EJ Hill spent the majority of 2016 at the Studio Museum in Harlem for its Artist-in-Residence program. Coming into the program as an endurance performance artist, Hill used his body as well as his more material works as a starting point for a conversation about agency and its relationship to race. One assumes Hill will take a break after his rigorous performance schedule at the Studio Museum—perhaps why he’s heading back to L.A. this month—but it’s unlikely he’ll be out of commission for long.
If you could trade with anyone who would it be?
Bas Jan Ader. There is a poetry in his work, there is a really deep longing for something but it’s also very considered and deliberate so it’s not just routed in all the feels. It’s the best of both worlds, super romantic and emotional, but also smart and pointed.
What teacher did you learn the most from in school?
Mat Wilson and Adam Brooks. They are two professors at Columbia College. They really nurtured and encouraged my interest in a particular kind of performance. They threw the door wide open and held it there for me. Industry of the Ordinary was my gateway drug. And Joan Giroux! Also a professor at Columbia College. I don’t think she knows it but her obsessive archiving and organizational tendencies rubbed off on me. Because of her, I’ve saved a copy of every application I’ve submitted since 2009 in two folders on my computer: Accepted and Rejected. This deliberate foresightedness/retrospection has proven invaluable time and time again.
If you’re not in the studio, where are you?
Either at home or at the movies by myself, or dinner, drinks with friends. The simple kind of life. I’m a total homebody. But even when I’m home, I’m likely working. Total Cancer, Capricorn rising.
How did you fund your first works?
I didn’t really have to. I would just show up to a place with a few things and perform an action for a really long time, like hours. A lot of my early works are the freest most economical things I’ve ever made, which is kind of the luxury of the whole practice.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My dear friend and collaborator Matt Austin once wrote to me, “We choose who we bleed for.” Those words have actually saved me more than a time or two.