Waterlust by Iman Person
A feature project of FLUX: Grant Park
Waterlust highlights the lost natural waterways of Grant Park through site-responsive sculpture and sound. Five major springs once situated in historic Grant Park have since disappeared with the multiple expansions of Zoo Atlanta in the 1960s and through other construction. One source, Salaam Spring, is still in existence and now is home to the park’s pond.
Waterlust explores the larger questions of the importance of preserving local water, the consequences of urban planning within and around natural bodies of water, and the future of water in contemporary life.
Iridescent banners will follow the veins of forgotten streams, while three monolithic totems will channel sounds of field recordings, history, and water conjure.
I caught up with Person as she indulged in some wanderlust via a Parisian adventure before heading to Greece (where she’s already exhibited at Ionion Center for Art in Kefalonia) to work on another project.
Kristy Gomez: Tell me a little about what makes this piece for FLUX unique in regards to your work and what impact it has had on you as an artist?
Iman Person: I think that this project is currently the most interesting because of my ability to activate such a large, public space. I have done smaller outdoor installations before, but they were mostly for personal enjoyment or in a very secluded arena. I welcome gaining a better understanding of working in landscapes from this piece and in turn, the opportunity to think of other unique ways art can better integrate itself into space.
I always want to be an artist who is more and more aware of the environments around me and how we relate to each other through them. I would like to take away from FLUX the experience of my work becoming expansive but without the expense of sustainability and the land. I am also collaborating with local producer 10th Letter on the sound elements of the work, which is new for me because I am an artist that very much works alone.
KG: In addition to being an artist, you contribute to Atlanta’s creative community in a number of ways. What are a few ways the Atlanta can support local artists?
IP: I could list so many things, but I will try to sum it up to a few. I believe more established gallerists in Atlanta could take more opportunities to be bold in their curatorial approaches and also to take the same vigor for the experimental, more DIY, and smaller Atlanta scenes. Playing it safe never got anyone anywhere, in art or otherwise. Atlanta will never be New York, so we should just accept this, move on, and create an arts community that sets itself apart from everything else.
Atlanta as a whole can support local artists by halting and fixing its issues with displacement and gentrification. Artists were leaving the city before because they felt that there was a lack of opportunities or potential for growth. Now, they are leaving because it is becoming increasingly difficult not just to survive, but thrive here. Displacement as a whole will be the downfall of this city if it is not addressed mindfully and honestly.
KG: There’s a larger conversation happening here around the roots of creative flight, so I think you’re on point with that observation.
IP: I also would love for the city to begin thinking about ways people can congregate, share, and enlighten one another outside of consumer culture, which can isolate lower income communities from becoming a part of the cultural and social fabric of the city.
Another way the Atlanta arts community as a whole can better support local artists is by paying the artist what they are worth, and to expect to pay artists for their intellectual and physical labor. Artists themselves have the reciprocal responsibility to better their own communities by setting healthy boundaries and not doing work for free so that a culture of artistic payment can flourish.
KG: Despite some of those strains you mentioned, Atlanta’s creative community is growing quickly. Are there any artists you’d like to call out — those who have been working in Atlanta for a while, as well as those new to your radar?
IP: I really love that new people are constantly folding into the arts scene here. There are so many new creatives who I was not aware of at all, which kind of makes me feel old, but I like it. I am in love forever with Davion Alston, not just for his work, but because of his convictions to make his work just as much a part of his daily life as well. Neka King is an artist I believe has a strong future ahead of her, and I am really interested to see how her practice grows. My favorite artist right now is Arianna Khemlick with Zapah Lab. She takes so many risks and I love that she is so willing to collaborate in interesting ways.
KG: One of the phrases I use a lot when talking about and to creatives is “Authenticity is your creative currency.” In what ways is your work grounded in authenticity; how do you keep yourself and your work honest, true to you, and authentic?
IP: This is a good question. For me, my work is authentic in that I create what I am interested in, and not what I think others would like to see or expect me to produce. My current body of work is in the process of shifting greatly, not in terms of content, but in terms of material. For me, it makes complete sense for where I see my work is going, but I also know that I potentially may be moving further away from the world of fine art, which I honestly could not be more excited about.
