It’s hard for me to separate my personal story from my arts practice. Growing up in rural Arizona near the US-Mexico border, art was first a tool for escape, a tool for imagining an experience larger than my immediate surroundings. What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time was how much that landscape would continue to manifest itself in my work: the huge sky, the rolling grasslands, the continual thirst for rain. Also the linguistic and cultural landscapes, the physical reality of the border as a dividing line, the edge of the world–– that’s how it was first presented to me. Later, after living for most of my 20’s in central Mexico, I came to understand my experience as that of a fronterizo–– though my blood is Irish-Slavic, my cultural experience is inseparable from the border. My poems are written in Spanglish because that is my most comfortable linguistic mode. To be bilingual is to be a bridge. To have privilege is to have the responsibility to spread it and subvert it. An awareness and engagement with social justice is a necessity. I’m always moving between worlds and arts media.
What are the themes of your artwork, and why do you choose them?
I find that others are better at articulating themes in my work than I am. That said, for me it’s the land. And how cultures interact with it. I am of a place that is staggeringly beautiful, and laced with deep injustice.
Do you think there is a unique aesthetic and artistic movement in Arizona?
Claro, though it’s hard to put my finger on it. I know that the last five years have been especially tough here: SB1070, Ethnic Studies ban, austerity, abysmal education funding, increased militarization, public officials running on fear. Thing is, it’s a lot bigger than the last few years, all this stuff has roots that go way way back–– at least to statehood, to colonialization and indigenous genocide. All that said, to associate the word Arizona only with backward politics is just lazy. Look beyond the headlines, spend time here, attend events, break bread with community. What’s beautiful is the way artists and communities have responded to the oppression, both directly and indirectly. The arts movement is Arizona is socially engaged and community-based because here there is no other way. There’s something about how the artists work together here, something about the land too. The desert is simultaneously a muse and a killer.
My practice took a big turn in 2015 after the publication of Sonoran Strange. I unexpectedly had the opportunity to buy a house in Tucson, and for the first time I have a small piece of land for which I am responsible. Lately I’ve been spending my time swinging the pick and shoveling earth, quite literally doing groundwork. I’m building a rain-fed urban desert oasis that will partly feed my family and community. I’m interested in the intersections of permaculture, venue design, community, performance and relationship to place. Only recently have I begun to realize that this work isn’t taking away from my ‘art time,’ rather this is my art in this time. This is also arts practice. I hope to apply what I learn on this project to other, larger and more public spaces. Which leads me to think about La Pilita, the small venue in Tucson’s Barrio Viejo that I’m now co-managing with the social justice & spoken word organization Spoken Futures. Art has such a beautiful way to bring people together, in 2016 we’re looking to begin using this small space to affect long-term impacts on Tucson’s cultural landscape. Adam Cooper-Terán and I continue to collaborate as Verbo•bala Spoken Video, and this year we’re scheduled to work with Borderlands Theater and others to create a new series of performance vignettes in the style of the Sonoran Strange performance. We’re going to be looking at specific sites in the Tucson basin that are tied to local identity and culture. I’ll also continue working with young people at a local alternative school, with Spoken Futures, and while traveling. I’ve been working professionally as a DJ for many years now, and this year I’ll continue to play 1-2 days a week, Friday nights at Hotel Congress and beyond. Hopefully amongst all of that will be the time when poems come.
In what ways does performance impact social change? In other words: Why performance?
My colleagues Faviana Rodriguez and Jeff Chang of CultureStrike are fond of saying that you change the culture first, then the politics will follow. I can’t think of a more succinct way to put it. If we’re going to survive as a species and maintain our humanity, we’re going to need to stretch our imaginations in new directions and depths. Performance for me is the laboratory, a space of free imagination, where the body opens its vocabulary and arts media mix–– in performance we expand what’s possible, what stories are told, how, and by whom. Performances weave themselves into the consciousness of an audience, and from there to wider society. And that’s just the beginning of what performance does.
You can find more information about Logan Phillips' work: www.sonoranstrange.com