On the surface, the New York art world looks to be insular and guided by values that favor few while leaving out many. Being an artist is a personal pursuit marked with challenges. There’s competition with others, desire for recognition, and surviving in a demanding, often elitist field while trying to maintain artistic integrity. Look a little deeper, often at the fringes, and you’ll find a wave of artists operating on a totally different level. Go! Push Pops, a feminist art collective made up of members Katie Cercone and Elisa Garcia de la Huerta have emerged as one of this movement’s most vital forces in recent years. They describe themselves as “a radical, transnational queer feminist art collective. Geared toward engendering ‘Embodied Feminism,’ Go! Push Pops employs the female body – that which is bound to a cross-cultural language of desire, signification and power – in tactical, ideological strategy.” Whether they are performing at an underground basement party or staging a guerilla style intervention on the streets, Go! Push Pops is testing a timeworn hierarchical model of how art is evaluated, consumed, and experienced.
I met Katie and Elisa at Fabianne’s Café to talk more in depth about their work as Go! Push Pops. Over herbal tea, they shared the story of their collective. And it didn’t take long to sense the strong synergy that exists between these two young women.
How did you two meet? What was the motivation to start Go! Push Pops?
Elisa: We met at the School of Visual Arts when we were doing our MFA. We had a studio next to each other and became friends. With another friend, we had this idea of becoming a collective and going in the street and doing an art performance. We were feeling very isolated in our studios and wanted to do something that connected with people. It was also done in reaction to the art institution model we were learning about.
Katie: Yeah, it seemed like it was reactionary to everything on almost a semi-conscious level, including feminist art, as we understood it. We really liked 1970s body art by Hannah Wilke and Carolee Schneeman. But we were also asking questions like “What can we do that is relevant to us?” and “How can we avoid making anything that looks like feminist art?” Rather, we aimed to reinvent it. We weren’t really trying to make art, which is why it was so powerful. I was also feeling a lot of pressure during that period with studio visits. Making art was a very individualistic pursuit. Go! Push Pops was mocking all of that in a way. Just by shape shifting and being whatever we felt like. It was an anecdote to the expectations of being a graduate student in Chelsea and becoming a successful artist.
Elisa: It was really liberating to be creating something collectively. It’s not really about the product and it’s not about you. When you are making art in your studio, you are so self-conscious, and you have all these ideas and get trapped in your own world. But with Go! Push Pops, nothing was about us as individuals. It was about whatever we had to express at that moment, as a collective.
Go! Push Pops is a very interesting name for a collective. How did you come up with it?
Elisa: We were brainstorming in our studio lounge and wanted a name that would be easy to remember and stick in your head. We were thinking about pop culture, pushing boundaries, and suggesting something slightly sexual, yet playful.
Katie: And the Go! part with an exclamation was intended to be a rallying cry. It had a therapeutic value, like we were cheering ourselves on, comparable to saying “Go Team!” And now, we will be walking in Chelsea and random people will yell, “Go! Push Pops!” They get it and we have this cheering squad that likes what we are doing. The name is also cheering on feminism, young women, and women’s empowerment. At the same time it is silly, irreverent, and not trying to be too serious.
Elisa: It’s also sticky and sexual.
Katie: Yeah, we really didn’t have to think about it too much. Once we said, “Go! Push Pops, it opened up so many different meanings.
Elisa: And at the beginning, we were like “We are Go! Push Pops!” and performing as if we were already superstars. It was like creating a fantasy world where you could empower yourself and present it to an audience. Eventually, people started to believe in and understand, layer by layer, what we were doing. It evolved organically. When we started, we didn’t know that Go! Push Pops! would incorporate all that it does today.
You describe yourselves as “a radical, transnational queer feminist art collective [which] employs the female body – that which is bound to a cross-cultural language of desire, signification and power – in tactical, ideological strategy.” Can you talk about this more? How do these ideas manifest in your work?
Katie: I think it’s a lot about representation. I don’t even like to go into the objectification of women’s bodies, but we know that women’s bodies are very marketable. There is an innate power in women’s bodies, which has been distorted. Women were the property of men for many years with no power. We engage with pop culture by making parodies and going out in the streets. And there are people who might enjoy our Internet presence, but think we are loud and obnoxious in person. For example, a guy made a video piece of one of our performances and dubbed in this Enya-like music. We had to write him to say, “You are missing a huge part of the work.” Rather, it’s about the expressiveness of women’s bodies and figuring out what that is on a physical and tangible level. For me when I look back on our very first piece, which focused on the idea of bagels and carbohydrates and women’s bodies, I thought it was kind of boring and explored territory. But what I did realize that just by being women and coming together at Governor’s Island, we were using our voices and bodies to channel power. And we were fully embodied in our power. The main tenant of our mission is embodied feminism – it is ideological, political, and strategic and we work on many levels using the Internet, text, and live performance to attack that at all sides.
