The change in perspective has helped shed light on the connections amongst tactile practices. I’m now seeing how my politics, desires, emotions, aesthetics, etc. all culminate in the bundle of art that calls for no boundary, instead of seeing it simply as a task with which I pass my time. -Molly Steele
Between now and the time that I reached out to Molly Steele, Molly has made her way from LA, where she is based, and North Dakota, where she plans to show solidarity with the mounting protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline through the winter. By now, she is in the thick of it. I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram when I came across something that actually struck a chord. It was Molly’s rant that she was “sick of listening to people who aren’t fighting for anything EVER and yet who make critiques about how others choose to ACT on their unrest.” It was an angsty, full-blown rant grappling with huge issues that silently affect our world. In this case, the Dakota Access Pipeline highlights an uncomfortable intersection of many of those issues. And yet, not everyone is willing to see it all, let alone connect them, and digest what exactly this means for us and how we live our lives. Molly’s rant was not self-congratulatory, but fearlessly vulnerable and explicitly political from someone willing to be messy, raw, uncertain, conflicted: willing to be wrong, admit it, learn from it and correct it. She is self-aware of the tensions between her lifestyle and the values she’d like to embody: writing about all these questions “while I sip my freelancer latte.” I see a kindred heart, who, tired of keeping her politics out of her public realm, unleashed it and knew she couldn’t go back. From then on, all she could do was let her intuition be her compass.
Once we got the initial introductions out the way, we dove straight in. And she opened up behind the easily digestible, wild and pretty photographer image that many are drawn to her for.
I saw someone call you out for being hypocritical and telling you to reflect on your life and behavior. It seems there’s this assumption that you have to live a life that is perfectly in line with your morals, when there are lots of things that are out of your control. When we blame individuals, it’s counterproductive. Why can’t you talk about racial equality, which are matters of justice, or critique the commodification of nature, and simultaneously acknowledge that you benefit from it?
How did you become politicised about racial issues?
I grew up feeling confused about some things I was hearing about black people. My town had one small strip where the only people of color lived, as did some of the neighboring towns. My first high school, which went from grade 7 through 12, had fewer people of color than I have fingers on just one of my hands. My second high school, in a city further away, was almost the opposite and I found myself in the minority. I mention these things to paint a picture of the racial disparity I saw growing up. I heard words and phrases that made me sick to my stomach, but people made fun of me for voicing that these things made me uncomfortable. It has been a long process to identify and dismantle some of the stereotypes I was conditioned to believe; I am forever changed. What politicized and mobilized me to speak up against racism was participating in a protest against a pro-White rally in Atlanta. It was in that environment that I was able to build deep connections with people who reminded me of the absolute importance of identifying and disabling the many vessels through which racism operates. It is through these new relationships that I’ve begun to discover the lengths of my desire to support and learn how to show solidarity for others in that struggle.
Could you talk about the conflict between art and profit?
I’d first like to say, I’m very new to considering what I do as “art.” And by what I do, I’m talking about my photography, my writing, and my way of being in and of the world. I say this because it’s only from this personal connection to art that I’m considering how it functions, or doesn’t function, with profit. Many friends of mine have found great opportunities with funding that supports their art, and I see the value in that. When you are operating in a particular arena, it seems that outlets like Nowness are interested in funding projects without expecting to also brand them. If these were the kinds of relationships on the table for me, I might have a different feeling toward art and profit. However, I feel like I’m in a position where brands are looking to integrate their products into what I’m doing, and expect that the nature of the work will remain the same despite this, which is not possible. It seems as though the moment profit comes into the picture, the art no longer belongs to the artist. The art has been adulterated by capital, or an array of external forces. I don’t mean to claim that all work impressed upon by something external is anything less than it was before, or necessarily tainted. For me, I just have a hard time experiencing harmony with what I do when I’ve tried to integrate the desires of others into it, or some sort of agenda that is not wholly my own.