ABOVE: Katherine Simóne Reynolds, A different kind of tender (2023). Two-channel color video with sound. 39 mins, 28 secs. All photos by Nathan Keay, courtesy Graham Foundation.

Katherine Simóne Reynolds

Shawné Holloway

Days before the opening of A different kind of tender and the practice of overhealing, I visited with Katherine Simóne Reynolds in her studio at the Graham Foundation in Chicago, Illinois as she created the last of the dozens of small clay swallow's nest sculptures that appear in the first floor of the Graham’s galleries. Back and forth we asked each other questions about how to construct and identify tools that enable us to heavily armor or hide ourselves in plain sight, how to uncover proximate structural violence that might be equally as evasive or allusive, and—perhaps most importantly—about the cartographies of vulnerability that are created by the vast networks of protective built and social architecture when, as Black femmes, we begin the process of seeking respite or repair.

In this interview, I circle back with Reynolds to expand on our conversation now that the show has ended. By speaking with her at this point in the process—after months of studio visits, four public programs, and countless hours of reflection, we honor the ways dialogues about Black American life expand in tandem with community reflection. I speak to her in more detail about how these questions developed across the exhibition with careful consideration of how travel and healing situate her personal and filmographic narratives within the work.

Reynolds’ exhibition not only does the work of contributing to the field of Black architectural practice through her analysis of space and presence, it expands the lexicon of contemporary Black performance practice to the built environment through her focus on futurity and the body’s natural, but critically emergent, protective responses.

Shawné Holloway: Without using location information, can you tell me where you are right now?

Katherine Simóne Reynolds: I am in a hummingbird paradise that is lush with glitter and adobe.

SH: That sounds like a dream. Can you tell me about how this place you're in now might differ from the place that you were when you were creating this exhibition?

KSR: I think my mental state is completely different. Like, I’m still coming at things from a point of grief. I still am grieving, but I think my relationship to how to express my grief has definitely morphed into something that is with me instead of across from me, or even something that I was pushing away, and scared to really acknowledge. The place I was in when I was making this work was like this weird survival mode—while also grieving—while also trying to understand what it meant to not have another chance to make something right. I was just feeling very unsettled. I felt like that unsettling was just going to be my forever. Now I'm in this hummingbird paradise and it still/also feels unsettled. I'm traveling a lot and I'm going to be traveling more. But, for once, it doesn't feel like something that I don't want to do. Now, I'm going to do what I want to do for real.

SH: I’m hearing that right now you’re really engaged with a practice of wayfinding and placemaking. You visually expressed this kind of liminal practice in the video work A different kind of tender (2023) that you showed as a multichannel work in your exhibition. The sound design, to me, suggested that there is an ever-present search occurring for the character in the work and for us as viewers. I'm curious if you can say more about the ways in which that traveling happens in the work either by way of your personal placemaking, wayfinding or by way of your artistic process?

KSR: I've always been traveling. I've always had to. I would travel for love, or to see my father, or to see family, things like that. My mother doesn’t like when I talk about us moving around quite often, but it's true. We moved a lot, and I think the way that people usually talk about moving a lot indicates that there was some type of turmoil or unrest that may have happened, but actually, it's just how my mom got bored with the places that we were living. Movement is bringing new life into your world, and I think that's how my mom thought about us moving a lot.

With this work in particular, I had to travel between two cities quite a bit over the course of six months. That process is a part of this performance. It's documented through photography and videography. It was very grueling and taxing. I was also traveling for family from Chicago to Southern Illinois to St. Louis, and I was working on another project that kept bringing me from Chicago to St. Louis. So working between Brooklyn, Illinois, and Cairo, Illinois, those in-between travel spaces were my places of solace.

I think that's common for people who travel a lot, those non-spaces being places of solace, or realizing how you feel about something while traveling alone in a car, with no music playing. It's like a saturation of self in those moments. Through that time, making this work, I had to struggle with and battle with what it means to always go it alone. It brought up feelings of being like, “Okay, I am actually really interested in going it with someone else or with other people,” in traveling with other people, trying to understand my relationship to other people in space.

There are a lot of moments of just utter exhaustion, you know, just a depletion from worrying that I couldn't really do this. I never really had to face that before. Going into so many places that held so much significance for me and my work, that I couldn't really see through it. It was super opaque.

SH: One of the words that I noticed you didn't say when thinking about what travel can give us was renewal. I’m curious about that, as it is an architecture word, and it is a word that references urbanization a lot of the time. I know that the character in the video work that you showed in the exhibition was called “The Queen,” but I also read this character as a bride. I might just be projecting as a person who is currently and profoundly brokenhearted, but I feel like “bride” isn’t too far away from the discourse around Black femininity and our roles as “useful, plot moving characters” such as queens and brides. If we look at dominant narratives around queens, it's often referring to the queen as a bride. The Bride-queen is historically positioned as a traveler, being married off to a far kingdom, into a strange world where there is a sense of forced renewal. So I'm curious, within this spectrum of visual culture and in respect to how you're speaking about travel, is renewal part of your vocabulary?

KSR: That is a fantastic question. I saw renewal in the spaces I was navigating but I wasn't necessarily concerned with renewal. I also couldn't see it in my own life at the moment. So, I think the representation of the Queen is amazing. The connection you just made about the Queen and the bride having to travel, I didn't even think about that. In the film, the costuming is actually a homecoming dress, not a bridal dress. But still, when we think about homecoming, we think about adornment. These events are still preparatory acts for women to be brides or to see themselves as brides; there’s a Homecoming Queen, Homecoming King, those kinds of things.

