Art Inspection

Cruising, BDSM, and Grindr: An Interview with Artist Jacolby Satterwhite

To commemorate Pride a few weeks back, Grindr took over the top two floors of The Standard, High Line and put on one of the wildest parties we've attended in some time...which is really saying something. Five select artists curated by Visionaire, each tied to the LGBT community in one way or another, transformed rooms into immersive art experiences. One of those artists was Jacolby Satterwhite, who created what was probably the wildest experience of the night. Visitors were styled in Helmut Lang leather pieces and placed in front of a green screen, where they were superimposed into a scene from 1980s Central Park to recreate the experience of gay cruising. 

Not yet 30, Satterwhite has had his multi-disciplinary works featured in the Whitney, Studio Museum in Harlem, and MoMA PS1, among several others. We caught up with him after the event to find out more about the inspiration for his Pride party installation, his view on today's gay culture, and the strangest encounter he's ever had on Grindr. 
Columbia, South Carolina.
When and why did you move to New York City? 
I moved to New York City in 2006, but went to graduate school and twelve or more residencies until 2013. I moved to New York City because most of my opportunities in the art world were stationed there and it would be impractical to commute as a performance artist. I also can only function in this city. If I lived anywhere else, I would be institutionalized in a mental health facility. 
What was the inspiration for your installation? 
I thought it would be interesting to bring a haptic experience to a digital cruising app party. Cruising in Central Park is such a visceral, tactile, risky, and primal queer experience. I thought it would be funny to render a CGI version of Central Park and have a green screen party where people can feel like they are in a queer safe space and perform their fantasies. Compositing real human beings in a digital forest space that is referencing pre-digital cruising for an app that mediates real hookup encounters was a funny joke to me. 

Why did you choose to focus on cruising, leather, and BDSM?
Since it was Grindr’s party, I thought it would be tongue-and-cheek and ironic to create a digital environment that echoes pre-Grindr cruising, which usually was in parks, bathrooms, libraries, etc. 
Formally, Helmut Lang’s minimal harnesses and BDSM gear lend themselves to the mechanical aesthetics of my 3D animations. The gear improves the possibilities for me to subvert and integrate my actors into CGI space.
What’s your relationship to the leather scene? 
In my real life, I don’t like having sex with S&M gear. I can do much more grotesque and aggressive play without it. However, I do spend a great deal of time in the context of leather bars and queer clubs being an advice column. I’m like Debbie from Queer as Folk, I just provide social harmony in those spaces, kind of like I did at Slumbr. 

What’s one piece of leather/bondage that everyone should own? 
The bible. Just kidding. 
Where and when did you go to your first gay club? 
A club called Colors in Columbia, South Carolina.
If you could time travel back to any gay scene/locale in history, what would it be? 
Studio 54, Paradise Garage, Limelight, Area, Danceteria, and the Tunnel. 
What do you plan to do with the video from the installation?
I am going to incorporate all of the participants in a complex CGI construction of a cruising park. 
What was it like interacting with the crowd at the installation? Any surprises?
I was in deep euphoria witnessing everyone let their guard down and become fully queer. No matter what age, sex, gender, class, or profession, it seemed like my room was a portal to disembodiment, fantasy, a queer space, and freedom. 
Your strangest encounter on Grindr? 
I’ve only had 4 hookups in my life on Grindr, however, one of them included this muscular guy with tribal tats from neck to toe. He messaged me first, and something about my reply made him respond: “Masc only. You aren’t masc!” and then he blocked me. Five months later, he messaged me again to come over, so I did. I waited for 15 minutes in front of his door, because his mom and sister were inside. When I walked in, there were over 150 mannequin heads with wigs shelved on his wall, because he was a wig maker for Upper East Side ladies. He grabbed me by the neck and sexually assaulted me (with consent ) like a WWF wrestler. His occupation versus his physical aesthetic and mannerisms was a funny paradox that hinted at all of his internal conflicts and self-loathing.
What was the most memorable moment from Grindr’s pride party? 
It was all a transgressive, drunken blur. I am being reminded of many things that happened as of today. 
Your installation harkened back to Robert Mapplethorpe, an icon of a different era who made his name in the Meatpacking District. What’s your relationship to his work? 
My gallery represents him, and I feel like my lifestyle, peer group, social arena, and life integrates itself into my work in a similar way. He documented his queer and artistic arena with traditional photography. I am documenting mine by collecting muses on green screen, footage from real life, and integrating them into a CGI journal. Language and poetry pivots my visual system in a way that composition and light translated his life. 
How do you reconcile today’s gay/queer culture with its larger history?
We’re in a watershed moment, where the binaries seem to finally be destabilizing, blurring, and consequentially creating new creative potentialities for society.   


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