This week's TDM Instructor Spotlight features writer and visual & performance artist Lex Brown, who is a new Harvard College Media Fellow! This semester she will be teaching TDM 169B: Theater 000. We asked Lex to tell us a little bit about her work as an artist and what excites her about teaching in TDM.
Lex Brown: I make art in the non-traditional space between theater, video, installation, and music. Sometimes that space creates a problem — in a good way — because it takes people by surprise. By blending different structural and formal practices I can create an experience that might be somewhere closer to the truth of living. Most of my knowledge of theater comes through the practice of this blending, rather than the study of it. I'm excited to bring this perspective to my students. I think they will find a very practical experience with me because I’m still close to the beginning, and I am still close to the “Soup” as I call it: that primordial zone from which an artist builds their own language.
The space between experimental theater and art can also be a real problem though, in the form of securing funding, contextualization from curators, societal validation, and general support for how you've chosen to go about life. It is satisfying and humbling to find that support now, at this point in my life and in the world’s lifetime. I’m thrilled to be working alongside such generous and esteemed colleagues and to have a sense of belonging in a theater community. This is very new for me and it holds significant personal and professional meaning. Some of my colleagues have had a deep influence on my own work and it’s a very cool honor to be able to be in dialogue alongside them.
I am also so excited to study theater and to soak up all the wonderful resources that this fellowship offers. This fellowship is a healing experience for me when it comes to learning and knowledge. Despite, or because of, my very academic background, I have held a complicated relationship with what it means to be formally "educated", and all of the complexities of colonialism, racism, and intellectual capitalism that entails. Much of the joy of learning was removed from me in my high school years and replaced with an anxiety which was my body’s manifestation of the various social conditions of my education. I feel some of my students may secretly share this anxiety, perhaps without even knowing it, and I will be able to relate to them in a real, embodied way. Having the agency and opportunity to create a joyful experience with study, and to incorporate things I value like emotional reality and empathy into a teaching experience at Harvard, is exciting beyond excitement. It does not feel coincidental that it’s happening this year.
As an artist I work to give language, form, and recognition to the timeless themes of living (life, death, love, spirit, war, self, other, power) situated within the more ungraspable atmosphere of a technologized and designed world. I am very concerned with craft food and the fonts that people use to the gentrify neighborhoods. “Mabel’s Place” is very different from “Resurrection Brew x Provisions” and we need to pay attention to and understand how language operates in physical life. Why the sudden ubiquity of white subway tiles and what do they hide? What color comes after Millenial pink and rose gold? I’m super interested in how political power and violence becomes abstracted through design trends. I want to reveal that relationship. And in our world, where object production, resource extraction, and technology exceed our ability to understand our environment and each other, I think it’s very important to keep track of what’s happening so we don't become lost.
This year I hope to finish editing the film I shot before the pandemonium, called The Glass Eye, which is about our brains being fragmented by our many digital accounts. And I hope to work on the sequel to my first book My Wet Hot Drone Summer, which is an erotic sci-fi novella about drones, clones, climate change, martial law, blackmail, and surveillance.
Time is also always a theme. We have manipulated the concept of time to such an extent that now it seems we are running out of it as a species... but also not at all? So there’s always that to think about. I feel like my students might feel like 40 year olds by the time this school year is over; I have great faith in Gen Z and I’m going to annoy them with my faith in them. That is the purpose of the so-called “useless” Millenial: to transmute the anxiety and amorphousness of late capitalism into something valuable for the next generation; to guide them in places where we had no guidance. They might be the first global generation of responsible, conscientious humans. I’m excited to see how they take on these times, and to create a space for them to explore, build, fail, and feel supported.