#69: Steven Frost
Steven Frost crosses disciplines as an artist, often mining pop culture and archives to tell modern stories. Installation, performance, objects and fiber art all play parts in those narratives, but the needle and thread driving Frost’s personal warp and weft goes a bit further in telling his own story. As a people person and a disciple of the Long Beach-based artist/activist Frau Fiber’s DIY Sewing Rebellion, he also encourages others to weave tales in the classroom at CU Boulder and at the Boulder Public Library’s BLDG 61 makerspace. Learn more when Frost tells all via the 100CC questionnaire.
Steven Frost: I have many muses that keep my tumblr and instagram feeds looking fresh, but perhaps the most crucial for my daily creative output are coffee, my husband, and Carole Francis Lung (aka Frau Fiber). Carole is a longtime mentor who founded the Sewing Rebellion in 2006 and asked me to grow it in Colorado. Her work engages directly with labor politics, fast fashion, factory aesthetics, and experimental social practice. She makes most of her clothing and lives a life true to her creative manifesto. When I moved to Long Beach, California, in 2012, Anne Wilson (a professor where she and I went to grad school) encouraged us to hang out. We were somewhat hesitant. While Carole’s aesthetic is inspired by uniforms and factories, mine draws from queer and consumer craft culture. I was worried we wouldn’t get along, but it turned out we both shared a love of community and hard work. She inspired me to stop complaining about the art world and build the community that I want to be part of.
When I moved to Boulder, she encouraged me to start my own Sewing Rebellion, and for nearly two years, I’ve been hosting monthly sessions at the Boulder Public Library. My Sewing Rebellion looks different from Carole’s in her headquarters at the ILGWU, the Long Beach Gay Lesbian Center, or other locations across the country. Each Rebellion matches its region. The Colorado Sewing Rebellion focuses on building an inclusive all-age community that serves to educate the public about the impact of fast fashion and arm individuals with the skills to mend and make their own clothes. I’ve put together a lot of programming for October, because teaching people to construct their own costumes is a great way to welcome them to the Colorado Sewing Rebellion.
My mom made most of my costumes with me until I was a teenager and started to make my own. In 2009 I did put together a show of all the costumes she’d made and that we had made together, and constructed some of the costumes I’d asked her to make but she refused. I wanted to be a radioactive werewolf one year...she said, “How about Count Dracula? We’ll put numbers on the cape — it will be great.”
I would like to invite my late Great-Aunt Helen, Liberace and Dolly Parton to dinner. They were all born to working-class families and left home to follow their dreams. I’m fascinated with Dolly and Liberace, because they constructed fantastic personas that represented their aspirations. RuPaul (who would be close runner-up for my dinner party) once said, “When you become the image of your own imagination, it's the most powerful thing you could ever do.” Like Liberace and Dolly, my Great-Aunt Helen moved from the small town of Groton, Vermont, to the “bustling metropolis” of Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield (a suburb of Boston) allowed her to find love and professional satisfaction and be her bad queer self. She wasn’t a fancy dresser or wealthy like Dolly and Liberace, but she was highly cultured and would take my mom to movies or plays when she visited. She taught my mom to support and love the arts. I’m sure my fabulous great-aunt, Liberace and Dolly could have a great conversation.
I would want to build a menu for our nouveau-riche dinner party from Liberace’s cookbook, aptly titled Liberace Cooks! I’d serve deviled eggs with caviar, crab balls, hearts of palm salad, roast Cornish game hens and Scotch squares for dessert. Liberace’s recipes are straight out of the ’50s and often straight out of a can. Hopefully, he wouldn’t mind my farm-to-table alterations.
Liberace used to invite the Palm Springs boys’ wrestling team to his house and teach them to cook. After a few lessons, they would bring their fathers. Liberace would perform for the fathers and lounge in the pool with them as their sons prepared dinner. I’ve always wanted to re-create this bizarre act of charity as a performance.
Work from my Liberace-inspired series is currently on display through December at Cerritos College in Cerritos, California, as part of the exhibition MAN UP! Masculinity in Question.
I came to Colorado to teach in the newly formed College of Media, Communication and Information at CU Boulder. I had a few friends who lived on the Front Range who told me it was an area that supported artists. I, however, have spent the last two years working in my studio and getting to know Boulder’s creatives through running workshops at the Boulder Public Library’s Makerspace, BLDG 61. The Boulder Public Library is easily my favorite spot in Boulder. They have great coffee (a must for me to love any location) and a dedicated staff. I’ve met awesome people working with BLDG 61, like Janet Hollingsworth and Robbie Holb, who founded the TreeOpp program. This project partners with Bridge House Ready to Work program and the Center for Resource Conservation to utilize wood from trees damaged by the emerald ash borer to teach displaced people highly sought-after, advanced woodwork/furniture-making skills. There are many more incredible people working at BLDG 61, who all share a passion for making and serving the public through art, science and education.
The staff of the Office of Arts + Culture call the library their home as well. The Public Arts Commission is changing the art scene in Boulder by recognizing local assets and bringing in public-works projects by artists from outside our region.
