Article

Following their previous two letters detailing their departure from art making, Eric Avery returns with an announcement: They're getting back in. Avery describes how the hiatus fundamentally transformed their creative practice, and brought their focus to repair, healing, and justice.
November 22, 2019

Greetings from the Future, sweet eric, or the Past, by Now.

It’s November 2019. I’m writing you from a bourgeois hotel in Brooklyn. Weird, right? If you’re wondering how I can afford all that—you guessed it, I can’t. Someone else is paying, because I’m getting back in. Well, got back in. Like IN, IN. All the way IN. Deeper than I or you have ever gone IN before. And ya know what, eric? I’m gonna keep going. In this letter, I want to share about how your journey helped me get to where I am today, and where we might go tomorrow. As you’ve written so thoughtfully in your two previous letters and articulated in countless conversations, you’ve gone through some stuff[1]. Some stuff might be from childhood, socialization, schooling, systematic stuff, or some ancestors’ unresolved issues. In this letter, I write specifically to the erics who put in the work to heal from fall 2016 to fall 2019.

Straight up: I love you, erics. Yes homo, because you’re an excellent human and an even better queer. Thank you for caring for me. Thank you for taking the time to notice that we were not well. Thank you for taking risks and being vulnerable. Thank you for being honest. Thank you for loving me and giving us time and attention to heal and reflect. Thank you for ignoring and resisting the social scripts that said the choices you made weren’t valid or advisable. I believe you have done incredibly courageous work, all in an effort to be your best self. Maybe me. Or perhaps some other series of erics yet to come. I have so much appreciation for you and your commitment to an intentionally pleasurable, thoughtful, and sustainable existence.

I understand why you had to get out. I know the pain you have endured and I appreciate the time you have taken to sort out the meaning you are making in this finite reality. There is such an abundance of experiences to be had, and yet so much of what constitutes “life” in this society/time/reality encourages us towards patterns that keep us trapped, sick, anxious, poor, upset, uninformed, and full of doubt for ourselves and each other. Stepping outside of the life you had built was the only way to make space for something new to emerge.

eric: Whoa, whoa, whoa, hey, hold up! So you’re doing art again?

eric: Hahaha. No, hi? How’s the weather?

eric: You hate small talk.

eric: The simple answer is yes.

eric: Do I want the complex one?

eric: No.

eric: Now you definitely have to tell me!

eric: Okay. Well, first off, I don’t believe in the construct of “Art.” I think creativity is an innate quality of being human. The neatly divided silos that comprise Art are a colonial project situated in our “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”[2] My orientation towards creativity is not a job. It’s who I am. Culture is a way of being, and I was born into it. As a descendent of formerly enslaved Africans, much has been done to interrupt and erase the stories, beliefs, and ways of my ancestors, and despite this generational assault, I was raised by and amongst griots, healers, chiefs, chefs, and unsung geniuses. It’s true that I also rely on my creativity to survive in a capitalist society. This is a slippery slope that I’m trying to navigate with intention, grace, and humility.

eric. That’s a lot.

eric. Well, you did ask for the complex response.

Eric, as you already wrote in your 2018 letter, what’s feeding us and giving me life are projects centered on: Cooperative economics—economic justice, solidarity economies, collectives. Community development—innovating in and “owning” our neighborhoods. Reclaiming cultures—knowing ourselves first, honoring ancestors. Building urban-rural pathways—not just in Minnesota, but across this blue marble full of real and imagined boundaries. Popular education to develop critical consciousness—because learning can be healing and fun. Community-level reparations—the resources exist they just need to be redistributed equitably. Black joy—we and our ancestors deserve and need dozens of decades worth of kisses, kindness, giggles, and tenderness. QTBIPOC—I’m especially curious to spend time in collaboration and community with folks who live at multiple intersections.

The seeds you were dreaming about have sprouted. These ideas have grown from thoughts to conversations, to grants, to events, to actions that are shaping change. I’m taking good care of what you began. Each day I write notes, record funny little thoughts, draw, read, recruit collaborators, and turn these concepts in my mind. It’s so energizing, and I’m curious to explore what it’s like to bring these values and practices to everything I do. I’m ready to take my creative practice to the next level of achievement, scale, depth, and meaning. I want to explore new challenges in new fields, in new mediums, in new places. I want to create wildly, without limits.

eric: So then why you doing puppet shit?

eric: It’s complicated.

eric: PUPPETS?!

eric: Hahaha. Yeah.

eric: Okay. I’ll let puppets slide for now. What are you gonna say to the people who are like, “I knew that BLAH BLAH BLAH,” in regards to your return to creative practice?

eric: Honestly?

eric: Please.

eric: I’m annoyed by people who think the public-facing me is all there is to see. I’m like an iceberg.

eric: Frigid?

eric: Haha. No. 

eric: What do you mean?

eric: Some folks like to identify as “an open book,” which is sweet, but I’m not that. I’m much more introverted than people understand. It’s not that I’m hiding the “real me,” it’s that I don’t define myself by the work I do or how I show up in community, so it’s frustrating when people see a sliver of my life and act as if they know more about me than I do.

eric: That does seem frustrating. Do the puppets help you relieve stress?

eric. This interview is over.

