Artist Profile: Tracy Jane Gregory / by Helen Grant

-H. Grant

2nd Friday art walk in June sees a different kind of exhibition. The focus will be on writing, hybrid forms, and primarily feature the work of Artist in Residence Tracy Jane Gregory, who has already taught a hybrid writing workshop at Resonator on June 1st and who will be performing at the Zines Y’all: Zine and Small Arts Fest on June 8th.

The 2nd Friday show is titled: “Wallow: Exploring Grief through Hybrid Forms,” and will be open to the public on Friday, June 14th from 6-10pm. This group exhibition is curated by Tracy Jane Gregory and local artist Jenna Alyse Bryan. They have selected artists based out of the Bay Area, Norman, and OKC metro area who work in all types of media ranging from sculpture, prints, and installation to video, performance, and writing.

“ potential magic--of Demolition”,   collage poem,   Tracy Jane Gregory

potential magic--of Demolition”, collage poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

Artist Statement: Death, both grand and small, is constant, filling our days with moments of unspoken bereavement: over the shift in energy around us, over the sudden absence of light, over the loss of a belief-system or conceptualization of our identity, over an ill-conceived expectation attached to our body. Our nation’s continuous upheaval only adds to these losses, and we are constantly asked to remediate this suffering, to take action, to predict the future and attempt to alter it. But, do we ever allow ourselves to exist in the present and sit with our grief, to love and understand it as another part of ourselves that will move with us into the future?

As an interdisciplinary writer and artist, I work with hybrid mediums to help myself and my audience exist in the chaotic presence of grief. Through the use of multiple forms, I am attempting to liberate my work from the boundaries of genre and create a more intimate and present relationship with my audience, for hybridity pushes up against our pre-conceived notions about art and writing, challenging us to see an individual piece for what it is and not what we expect it to be. Hybridity also allows me to communicate what is often unspoken or unconscious. When we work within a particular medium, we enter an existing conversation dictated by previous uses of that medium, but the hybrid taps into what exists between or beyond form, the abject that has no platform or the spirit who has no medium to speak through. Grief, to be fully understood, needs these characteristics of the hybrid: open and attentive divination.


Q. What made you want to become a writer?

A. I remember asking my mother once when I was eight or nine if it’s okay to lie in order to make someone laugh, and what I was really asking for was permission to be a storyteller. I’m sure she responded with laughter and something along the lines of “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” While I may now disagree with my mother about the usefulness of stories to hurt, it seems that I initially wanted to become a writer to entertain myself and others. Maybe I knew that reality wasn’t interesting enough for our entertainment: at least not for a budding young queer living in a suburb of Orange County in 1999.

Q. Where do you find inspiration?

A. I’m one of those writers who believes that all writing, in some way, is autobiographical, so my own life is my biggest point of inspiration. I spend a lot of time thinking about how my identity dictates my experiences and perceptions of the world, which always makes its way into my work.

I was raised Catholic, so I have an obsession with death, ritual, and penance. However, because I’m a queer woman, an identity often not celebrated in the church unless it’s through virginity, I have spent my life and writing defying what’s been ingrained in me. Instead of fearing death, I write towards a loving and healthy relationship with the afterlife. I challenge the rituals whose purpose is solely to keep up tradition and try to engage in ritualistic practices and writing that attempts to heal others. Through all this, my characters are often struggling to overcome their internal and external shame to reach the, sometimes seemingly impossible, light at the end of the tunnel of feeling empowered in their identities, bodies, and intuition.

“ Burying Rosemary Brown” , poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

Burying Rosemary Brown”, poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

Q. How has your work evolved?

A. Even though I would have denied it back then, ten years ago I bought into the artifice of the writer with isolated genius—that in order to discover one’s true and unique voice, the artist needs to tap into some glowing orb of creativity (or God as some writers used to think) that exists inside us from birth.

But, going to a more experimental MFA program that exposed me to writers like Kathy Acker, who rewrote classic literature into a disturbing beautiful mess, and Tracie Morris, who uses popular films as soundtracks to her performances, helped me understand that writing is an act of entering a community of voices. I decided that I wanted to be the kind of writer who honored the idea that no text is truly original and is a mere “tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture,” as Roland Barthes put it in The Death of the Author. That is to say that we are all influenced by other writers, artists, and human beings, and that no thought, or text or piece, is created in a vacuum. We are not isolated geniuses, so why not celebrate our influences within the art itself? This is when I started writing through erasure and appropriation and creating art that was upfront about the images or ideas it borrowed from others, which freed me to mix forms and genres in a way I would have never done before.

Prior to my MFA, I believed the most valuable work mastered one particular form and that the weird, unidentifiable collages and writing I had been making would only be a hobby, but now I see that there is immense value in making work that isn’t easily categorized and that creating through hybridity better represents my purpose as a writer and artist.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your vision for the June Art Walk event?

