YI Artists meet Jacolby Satterwhite
May 21, 2014

Jacolby Satterwhite, behind the camera in the Whitney Studio, May 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

In May, Youth Insights Artists were lucky enough to work closely with 2014 Biennial artist Jacolby Satterwhite. For two weeks, Satterwhite collaborated on a performance-based video project with the teens, then invited them to his studio to get a glimpse of his life as an artist.

Satterwhite’s Biennial text says that: “. . .the artist continues his exploration of 3-D animation and digital space as a utopian realm to explore memory and personal history. Combining a virtual, dreamlike space with live action, [Satterwhite]. . .occupies a surreal, science fiction–inspired environment constructed of elements gleaned from his mother’s drawings of common domestic objects and luxury products and her scrawled texts accompanying them.” As Satterwhite explained, his mother began to draw as a response to her growing mental illness, and he became interested in art as he watched and helped her create those drawings, of objects real and invented. His work uses her drawings as a jumping-off point for exploring his own identity, history, and memories, as his animated characters use and interact with her drawn objects. 

  • Copies of drawings by Satterwhite’s mother, May 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

  • YI Artist Sally performs in front of the green screen, May 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

  • The view from behind the camera as YI Artist Yueer performs, May 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

  • Applause for Mieyoshi as she exits the “stage,” May 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

  • Satterwhite shows us all how it’s done, May 2014. Photograph by Filip Wolak

When he came to work with YI Artists, Satterwhite brought copies of some of his mother’s drawings with him, and asked the teens to select five each to interpret through movement and performance. A camera, lights, and a green screen transformed the Whitney Studio into a film studio for the afternoon—an intimidating prospect for some teens and an exciting one for others. Regardless of their eagerness to get in front of the camera, Satterwhite challenged each of the Artists to think of how they might interact with his mother’s drawn inventions, and then to perform that interaction. As he filmed, he called out encouragement—and sometimes genuine amazement, such as when one teen performed a flawless death drop!—and offered constructive feedback. His fun and lighthearted presence put some of the more reluctant performers at ease and pushed the more outgoing Artists to new heights. At the end of the session, Satterwhite joined YI Artists in front of the green screen for an impromptu photo shoot, complete with model-fierce poses.

Satterwhite talks with teens at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, May 2014. Photograph by Correna Cohen

Using the footage he had gathered of their performances, Satterwhite put together a 3-D animation video of the YI Artists that premiered at the Youth Insights Spring Celebration. While he worked on the video, he invited the teens to visit his studio at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Center. He showed teens around the studio space then sat down to talk with them about his own experience of what it takes to become a successful artist. He talked about his days living on ramen noodles and working at Urban Outfitters, and the decision to apply for grants and fellowships that would allow him to devote all of his time to art. As he transitioned from making more traditional paintings to doing his experimental 3-D video work, it was winning those fellowships that gave him the confidence he needed. It was a candid, funny, and genuinely inspiring conversation. YI Artists are so grateful to have had the chance to work with him!

By Correna Cohen, Youth Programs Fellow