Devin is currently a junior Sculpture major at Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Devin’s installations and performances derive from his curiosity to understand the queer human experience. Determined to change the way queer people view themselves, he creates work that questions and confronts perceptions of conventional gay stereotypes. He is also interested in the viewer as a participant and how the display of the work can create a formal context. Devin is influenced by the Fluxus artists of the 1960s and 70s, as well as contemporary artists.
Devin Wilson is a junior at the Boston University College of Fine Arts. His works include sculpture and performance pieces, including Open Wide, a piece I had the privilege of seeing.
Where are you from, Devin?
I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania. There's a lot of cows there. I come from the backwoods, literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s like an hour and 15 minutes outside of Penn State, in State College, Pennsylvania.
What brought you to Boston?
Long story. So actually, in my senior year of high school, I was going to be a musical theater performance major, and my mom thought that was a terrible idea because I wouldn’t make any money. So I wanted to do psychology and become a professor. I looked online for a college that had a good musical theater program and good psychology and I wound up at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio. I went there for a year and a half. I was a psychology major for three days, dropped out. Changed my major to theater, planning on auditioning to become a musical theater student. Never did that. I fell out of love with theater and fell into the arts. I was always an art kid, so I started pursuing this artistic career where I had no idea what I was doing. I changed majors once again and just jumped into it. I had no idea what I was doing and just... fell in love with it after that. It was a visual form of how I felt, which was really interesting. I was doing a lot of ceramics and jewelry and felt I wanted to do more. I felt like I had more to talk about than what I was doing, so I was looking to transfer. I was looking at schools with a good sculpture program, and two of my professors said "why don't you go to Boston University? We have a grad student there currently. Just look at their school, look at their faculty, and see where you want to go.” I saw amazing faculty here, and then I was like this is fantastic, I want to go here, I love this. I never came to visit, not even once. I hopped on a bus, like spur of the moment. I didn't even know what the school looked like. And, here we are.
You mentioned the sculpture. Do you have a preferred medium? Mediums?
We were just talking about this today in classes. I don't like the term because it kind of limits the view of what art is. To categorize something is really interesting because you are trying to dictate what these things are. You can have an object. It can be a sculpture, it can be a painting, but this grey zone is really interesting: where it can live in between both. I also don't like the term "interdisciplinary," I think it's kind of restrictive. So, I just call myself an artist. I make or do whatever I want, which is kind of freeing. But, if we have to categorize it, I would call myself an installation performance artist who works in the realm of media, new genres in media, and video work.
That makes a lot of sense. Can you tell us about your process of creating or conceptualizing a piece?
Yeah! A lot of them have a research base, so a lot of my process is research and doing a lot of looking online. I watch videos, I read books, so that's kind of my process. What I do is I start out with a concept and then work around that piece. A lot of artists make work and then make an exhibition that goes around the work. I kind of work backwards, where I have an idea for an exhibition and then I make work that goes in there around that theme. Janine Antoni is an artist who did an exhibition about cows, and I thought this idea was so brilliant. Just have a theme and make work around it. So, I've been playing off that and working it. Currently, my theme is birds. I’m going to narrow that down in the future, but for now I want to keep it vague. I've been really interested in birds and mimicry, so I've been researching different types of birds and how that can relate to myself and my self portraiture.
Is there an artist of the past, present, or future (if you know any future artists) you would like to meet?
There's a lot. So, I'm really into this photographer. Her name is Francesca Woodman. She is a conceptual photographer who sadly committed suicide, and all her work is about her knowing the fact that she was going to die. She didn't know when, she didn't know why, but she knew she didn't want to be on this earth anymore. All of her work has this absence of a body, even when the figure is still in the picture, there's a disconnect and a dissonance between her as the artist and her relationship to the viewer. There's this absence, this disconnect, because all her work is so conceptually based on her not wanting to live anymore. So, at the age of 22 she jumped off of a building. Her work is so intense about the body and I would love to just talk to her.
Are there any themes that you really like to cover or play with or explore in your work?
Being a conceptual artist, it's all about concept for me. It's all about the idea and the meaning behind it instead of the physical form that it manifests into (like, that I make), but I work with themes of sex, abuse, queer culture, death. Kind of these really eventful tragic things, but... in a way where its self-portraiture. I work a lot with things that have happened to me. Louise Bourgeois is perfect just for that concept. She wrote that she wanted to directly relate her work to her body, because she created work that was about abuse and the things that she's went through and I kind of resonate with that. I want to make work that is self portraiture about things I went through. So, I've just been playing. Even though I want to do themes on birds, how can I connect birds and the things that they do in their habitat and nature to things that I do and how those two things can respond and talk to one another.
I managed to see one of your pieces. It was Open Wide. Can you tell use a little about that one
Open Wide was a video installation piece with two performances. Since last semester, I've been working with the concepts of voyeurism, abuse, intimacy, privacy, and queer culture. So, it was a commentary on sexual abuse and the objectification of queer men in culture, like how we as gay men are objectified by other gay men to just be a physical entity that's there to be used. That's kind of what it was responding to, just this societal pressure to not be a human, but to be an object to be viewed or touched in a way that is demeaning. It was a very heavy issue, so my piece is me gurgling toothpaste and just letting it run down. I would sit in different positions in the gallery as an object. I wanted the viewer to objectify me the way that I have been objectified. I wanted them to resonate not with me as the artist but with them being in the position of a past person who has done something to me. I wanted them to connect that they were kind of doing this. It was a commentary on abusive queer culture.
One last question: Is there a piece that you are most proud of or something that you are really excited to do?
I have currently some new projects in my brain. I'll talk about those a little bit. They are also inspired by birds. I've been thinking about my thesis lately, because it's only three semesters away, so I'm trying to build a portfolio that builds towards a commonality and a common theme. Using the concept of birds, I was thinking about penguins. Penguins, in their inherent nature, have homosexuality in their species. I was reading an article about the San Diego Zoo where there are two male penguins that mated for life. They, during the mating season, were trying to have a baby. They were trying to lay an egg and they kept trying and trying and all the other penguins were laying eggs in these nests and their nest was empty. So, they found this rock that vaguely looked like an egg and pushed it into their nest and they would sit on it for days and days, trying to hatch this rock. Fortunately, there was a penguin who laid two eggs, so the zookeepers took one of the eggs and put it into the males' nest. This baby penguin has two gay dads. I've been really inspired by how myself, my actions, and my mannerisms relate to penguins in their habitat, their environment, their physicalities. So I've been working towards a body of work that has to do with penguins and being gay in today's society. I want to explore the darker themes that I like to talk about and do them in a more--not lighthearted way-- but doing them with a sort of resonance to the audience by using penguins as a stand-in.
That's really fascinating. Thank you for your time!
more work by devin
Documentation of Wildlife Cam
Single-channel video, found footage, light, welded steel
Title: Over Easy