A. Last summer, I attended a funeral for my partner’s uncle, someone I had never met, and it was the first time I had met most of my partner’s extended family. I was nervous to meet such important people in this context, but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Because everyone was grieving, there was a level of authenticity and vulnerability that was contagious. If you’ve never openly wept with a room full of strangers before, I highly recommend it. It’s incredibly healing. We all grew closer and created a lightness that remains with me today.

I wanted to mimic this experience in the art walk event by bringing various communities of artists and writers together to share their own grievances. I think it will help us tap into our own intuition and release something powerful together. A lot of my work already comes from a place of grief, and I’ve found that I’ve gained more agency in my life and writing because of it. Plus, with all that’s going on in the political state of this country, I wanted to create a space for people to be present with their pain.

The group show is titled Wallow: An Exploration of Grief through Hybrid Forms and will include mixed-media artists from the Bay Area, Seattle, New York, Buffalo, and Norman. Art will be on display and there will be live performances and screenings.

“For Mercy”, collage poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

“For Mercy”, collage poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

Q. What, in your experience, makes for a good reading (where the storyteller and audience are simpatico)?

A. The best readings, similar to my funeral experience, are when storytellers and audiences feel comfortable to be their authentic selves (or authentic in the persona they’ve created) and are open to hearing and providing honest feedback. I often think about an interview that Jack White did with Conan O’Brien where he talks about how audiences don’t clap or dance anymore and just stand in silence. Jack White is the type of performer who caters his sets to his audiences, but because people don’t give him any feedback by clapping or dancing (or booing), he doesn’t know how to give audiences what they want anymore. The same goes for a reading: audiences need to communicate their feelings about the pieces being read to them by clapping, snapping, humming, or hollering throughout the piece and the reader needs to be open to this feedback so they can either fuel the energy that is vibing with the audience or switch things up if the energy isn’t compatible.

I look to stand-up comedians as inspiration for this type of connection and awareness of audience. They have a presence and wit that often encourages audiences to give feedback and this magic ability to get audiences on their side, even if they’ve just turned on them.

Q. What are you into right now (books, movies, art movements, music, etc)?

A. I attended AWP (Association of Writer’s and Writing Program Conference) back in March and was able to catch up with a lot of old writer friends and teachers and buy their books! I’ve been slowly making my way through those books: “Documents” by Jan-Henry Gray, “Her Mouth as Souvenir” by Heather June Gibbons, “Sinister Queer Agenda” by Travis Sharp, and “Not Heaven, Somewhere Else” by Rebecca Brown.

As far as art movements go, I am friends with and follow many sex workers and artists who use nudity on Instagram, so I’ve been following how the new censorship rules have been negatively impacting the safety of sex workers and the ability for artists to share their work. All of this stems from the SESTA/FOSTA legislation that passed last year, which puts more responsibility on websites to censor their users under the guise of preventing sex trafficking. It’s a very scary time for censorship all around, of art, of identity expression, and of our bodies, but it seems artists are trying to create new websites and spaces welcoming of nudity and sex positivity.

“ Harboring Darrell ”, video poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

Harboring Darrell”, video poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

Q. What writing, art, and/or music events are you excited about this year?

A. I recently went to a reading by Maggie Nelson where she shared some excerpts from her book-in-progress, so I’m very excited for that to come out. One of my favorite presses is Tarpaulin Sky (a publisher of hybrid books) and they recently released the long list for their book award, so I can’t wait for them to release the short list and winners of the award. I was also able to see my favorite stand-up comedian, Maria Bamford, on her most recent tour, so I’m excited to see her special when it comes out!

Q. What’s your favorite Instagram or Instagram tag that you follow and why? (Or other social media – Twitter, etc?)

A. I guess I don’t follow any Instagram tags, but I do follow a lot of drag queens on Instagram. I love drag because it best captures the humor, gender bending, and performance I aspire to do with my work. Also, RuPaul’s Drag Race is just really good television.

I’m rarely on Twitter, but when I am, I look to Roxane Gay and Patricia Lockwood for their hilariousness and poignancy.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing website or app?

A. I really like the website Entropy because it has a lot of good resources on publications and where to get published. I also like perusing Lit Hub on occasion.

Q. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like readers to know about?

A. Just that I’ll be reading some work along with some other writers and musicians at Zine Fest on June 8th. It’s at Resonator from 4-10, so come on by! I also love connecting with other writers and artists, so here’s my email: If you’re ever in San Francisco, hit me up!

“Bondage”,  quilt poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

“Bondage”, quilt poem, Tracy Jane Gregory

Follow her on Instagram @traceonmyface

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