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Juliana Huxtable: Work in progress

© Vitali Gelwich
Net shirt: Stylist's own
Trousers: Balenciaga

Words by:

There are few creative figures who currently occupy as unique a space as Juliana Huxtable.

She is a poet with a bracing lexicon and a multimedia artist with an incisive eye. She DJs and she writes and performs music. She is both a nightlife icon and a darling of the art world, capable of hosting a warehouse rave and rubbing shoulders with trustees of the MoMA in the span of a single weekend. She’s one of the most crucial voices in current transgender discourse, yet she is reluctant to agree with attempts to position her as such. She is, as she tells me when we meet, “really bad at describing” her practice succinctly.

“I wish the conversation around what is and isn't progress could be focused a little on the conditions, the extreme conditions that so many people are living in”

A logical attempt at doing so would need to begin with her use of the written word. A self-proclaimed “theory head,” Huxtable has been writing her entire life, and her poems were a staple of her illustrious Tumblr page, the means to which she found a mass audience. The highly-acclaimed 2012 work Untitled (For Stewart) offers a distillation of themes she returns to time and again in her work; namely, systemic sexist and misogynist power structures, body disassociation and dysmorphia, and the radical potential of new technology.

That poem, along with a huge swathe of pieces from various stages of her career, was collected in Huxtable’s first published book, 2017’s Mucus in My Pineal Gland. “A lot of the text in there had previously existed as something I did for a performance or maybe something that started as a Tumblr post that I then revisited,” she says, “there [were] a lot of different types of writing in various states of finality and so it was intense to really have to commit to. Gallery shows I find more fun, because it’s less expansive than a book.”

© Vitali Gelwich
Left
Denim artwork: Eric Wrinkler
Right
Dress: Ioannes
Shoes: Gucci

Of all her exhibitions, Huxtable is most proud of 2017’s A Split During Laughter at the Rally. Combining visual pieces with an immersive video installation, the show was a dissection of “the aesthetics of conspiracy and American paranoia,” weaving in further elements such as the history of protest chants and its relationship to hip-hop. It remains both utterly of its time and ahead of its time; a colourful, if discomforting, reaction to the then-early stages of Trumpocracy whose resonance continues to ring with ever more clarity as time passes.

We discuss how she might envision a best-case scenario future. “Things feel dark, generally,” she begins. “Ideally there would be some sort of revolution that was able to sustain itself. I don’t know if that would take a little Marxist revolution. I don’t know if it would take a queer revolution. Ideally, it would be a little bit of all of those things, but just one, a movement, just to be able to sustain enough steam to cause a real impact.”

© Vitali Gelwich
Left
Top and trousers: Hanger
Right
Denim artwork: Eric Wrinkler

“When I was younger, I always loved the idea of clubbing. I was obsessively studying New York nightlife”

© Vitali Gelwich
Left
Dress: Ioannes
Right
Top and trousers: Hanger

“I guess my most base desire would be that public discourse can progress beyond the pitfalls and traps that it’s currently in,” she continues. “I wish the conversation around what is and isn’t progress could be focused on a little bit of the conditions, the extreme conditions that so many people are living in or navigating.”

While a coming Marxist revolt may seem far-fetched, the seeds of a queer revolution may already have been planted in the freedoms created in nightlife spaces. The world of the party has been a major element of Huxtable’s life and work since she moved from Texas to study at New York’s Bard College.

Juliana Huxtable © Vitali Gelwich
© Vitali Gelwich
Denim artwork: Eric Wrinkler

“Going out was definitely a goal,” she reminisces. “When I was younger, I always loved the idea of clubbing… I love Studio 54 and the club kids and I was obsessively studying and fixating on New York nightlife.” The years spent travelling down to the city from her campus to organise events (“manically hustling”) laid the groundwork for her rise on the scene when she located to New York full time upon graduating in 2010. Over the years, Huxtable’s Shock Value parties have showcased her skill of community-building within the queer underground, in addition to her electric abilities as a DJ and her ravishingly imaginative club looks.

The sanctity of these spaces is a given, but Huxtable is opposed to the notion of her parties as ‘safe spaces’. “I don’t really believe in safe spaces,” she explains. “Not in the sense that ‘I don’t feel like people should feel safe,’ but I think that nightlife and going out to clubs is inherently a risk based experience. Shit can go down. People are drinking. People are doing drugs. So I feel like safe space as a concept is a sort of trap. It’s less about a sense of safety than a sense of platforming. I wanted to see music and artists platformed that I didn’t think were being platformed, and I also really like the idea of crowd building an audience and building a constituency as an experiment.”

© Vitali Gelwich
Denim artwork: Eric Winkler

Huxtable’s breadth of knowledge is formidable, and her insights often put forward narratives that are absent (but much-needed) in the mainstream. An interview with Office Magazine following a 2018 performance at the Park Avenue Armory found her approaching the topic of trans identity from a viewpoint rarely amplified by her peers: “I don’t think visibility is an end goal. I don’t think visibility in and of itself is progress.”

Even as someone very much engaged in the conversation surrounding the evolution of gender identity, I was struck by the blunt force of this sentiment. She elaborates, proffering that “there’s an idea of liberal progress that would celebrate and say ‘Yay, we have Time Magazine covers, we have TV representation,’ which is great, but to think that that’s the same thing as protecting the trans people that are the most at risk is not the same. A lot of times visibility comes with backlash and it can cause a lot of harm for people. The conflation of visibility and progress is a problem.

“It’s important to be invested in on-the-ground activism,” she continues. “It’s like, ‘what about education? What about underground resources?’ I doubt we’d be dealing with children being kicked out of bathrooms if all the effort that was put into visibility was also put into actually educating the public on what it means to be trans, and protecting people, and giving money and resources to activist groups that have been doing work for decades in areas where those resources are really needed. It feels like there needs to be a more complete idea of what progress is.”

For better or worse, Juliana Huxtable is often put in positions where she is expected to summarily deliver an answer to such complex questions. But as befits the mark of a truly great artist, one is much more likely to find such answers in her work itself.

Photography: Vitali Gelwich
Styling: Lorena Maza
Make Up: Anne Timper using Laura Mercier
Styling Assistant: David Diniz
Photo Assistant: Lukas Wenninger

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