#75: Genevieve Waller
A whole person with innumerable grassroots interests, Genevieve Waller dips her focus head-on into several scenes at once. She's an analog camera-less photographer, a queer historian, a DJ for Radio 1190’s The Violet Hour, a silent-film aficionado with the Denver Silent Film Festival, and an installation and performance artist with the Secret Love art collective (and on her own) – and that's just a fraction of what she does. Keep up with Genevieve Waller’s ever-widening universe via the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Genevieve Waller: I’m imagining some beautiful person who smiles at me and plies me with chocolate croissants. Until that happens, I would say that because I’m a bit of a culture vulture, my “muse” is always changing, and I’m always adding to my list of muses. For a while, it was Marc Bolan of the band T. Rex. His wild lyrics, music, fashion, and particularly his gender-bending (he wore eyeliner like Elvis) fascinated me. I read his biography and even made a video and installation in homage to him. A few years ago, I became a devotee of the author Willa Cather as a woman who loved women and because of her novels about European immigrants living on the American Great Plains (the story of my own ancestors, essentially). Learning about her inspired me to start compiling a history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in my home state of Kansas. One of my newest interests is the band Death — a group formed by three African-American brothers in Detroit in the early 1970s whose incredible music was a precursor to punk. I’m still figuring out a project in their honor!
Some enduring obsessions for my art practice in general are geometric and post-painterly abstraction, camp aesthetics and attitudes rooted in gay culture, the world of everyday objects, and the legacy of surrealism.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I’d love to throw a party for my grandmother Imogene. She was an amazing acrobat (she could do backbends down flights of stairs!) and loved dancing, but growing up in a small city in Kansas in the 1930s and 1940s, she had almost no opportunities to pursue the things she loved (dancing wasn’t considered respectable for a “lady”). I’d invite Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to the party (and maybe Merle Oberon — one of my grandmother’s favorite actors). When they’d take a break from dancing, I’d ask Fred Astaire to sing “Dancing in the Dark.”
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I moved to Colorado in 2013 because I was so impressed with the size and diversity of the visual-arts community in Denver (and I also wanted to be closer to my mom in Kansas). Because I make photograms in the darkroom, I’m really invested in analog photography, and I’m grateful that the Colorado Photographic Arts Center exists in Denver and supports a variety of photographic practices and artists here. My main complaint is that I can’t make it to see all of the exhibitions I want to see each month — there’s so much great work and so many galleries in Denver!
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
Well, my aesthetic and clothing choices are stuck in the 1960s, so I’m no authority, but I love fashion and art history, so I try to pay attention to current creative things. I’m a big fan of the way the Extra Vitamins artists, Julia Belamarich and Kyle Warfield, consciously reference the Memphis Group’s designs from the 1980s and the Situationists’ notion of the dérive. I’d love to see more artists in the region mine art history and approach their work with the same intellectual commitment. When it comes to fashion, I’m ready to see motorcyclists in Colorado wear helmets forever and always. Brain injuries are not sexy.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I think a lot about making a contribution. I’m hopeful that my research and writing project on LGBT Kansas history will become a book and will help Kansans recognize and celebrate queer figures like Gilbert Baker — the inventor of the rainbow flag, born and raised in Kansas. After I finish the Kansas project, I want to go back to another would-be book I started in 2006: a history of cameraless photography. Most photo-history books trace the development of the camera and camera-based images, but there is an alternative history of people making images with light-sensitive materials and objects that runs parallel, starting at least in the 1830s.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
I’ve wanted to be an artist since I was four, so the fact that I’m still making things and having shows makes me feel like I’m being true to myself. Going to art grad school was a big accomplishment for me, too (going to college was not a tradition in my working-class family). When I think about more specific things, I might say being part of an exhibition at the Wichita Art Museum a few years ago (a hometown accomplishment!) or being invited to be part of the New York Times Photography Portfolio Review in 2015. But what really comes to mind is the year I lived in Berlin as a Fulbright student, when I deejayed at a solidarity party for an alternative housing community there called XB-Liebig, (a feminist community for women, including trans women, that does great things). The way people entered and exited the party was climbing through a window (obviously an accessibility no-no), and the whole evening was such a warm and joyful experience. It ended with everyone having to leave early because the guys in the squatted house across the street started a bonfire in the middle of the street, which of course got the attention of the police.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and almost every summer, we drove through Denver on the way to my mom’s favorite vacation spot in Snowmass Village. Now that I live in Denver (even though it seems like I can barely afford it!) and know it better, there are lots of things that I love. Here’s my top ten list: 1. Thompson’s Arts & Crafts (a vintage craft paradise!) 2. Cheesman Park (it reminds me of being in Paris!) 3. The Downtown Denver YMCA women’s locker room (it’s like a spa!) 3) Radio 1190 (and all of the incredible community DJs and shows in Boulder and Denver!) 4. Zoe Ma Ma, next to Union Station (the best decor, and they pay their employees a living wage) 5. The goth room at Milk Bar 6. Line-dancing lessons at Charlie’s 7. Lakeside Amusement Park (a gem!) 8. Aguas frescas at Tarasco's 9. The Denver Public Library and its “floating” collection 10. Leon Gallery (they allow artists to completely transform their space, which is rare in the gallery world).
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I have so many! My studiomate and collaborator for the Diorama of the Cosmos exhibition, Katy Zimmerman, is an endlessly creative force, and I feel so lucky to know her. I also love the artists Esther Hernandez, Frankie Toan and Steven Frost. Their materials, aesthetics and engagement with community inspire me, and I want to be as cool as they are. Outside of the visual-art realm, I’m a big fan of the musician Kate Warner, from the band Mirror Fears, the choreographer and dancer Kate Speer, and the poet Mathias Svalina — I subscribed to his Dream Delivery Service recently, and it was the highlight of my summer!
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I’m working on a zine called 6 LGBTQ Kansans You Should Know, which will be out in November, and then in January I will have a solo exhibition titled Rainbow in Reverse: Kansas Queer History at Newman University in Wichita. Next April the Secret Love collective will mount an art exhibit at the LGBT Community Center of Colorado that will be dedicated to transgender activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, their involvement in the Stonewall Riots, and the trans experience currently (we’re just beginning the research for this and other 2018 projects). I’m excited about all of these things, as well as starting a new series of photograms and hopefully performing more as my drag persona, the Dark Manner.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
What I would like to see are more artists of color and more LGBTQ+ artists in the spotlight in Denver, and I’d love to see a dedicated queer art space.
There’s also an artist named Camila Friedman-Gerlicz, whom I hope to see more of in the Denver art scene. She is currently a ceramics grad student at CU Boulder, and her work is mathematical and playful, sometimes involving making low-tech molds out of pink insulation foam (interesting in themselves) to cast 3-D graph sculptures and mid-century-modern furniture. I visited her studio in the spring and fell in love with her work and her process.
Diorama of the Cosmos, Genevieve Waller and Katy Zimmerman’s collaborative installation reimagining the solar system in uncharted parameters, runs through December 21 at Fiske Auditorium, 2414 Regent Drive on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. Learn more about Genevieve Waller and her work online.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.