Katie Cercone is a founding member of Go! Push Pops, a radical queer feminist art collective taking “embodied feminism” to new aesthetic heights from the Brooklyn Museum to the Whitney and the streets. Her individual practice delves into the Spirituality of Hip Hop with technicolor tones and hip shaking, mind-melting performative video sculpture peeled from the pages of transcendental fantasy and grounded in multi-cultural intersectionality. We had the pleasure of asking Cercone a few questions about Go! Push Pops, Hip Hop Feminism, and the otherworldly origins of her inimitable style.
How did the name and the ethos of Go! Push Pops originally evolve?
Go! Push Pops came together when we were all getting our MFAs and wanted to do something totally beyond the pressures of working alone in the studio trying to be an individual genius. Myself and co-founders Elisa Garcia de la Huerta and Anna Souvorov wanted to go see Portia Munson’s Pink Project and decided to all wear pink and make a ceremonial pilgrimage. We ran through Chelsea waving a flag and ended up doing this really wild, impromptu performance at the gallery with pink tape that we filmed. The Push Pops ethos, what we call “Embodied Feminism” was always about claiming the body as the seat of female power and avoiding the linear sloganeering of politics and theory. We wanted to embody power with our gestures and voices and at the same time, interrogate the cult of celebrity and the internet girl phenomenon. We called ourselves Go! Push Pops because we thought it was appropriately Pop, and embedded in the name this salutation of encouragement “Go!”
Are there any other feminist art collectives that inspire you? Do you see yourself as part of a lineage of feminist artists in NYC and the world? If so, in what way?
We are definitely inspired by historic groups like the Guerilla Girls, Womanhouse, The New York Feminist Art Institute (NYFAI), A.I.R. Gallery, Soho20 Gallery, Girls in the Nose, Le Tigre, Spiderwoman Theater, some of the women instrumental in these groups have even been our mentors. We’re also really influenced by our peers like FlucT, Pussy Riot, House of Cunt Mafia, The Crunk Feminist Collective, Baby Skin Glove, Zebra Baby, Witches of Bushwick, Moon Church and The Future Feminists to name a few. We definitely identify with Feminism as a transnational, global lineage addressing the intersectionality of oppression along the lines of race, class, gender, nation, religion and sexuality. Part of being in a collective of rotating membership is about creating a shared network of support, dialogue, empowerment and creativity as a political act with global reach.
Oftentimes viewers make the mistake of conflating female artists with feminist artists, what makes art feminist to you?
I think art is feminist if it either aims to or ultimately empowers individuals, groups or institutions that are disenfranchised in a white male capitalist patriarchal society.
What is your favorite way to incorporate embodied feminism on a daily basis? How can someone not engaged in a performance practice fully embody their own feminist views?
I think the notion of “embodiment” for me is very much connected to my work as a yoga instructor and love of dance. That was certainly what was missing in my early expressions of feminism, which were more neurotic, angry and locked in the language and ideologies of the oppressor. A few simple tips for daily feminist embodiment: Speaking from the navel, the power center. Free communication and healthy boundaries. Keeping a clear energy field and following your intuition. Breathing from the belly. Grounding down through the feet. Meditating to experience the ecstasy of consciousness. Dancing, singing and laughing every day. Invoking Gods and Goddesses as more than symbols, as channels of power.
Treemonisha Drank Up, still from performative video sculpture, 2012
Your performative video sculpture work deals with the “Spirituality of Hip Hop.” With discussions of cultural appropriation frequently in the headlines these days (particularly in regards to Miley et al), how do you navigate incorporating the cultural signifiers of hip hop and American black culture with respect to the experiences of the people of color who created it while simultaneously embodying it as your own mode of personal artistic expression?
Angela Davis has a great book on the Blues Women and how music was the first space in which black women spoke freely about sex, race and class. Hip Hop Feminism very much follows in the footsteps of the Blues women against bourgeois notions of sexual purity determining “true womanhood.” Black women were the first feminists. My work with Hip Hop Feminism is a love letter to music as a binding agent. When we talk about the historical minstrel – burlesque trajectory of the black/white dancing body, sex and class become the unspoken binding agents. Jayna Brown articulates how black expressive forms have been historically “miscoded as signatures for a timed and timeless past and…used as the source by which the modern (white) body could re-member itself.” I want to talk about Hip Hop as a landmark moment of miscegenation in American popular culture. I want to talk about Hip Hop as a contemporary mulatto text rupturing self-other identifications. I try to respect the experiences of people of color by doing my research and having meaningful dialogue. I remember some white actress said referring to her also having come up as a Disney Star “Miley twerked, I just went to rehab.”