Traveling has also allowed me to be more grounded in who I am as a person as a whole, which I believe translates to other parts of my life. When you travel, you realize that you are nobody and no one cares about what or who you are. I think that is why many Americans sometimes have issues when they go abroad, because our culture tells us the exact opposite of this. This is humbling and really a great treat to know that you can abandon everything your country has force fed you and create something completely independent of that plot.
KG: Does being a woman of color working in the South affect and influence your work?
IP: I would say that being a woman of color influences my work in certain degrees, while in most, it has nothing to do with the work at all. It exists in the sense that this is the body that I have been given and am living in at this time. In that way, it very much so colors the way that I have lived, and the histories or rituals that I am privy to.
I am very proud of my blackness and that my paternal lineage is from the South. While this is the case, my art is not about blackness other than it is a commentary on how my body retells the stories I wish to release onto the world. The work I am creating and the questions that I am engaging with are universal, and this how I am interested in relating with others. The words “southern”, “black”, “woman” are limiting to my being, and I would imagine it feels the same to other artists and peoples of color across the globe.
KG: You recently participated in my exhibit, Her Ritual, where the work focused on the rituals of women of color. I can see a narrative thread that runs through this piece for FLUX, as well as your piece for Her Ritual. Was that intentional?
IP: I think that narrative is always present in my work. It is how my thought process works. I love myth, folklore, and epic stories. My imagination sprawls out with no rhyme or reason, and then I have to attempt to bring it back full circle so that others can relate and digest it. I can’t escape it.
KG: As we conduct this interview, you’re in Paris doing amazing things. Tell us about what you’ve seen and done that will inspire your future work?
IP: I am here for pleasure, before work in Greece. I traveled here with my mother, which has been nice but also challenging at times. When I am visiting a new place, I like to walk off for hours, with no real destination in mind, because I just want to observe people as they live. I don’t mind getting lost or not having a phone most of the time to help me be un-lost, because you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself. Both actually and metaphysically.
I’ve tried to stop searching for inspiration in new places because if you focus so much on becoming inspired, you’ll miss everything completely. Inspiration comes when you are doing something mindless, or have mental space to receive it. Down the road, something that seemingly held no significance for me in Paris, might suddenly shift my whole career. Maybe, maybe not. Who cares. I got to eat lots of great food, get lost, drink actually good espresso, speak very bad French, and go on a date with a beautiful Frenchman. That’s all that really matters.
KG: Are there any other mediums you haven’t worked with that you’d like to experiment with?
IP: Currently, I am moving towards a biological and digital phase in my work. I am interested in working interactively with biomaterials, sound, biofeedback, and plant technology. I will be incorporating elements of these into my work in the coming Spring.
KG: Lastly, if you didn’t have the limits of time/space/death, which artist would you like to collaborate with and why?
IP: I would love to collaborate with Ana Mendieta, above everyone. I loved how she packed so much meaning into such simple and powerful gestures. Her work contains a certain alchemy that makes me feel at home. I often wonder what kind of work she would be making today if she were alive and how she would interpret the form, immigration rights, queerness, and boundlessness.
KG: Thank you, Iman.
About the Artist
Iman Person’s work engages with the dichotomies of identity and metaphysical consciousness carried out through the ethereal lens of nature. Person embeds qualities of the feminine, memory, and ritual through drawing, installation, and performance art in order to mend the logical and mystical bodies. By inciting exploration of these forgotten spaces, and by creating new narratives around the unseen potential of the physical form, Person believes a resurrection of the contemporary divine-body can be made and in turn positively affect the landscape and concepts of nature. In 2010 Person received her B.F.A. from Georgia State University. Her work and performance have been exhibited throughout the United States, including at The Southeaster Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston-Salem, Alcott Gallery at The University of North Carolina, and The Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis, and internationally at the Ionion Center for Art in Kefalonia, Greece and MoMA Art House in Berlin, Germany. She is a member of the Atlanta-based collective Dashboard Co-Op, and was a 2011 Hambidge fellow and a 2013-2014 Walthall fellow.