ASU alum Kade Twist combines art, public policy in exploring indigenous issues
Art and public policy.
They might not sound like they go together, but Kade L. Twist is proof to the contrary.
The ASU School of Art alumnusMFA in Intermedia, 2012. The School of Art is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. works today as both a multidisciplinary artist and a public-affairs consultant.
“[Art and public policy] feed into each other,” said Twist (pictured above). “It’s really about connecting narratives of indigenous self-determination with the public sphere.”
He didn’t start out thinking that way. Growing up in Bakersfield, California, Twist figured he’d be a plumber, like his dad. “But I wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I’m the failed plumber of the family."
When he was about 18, he started writing. He went to community college in California for a year and a half (where, he jokes, he majored in surfing) and eventually ended up at the University of Oklahoma. He majored in economic development and public policy, within American Indian studies. Twist, a registered member of the Cherokee nation, started focusing on gaining “a better understanding of who we are as subjugated peoples.”
“No one is telling our story,” Twist said. “And the people that are telling our story are typically white educated males, using some kind of liberal narrative structure to reimagine what they think should be done.”
The path of the artist
Deciding that publishing was “too inefficient,” Twist switched from writing to art, because he said there’s more freedom and the medium is more immediate.
The most important experience of his development as an artist so far, he said, was being included in a 2006 group show at the ASU Art Museum titled “New American City: Artists Look Forward.”
Curated by Heather Sealy Lineberry and John Spiak, “New American City” invited 23 artists from around Maricopa County to create “a platform for conversations about the possibilities and opportunities for the integration of art in the development of Phoenix.”
“That show helped me grow up,” Twist said. “It created a community of artists within a community of artists.We helped each other, we worked together, lent each other gear. The ‘New American City’ show brought people together.”
Through the show, Twist met Cristóbal Martínez, who later became a member of Postcommodity, the interdisciplinary indigenous arts collective Twist co-founded with artists Nathan Young and Steven J. YazzieYazzie, a renowned artist whose work is in the ASU Art Museum collection, received his BFA in Intermedia from the School of Art in 2014. Martinez is also an ASU alum; he received a doctorate in rhetoric, composition and linguistics from the ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in 2015, after completing a master’s in media arts and science in the ASU School of Arts, Media and Engineering, in 2011 and bachelor’s degrees in studio art and painting in the School of Art., in 2002..
In 2009, Postcommodity had its first museum show, “Do You Remember When?” at the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center. It would re-create the show three years later at the 18th Biennale of Sydney, in Australia.
The installation involved removing a section of the ASU gallery’s concrete floor as well as incorporating elements of traditional indigenous ceremony into the exhibition. It mixed spiritual and intellectual in a powerful way.
“There’s something about working in installations that makes a lot of sense culturally,” said Twist, pointing out that the spaces are temporary, made for a specific purpose and — if the work is strong — transformative. “… Those are all the aspects of ceremony. Those installation environments become places of reimagined ceremony.”
Eyes in the sky
Last year, with support from the ASU Art Museum, Postcommodity produced “Repellent Fence,” an ambitious and powerful piece of land art that Twist thinks “will become (Postcommodity’s) most iconic work.”
On view for just three days in October, “Repellent Fence” consisted of 26 giant tethered “scare eye” balloons, like those used to frighten away birds, floating 50 feet above the desert in a 2-mile line that intersected the border. The Phoenix New Times called the piece “a bi-national suture, stitching the land and communities back together for a moment in time.”
To prepare, the group spent time in communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Twist said the experience was eye-opening.
“I think I learned more about what it means to be an indigenous person in this hemisphere in the 21st century working on (‘Repellent Fence’) than on any other work I’ve ever worked on before,” Twist said.
The project started out as “a very simple idea,” Twist recalls: looking at the experience of the Tohono O’odham tribe, whose land is divided by the U.S.–Mexico border, and thinking about what that division means.