Burn Something (and Build Anew): An interview with Adrienne Doyle & Gabby Coll

Burn Something (and Build Anew): An interview with Adrienne Doyle & Gabby Coll

Published September 10th, 2020 by Cameron P. Downey

The curators of a new exhibition talk about how the show evolved from the pages of their zine to the streets of South Minneapolis

Burn Something is a 7-panel multimedia installation located on the bustling corner of Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue that boasts the visual works of 7 POCI and Black nonbinary, femme, and trans artists. And it has been a long time in the making. The creative brainchild of Emerging Curator Institute fellows Adrienne Doyle and Gabby Coll, Burn Something’s imagery is as poignant as the artist statements that line them. Below, Gabby and Adrienne offer insight into their method, mission, and trajectory as it relates to their latest undertaking. 

Installation photo by Adrienne Doyle.

Cameron Downey: Where lies the power in centering the voices of Black and POCI femme, non-binary, and trans-identifying people at this moment in time, at this reckoning? 

Gabby Coll: The need to prioritize Black and POCI femme, nonbinary, and trans voices isn’t exclusive to the time. Burn Something Zine was founded in 2014 — almost 7 years ago. This curatorial project was started long before the uprisings of Summer 2020 began. Uplifting traditionally marginalized folks is always urgent. Dismantling white supremacy is always urgent. Now, the social context is serving as a more pronounced backdrop to this work.

So much of this exhibition seemed to manifest itself. There was something happening in the work that allowed for many elements of it to align in ways beyond our control. Take just the name: Burn Something Zine existed long before the uprisings, and now the exhibition that is bringing this work back to life is installed for the public to view on the same street where a few weeks prior, buildings were literally burned during protests against Minneapolis’s violent police force. 

Another example: during the beginning phases of curating this project, we struggled to find a venue, hesitant to show this work in a white-walled traditional gallery space. When we finally secured a gallery (Modus Locus) our intention was to make it feel intimate and cozy in ways galleries normally don’t, in order to make it as accessible as possible. 

Now, the exhibition is literally on display for anyone to see, on a prominent corner in Minneapolis — no white walls to be seen. The choice to install the pieces on boarded-up windows of the Family Partnerships building was one in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the overall ethos of this solution aligned well with our intentions and came to fruition pretty quickly — as if it were meant to be. I think all of this speaks to the timelessness of this essential work. 

Justice Jones, Primary Self-Portrait, pen and acrylic on paper, 2019.

The phrase “Burn Something” is one that you’ve coined and kept around since the start of your zine! How has your understanding of and tie to the connotations of this phrase changed over time? How do you see it changing in the future?

Adrienne Doyle: As a title, “Burn Something” is representative of the anger that myself and so many others have felt regarding the racist, intangible power structures of this world that cannot be decimated with the immediacy of a match. It is an invitation to ritual: burn that which you must let go and clear space for new growth. It is a social invitation to build relationships: let’s kick it and put something in the air. “Burn Something” is my FUBU offering, exemplifying that BIPOC folks can and already have created solutions to what they feel is missing in their communities. In the context of the MN Uprising, the Burn Something exhibition connects all of the sentiments named above to the literal burning of our city in response to the death of George Floyd. It’s been said that there is prescience in the name of this project, but I think the title is just a reflection. Racism has been burning communities of color in Minneapolis for generations. 

We’re building for the future, now. Curating this exhibition sparked the February 2020 founding of the Burn Something Collective, a group of 7 Black and POCI femme, nonbinary, and trans artists, including Gabby and I, Genevieve DeLeon and Zola Richardson (artists in the exhibition), Nancy Musinguzi and Mare Lodu (past Burn Something Zine contributors), and Lizy Bryant. As a group, we work at the intersection of curation, publishing, and mentorship to offer resources and support the agency of artists in our communities. There are a number of projects in the works for the next year. In a couple weeks we’ll be releasing a call for submissions for a new public art installation. Follow the collective on Instagram (@burnsomethingzine) or visit our website (burnsomething.org) for updates. 

What did the selection process for the Burn Something exhibition look like, given that you had to choose just one image from what were entire issues of work? 