The Queen doesn't really have anyone else in these vignettes other than herself. So, there's no kingdom. She has these spaces, or she's navigating these spaces, but there's really no one else. There's residue, or I should say essence, of other people, or that there have been people there but she's mainly haunting these spaces and they are also haunting to her.

She is a character based on this tombstone outside of Cairo, Illinois in this town called Charleston. The tombstone just says “The Queen” on it and doesn’t have anything else. It was put together by her husband and he always called her “The Queen.” It also didn’t have her birth date on it because she didn't want people to know how old she was. And he respected all of those things about her. So, there’s a love story that’s within this character, within this person I never would have known, and I’m trying to hold on to something that I want—like love. I love a love story.

Maybe going back to your discussion about renewal, I don't think about renewal as much as I think about redemption. I think that there’s some kind of redemption I was trying to work out through this character and navigate these spaces of healing; healing buildings to find some form of a love story with the kind of redeeming quality love stories have.

SH: Can you say more about how redemption and renewal are different?

KSR: Renewal is something that a space or a person needs. Redemption is something that a person wants.

SH: I'm gonna stop you there, because I'm curious about this difference between renewal and redemption and how different kinds of entities—particularly those who can’t communicate their needs in language—how they might feel or experience redemption and renewal. I'm thinking in particular about the works Keloids: 1-5 in reference to the scarring process. For instance, is a scar an indication of a redemption process or is it an inherently necessary piece of a renewal? Please say more about your conceptual framework for this piece.

KSR: A keloid is hypertrophic scar tissue. Essentially, it's your skin cells healing on top of each other. This is from the words of Camille G. Bacon, a manic healing, which I thoroughly enjoy thinking about. It's like a constant need to repair something, but it's also trying to heal too much.

That's what I think of as the keloidal landscape. In making the exhibition, I’ve compared it with the Black Midwestern landscape; a space that also people don't look at or want to see at times. People are constantly saying that they've never been to the Midwest or asking if St. Louis is the North or the South. They definitely don't know where Brooklyn or Cairo, Illinois are. Spaces that kind of want this healing or are trying to heal, but are completely forgotten about; but, for me, like keloids, it's hard to not see them.

Keloids are usually like pretty large scars that people are trying to either cover up or get rid of, but you can't really. You can try to get rid of them, but they’re always there. So there's this consistent residue of that healing process, like how your body is trying to heal from something traumatic that happened to the skin. So for work, I made these molasses pieces that have costume jewelry inside of them. One has a church fan inside of it as well. In the sunlight, they are slightly transparent, but then and in shadow they become puddles. I wanted to work with molasses because of my mom who is always telling me, “you move as slow as molasses.” I like how molasses and sugar operate within Black culture. Also, you shouldn’t eat a lot of sugar if you're trying to heal scars in your body or just heal anything in general. It completely destroys the healing process each time that you ingest it.

SH: I noticed that you had a lot of programming around this exhibition and I was curious about some of the questions or outcomes that you felt like came from the gatherings you had during the show? How have they changed your understanding of what you’ve produced?

KSR: It was a huge pleasure to work with my dear friend, Regina Martinez. She's the sound designer for the film. She's able to think about sound so poetically. That friendship helped me to write the film. I'm really learning to understand diegetic, as well as non-diegetic sound. Then also having the program with Kelley Lemon and Alicia Ajayi was amazing because they just really were able to fully discuss the Black Midwestern landscape agriculturally. So, programming was an opportunity to bring more statistics and history/research into my own process. My collaborators rounded things out and had me really questioning the politics around working through and in these spaces I'm not from and even the ones that I am. I thought more about the intricacies and complications of that.

SH: You mentioned earlier that there were questions that people had that maybe they didn’t ask. What do you think some of those questions were?

KSR: I think a lot of people wanted to know what they were looking at. Clarity is always something that people strive for or always seem to want from my exhibitions. It's just not something I'm quite able to give, and it’s because I am also working through it.

Exhibition view: Katherine Simóne Reynolds, A different kind of tender and the practice of overhealing, Graham Foundation, Chicago (25 March–10 June 2023).

Exhibition view: Katherine Simóne Reynolds, A different kind of tender and the practice of overhealing, Graham Foundation, Chicago (25 March–10 June 2023).

Katherine Simóne Reynolds, A different kind of tender (2023). Two-channel color video with sound. 39 mins, 28 secs. Courtesy Graham Foundation. Photo: Nathan Keay.

Exhibition view: Katherine Simóne Reynolds, A different kind of tender and the practice of overhealing, Graham Foundation, Chicago (25 March–10 June 2023).

Exhibition view: Katherine Simóne Reynolds, A different kind of tender and the practice of overhealing, Graham Foundation, Chicago (25 March–10 June 2023).



Shawné Michaelain Holloway (she/her) is a Chicago-based new media artist and poet. Known for her noisy experimental electronics and performance practice, Holloway shapes the rhetorics of computer programming and sadomasochism into tools for exposing structures of power. She has spoken and exhibited work internationally since 2012 in spaces like Performance Space New York, The New Museum, The Kitchen, The Time-Based Art Festival at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), The Knockdown Center, and the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf. Shawné is currently Assistant Professor of Video/New Media in the Kinetic Imaging Department at Virginia Commonwealth University︎︎︎ and has served as the Digital Developer and Technology Manager with Black Lunch Table’s archives team from 2022-23. In addition to her work in the arts, she is an open source software advocate, 1/2 of electronics duo BONE LATTICE︎︎︎, and a bodybuilder.

RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY