I am interested in professionals who write and perform unstable truths. By this I mean that I study people who act as gatekeepers in an age when truth is pluralistic, difficult to define, and/or nonexistent. Particularly today, these professionals are tasked with the impossible but the necessary. I collaborate with attorneys, journalists, court reporters, law students, and teachers in order to explore how their important but fallible actions offer grave, complex, transformative outcomes.
I also examine and critique institutions. My curiosity about these systems is as much about the permission I supply them as it is about the relevance they inherit from me, from us, from history. To explore this curiosity, I occupy familiar government institutions, including the courtroom, the classroom, and the voting booth. I do so in order to stretch, bend, and even breach their capacity. Armed with humor and poetry, I reason, I argue, and I intervene in these spaces in order to understand the mechanisms at work.
The artwork that arises from this study exists at the intersection of media. I make performances and objects that become pieces of writing, or I make a written text that becomes a performance or object. Like the truth-bearers I examine, these works are translations between people and media. The form of the work mirrors the process by which it was created. Through collaboration, research, and intermedia practice I produce hybrids: performing objects, objectified text, and performative writing that I exhibit through scripted actions, sculptures, installations, and occasionally essays.
Lately, my research focuses on the performance of rhetoric in institutional space. This has led me to an ongoing two-year-long my study of the nationally ranked mock trial team at the University of Georgia. UGA Mock Trial is a competitive club in which students argue fictional legal cases, engaging in simulation, improvisation, and collaborative writing. They meet frequently, and they enthusiastically act out the details of a fictional case, at times arguing both the prosecution and the defense. The students may be cast as lawyers or as witnesses, allowing them to shape all aspects of the story they tell, and their collective action is theatrical and speculative. As a result, their performance both rejects and reflects the validity of the actual judicial system.
My exploration is sited in the American South, and the work I create points to the bias of the southern judicial system. There is a longstanding tradition of complicit Southern officiates in literature and media, from the noble but fraught Atticus Finch to the self-righteous litigators of John Grisham novels, and my work similarly recreates the ethical complexity of these figures. Raised in in North Carolina and spending much of my adult life in Georgia, I see UGA Mock Trial as the training ground for the archetypal southern lawyer. This aspect of the study is also personal, as my father is a criminal defense attorney in North Carolina. This ongoing research has lead to performances, sculptures, and a courtroom installation.
The blurring of truth-telling and storytelling is not contained to fictional characters or mock trial lawyers. Grappling with the application or actuality of false claims, I believe we have entered an age of blanket, undiscerning rhetoric, a point where PR is the inescapable context for all content. This will not go unnoticed.