Partners share thinking underlying upcoming Creative Inquiries event

March 18, 2024
Woman in green dress kneels on floor.
Everything I Say is True, performance, Kite, 2017. Photo by Rita Hayworth

March 29 is the annual Creative Inquiries event organized by The Workshop at James Branch Cabell Library. These programs are not typical academic lecture-style presentations. Rather, the design is to bring to campus a “maker”--someone who uses technology in creative ways–to interact with faculty and students in a more informal way. The presenter talks about process, materials, inspiration and approaches and takes questions in an open forum. In addition, the guest meets separately with students. 

Kite, aka Suzanne Kite, Ph.D., is the 2024 Creative Inquiries guest. She is an award winning Oglála Lakȟóta performance artist, visual artist, composer and academic. Known for her sound and video performance, Kite holds a B.F.A. from CalArts in music composition and a M.F.A. from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School. Kite earned a Ph.D. at Concordia University. 

She speaks at 1 p.m March 29 at Cabell Library with livestreaming on Zoom. Seats are available. Register online  

Support from the VCU Foundation, The VCU School of the Arts Department of Kinetic Imaging and the VCU Humanities Research Center helped make this year's session possible.

To explore the thinking behind the series and the expectations, VCU Libraries posed questions to two of the partners in planning, Associate Professor Eric Johnson, head of Creative Technologies and Scholarship at VCU Libraries, which oversees The Workshop, and Professor Stephen Vitiello, chair of the Department of Kinetic Imaging, VCUArts.   

What is the intention of the Creative Inquiries speaker series? 

Johnson: The Creative Inquiries speaker series was founded to help us explore the intersection of technology and society. When identifying speakers, we want to find people who aren't just researchers but who also are themselves makers. That blend of thoughtful study and hands-on creative experience is where the magic happens. It is so easy to just tout technology as "innovation" and all about the future, but we have found that it's important to ask if that's really true. Our speakers have brought their own personal experiences and insight to help us explore what is really a complex landscape: how does technology reflect and shape the issues, inequities, and injustices in our society? 

Why does The Workshop seek partnerships for this kind of programming?

Johnson: Our department's mission is to help the VCU community engage with creative technologies, to create new knowledge and figure out the best ways to share their ideas. But we are definitely not alone on campus in our interest in creative technologies and the questions that these technologies raise! We are always interested in connecting with other units that are as excited by these issues as we are. And we know that they have relationships that we don't have, so we all help each other connect to an expanding circle of communities.

How did this particular partnership come together?

Johnson: It was a bit of luck, really!  We first learned of Dr. Suzanne Kite’s work through a reprise of an Association of College & Research Libraries panel presentation entitled “No Thoughts, Just Vibes?: Interrogating Algorithms through Visual Art and Information Literacy,” which was organized by our Arts Research Librarian Carla-Mae Crookendale. Following the talk, Oscar Keyes, the multimedia teaching and learning librarian here in The Workshop, began discussing Kite as our next speaker and it turned out other departments had also recently learned about her work and were interested in bringing her to campus. In particular, Kinetic Imaging had also been considering bringing her as an invited artist. Keyes also mentioned Kite’s potential visit during an AI Futures Lab meeting, led by Dr. Jennifer Rhee through the Humanities Research Center, and Rhee quickly connected us with the HRC and the MATX program for additional partnerships. So it was natural to work together.  

Vitiello: Oscar Keyes from the Cabell Library reached out and asked if Kinetic Imaging would be interested in co-sponsoring Dr. Kite’s visit to VCU. There was already interest from our department as one of the KI faculty, SHAWNÉ MICHAELAIN HOLLOWAY had participated in a workshop given by Dr. Kite in Oregon last year and expressed interest (on more than one occasion) in bringing her to campus. I’d also been on a residency jury in 2022 at the Bemis Center in Nebraska with Dr. Kite. I was thrilled to hear that the library had initiated the invitation and jumped at the chance to collaborate. 

Where does Suzanne Kite fit in the “arts world?” What is her reputation? What ground/boundaries is she breaking?

Johnson: She's a remarkable artist and scholar and her trajectory is only going up. Her work is grounded in her Oglála Lakȟóta heritage and community but engages with "future-facing" ideas and technologies like artificial intelligence. She shares her work around the world in significant venues through different artistic traditions such as performance art, visual art and music composition, which adds an incredible dynamism to her work. I was excited to see that Grammy winners Rhiannon Giddens and the Silkroad Ensemble have recently commissioned work from her for their "American Railroad" tour. In addition to being a lauded artist, she brings a scholar's critical eye to her artistic investigations.

Vitiello: To me, she is an important cutting-edge artist working across disciplines and research interests and coming from a community of indigenous/native artists who have been out of the public view in the art world and are now getting some long-deserved critical attention and reception. Dr. Kite is also featured in the upcoming Whitney Biennial which is one of the most influential platforms for contemporary art and artists nationally - and viewed internationally.

What do you see as essential to understanding her approaches/her creativity? 

Vitiello: The only thing I see as essential is that one gives it time and full attention. Sometimes work like this, not unlike a poem, or a dense text invites multiple views. We all find our own access points if we’re receptive. If you’re confronted with something new and decide too quickly that you don’t get it, you’re a lot less likely to than if you just allow yourself to take in the experience. … Like any form of contemporary art, Kite makes work that demands one pay attention - and perhaps view it more than once - but also, to my mind, it is work that does not tell you that you have to read it with one specific interpretation. If the work is strong, it will strike each person differently as they also bring their own background to the viewing and listening experience.

What element, qualities or characteristics of her practice/her career do you admire? 

Vitiello: Speaking as a sound artist, I’m excited by the way that sound plays a central role in her work - not just music but sound as a language of art making too. Kite’s performance-based videos have been on my radar for sometime and at least one was featured in a grad seminar I taught in 2021. Her work is already in my notes for next fall’s grad seminar as well.

Part of her time on campus will be spent with students. What do you hope students will glean from her

Vitiello: Six MFA students from the department of Kinetic Imaging will each have private studio visits with Dr. Kite the day before her public lecture. I always tell grads that they should be prepared to share some of their past work but also, ideally share a work-in-progress where they would benefit from advice and critique. Every studio visit goes differently. Just the privilege for the students of being able to share work with an established artist should be a benefit but also, hopefully they will receive feedback from the point of view of this accomplished artist and academic that will be unique. The fact that Dr. Kite works across disciplines, including video, performance and sound is perfectly in keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of Kinetic Imaging.

Johnson: Any time students can break out of their classroom environments and engage with practitioners, good comes from it. It brings art and scholarship to life and helps them see new possibilities in their own practices and research. And a big bonus is that they get to ask questions and hear the stories about the process of creating original work! Too often they see and study the end result. When they talk to scholar-practitioners, they can better understand how that person formulated their ideas and took all the steps--and detours--that creative efforts entail.

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