Today we’d like to introduce you to Eli Brown.
Eli, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I was born in Boston and grew up on the South Shore in what was and is essentially a Shaker museum. If you are unfamiliar with the Shakers, they are (there are 2 remaining members) a religious community who valued functionality, simplicity, and integrity. They channeled their celibate energy towards the creation of copious amounts of impeccably crafted utilitarian objects. My parents are not Shaker, but I feel like if a Shaker were to meet them, they might be willing to make an exception to induct two honorary members. They are both artists. Needless to say, I grew up around lots of art and antiques, and a strong sense of aesthetics has been engrained into my soul, whether I wanted it or not.
I started out drawing characters I made up or would see on TV, like the Simpsons. I am an only child (with two half-brothers) so I had lots of alone time to create imaginary worlds, and drawing was one way of creating company for myself. I used to draw characters who’d appear on the page with speech bubble catch phrases that would crack me up for hours, sometimes days. It’s interesting to go back and see what the characters looked like. A lot of them were really trans. There was a while there when I was drawing these super buff ladies which is really interesting to me now as a trans person. I think kids know exactly who they are and what they want.
I also spent a lot of time in front of the mirror making faces. I used to watch comedians like Jim Carrey, Chris Farley, Bette Midler, Robin Williams (ironically in some of the more transphobic films that’ve been made), and mimic their moves. I still like to make faces.
Recently, I graduated from an MFA program at SMFA at Tufts here in Boston. Now I’m working as a Teaching Fellow at SMFA, as well as a couple part-time jobs, while also leading a community organizing project that’s being funded by The Boston Foundation. I am so grateful to be alive and doing what I’m doing.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I am an interdisciplinary artist – I write, draw, and make sculpture, performance video, and sound often using a combination of traditional construction or architectural materials and materials such as bacteria, yeast, and fungi.
Right now, I’m working on a year-long project called The Boston Resilience Collaborative. Myself, Fenway’s The Aging Project and BAGLY are working to bring together Massachusetts-based trans and gender non-conforming folks across generations to tell stories, discuss what keeps us separate and strategize ways to increase cross-generational contact and communication. Much of this project will take place in closed spaces, not open to the public.
However, I see this year as the beginning of a larger audio/archival/web-based project which could serve as a platform for growing cross-generational trans mentorships nationally. And, some representation of this next phase of the project will be shown publicly sometime this year in New York.
Artists face many challenges, but what do you feel is the most pressing among them?
This is a complicated question and there is a lot I could talk about here! I can really only speak to my own experience in the United States and as my own particular presence in the world.
I think the art world is shifting toward a more expansive definition of what art can mean and where it can exist. For example, many museums have recently been investing in community engagement programming.
So, artists sort of have to decide where they stand, what kind of artist they want to be.
I almost wonder if the biggest challenge for artists is one of perception – to be conscious of and able to understand who has historically been in a position to define, critique, and shape art’s meanings and framings as well as one’s own power and privilege while also saying what you want to say in a way that hasn’t before been said. But maybe this has always been a challenge.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
If any of this is interesting to you, and especially if you are interested in the Boston Resilience Collaborative, feel free to contact me through my website theelimachine.net.
You can also see my recent work there and at my etsy shop: drawnbloodpress where I sell posters and zines.
Also, check out culturepush.org for more updates on my own work as well as other artists working on amazing civic engagement projects.
- Website: www.theelimachine.net
- Instagram: eli.m.brown