One difference between me and Miley Cyrus is that I came of age with 3rd World Women of Color Feminism. By the time I started twerking for Juicy Jay, I had already read Audre Lorde and been to (eating disorder) rehab. And I was beginning to compare things like twerking and the squat, wide-hipped stance of hip hop and breaking dancing with the downward dog and Devi Asana (Goddess pose) I was teaching my students in yoga. I was comparing yoga and shamanism with West African “possession dance,” what Robert Farris Thompson writes about alluding to blackness as a transcendental state of being. Like yoga as ancient Hindu transcendentalism, African cosmological wisdom and early matriarchal religions of my European ancestors – all these holistic folk forms rely on earth based wisdom and are pregnant with what I call the “genital poetry” of Goddess worship. This was the “Dark Continent” pushed under the rug by white patriarchal religion’s fear and control of women’s bodies. Dancing erotically was very much the realm of European pagan women; particularly on feast days, the sacred, healing communal gatherings corresponding to the phases of the moon. That came back to me through hip hop.
As an adolescent, I was introduced to hip hop by corporations that had co-opted its signs and codes to market items like breakfast cereal and Barbie dolls to middle class white kids. My work is a type of post-colonial discourse talking about whiteness. I think a lot of my interest in hip hop boils down to latent aggression, repressed sexuality and a feeling that whiteness is not only disgusting, it’s mad lonely. As Go! Push Pops we situate hip hop as one ideal model of the clan. Many black women don’t necessarily find hip hop empowering in the same way that I do as a woman of white privilege. When a white kid (or an Asian kid or a black kid that doesn’t feel “black” enough) from the suburbs looks at gangsta rap, there’s another kind of voyeuristic or even pornographic pleasure happening. At the same time, Hip Hop is so global and universal right now and I’d venture to say we’re beyond a simple critique of cultural appropriation. What I’ve done in my videos is certainly not without risk, and it often makes people uncomfortable. Especially white people! I think where there is fear there is power. Whether we grew up in the suburbs or the hood we all are feeling alienated and abused by the prevailing cultural logic.
I am super envious of your style, particularly in the Treemonisha DrankUp video. Can you give us a peek into your aesthetic process?
Although I’d say my practice is very much researched-based, I chuck all that aside when I’m in the studio. The Treemonisha DrankUp aesthetic came to me in a vision. I saw this floral headdress with flowing rainbows of ribbons and I went into turbo drive making it. The other elements I found scavenging in thrift stores. I like to sort of sift through things and build a video set based on what materials I attract into my life. When I began to show that video, suddenly people started to say my work was referencing shamanism. At the time I was reading about possession dance in Samuel A. Floyd’s The Power of Black Music and wanted to become “possessed” in the video so to speak by hip hop’s contemporary God/Goddess archetypes in my video like Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. At that point I was only linking yoga and hip hop, now I see shamanism as a third arm of the equation. In shamanism, dance and drumming is also a gateway between worlds, and the possessed often “ride” the spirit in a metaphor with sexual overtones. When I started to seek out images of shamans I found that they often wear clothing with cloth cut in long strips just like I had done intuitively making my costume.
Favorite artists in hip hop today?
I got myself in the door with mainstream sh*t and I like to say Lil Wayne will always be the alpha and omega of my hip hop but at this point, I appreciate a local underground artist the most. I want to go to your show, stomp around and get a kiss on the cheek from you after. Some NYC hip hop I’ll rep are Cunt Mafia, Quay Dash, Salomon Faye and Enasni Leber, Cakes Da Killa, Prince Harvey, Psycho Egyptian, ANML, Chaz Van Queen, House of La Dosha, DJ Black Poodle, Xhosa and Eiffel Life.
What’s your pre-show ritual before a performance?
We always put our hands together and shout “Go! Push Pops!!” Other than that, I have to say we fueled the first three years of our work together on adrenaline and barely lived to tell about it. Today we just sage our environment, take a deep breath and dive in with a clear head.
Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects? Where can you go to experience Go! Push Pops in the flesh?
Go! Push Pops will be recreating Eileen Gray’s historic queer villa E.1027 as a durational outdoor piece for the Miami International Performance Art Festival in June. We’re also currently Culture Push Fellows for Utopian Practice, for which we’re doing a project in collaboration with the female MC BONES called “Diamond Tribe.” Diamond Tribe is a series of workshops for at-risk youth of NYC fusing yoga, hip hop and feminism. In May, we’re co-hosting a guerilla-style feminist consciousness-raising activity at the Whitney Biennial.