Taking Up Brown Queer Space con Dorian Wood

I mentioned to the staff at The Broad that I wanted to infect the Tulips Jeff Koons sculpture—they just didn’t seem to belong to the space. They were soooo Disney and consumerist I wanted to infect them, put a hex on them…

Dorian Wood

Carlos Reynoso: I reached out to you because your work is extremely moving to me, from your illustrations to your performances. Todo tiene corazón and feels extremely honest. How did your journey begin?

Dorian Wood: Ohhhh um well, it started with I guess mi abuelita, who played the piano. She moved to NYC from Costa Rica and she was very influential to me. I started playing music as a kid in LA, that’s where I began as an artist. I am also very inspired by mi mama, she encouraged me to play music and sing. I began playing music and started touring and that opened up other opportunities for projects and other avenues. 

Carlos Bio: Gracias, I love your music and really enjoy seeing your performances. QUE TALENTO [how talented]! [Laughs]

Dorian: Aye gracias! [Laughs]

Carlos: Now for the next question— what influenced you as a youth? I know that sounds like a cheesy question but that really interests me.

Dorian: No no, not cheesy at all, well honestly mi mama really influenced me. I loved watching her while at home— she would sometimes play Liza Minelli. [Laughs] She loved Liza. I would sing with her. She also loved Motown and would always have music playing. She would also play me and my sisters Chavela Vargas. I loved listening to Chavela as a kid. Her music is so beautiful. I guess also growing up brown as a kid in LA influenced me. I felt neither welcome here nor there, like Chavela said, “Ni de aqui o de aya.” My mother would always express her distrust of the U.S. She would say, “Este pais USA la gente” [laughs]. She was very honest and also expressed her opinions on Costa Rica and how things were there too, very honest. I was born in the U.S., but my family is from Costa Rica. I grew up around a lot of Mexicans and I love the culture and love visiting Mexico, but it’s not culture [to me]. I am also all about taking up brown space and colonizer money as a brown nonbinary queer artist. 

Carlos: Tu madre sounds like mi madre. I can relate [laughs]… Gracias.

Dorian: No problema.

Carlos: Your bio and artist statement to me always seem to come from the heart. You incorporate English and Spanish and it feels very approachable, unlike conventional artist statements that feel at times very institutionalized. What is your writing process, putting your work into words?

Dorian: Thank you for that. Oh that’s a tough one… Well it’s a bit hard. I do agree with you that institutional spaces have a very specific way of describing work. I sometimes avoid going to artist panels or Q&As when I know the conversation is going to be dry and boring and not at all a representation of the work. I also have avoided speaking to artists I admire for fear that their description of their work will be, I don’t know, boring, like, “It’s an exploration of the deep…something.” I sometimes hate it when spaces ask me to write up a statement. I don’t look forward to it, I just type up like three sentences and hope that’s enough [laughs]…but I don’t know, I agree with you. 

Carlos: One performance of yours that moved me and I am extremely grateful for is the hex on Jeff Koons at The Broad in 2018. Can you tell me more about that performance? 

Dorian: Oh my god I’m surprised they let me even do that, it was not something I had planned on doing but they decided to invite me as a part of the show En Cuatro Patas and it was kind of like that si saben como me pongo por que me envitan…moment. I had an idea for what I wanted to do as a piece. I mentioned to the staff at The Broad that I wanted to infect the Tulips Jeff Koons sculpture—they just didn’t seem to belong to the space. They were soooo Disney and consumerist. I wanted to infect them, put a hex on them… [Laughs] You know she was coming for him, OKAY. After I explained my idea the staff all agreed and were very supportive of the performance. The day of, I was very nervous. I knew I would end up naked and go all in masturbating and go all balls in…I wanted to infect the space and let the audience know that the sculpture was very much infected and I made sure to tag Jeff Koons in all the videos and pictures of the performance. I wasn’t sure if it was art or not but I’m glad I did it and I still believe that space to be hexed. The infection lives on. [Laughs] 

Carlos: I’m so glad you did [laughs] and I wish I was there in person, when I saw that performance I was like, FINALLY! [Laughs] Okay only three questions left. How do we take up space as brown queers in art institutions? 

Dorian: Well, by understanding that we are all individuals, I really appreciate how a lot of brown artists are exploring individuality. Just because we are all brown doesn’t mean we are similar. I have also never liked that we all need to be “inclusive” because to me it’s like inviting someone over to your home. If so, your guest can eventually be asked to leave. I have been very open about not belonging to any group. I like to be an individual. I haven’t always been nonbinary and genderfluid. I like to explore identity. 

Carlos: Gracias and I feel you, that resonates with me and I really like how you describe inclusivity in the context of white supremacy. Thank you for that. Who is your primary audience when performing?

Dorian: People….

Carlos: Okay final question because I know you have to go, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. What projects are you thinking about now or in the future?

Dorian: Well, right now I am in Spain working on a residency. I have been up here while on tour but the last month I have been focused on a performance here on sound and movement. I have invited audiences to come and experience the performance and to lay on pillows throughout the space. I am also working on a project in tribute to Chavela Vargas. This project is very special to me and I will be working on that once I get back to LA—speaking of which I feel super homesick. I miss Los Angeles. I fly back on Friday and I will be so happy to be home. The Chavela Vargas project is very exciting. I hope to go on tour and possibly a new album— there are a lot of possibilities. There are other projects in the works for next year that I can’t talk about yet but more to come for sure. 

Carlos: Well muchas gracias for taking some time for me, I know I’m not a professional interviewer, but I did my best [laughs] and I can’t wait to see your future projects and hopefully catch a performance, I’m hella homesick too, I miss Los Angeles…

Dorian: No problem corazón, I appreciate the work you do and good luck with school. Bye….

Dorian Wood (they/them) is a 41-year-old nonbinary, multidisciplinary, self-taught artist based in LA. Their work explores queer identity through music, illustration, and conceptual performances. Currently Wood is in Spain wrapping up an artist residency. 

Carlos Reynoso (he/him) is an intersectional Mexican Queer artist born in Mexico, raised in Cali and living in Portland, OR. In hopes of cultural preservation, his work focuses on the stories of brown, queer, and working class people from his upbringing in Los Angeles. 

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