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Kade Twist on Artmaking, L.A., and Bringing an Indigenous World View to Otis College

Kade L. Twist is an interdisciplinary artist working with video, sound, interactive media, text, and installation environments. Twist's work combines re-imagined tribal stories with geopolitical narratives to examine the unresolved tensions between market-driven systems, consumerism, and American Indian cultural self-determination. Twist is a co-founder of Postcommodity, an interdisciplinary artist collective, featured in the October issue of Art in America. With his individual work and the collective Postcommodity, Twist has exhibited work nationally and internationally. In 2017, Postcommodity was included in both the 2017 Whitney Biennial and documenta 14 and was awarded an Art for Change Ford Foundation fellowship

Twist was recently named associate professor and curricular area head for the Art + Social Practice emphasis within the MFA Fine Arts program at Otis College. We caught up with Kade and asked him a few questions about his work with Postcommodity, his move to L.A., and his thoughts on joining the faculty at Otis College.

Q: How do you define social practice?

A: Social practice is really about using human relationships as a medium but not like a medium you think of manipulating for a very strategic outcome that’s aesthetic or conceptual. In this context the relationship is about connectivity and human experience; it’s a force that drives the memory, transfer and contextualization of experiential knowledge, oral tradition and community self-determination.  It embodies community self-determination through the dynamics of metaphor and action.

To me, social practice is about activating and complicating the assumptions of relationships and in the process working with communities to recover knowledge, to recovery memory, and to generate meaning through art making processes; whether that may live as video, sound, installation, photography, documents, ephemera, story, shared experience or shared memory. To me, it’s using information and relationships in co-intentioned ways that advance a particular community’s self-determination. So it’s about understanding what the intentionality of that community is, and working in a way that advances that existing intentionality and using your artistic license in a way that functions as a respectful and relevant catalyst.  In this regard, I think social practice art has the unique capacity to address problematic power dynamics and advance community goals of redistribution of power, and to generate or heal reciprocal community processes in ways that lead to extraordinary outcomes. 

Q: What do you hope to contribute to Otis?

A: It’s really hard to think about what you might contribute to a world-class faculty, that’s already here. I mean they’re people that you’ve studied growing up and they’re already in the history books and they’ve already shaped a lot of contemporary art. So to think of yourself as having influence, it’s like whoa, you’ve got to take a step back.

But if there is something that I could bring to the table, I really would like to bring an indigenous world view and some of the tactics and strategies that I’ve learned through working with Postcommodity, in terms of being able to navigate and to move and to abandon rationality.

That’s something I really want to encourage among the students. An abandonment of rationality and eliminating that concern with things like linear time and our relationships with western time. To pull ourselves out of that and really think about the discourse beyond delineations of past or present. My goal is to build student capacities as artists around discourse.

I think the faculty that are already here are trying to do that and have been doing that for a long time. I think there’s been leadership in this faculty of diversity that is very well documented. So my goal is to contribute in ways that add value to a vision that’s been held and protected and stewarded here at Otis for many years.

Q: What excites you about your move to Los Angeles?

A: Growing up a hundred miles from here in Bakersfield it’s something I have a relationship with. For better or for worse it’s one that relies on your imagination because you’re always coming to L.A. for the great things. You know, to see the Lakers or the Dodgers or to see a concert or a play or a film or, to go look at an art exhibition. I mean you’re always taking the best of the best with you when you leave, so this is the first time I’ve been here to where I’m coming in with knowing full well that this is a reciprocal process now and my relationship isn’t just coming here and taking. It’s coming here, living, breathing and giving back and growing relationships.

Something I’m really excited about is, L.A. like Bakersfield, is a very brown city, and there’s been so much growth in the communities that I came from that I’m really proud about and I see that same type of growth happening in L.A. I’m not talking about economic growth. I’m talking about social capital growth and the growth of communities and identity around those communities. And, that kind of growth lead to more power at the, you know, around the table.

So I think it’s an exciting time in L.A. for indigenous people, for Chicano people, for Latinos, and it’s nice to be a part of that. One of the things that I’m really, really excited about is a project that Postcommodity’s working on, in collaboration with a lot of institutions and now Otis is a part of this.

It’s looking at the year 2043 as a tipping point, when, according to the U.S. Census, America shifts from being a white majority to a non-white majority. So a lot of what I’m looking at here in L.A. is how are those shifts happening because that happened in L.A. a long time ago. So what can I learn from L.A. and what can L.A. share, you know, nationally from a point of leadership and from a point of knowledge and experience.

So I think that’s what I’m really excited about is to bring people together to have those conversations about, how do we build capacity, you know, so that we have a better sense of ourselves and a better sense of criticality of who we are in the 21st Century and likewise, how can we build a capacity of the former majority who may have never learned and developed that knowledge and understanding of brown communities and so that they can engage our codes and our ways of being in our world view with a type of criticality that they have for themselves. So that type of capacity building I think is essential in the arts because if we’re going to see a major population shift, we need to see a power shift that goes with that. So we need to see a shift in language around brown people that has, that reflects that kind of knowledge and capacity and nuance and understanding. So I think to me, L.A. is this place like a ground zero for really looking at that and learning from it, mobilizing people around that and sharing that through that process.

The priority application deadline for Spring 2018 entry into the MFA Fine Arts program at Otis College of Art and Design is November 1, 2017 and the priority application deadline for Fall 2018 entry is January 15, 2018.