working with people on their projects early on, like Mike and Claire, and put forth a project- based work life as an option in a tangible way I couldn’t imagine–as my political education communicated that black and brown artists don’t get bought, sold, or circulated, just mood-boarded. Working with Donna Huanca last spring at Smack Mellon in DUMBO confirmed my hopes. I love her so much.

What’s your current art practice looking like–what sorts of materials are you working with, and what ideas do you engage with?
I work with piles of refuse and gifts from other hoarders. Donna Huanca, Hari Nef, Avena Gallagher, Serena Jara, among other friends, have given me piles of stuff I’ve made work with. I’m so grateful; I love working with energy-imparted objects that have a history, especially those of friends.

I read you’re planning on moving to Berlin. Is this true? What are your post-grad plans in general?
I’ve never been to Europe; I wanna see where the shitshow stems from. Also, I’m ready to take all their money; I wonder how many Olmec statues line houses over there ;) I’d like to be based out of Boyle Heights, where my fam’s from, in the midst of residency and grant work.

Trump’s the new president-elect and we’re all freaking out, even if his election simply revealed institutionalized problems that have always existed. What are you doing for self-care during this time?
I’ve been surrounding myself with people I’m lucky to call friends, who critique everything at all times, who carve away at a generalized safety discourse. The area I inhabit has always been apocalypse.

 

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