AD: Aligned with the accessible, submission-based nature of Burn Something Zine, Gabby and I released a call for submissions for this exhibition in Fall 2019. To select work, we used our artist eligibility criteria (Twin-Cities based, BIPOC, clear tie to themes of the exhibition). Once we selected our artists and announced the exhibition in January 2020, Gabby and I did studio visits with each artist to build relationships, understand more about their respective practices, and work with them to finalize the selected work and decide collaboratively on their work’s presentation in the exhibition. Four out of seven of the artists we selected for this exhibition had never shown work before. 

GC: It was difficult to transition this exhibition to an outdoor installation. I was nervous to ask the artists to adjust their work and presentation, especially after we had worked so intentionally with them to curate the show around their vision and their own processes. But when we brought up the new format and installation idea, all of them were on board immediately. I am so grateful to all of them for being so flexible and accommodating, and for going along the ride with us with such grace. For this, and so much more, I am grateful to all of them. After that, it was actually quite easy to select the pieces; for many of them, we already had one piece in particular that we had energy and excitement around. It was a bummer to not be able to show all the works we selected from all of them, but in the end I think thematically, visually, aesthetically, all the pieces we selected work really well together and create quite a striking installation.

Zola Ellen, Untitled (detail), digital photograph, 2020.

Why this location? Why public art now, in this shape and form, when there’s been so much — namely in the adorning of boarded up businesses during the uprisings in May?

GC: A lot of the answer to this question is mere necessity. When COVID shut everything down, we really struggled over what to do for several months. We didn’t know if canceling outright or pushing back the exhibition to a later date would be best. Eventually we realized that the pandemic was not going to let up anytime soon, and gathering large groups of folks indoors was not going to be a possible or comfortable option for some time. When we started considering what that meant — Do we cancel? Do we push to 2021? Do we shift online? — George Floyd was murdered and the MN Uprising began. We were exhausted — spiritually, physically, emotionally. Everyone was. 

When things had settled a little bit, Adrienne floated the idea of installing the exhibition as a public art installation/mural, and everything just kind of fell into place from there. We got in touch with Tricia Heuring from Studio 400 and Creatives After Curfew and they had a location available. It seemed to be the right fit; the location was right in the community that we want to be interacting with in this work. The work speaks to broader contextual events in a more subtle, oblique way - portraits of George Floyd are wonderful tributes and a symbol for the movement, but I think there are other ways to be in conversation and contribute. After that, it was just logistics, figuring out how to physically install the pieces, get high-res images of the artists’ work or photograph their work ourselves, writing the exhibition catalogue, etc. (Shout-out to Arts District Image Works for printing such high quality prints in such a short time frame!).

Anything else you want to speak to? What’s on your mind? What have you been listening to and watching? What has brought you peace? 

AD: I really don’t know how any of us are getting out of bed at all. Right now, I’m experimenting with screenwriting to tell my stories and make an offering towards more inclusive media representation for folks that look like me. I've been revisiting a lot of Frank Ocean’s catalogue, watching apocalyptic TV series on Netflix, and thinking about Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood, wondering what humans must look like to extraterrestrial lifeforms right now. An artist collective was an unfulfilled dream I had while I ran Burn Something Zine, and I’m so energized by the founding of the Burn Something Collective and the work we have ahead of us. I have endless gratitude to the local and national contributors that submitted work to Burn Something Zine. Without y’all, this project would still be a daydream! 

GC: Not much brings me peace these days. I haven’t slept soundly since March. Working on this exhibition and on building up the Burn Something Collective are some of the few things that bring me deep joy and calm. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such brilliant, thoughtful, creative people in this work. Working with Adrienne has been beyond a joy - I am always learning from her. I don’t think she fully understands how much! I am forever grateful that she was open to the idea of working together to apply for the ECI in the first place. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Schitt’s Creek, and teaching myself Tarot and astrology. The latter are very grounding in this time of immense uncertainty.

Photo by Adrienne Doyle.

Burn Something, a public art exhibition presented by the Emerging Curators Institute, is on view now at 1527 East Lake Street in Minneapolis. To learn more, visit burnsomething.org or follow them on Instagram @burnsomethingzine.

Banner image: Kieran Myles Andrés Tverbakk, missing (detail), digital print, 2019. All images courtesy of Burn Something Collective.

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