VCUart Photo + Film Visiting Artist Professor Lecture

Process as practice / Process is practice
Condensed transcript
October 3, 2023

I’m dana washington-queen. Born and raised in Southern California. I’m a writer and lens-based artist working in video, video installation and photography. I started in photography and progressed to video. My practice is very intuitive, and I am always looking to experiment within the video and documentary form, especially with editing, narrative and voice, harkening back to the Black traditions of storytelling.

I spent the last few years developing a theory to contain my work and subject matter—Why the work is doing what it’s doing. With video and documentary, I’m interested in rendering black life and expression, to celebrate those lives and uncover what informs them, what informs me. Celebrating and rendering visible the various types of black experiences as an intervention against the systems that interrupt, cut short. That causes one to pivot, to change course.

I’ve spent some time developing a language around intuition and intuitive sensibilities. Black Noetic theory is a concept and practice that organizes the relationship between experiential knowledge and experimental modes of video production. Noetic comes from the Greek word “noetiko,” relating to the mind. And borrowing from the Noetic Sciences, noetic refers to “inner wisdom, direct knowing, or intuition.” A noetic experience can feel like gut feelings. Like there’s something in you that’s trying to tell you something. You might not know what it is, but you feel it. You sense it. And those feelings might cause you to respond or react, right? An intuitive sensibility is difficult to qualify and the way that I have been able to work through it is through basketball. The embodied knowledge held within the athletic body and the improvisational movements that a made on the court.

Last fall, I had my first solo exhibition at the ICA. The show was titled, Resume at the Point of Interruption, which references a rule from the NBA and WNBA rulebook. The rule is about the suspension of play—a stoppage of the game. The rule refers to when a referee blows the whistle to suspend the game and the game must resume where the ball was located as the point of interruption. The point of interruption is a place, interruption stops time and lives are caught in suspension. When thinking about black life being interrupted, I was interested in detailing how black folks have resumed and found a way to keep going, thriving. Experiencing joy.

This lecture is not structured in any chronological order. But is both a reflection on my journey as an artist thus far and process. I loosely titled this talk “Process as Practice/ Process Is Practice” because so much of my practice is informed by the process—emphasis on the things and people who inform me—and sometimes the process is included in the work. 

For me, the process of making the work holds much more value than the work itself. I say this because it is in the process where true discovery emerges. My engagement with art is always about self-discovery. Who have I become after this work? How can I apply it in my everyday?

So, it’s important for me to talk about where I come from. How I came to be an artist. In my family, art wasn’t looked upon as something to pursue professionally. I come from a lineage of gifted musicians, artists, and writers but the arts were something you did on the side. It was not to be the main source of income, so going to college and getting a degree was the least I could do—in my parents’ eyes. My parents are college educated black professionals who happen to play piano…really well.

My mother is a self-taught keyboard player and organist. She was a part of the band that backed the church choir. My grandfather was the pastor, it was a family church. I have a very specific experience of church from a behind the scenes, entertainment /administrative perspective.

Each year, the church would host a choir concert and that meant my mother had to learn a new selection of songs. The songs were pre-loaded on a cassette tape, ranging from the Mississippi Mass Choir to John P Kee, black gospel from all over the United States. So, in the living room, my mother would sit at the piano with a tape cassette player and teach herself how to play each song. She’d press play and let the song go on for a few bars, then she would stop the tape, rewind it back, and play it again. She’d press play, stop, rewind, and play it again. And she did this over and over.

After the start and stop process, she would stroke the piano keys with her long fingers and red fingernails, searching to identify the key the song was in. Shortly after, she strung the chords together into a harmonious song.

My mother had this exploratory, round-about way of producing art through the process of learning and my practice is very much the same...