by Brennen Cabrera the art is fluid, changing and explores their interest in what is raw, textured, dirty and destructive. It analyzes life at its most basic and atomic level. They don’t create without the audience in mind, but much of the work explores issues that are personal to them. The audience has an experience that helps frame the concepts presented by Cabrera. Cabrera is profoundly modern, connected in the usual continuum of art heritage but working in a world, as a whole, faced with diseases like COVID or, now, Monkeypox – diseases that result from these diseases – and from technology. Cabrera’s creative problem to solve, much like their contemporary artist counterparts, is also one created by modern life.
LEO: Tell me about your artistic practice?
Brennen Cabrera: I consider myself multidisciplinary, however, my main focus is mixed media painting with sculptural elements. Drawing, performance and my mobile approach to experimental video are the other areas. I have a studio in Clifton, and I also work from my apartment which is a good bike or walking distance away. When it comes to mixed media, I commonly use acrylic paints and mediums, dry pigments, unprimed canvas, and wood surfaces. Sometimes I use unconventional materials like earth and human blood. I’m interested in rough, texture, destruction and grime. I like things that have faced the elements. I do a lot of layering, coloring, distressing, marking, dialogue and sometimes realism. I look at a lot of things on my walks like scratches, marks and residue on different surfaces. A lot of what I look for in these surface obstructions is subtlety, but they definitely become a lot more obvious. I focused a lot on a minimal color palette and incorporated bright colors when I felt the need. I’m interested in black and white, colors associated with nature, and liminal colors like muted tones and pastels. When I arrive at the studio, I put on some music or an auteur film and I start creating. My work is planned or unplanned. Planned, of course, accompanied by a drawing or a reference on paper or on a phone. If it’s not planned, I have a concept in mind, but no visual reference, and I go to observe the piece over time. I also apply these things when doing something performative/filmed.
When performing the piece, I have to document through video and photography. I also have relics, which are the things I interacted with or carried during performances. I make time to work on the computer, social media, and of course supporting other artists in the community.
How do you use art to tell a personal story? Are you trying to reach others or is it more of a catharsis and process for yourself?
As an independent queer autistic man, some of my work shares personal stories. I never wanted my art to be just for me, even if it’s cathartic. I think it is important as marginalized artists to share personal experiences that are both pleasurable and painful for society to find relativity, understanding and artistic growth. I find performance art can be an interesting and different ballgame when it comes to telling something personal. An example would be my most recent event, Come to Church. I cracked up when I started working on it. A few collapses in the space where he was going to be. It wasn’t because of the construction of the set but rather what I had in mind.
I wanted something immersive. I wanted the audience to experience the overstimulation and horrors of ableism. I also felt that being vulnerable with my struggles and mistakes would show that I was as human as anyone else. Dehumanization is common in the autism community. So when I did this performance, I presented myself as the monster that neurotypical society perceived me as Dimitri Bellrock. Dimitri is a shadow work and a vehicle to express stigma, abuse and trauma. He is also an outlet for my sexuality, my comic openness and my rage. I never think of him as an actor because everything seems real with him. I was going to confess some things in this performance, so I figured a church environment was the way to go. The confession was quite lengthy and was a mix of trauma, anger, sins I was sorry for, so-called sins I was not sorry for, and sensitivity to justice. After this confessional sermon, I stripped naked and covered in dirt. I lifted and rolled a tire I sat in during confession, walked down an alley of chain link fences to unblunt barbed wire which I wrapped around my unprotected eyes . Then came the continuous flogging with a rope and an electric cord which I dipped in metal buckets of fake blood. With each slap in the back, I was hitting back at a canvas in front of me that was covered in layers of ableist and confrontational dialogue. Throughout this performance, there was a color change and fluctuating light as well as a rumbling sound coming from two speakers. We turned up the volume so the room would shake after confession and the Lord’s Prayer. I have to be accommodating so I made sure earplugs were available and reminded people to bring goggles that would reduce the light if it was too much. The audience was made up of neurodiverse, neurotypical and ableists. This is an intense example.
Which artists are you inspired by?
I love Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois and Tracy Emin. The artists of my childhood would be Monet, Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti. Artists who do things for stage and screen are also artists that I appreciate. Ingmar Bergman, Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noe and Dario Argento are just a few for the movies. For the stage, it’s a lot of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I’m currently working on a solo show for Surface Noise on Baxter. I look back at everything I’ve compiled in the studio, and I’m very happy with what I have. Some parts have not yet been seen. I also have other performance art ideas that I can’t wait to work on.
What is your artistic background and how did you start?
I think it was around 3 years old that I started drawing. I was also doing pottery lessons at that time. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. I didn’t like most of the reasons I attended, so I would run off to the library or work room during services or events to do things. You would never find me without a pencil or paper. I started painting in watercolor in college with the church elders. I immediately quit after the death of the instructor. Then a friend of my mother gave me her mother’s colors and pastels when she died. I started painting as soon as I got them and have continued to focus on painting ever since. I took studio classes and workshops from time to time in my childhood and teenage years. When I graduated from high school, I only went to art school for a week. I love to teach, so I have conducted workshops for adults and children with developmental disabilities at the library and for other organizations in the Louisville area. Then I did internships, summer camp counseling, and volunteering in the Speed Art Museum’s studio programming, Art Sparks, and after-hours events. I have been a private artist mentor and tutor a few times.
What themes are you exploring at the moment?
I use stimulation and overstimulation to explore mental health and environmental factors, ableism and accessibility, emotionality and eroticism. But ableism has been a big word in my mind for a while now. There is still a lot of stigma and structural issues when it comes to the lives of people with disabilities. I think this is a very important topic that society still neglects. On a more stimulating note, I explore eroticism and intimacy. Sex is a spectrum I want to explore more and how it affects mind and body.
How does the duty of the modern artist differ from that of certain artists of the past? What do you think we still have in common with previous artists?
Technology. Technology is a big difference I see in the duty of a contemporary artist compared to those of the past. I think it’s vital for communication and for your work to be seen by a wider audience. I think what artists have in common is that we look at the world through a philosophical lens, where art portrays the nature of knowledge, reality and existence.
Have you had any gigs outside of Louisville? Where?
One of my first shows was a group show in Rosemont, Illinois. It was the gallery of the Chicago O’Hare Intercontinental hotel. I had the opportunity to see my work featured in an interview on the set of “Good Morning Chicago” with other amazing artists. I was in another group show called “Hidden Truths” in Cosa Mesa, CA at the Gray Matter Museum of Art.
I have a few acquisitions in public spaces in the nautical village of Cape Vincent in upstate New York and have had work exhibited at their local gallery The Breakwater. It’s a nice little area with a lot of history.
Collaborations with other local artists?
I intend to collaborate after this exhibition and I can’t wait to see what we will do.
What’s in your creative playlist?
Diamanda Galás and a lot of metal. Also electronic and classical background music.
Keep Louisville interesting and support LEO Weekly by signing up for our newsletter here. In return, you’ll receive news with a benefit and the latest places to eat, drink and hang out in Derby City.
follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.