interview: Amarie Gipson

Amarie Gipson
Amarie Gipson

Photo by Elaine I-Ling Shen.

Amarie Gipson is an intern at pump project, and she is the curator behind their current show, Femme National(e).In addition to her work with pump project, she serves as the Editorial Director of Mud Magazine, and is a student at St. Edward's University. We attended the opening night of her show and spoke with her via e-mail shortly thereafter. We are excited to share space with her exhibit during our release party on September 10th. 

I was delighted to see that you chose Audrey Brown to be part of your exhibit, Femme National(e), which opened on Saturday at pump project. It’s a wonderful coincidence that one of her pieces is featured in our newest issue as well. How did you first come across her work?

AG: I first encountered Audrey’s work when she reached out to Mud Magazine earlier this year. I checked out her work and thought she’d be a great person to interview for the site. We scheduled a sit down and I took a Lyft to the east side to visit her. We sipped tea and talked about her work, her travels and the state of the world. It was such a great visit even though we had just met in person that morning. Her figures and colors really captured my attention and I knew that she was someone I would be interested in watching grow as an artist.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you went about choosing the artists to include in your exhibit? Were you looking for similarities or differences, and was there anything in particular that you wanted represented in the artists’ work, besides a feminine sensibility? Also, was  this your first time curating a show, and if so, can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

AG: The show came together in early May during a sit down with Rebecca [Marino, Gallery Director at pump project]. We flushed out everything I had learned about the artists I was considering to exhibit. I had done a bunch of studio visits, research, art fair and gallery browsing and was looking through my notes to nail down a conceptual framework. Rebecca was like, “Amarie, you’ve got a full show right there, on those pages. Go with it.” Somehow I ended up with a show featuring all women. It was completely instinctive and proved to be so relevant since I had been reading lots of feminist theory and thinking about artists in history like Niki de Saint Phalle.

I was focused on this idea of the group exhibition as a place of experimentation, and I really wanted each artist to be able to stand out by means of process and subject matter, with a strong through line linking them together.

This was my first solo-curatorial project to manifest in a physical space. My last show, A Slab of Heaven, featured two artists in a smaller space. The experience was rough, but I saw my vision come to life in a short amount of time, so I was content with the result. It was just a warm up for my current exhibition though.

What was the inspiration behind the title?

AG: I was looking for a title to encompass what I wanted the exhibition to do, and I was so interested in how Niki de Saint Phalle dispelled this notion of her being a traditional feminist. She was a French woman artist prominent during the Nouveau Réalisme movement and was a total badass who found power in the male gaze and used it to her advantage for the sake of her own amusement. I knew I wanted the title to start with Femme, and used National(e) to capture the individual and collective spirit of the group show. I was thinking in terms of women as one, both self and nation.

You are currently a student at St. Edward’s University. What year are you, and what are you studying? What do you hope to do after you graduate?

AG: I just started my junior year and am totally freaking out about being an adult. I declared a major in Liberal Studies with a concentration in art and philosophy, along with a sociology minor. I knew what I wanted to do pretty early on and I am so fortunate for that. After graduation, I’ll be moving back to Houston to spend the summer at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, in hopes that I’ll be in a full-time position by fall. My main goals are to keep running Mud, travel, and have a studio-workspace or residency for my curatorial work to flourish.

And how long have you been interning at pump project?

AG: I’ve been at pump since the second semester of my freshman year. I had just started my journey into the field and practice of curation. My art history professor took my Issues in Curation class to pump project to learn about the different scales of exhibition making. There I met Rebecca and fell in love with the space. I asked her if I could help out in any way and the rest was history. I’ve been able to learn so much working with her and being in such an amazing space surrounded by makers and thinkers.

works by Kasumi Chow and Desiree Espada
works by Kasumi Chow and Desiree Espada

Works by Kasumi Chow and Desiree Michelle Espada, on display as part of the Femme National(e) exhibit.

Do you create art yourself? If so, what materials do you work with?

AG: I would consider curation my artistic practice because art and research are at its roots. Research is so powerful and curating, in the digital realms and real life, has allowed me to facilitate timely discussions surrounding cultural production and history. Once I finish undergrad and get a studio space, I’m interested in creating video installations from the sources I’ve been archiving for research.

In addition to your work with pump, you are the Editorial Director at Mud Magazine. Can you tell us about that?

AG: Mud is the cultural compass of the South. We’re an online publication based out of Austin, Texas and we’re focused on capturing the essence of Southern culture and creativity. Our main goal is to hone in on the untapped and untold stories of the people, places and things that make Southern culture so rich and mysterious.

How long have you been working with them, and how did it come about?

AG: I was first introduced to Mud last September. One night, my friend from high school sent me a well-designed flyer promoting an event and she said it looked like something I’d be into. Now, she knows I don’t hang out in the typical college scene, so I figured I could trust her. The flyer was promoting the first MudSESSION, where creatives get together, share work and vibe out. I went to the address on the flyer and I was so impressed with the atmosphere. I had never experienced anything like it.  I introduced myself to Quinton, our Editor in Chief, and inquired about the publication and lots of other things. I left the SESSION with so many new contacts and I knew I had finally found a crowd I could call my own. I started contributing content as Associate Editor, while thinking of ways to push the platform forward. Over the past year, we’ve been on a serious rise. Now, I’m the Editorial Director, managing our platform and working with a team of incredibly talented people. It’s surreal.

That’s awesome. How large is your staff?

AG: Our staff is about 15 people ranging across our editorial, marketing, and design departments. Many of us have day jobs, but Mud is our passion so it keeps us together.

Mud occupies a singular space in the Austin print culture scene, but it’s not just Austin-oriented. It focuses on the South in a broader sense. How do you define that, and why this focus?

AG: The South is so diverse as a region, and its cultural landscapes reflect that. We’re making efforts to capture the things in our backyard. Since we’re surrounded by so much in the South there’s no pressing need to look to the East or West Coasts for what’s popping. Too much is being overlooked, and we want to be on top of directing the attention here.

Works by Audrey Brown
Works by Audrey Brown

Works by Audrey Brown, on display as part of the Femme National(e) exhibit.

Are there any other creative projects that you are involved with?

AG: Since school just started, I’m wrapping up the smaller collaborations I worked on this summer. I was featured in a lookbook for Beehive Boutique here in Austin, which was amazing because I got to work with my best friend, Juliana. I’m also starting a two-year curatorial fellowship through Carnegie Mellon at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Getting awarded a fellowship to curate in a prestigious institution is definitely the highlight of my summer.

Did you grow up in Austin?

AG: I’m a southeast Houston, Texas, native. H-town ’til I die.

How long have you been living here?

AG: I’ve been in Austin since 2014, and I’m looking forward to moving to more Southern cities.

Oh? With an eye to the broader region, how do you view the arts scene in Austin, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

AG: I’ve learned to appreciate the tight-knit scene in Austin. It’s allowed me to practice and make mistakes, but I definitely think that in order for the scene to survive, it needs more diversity and more serious patrons. It’s cool to go to an opening to hang out with friends, but it takes money to produce shows. So it’s important to actually buy the art and donate to the space. It’s a work in progress for sure.

What do you have planned for the coming months?

AG: I’ll be doing an independent study researching Black American contemporary art post-2000 to examine the art world’s appropriation of race and how artists are responding to our current political and social disparities. Black contemporary art is the realm of art I’m most connected to, so I’m looking forward to kickstarting a lifelong series of projects. This is just the beginning.     Interview by Sean Redmond.