Lastgaspism: Art and Survival in the Age of Pandemic is Daniel Tucker’s latest book, released in March 2022 from Soberscove Press. Coauthored with Anthony Romero and Dan S. Wang, this book is a collection of interviews, critical essays, and artist portfolios that consider matters of life and death having to do with breath, both allegorical and literal.” Read a review of the book in New City Lit.
A related exhibition, Lastgaspism, will be on view at Drexel University’s Pearlstein Gallery from March 31–May 25, 2022.
The exhibition includes work that addresses the police murders that gave rise to the movement for racial justice, makes visible the life-taking and life-remaking force of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate and social emergencies that afflict US society, and attempts by artists to look for available peace in our new age of perpetual chaos.
We sat down to chat with Tucker about the project, including the ways the subjects appear in various forms throughout the Moore community.
Editor’s note: this conversation has been edited for length.
Which came first—the exhibition or the book idea? Can you talk about the origins of both?
The book came before the exhibition, which is not a typical order, but it reflected the organic nature of the project really starting as a conversation. My collaborators Dan S. Wang and Anthony Romero and I were checking in with each other over the phone during the initial period of lockdown in 2020, as so many of us did with old friends near and far. We have known each other for years but had most recently worked together on the exhibit and book Organize Your Own. Anthony was the catalog editor, I was the curator and Dan was an artist on that project. He and I also co-taught a summer course on the project at Ox-Bow School of Art.
Julia Klein, the publisher of Organize Your Own, reached out to see if we’d be interested in re-issuing the catalog after it completed its second print run, as there was a deepening interest in the themes of racial justice and community organizing that inspired that project. We felt that by 2020 the conversation had shifted and we didn’t need to reissue a project from 2016, so we counter-proposed a new project that was more about the current moment. Julia agreed and Soberscove came on board to release a new book of ours and invited Dorothy Lin to design it.
We set out to keep our conversations as friends and collaborators as the starting point and to see where it led in terms of inviting other contributors who we were inspired by and in conversation with. The way it broke down was that we each contributed an essay, an interview and invited another artist to make a written/visual portfolio. We also co-wrote an introduction and offered editorial support. The book came out a few weeks ago and we are opening an exhibit derived from that collaboration at Drexel’s Pearlstein Gallery on March 31. The folks from the gallery—Leah Appleton, Orlando Pelliccia and Eirini Vangeli—have been really supportive of this unique process of collaborative exhibition making.
You wrote a piece in the book called “Care in Crisis.” What are ways that you see different kinds of care at Moore? Either in student work, curriculum or otherwise? How has the pandemic changed iterations of care at Moore?
Writing that piece really grew out of several experiences at Moore. That included Care Crisis, a project that several faculty and I integrated into our courses: Nehad Khader (Keys to the City), Maya Pindyck (Hybrid Genres writing), Lauren Stichter (Community Arts Education) and myself (MFA Curatorial Studio and BFA Curatorial Methods). It also included two fantastic guest speakers we had that year— Alicia Grullòn (Moore’s current Walentas Fellow and adjunct faculty in the Socially Engaged Art program) and Anne Basting—both of whom I wrote about in my essay “Care in Crisis” for the book. These classroom and public program activities were supported by a Lindback Foundation grant secured by Moore’s Advancement office.
Through the process of working on Care Crisis with Moore students and faculty members, I got a real sense of the ways that students were thinking about care on multiple levels, from the care for their education to the care for their family members before and during the pandemic—something that was much more public than it had been before. I’ve found over the years that students are increasingly interested in conversations around care, both for the community and for the self. The contradictions of professional lives, school and society that encourage that work to remain invisible are directly at odds with many generations of feminist theory and activism that have proposed the opposite, and I think that critical-thinking students have latched onto that tension as a source of inspiration for their work. But more generally, students at Moore are deeply generous towards one another and that has become more tangible in recent years.
The exhibition and the book are both clearly products of collaboration. What was the process of collaboration like for these projects? Did it differ from other collaborative projects you’ve worked on?
Related to your earlier question, caring for relationships has always been a priority for me and collaboration comes from those relationships. I read a lot and look at art, but ultimately, I learn the most from observing and talking to people. In the pandemic this has meant that the relationships that are farther flung are just as accessible as the ones close by over the phone, which isn’t my preferred form of communication. Just talking with Dan and Anthony, my collaborators on the book and later the exhibit, started out as a way to process the events of the day. We drew in other people we wanted to be in dialogue with, and that included book contributors Kimberly Bain, Sandra de la Loza, Cheryl Derricotte, Design Studio for Social Intervention (Kenneth Bailey and Lori Lobenstine), Erin Genia, Pato Hebert, Damon Locks, Kelli Morgan and Karthik Pandian. Later, as things took shape, it also meant, for me, reflecting on people whose artwork I had learned from in recent years to write my essay, and that started with Anne Basting and Alicia Grullòn and expanded to Amber Art & Design as well as Simone Leigh. Simone made work dealing with care before the pandemic that I thought could bridge the themes, so it could have a more historical context as well as aesthetic and thematic layers to what constitutes “care” in contemporary art.
Most projects I’ve worked on can be characterized as temporary learning communities. Sometimes they are really temporary, and often they last several years. Lastgaspism might’ve worked more at a distance, but then there will be moments of physical manifestation like the upcoming exhibit at Drexel’s Pearlstein Gallery. Some programming that is happening with the gallery offers a sense of how to do collaborative programming, which is something I talk to students at Moore about: how to stitch together experiences to create coherence in arts programming. For example, Drexel has a great group called Writers Room that is focusing a lot on intergenerational relationships between students and older neighbors, and they are going to do a writing/reading event that will highlight how those relationships have changed in the pandemic. Another is a group of sociology professors I heard about who were organizing a conference about healthcare workers, who we invited to have their reception in the gallery. Instead of all of these things having to be developed internally by the artists, the gallery or curators, it is about just listening and finding connective threads. Those become powerful points of entry for doctors, academics, students and neighbors to show up at an exhibition that is attempting to frame this complex period of social life.