“Nightlife lends itself to a specific space of experiencing one’s subjectivity, and their identity and identity presentation. I wouldn’t be able to give you a historical reason why that happens to be, but I think that it’s a really good opportunity for presentation and an intuitive soaking up of other people.” Curator and multidisciplinary artist, Stewart Uoo, is making a case that expression can at times be more powerful than overt political action – especially at night. It’s a sentiment that echoes through his work as an artist, as well as his annual performance night, It’s Get Better. On Friday 15 September, Uoo will translate the night – which, for the past four years has been staged in New York – into It’s Get Better V, hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA).
From 9pm until 5am, across four different spaces within the ICA, It’s Get Better V will demonstrate the importance of queer nightlife, using mediums of performance, poetry, film and music. According to Uoo, the night is unofficially organised around persons of colour and the experience and investments in queer, feminist and radical content – with “unofficial” being the night’s buzzword. By allowing each artist to organically and intuitively project themselves, Uoo regards this basic thriving and celebration of self as a protest in itself, and something that’s indicative of the power of nightlife.
Among a grand list of Uoo’s friends, collaborators and heroines, Juliana Huxtable will utilise both performance and music, Jacolby Satterwhite will collaborate with Nick Weiss to bring some of his late mother’s creations to life and London’s Larry B will perform a ‘sombre’ self within the space. To adhere to the importance of sexual expression in night culture, Uoo also turns to the lexicon of Janiva Ellis and Victor Barragán ‘s eye for queer Latino porn to curate a selection of adult only, sex-positive films.
Below, we caught up with Uoo to find out what we can expect from It’s Get Better V.
“I love bringing a different network together and creating a larger interconnected community” – Stewart Uoo
Why did decide to start It’s Get Better?
Stewart Uoo: It was actually an invitation from the current director, Stefan Kalmár when he was at Artists Space. They were having a summer exhibition and he asked several different artists to have events there and that’s how it started. And because I don’t necessarily have a background in performing or performing arts, it was an opportunity to showcase a lot of people that I really wanted to share.
What have been the biggest highlights over the past five years?
Stewart Uoo: Because it’s an experimental community situation, one of the more defining things about being an artist is that you just really enjoy sharing things. So in this context, the most exciting part is asking all different friends to participate and being more intentional in connecting some of them that hadn’t heard of each other. I love bringing a different network together and creating a larger interconnected community.
What’s also exciting in a community like this is that you’ll get somebody from music, someone from art and someone in between, and then you get all of the audiences that are conditioned for those mediums creating a lot of audience and content cross over – that’s always the most exciting part because it’s the most unexpected part. This cross over is always a big wow because when people have specific expectations and you’re introducing them to new content outside of different contexts and frameworks, something really exciting happens. It’s a discovery and a different way of sharing.
Why did you decide to bring the show over to London from New York?
Stewart Uoo: Again, it was prompted by the director there. He wanted to give the space in between exhibitions unofficially to different artists and performers for 24 hours, (so) you could do whatever you wanted. I thought maybe he would want to present It’s Get Better. It’s a little more ambitious than it usually is.
It’s Get Better is an overnight event, which is indicative of the power of nightlife as an important space for activism. Why do you think night spaces are important for social progression? It’s also the idea of opening up spaces for freedom and self-expression, and creating safe spaces?
Stewart Uoo: Nightlife lends itself to a specific space of experiencing one’s subjectivity and their identity and identity presentation. I wouldn’t be able to give you a historical reason why that happens to be but I think that it’s a really good opportunity for presentation and intuitive soaking up of other people. It’s also something about the magic of meeting people in real life.
Do you think It’s Get Better creates those night life elements – celebration and community?