The worst thing about Boulder as a creative community is that the college and city don’t support each other creatively as well as they could. The college and the city have their own closed cultures. Myself and many other artists, community members and faculty are working to change that. Our city has more to offer than you can find strolling down Pearl Street with a vape pen — although Pearl Street is a great place to vape and stroll.
"Trendy" as an adverb is used by people when they want to be dismissive of parts of pop culture or new technology. People are afraid of new things. Many people think smartphones make us dumber, the Internet makes us lazy and gender is binary. I know that none of those things are true. I love new technology and new ideas, and when it makes sense, I fold them into my practice.
The only trends I hate are the endless think pieces about millennials killing malls, golf, brick-and-mortar retail or whatever else Fox News comes up with.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
I’ve had some awesome shows in Colorado, L.A., Chicago and D.C. It's hard to say that any one of them was the best. However, last winter I produced a collaborative performance at Basement Projects in Santa Ana, California, with the artist Molly Shea. The piece was called “I Can’t Even: A Pet Peeve Cemetery.” It allowed Molly and me to process the events of 2016 with live witnesses and let go of the trauma of last fall’s election. Working with Molly and curator Christian Ramirez was a wonderful experience that I hope happens again.
Beyond specific projects, maintaining my practice has been my greatest accomplishment as an artist. Many people more talented than me haven’t been able to keep making work after school. I want to say I’m lucky, but honestly, the support of my partner and bosses has made it possible. I had times when I couldn’t imagine performing or entering the studio, but I did, and now I make art and teach as my job. I still have a lot of projects in me and hopefully many years to produce them.
I’ve been developing an installation piece called "Problematic Pizza." It's a workshop and performance that was inspired by years working as an administrator in art colleges. Pizza often became the only currency by which student workers, faculty and staff were compensated for their extended hours of work. I’ve performed this work in small pieces this past year, but never in its entirety. I’d like to find support and sit for it in the upcoming years.
I also want to start a weekly podcast to promote local creatives and discuss issues of national concern in the world of politics and pop culture. I’m absolutely addicted to podcasts and perhaps the stress of producing my own will take the edge off my need. I listen to podcasts constantly. I like what RuPaul calls the “show up and throw up” style, where people just talk about topics in the news like Pod Save America and Still Processing, and the highly produced shows like Shit Town, Embedded, Nancy, Sword and Scale, and Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men. I’d like to make a show that had the best of both worlds and also featured weird-ass sound art. We'll see if I can make it happen.
Colorado, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Redline, DAM, MCA, David B. Smith, Black Cube, Fancy Tiger, Mile High Comics, minutes to the Rockies and legalized marijuana: I don’t have a hard time getting people to visit me in Colorado. I love it here. I’m one of those terrible people who moved to Colorado from California that are changing Denver. Like many of my colleagues, I hope to create positive, inclusive change in the region and make Denver a place where everyone can feel safe and welcome.
I love the work Lori Emerson is doing at CU Boulder in the Media Archeology Lab. If you’ve never had the chance to check it out, you should. They have a residency where artists from around the world come to use old hardware like Commodore 64s and Apple 2s to create new works of art and research. Lori and the graduate students she works with are invaluable assets to Colorado.
Of course I can’t resist mentioning my favorite local artists and dancers, like Joel Swanson, Laura Shill, Genevieve Waller, F. E. Toan, Michelle Ellsworth, Collective Misnomer and Gesel Mason. They are all the talented creatives who have welcomed me to Colorado.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I’m teaching three classes next spring, including one with 300 students. I imagine that will take a good chunk of my time until May. I like to keep myself busy, so I’m working on some collaborations with the Denver Art Museum. I will be presenting research on the marketing of Pink Firearms to women as part of the Craft Advanced Research Projects Agency (CARPA) research group that will be held at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in L.A. this February. I am preparing to show some of my new woven work in a solo exhibition at Creative Arts Coalition to Transform Urban Space (CACtTUS) in Long Beach this July. I will continue to host monthly Colorado Sewing Rebellions at BLDG 61 and hopefully expand the Rebellion to other locations in the region.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
A few weeks ago I attended a summit organized by Laura Devendorf (CU Boulder ATLAS Institute & Information Science) and Daniela Rosner (University of Washington, Human-Centered Design and Engineering). The summit was called “WEAVING DISCIPLINES: Fostering Productive Relationships between Arts and Engineering.” This one-day event brought together aerospace engineers, textile artists, loom manufacturers and people from a broad range of fields. They all shared an interest in textiles. Laura and Daniela are working to generate new partnerships/understandings between art and science, and I left the workshop absolutely inspired. I think art/science collaborations like those Laura and Daniela are creating are going to be very important in the future creative landscape of Colorado.
Join Steven Frost and the Colorado Sewing Rebellion for a Costume Hack-a-thon from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, October 27, and/or a Hoodie and Drop-in Costume Workshop from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, October 29, at the Boulder Public Library’s BLDG 61 Makerspace, 1001 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder.
Learn more about Steven Frost and his work online.