Elisa: I think we were very conscious about refreshing feminist art in order to speak to our time in terms of what will get the attention of a broader audience beyond the art market and the political activist world. So in a sense, we were rejecting a feminism in which women raise flags and make very black and white work. There are a lot of young women doing feminist art, but when we started out, it felt like a territory that hadn’t really been explored. We were trying to create a model for ourselves to communicate what we wanted to see that caused people to engage with feminism.
Katie: I felt like a lot of feminist artists of past generations were making art about art, and the male dominated canon of art. We wanted to say that we don’t really care about the art world that was designed and controlled by men. The galleries, dealers, and curators are answering to white male power. We wanted to recognize art worlds that exist in the underground, in the community, and so many other places. We didn’t want to raise ourselves to this highbrow level and compete with male artists. It’s just boring and not interesting.
Elisa: And the economy is different. In the 80s, it made sense for Cindy Sherman to produce her large photographs. The art world isn’t sustainable now. Most of the galleries are facades that cater to rich people. There are amazing collectors who are reaching out to artists who are doing fascinating work. Great things happen here, but it never lasts that long. The market is like an insider’s game. So we are trying to challenge this format. For example, doing a performance at an underground party has amazing values and connects with people in ways that would never happen in a gallery or museum.
Collaboration is a driving element of Go! Push Pops’ mission. But can you tell me a little about your sensibilities as individual artists? And how do you see this as being valuable to your work as a collective?
Elisa: Our personal work and work as a collective, together, is a huge element of our practice. It’s very reciprocal. We contribute whatever inspires us on an individual level. And the art collectively comes from our friendship, our life, and the people we meet. For me, there’s this freedom to channel these various energies that exist outside of the individual artist identity, which can be very constraining and isolating. On my own, I do photography, video, installation and textile work with an interest in ideas about intimacy sexuality, spirituality, and relationships. This has a lot of connection with Go! Push Pops.
Katie: Artistically, we have a lot in common, but there are also differences. We both like to work a lot in color. And there is a balance in the sense that Elisa uses her photography to document our activity. I majored in feminism and gender studies, so I do a lot of the writing. My personal work also uses video, textiles, and installation. While it’s a very therapeutic, personal process, I also feel like I’m spilling my guts and have hesitation showing it. But with Go! Push Pops, there’s solidarity, support, and power in numbers. As a collective, we seem to be growing in the same direction, starting from a place of 20s feminism with a focus on sexuality, then developing more of a spiritual basis. I’ve enjoyed seeing how people respond to Go! Push Pops, just because it’s refreshing.
Elisa: And the collective has also helped us to better understand how the art world and people value recognition as a solo artist and how we negotiate that. Galleries and teachers have told us not to mix our personal and collective work too much. But our individual practices and interests compliment each other. For example, Katie has a yoga practice and I am an Ayuveda healer.
You have worked with many artists from various backgrounds. Who would you love to collaborate with on a future project?
Elisa: Because our process is very organic, I don’t even want to make a dream list of people to collaborate with. You meet people and become inspired, and it’s a very reciprocal exchange. So I like the idea of being very open and trusting that our work goes in the direction in which it was meant to go. I would love to collaborate with women all around the world much more than creating a list.
Katie: And we also understand that many of the people we hold in high regard don’t collaborate – this is the nature of celebrity. So we collaborate with our peers, people who are down with working together. Go! Push Pops has allowed us to meet and work with people in New York City who we have always admired from afar.
Elisa: Right, collaboration is more about empowering each other and healing each other. It’s so gratifying to engage with people who shed their artist ego and want to contribute, create something new, and are excited about what we are doing.
Katie: For us, collaboration is also about rejecting branding, which can be very controlling and deadening to the creative process.
Go! Push Pops has done workshops with children. The GOOD MONSTER Puppet workshop at the Sixth Street Community Center looked like a lot of fun! What did you do for the workshop? How did the children respond?
Katie: The workshop was a collaboration with the rapper Paperboy Prince who is originally from Maryland. He calls himself a rapper, but he’s more like a community leader and spiritual teacher. The idea was that we show up like these cool rock stars and teach the students how to make puppets. Everyone made a puppet on a stick that was suppose to represent their inner monster – they turned out really beautiful. Then we had them write a rap that explained the monster’s story. Then we did a cipher with drums and ran with the puppets though a nearby park. It was also a full moon right around Halloween. I loved it, the workshop is one of the most magical things we have done recently. I want to work more with children – they are just so creative. But on a side note, there has been an issue of us collaborating with children because our work can be sexual. This is a big part of feminism, recognizing how problematic it is when women’s bodies and sexuality become taboo. As women who are completely integrated in our body, mind, and spirit, it is important for us to challenge this.
