Artist: Shannon Morales-Cocina
Location: 14 East Cafe
SM-C – Cappuccino
SRS – Americano, cinnamon mini-scone
In these trying political times, the prospect of talking to someone who has a radically different worldview can seem a little wearying, but for my money, there is just nothing like trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Just a minute or two into our conversation over coffee, CCS undergrad Shannon Morales-Cocina says something that leaves me on alien soil.
“You saw some of my works with the male figure,” she said, “and that continues to be an interest for me. I guess because even in everyday life, I don’t see myself as being so important. I think my interests guide me, but in terms of my interior world, there’s a lack of it. If that makes any sense?”
Whew. No, not really, not to me. I am one of those classic, dreamy, indoor kids, who lives pretty much entirely in my interior world. I am annoyed by my body – it is a clumsy interface to have to deal with reality. But I also have a decade and change on Shannon, so I’ve had a bit more time to develop my internal dialogue (though I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb convinced of my own importance). But I’m concerned by the idea of a nonexistent interior world, so I ask her to explain a little more.
“I don’t know what the voice is saying inside me, but maybe something along the lines of: Oh, that sounds really cool. This artist, his work is speaking to me in some way that I can’t really comprehend, this text is speaking to me in the way that I can’t comprehend, but I will follow that intuition,” she explains.
Well, yes, that sounds familiar. Shannon is a little sleep-deprived from staying up all night hammering out her thesis paper – wherein she is drawing connections between the work of Michelangelo and Kenneth Anger, in terms of male homoeroticism – and I wonder if it’s hard to present one’s own ideas, if you are deeply in the sway of your influences.
“Of course, I’m in undergrad, so nothing is so concrete,” she said. “But I’m always going to be forming myself, until I die—and even after. Writing is an investigation of thought, like all forms—even speaking. And with writing, I find myself, even if I don’t know what’s going on when I start the sentence, by the end of a paragraph, I get a feeling of a narrative, of a story.”
I think Shannon’s story is just beginning, and her interest in gender is very Millenial, and only just starting to unfold. The sense of unfixed possibilities and new formation is one of the great benefits of youth, but as a person marching inextricably toward 40, I see it now as also one of youth’s drawbacks. But then, I basically spent my 20s running around with my pants on my head (I truly hope my interior life is a bit more dignified than my external persona, but in truth, I suspect it is not).
One of the reasons that I’m primarily interested in contemporary art is because I think art is a way of processing what’s happening—so when you look at something like the Monet exhibit that’s at the DIA right now—they’re beautiful paintings, but they definitely don’t matter anymore. But in their time, they were Mapplethorpe levels of shattering-the-paradigm. It was viscerally offensive to people that someone could call something a painting when it had bare patches. The works that he presented as finished—the reason that whole school of painters is called the Impressionists is because an art critic said, in an insulting way, “These aren’t paintings, they’re mere impressions,” and they decided to own that definition.
So Monet was ground-breaking, and now Monet is a name that people associate with fine art. But those are not the arguments we’re having anymore. It doesn’t mean we should burn all the Monet, but I feel a bit like museums and learning institutions, more and more, stagger under the weight of art history. The amount of money it takes just to insure the Monet paintings that they put on display there would be transformative if distributed directly, no strings, to artists in Detroit. You’re this museum, you have all these resources, and you’re meant to be acting as an ambassador of art to the community, except what you’re really doing is polishing the antiquities. Very few museums are willing to take any kind of risks on the art that’s happening in real time, even though I think art that is of its time is sometimes the only thing dealing with what’s going on.
But the Impressionists made their own spaces. All the painters that came out of that school got together in a little cohort and were like: we think something different about painting, and we’re going to show our paintings. Catch up. It was a theoretical exercise. It’s important to remember when something is happening in real time feels different than the benefit of retrospect. Success is a narrative only told in retrospect. You don’t go into something knowing you’re going to succeed, unless the fix is in. You’re trying things. And when you look back, having achieved some measure of success, you might be able to go, ah, here’s the moment it started—but it’s not like you wake up and say, “Today’s the today something transformative is going to happen.”
You just gotta keep doing your thing, and find your own internal compass for what the right moves are. My act of faith is that my internal guide is more important than those externalities. By being human, I am connected to a lineage of human thought, something cohesive, and all those artists that have existed—they’re all drawing from the same well.
“But a lot of the stuff I just happen to see, especially in Instagram, feels like they follow a certain trend, or it feels like they exist in the surface level,” said Shannon. “They exist to be looked at, liked, but then forgotten later. But I really strive for an impact that moves me, and hopefully communicates to other people. I don’t necessarily feel the urge to create the physical manifestation of paintings or drawings, but to communicate. To investigate, to find a bit of clarity, every day, of what I’m searching for. I feel like I’m always searching. I don’t always know—but I’m getting there, to knowing.”
Yes, Shannon, yes! That’s the job. And you don’t have to wait until you know something for sure to create things. Sometimes you learn them by creating things.