SIX x ATE: An Interview with Casey Droege

[uds-billboard name=”sixXate”]I met Casey Droege this past year when I visited Flight School, a program for artists in Pittsburgh organized around the Creative Capital Professional Development workshop. I was impressed with Casey’s work, her large round glasses and especially her sense of humor. She invited me to be a speaker in a new program she was starting called “SIX x ATE,” an intimate dinner and lecture series. It was a great event: fun to be part of, great food and drinks and folks. The program culminated in an exhibition at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust at 937 Liberty Avenue. I sat down with Casey in the gallery to talk about her work in general and this project in particular. Casey described her work as a process of examining the relationships between individuals and the social structures around us. After we’d spent some time talking about the psychics and spiritual healers she is currently meeting for a new piece, I better understood how “SIX x ATE” figured into her practice.

Casey Droege was raised by two artists and a mime. Their incessant side hustles, ranging from chimney sweep to insurance sales, created the time management monster/slightly organized tornado that is Casey. And while her mother made it clear to her that she should go into computers, she now lives and works as an artist in Pittsburgh. Droege earned her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recent exhibitions include: The Future Present, Passerby, Los Angeles, CA; Romancing the Tone, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh; Elsewhere Artist Collaborative, Greensboro NC; Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit MI and Threewalls Gallery, Chicago IL. Casey will have a solo show at Chatham University in Pittsburgh in spring of 2013.

Kim Beck: You’ve recently organized “SIX x ATE: Sound, Time, Space,” this fall that has concluded with an exhibition now up at 937 Gallery in Pittsburgh. I was really glad you invited me to participate and am looking forward to the next season. How would you describe the project to someone unfamiliar with it?

Casey Droege: “SIX x ATE” is a free dinner and lecture series promoting local artists, a stronger arts network and a more interdisciplinary conversation in Pittsburgh. For each event, six artists are invited present or perform work based on the theme for that night, while one cuisinier creates a meal based on it as well. The dinner guests are a mixture of professionals who are connected in some way to the theme or to the arts. Throughout the night, each artist makes a brief five-minute presentation, allowing for dinner time to be spent socializing and brainstorming collaborations. When I’m inviting people to the dinners, I’m sure to stress the informal nature of the event. There are no scheduled Q&A’s, no assigned seats, and lots of drinks.

KB: Did you grow up with active and animated dinner table conversations? What are projects that you’d done previously or what experience have you had that led you to want to start something like this?

CD: Ha! Yes. As my bio states, I was raised by two artists and a mime. Dinner was always a time for animated discussion, whether you liked it or not. This rather unconventional upbringing has led me to constantly examine the way relationships work; the language, the physical interactions, the implied. No matter what media or system I’m employing, this somehow always comes to the surface. I’ve done this sort of thing on a smaller scale and participated in similar events in other cities. At some point, it became very clear that food is a powerful tool and it seemed like the perfect way to start community building in Pittsburgh.

KB: Can you describe some of the more memorable presentations and just mention the names of the participants in the first season?

CD: There were 18 artists, including myself, who presented over three dinners. Distilling a project, performance, or an entire practice into 5 minutes is no easy feat. Everyone did a great job, and this is where I try not to forget anyone’s hard work…

For each dinner, I wanted to incorporate at least one really dynamic performance. tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, Nina Sarnelle, Lizzy De Vita, and Alexi Morrisey provided some lively performances. Corey Escoto did a presentation and demonstration of his multi-exposed polaroid work. Each guest went home with a polaroid of themselves, which was a real treat. I tried to expand beyond just visual art; Yona Harvey is writer, Sara McCool hosts an internet talk show, Jasdeep Khaira of Encyclopedia Destructica presented a collaborative publication with The Institute of Extraterrestrial Sexuality, and Ginger Brooks Takahashi talked about General Sisters, a multi-faceted project in creative commerce.

The themes of the dinners were “Sound, Time and Space.” The artists didn’t always have an obvious connection to the topic and each person approached their theme differently. Becky Slemmons and Natalie Settles work with painting and drawing, but addressed sound or space. Ryan Woodring talked about converting time into a static object, while Ben Hernstrom spoke about the difference in time when dealing with film versus video. T. Foley and David Bernabo both played sounds they had recorded, but one collection was real and one collection was fictionalized. And Steve Gurysh approached space in a more otherworldly way after you [Kim] talked about three-dimensional space in the world around us.

I think I covered everyone!

KB: The mix of presenters and performers made it really work. And you got some great folks involved. What surprised you in the process of coordinating this?

CD: First, I was really surprised by was how easy it was to convince people to come, even if they had no idea who I was or what I was trying to pull off. Also, I was thrilled with how quickly and easily collaborations began. Whether it was just an extended conversation outside of the event or a joint exhibition, people really connected and shared resources.

KB: Can you talk a little bit about your background and your other work? It seems like a lot of your projects have to do with language. Is the dinner series an extension of that through the act of having people present and discuss their work? Or are your collaborations a different thing and do they relate to your other work?

CD: This is something I’ve been trying to articulate lately, so I’m glad you’re forcing me to address it. I’d say every few months I go through a crisis of conscience about whether I am contributing enough to the world as an artist, or if making and curating should be combined in one practice, or if I would be better off moving to a third world country to take care of all the street cats. My therapist says I should incorporate this into my work, but it seems to just exacerbate the problem.

So I take a deep breath and look back over what I’ve created in my lifetime. Like I said earlier, my practice shifts media often, but I’ve always been focused on relationships. Between individuals, between self and society, and the internal relationships of self. Currently in my studio practice, I collect and catalog language as a way to take an objective look at this very subjective matter, producing simple text pieces as prints, books or audio works. For example, my project “Tracks of my Tears” is a vinyl record of stories about every moment a song has made me cry. Or, my book, “Like a Fat Kid Love Cake,” catalogs metaphors of love from popular hip hop and R&B songs over the last 20 years. Curating an event or a show is definitely an extension of all of this. It’s setting up relationships between people or artworks in a room, and then examining what happens. It’s exciting to think about what it might lead to, as this component of my practice is relatively new.

KB: I love that you want to save the cats! Especially scrawny and feisty street cats. I guess all of this has something to do with vulnerability in public—a love song or a breakup song only really matters when it makes you wince or cry but telling folks it makes you cry sort of puts it out there. Aside from cat-saving, what’s next on the horizon for you?

CD: Where to begin? I’ll continue to push projects that build a stronger arts community in Pittsburgh. After seeing the success of CSA [Community Supported Art] projects in Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, I’m working with a team to start one here next month. The SIX x ATE series will only get bigger and better, I might even take this show on the road. And I’m currently petting my very old blind cat while reading a bunch of other people’s journals from the 80’s and 90’s for my next venture.



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