Do you remember when we were living in Chicago? Or rather, what we said as we were leaving? I’ve been thinking quite a bit about that, and I feel impressed by the commitment we made. That thought was so powerful it became a driving force in our life for the next seven years. Even though it was born of a crisis, setting that goal was probably the first time we challenged ourselves in a big way to live the life we wanted to create. I’ve been considering what it would be like to make a new kind of commitment. This is just a draft. I’m happy to discuss, but I just wanted to share it with you and get some thoughts. It’s mostly a list of things I want to do better, or more regularly, or remind us of.

  • Treat yourself kindly, especially when things aren’t great.
  • Make things. Connect people. Cultivate joy.
  • I need space to myself.
  • Eat more plants.
  • Listen. Listen. Listen.
  • Tell the people you love that you love them.
  • Notice when things are going well.
  • Use money. Don’t fear it. Don’t obsess over it.
  • Stay true to your boundaries.
  • Mornings are sacred.
  • I am (more than) enough.
  • Slow down.
  • Call Mom.
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Sometimes: just exist in your body.
  • Share what you have and ask for what you need.
  • Be honest, always.
  • Lead with kindness.
  • You’re cute.
  • Check yourself.
  • Get enough sun.
  • EXERCISE.
  • Dream big. Live bigger.
  • Continue to articulate your reparationist lifestyle.

I’m doing my best to take good care of myself, but it’s difficult. Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong time. I feel like I’m supposed to exist in a time that is just, free, abundant, kind, loving, informed, critical, wise, connected, supportive, open, and curious. At times, I struggle to locate myself in the reality I find myself today. We’ve been told so many stories about who we are and what’s important, but sadly many are simply not true. In my next chapter it is my intention to confront these deceptions.

Eric, you’ve done so much to lay the foundation for what’s next. It’s my work to synthesize your efforts over the next few years. There is such power in creativity, but if it’s not serving a greater purpose then it is likely just another distraction from what really matters. This is why it feels so essential to orient my work towards repair, healing, and justice. I can no longer stand on indigenous land and pretend the world we live in is the one that should be. I can no longer remain complicit in violence and silence that patriarchal norms perpetuate. I see the beauty of blackness and the brilliance of Africans across time and space.

The more I’ve come to understand about what I need to be my best self (this is different than one’s most productive self), the more I realize that I’m accountable for creating these conditions for myself and in collaboration with others. This is the only existence we know of, and once we’re dead, we’re gone from this place. I know that’s a disconcerting thought. I certainly have my own issues to work out with death, but my fear of not existing someday does not blind me to the fact that I’m situated in an unfair world that has systematically exploited, disempowered, and murdered my queer and African-descended ancestors (and so many more).

My work cannot change those facts, but it can honor and revere those ancestors by learning and telling their stories. My work can create alternative ways of being and new visions for the future. My work can create anti-oppressive spaces for us to be together. So much is possible, and I thank you for choosing choices that brought us to this moment, eric. I’m so excited to move forward and see us explore new places, projects, and adventures. I look forward to seeing what we do next. Until then I’ll be travelling onward towards that future reality at a relatively comfortable 67,000 mph.

Love,

Eric of the Present, soon to be Past

 

[1] Euphemism for trauma, stress, anxiety, pain, depression, etc.

[2] In many works, bell hooks uses this term to describe the interlocking systems of oppression and domination that are embedded in our policies, institutions, families, and selves.

Originally from Topeka, KS, Eric Avery (they/them) is a reparationist, cultural organizer, + curious queer creative currently based in Minneapolis, MN. They work across the Midwest to connect communities of color to land, food, creativity, and culture in an effort to heal from the past and build our shared future. Avery has worked as a freelance artist/designer across the United States since 2006, and earned an MFA in interdisciplinary performance from Towson University in 2013. Their creative practice has utilized: puppets, buildings, food, improvisation, song, installation, participation, travel, humor, time, imagination, algorithms, honesty, and tape. Avery’s dedication to relationship-centered work has put them in collaboration with/inside: non-profits, municipalities, social service agencies, universities, farms, community centers, prisons, and houses. Avery’s current creative practice aims to reshape neighborhoods, homes, and lives through community-based development, cooperative economics, and raising critical consciousness through liberatory learning. Avery’s intersectional feminist approach is largely informed by the experience of living in a queer black body in a society at odds with both of those identities. 

This piece is part of a series of letters under the theme Getting Out (on the outs, and ins thereof, of art), guest edited by Moheb Soliman.

MN Artists