Stewart Uoo: Yeah, also something happens in nightlife where a lot of things go unplanned. You could go from one event to another event to another event. It has a queerness in relation to chaos. And activism and community, to me, are complicated words because someone is making these decisions within these two realms, but who? Community is a collective, but you then have to assume the shape would then have leadership. Or activism would be the same way. But I feel like I am drawn to those words when they get highlighted in a different way. For example, once an interviewer asked Juliana Huxtable ‘what was the biggest shade you’ve ever thrown?’, and her answer, which is a really cool GIF now, was ‘existing in the world’. It’s Get Better V is just like this saying because it’s not agenda-orientated. And just by the nature of a lot of where these artists are coming from, it’s going to have a very organic and intuitive sense of resistance. And essentially, obviously for communities that are queer or marginalised, just existing, thriving, being celebratory of who they are, those things naturally come.
Stewart Uoo: Maybe those things are, not bi-products, but just indivisible from night life activities. But I come at it from my own subjectivity which is about the joy of sharing other people at what they do best. And seeing contexts being broken and blurred.
It’s Get Better V is centred on ‘persons of colour and their perspectives and investments in queer, feminist and radical content’. In your opinion, why is it important to host exhibitions that focus on these topics? Can you tell me a bit about the artists you are featuring – you mentioned Juliana Huxtable before – are you friends?
“Just by the nature of a lot of where these artists are coming from, ( It’s Get Better) is going to have a very organic and intuitive sense of resistance” – Stewart Uoo
Tell us about the adult only film selection?
Stewart Uoo: The funny thing is, I never wanted to say officially that it was queer, feminist, or people of colour content because I didn’t want there to be further contextualising. So it’s unofficially these things. There’s a natural contradiction by trying to declare a community, so I want to let the artists declare who they are themselves.
Larry B is a Dazed favourite – why did you decide to bring him on?
Stewart Uoo: Yeah, we are really close. I’ve known her since I moved to New York seven years ago. Juliana wrote my first press release and she has participated in the event since the first It’s Get Better where I asked her to do a reading. So that’s’ what she is going to present this time. She is also having an exhibition at Project Native Informant so it’s a really cool moment for her right now to showcase all of these different things in London. After her reading, she is also going to DJ. She is so good at anything she touches, it’s really crazy.
While each artist will be addressing their own themes, are there any big social themes you want to address through the night as a whole?
Stewart Uoo: Janiva Ellis and Victor Barragán are going to be selecting the adult films, so it’s very specific. Victor does Barragán, his fashion label in NYC. But a lot of his his Instagram uses content sourced from queer Latin pornography in a really elegant and beautiful way. So I just knew he had a lexicon and enthusiasm for this content. I always thought of Janiva Ellis as a beautifully sexual person, and you know when you can just tell people have a good eye for adult only content. Considering your questions with night life – sexual expression is something you can always count on queer people being able to have and explore in an experimental way at night. So I thought that this film curation would be a cool way to add shape to the event which is a day to night thing.
It’s Get Better is on Friday 15 September, doors open at 8pm with performances beginning at 9pm. The night will run until 5am. Buy tickets here – advance tickets are £5
Stewart Uoo: This was also a word of mouth thing. The video that you guys put up in your feature at Dazed, I think several people including Le1f started sharing it and that’s how I found his work. Larry B will be performing. I don’t want to speak for him but he was saying his performance will be sombre in tone.
Stewart Uoo: I just want everyone to share this experience together. Sharing is such an important part of social progression, which we always forget because of the sharing economy on social media. There’s always a double standard to sharing – it’s always a little dark, but it’s always a little optimistic. It’s Get Better is about the optimism of sharing. It’s much more challenging because it’s in real life – a picture has a thousand words but an interaction in real life, even more.
Performances: Larry B, Raúl De Nieves, Embaci & Dasychira, JUST DOSHA, Juliana Huxtable, Manara, No Bra, Nkisi, Pandora’s Jukebox, Jacolby Satterwhite, Nick Weiss, WHY BE Screenings: Victor Barragán, Janiva Ellis, Casey Jane Ellison, DeSe Escobar, Marie Karlberg, Morag Keil, Lhaga Koondhor, Joyce NG & Klein, Rian Pickell, Trevor Shimizu, Ryan Trecartin, Evelyn Taocheng Wang Installation: Natasha Lall