Elisa: We want to make work that impacts on a personal level, rather than making something that is super flashy and appeals to Chelsea art galleries. We want to contribute to the real community. And there is so much we can learn from children, because Go! Push Pops aims to embody the spirit of the child. We want people to realize that we can do a radical performance in a gallery and also work with children.
Which women do you consider to be most influential?
Katie: I go through phases where my research is really focused, starting with riot grrrl and Le Tigre and queer radical feminists coming out of the West Coast. Then, I was all about rap – Missy Elliot and Queen Latifah. Most recently, I have been studying ancient fertility cults and the religion of the goddess. My yoga teacher in Harlem, Siri Rishi, works with a medicine woman named Kunanate and they do a circle called Moon Womb in which they are developing a new language about menstruation, seeing the womb as a temple, and creating a sacred space on a new and full moon. Right now, they inspire me the most, and I think we inspire them too. I am really interested in the idea of women as spiritual leaders and connecting sexuality and spirituality. Ancient sages and saints, mythical goddesses, and women who are doing this kind of work in a radical way in the community.
Elisa: I am also constantly shifting and gather new inspiration. I studied fine art in Chile and came here to do my MFA. I was excited to come to New York and be closer to the 80s feminist artists. I love Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, and Nancy Spero. I was interested in women artists who were doing work about their body, life, and sexuality. I’ve been inspired by male artists as well. And Latin American artists like Frida Khalo, a pivotal figure with whom I felt a strong connection. Her diary was the first feminist book that I read. Then SVA was like a portal to all these artists like Kate Gilmore, Shana Moulten, and K8 Hardy. I love music and have always been inspired by Laurie Anderson and Björk. Most recently, my interest is in spirituality and the goddess. It is important for me to find inspiration with people that I’m relating to on a daily basis. Moon Church is a group of women who gather and share with each other. It’s just really beautiful to feel part of something.
I have to ask you about your costumes, which are amazing! What draws you to bright neon colors? What inspires you when creating them?
Katie: I really like to scavenge for things and go to thrift stores. And I’m attracted to colors and neon. I can’t really explain it. People want to assign it this meaning – nostalgia or the 80s. But it’s a little deeper than that in the sense that our costumes are ad hoc and come together with whatever we have and is affordable. Items come from the dollar store, what we have in our studio, or just found. As Go! Push Pops, it’s grown and we sort of developed an identity around our costumes. And we always want to push and enhance it, and keep things interesting for ourselves. At the same time, artists feel that they should just wear black or white and not wear color because it is childlike. And at a very basic level, our colorful costumes have the capacity to make people happy, which makes me happy.
Elisa: We have been able to create this identity. And it’s refreshing to have an idea about what to wear that is boundless and of the moment. Our costumes can be thrown together at the last minute, or a weekend craft project. We like to recycle old clothes, and cut them up. And it’s been helpful in real life, just mixing stuff to wear and not giving a fuck. Just acting on the impulse of wearing something that makes you feel amazing, like your highest form of self.
Katie: And people have complimented us on our makeup, which is funny because it is like a kid going into their mom’s cosmetics to play dress up. But the notion of adorning yourself and playing dress up is very relevant. Everyone is running around and performing as the perfect woman, or whatever they saw in a magazine. I felt that growing up, falsely and blindly trying to be something that I wasn’t. It felt like I was performing this unauthentic identity – white, middle-upper class, sweet, and cute. Our performances address the fact that everyone is performing. People think we are being really brave and bold when we perform. But we are really acting innately and on impulse. It’s fun to surprise yourself creatively and we really felt this strongly when visiting Japan. We experienced a sisterhood there in which women use anything to create these amazing costumes. We also connected with their traditions of spirituality based in the indigenous religion of Shinto.
Elisa: Right, there is the idea of empowerment and creating a higher self through the ritual of wearing jewelry and makeup. This goes back to ancient times when beautiful costumes were used to connect to spiritual realms.
Do you have any projects lined up for the Spring/Summer?
Katie: We will be performing at Grace Exhibition Space on May 7th with a group of women including Legacy Fatale. We have a friend curating a feminist show about the female gaze in July.
Elisa: Her name is Marie Tomanova and she is a photographer from the Czech Republic. It’s really exciting because we have worked with her a lot and she has invited us to perform at the event.