Exploring “PRISMMMs” with Performance Artists Holly Bass + Maps Glover
February 5, 2023 @ 12:00pm
Holly Bass and Maps Glover are sitting across from one another in Transformer’s intimate gallery space on P Street, sharing examples of the many parallels in their respective art forms. Bass is mid-sentence when she stops and says with a little laugh, “I’m distracted by our own art. It is so pretty.”
Glover immediately responds with, “It is so gorgeous.”
The pair is admiring the sunlight streaming in through the gallery window on this late January afternoon, creating a twinkling effect on the walls covered with mixed materials. “Double Rainbow: PRISMMMs,” which opened on January 21 and runs through February 25, is their latest collaboration — one of many since they first started working together in 2018.
The artists’ enthusiasm for the new exhibit comes from a place of genuine commitment to creating an ecosystem their work can thrive within. As they walk me through their shared vision for “PRISMMMs” while sporting pink booties so as not to disrupt the space, it’s clear they want each person who interacts with their art to feel completely immersed in it the second they walk through the door.
“This is about entering the prism,” Bass says. “That prismatic space represents a spectrum of light.”
Glover adds, “We were really imagining this room being inside the prism, but pieces are breaking out so you’re experiencing what might happen inside. The glass is kind of converging in on itself.”
The exhibit is in some ways a retrospective, featuring carefully selected video projections of their performance art as well as archival materials and photos of the artists in their element. Every nook offers something new to explore.
There’s a small TV complete with a VCR and moss green shag rug draped over it that could be straight out of my high school bedroom; a record player spinning glass fragments and projecting colorful light on the walls; and a stack of vinyl next to a record player with a neon orange sign that reads, “Pick your own record!” with a smiley face.
“PRISMMMs” is the second installment of “Double Rainbow: Future Archives,” in collaboration with CulturalDC. The first, “Cosmic Garden,” ran last November and December in Capitol Riverfront. Bass describes it as “an intensely green garden cave” within CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery, a versatile shipping container transformed into their vision.
Bass explains her original premise for the exhibit: a double rainbow is a rare phenomenon in nature, and she drew a corollary between that and the unique working relationship she has with Glover.
“It’s pretty rare to have two Black performance artists in D.C. from two generations working together.”
She also wanted to highlight the joy and symbolism of rainbows. But rather than focus on a traditional rainbow, she and Glover leaned into something that resonated more with them. As they started looking through their video archives to pull materials, they were inspired by the SMPTE color bar used to calibrate VHS videos.
“We were like, ‘That’s our rainbow,’” Glover notes. “Once we had the SMPTE, we wanted to create a space that really allowed people to walk in through the SMPTE. What would a space look like that held our video archives? We created this lush garden where the videos could grow and live.”
Glover and Bass are both multidisciplinary performance and visual artists with overlapping through lines in their professional and personal journeys, but each has their own timeline that somehow seems to bind them more closely.
Bass moved to D.C. in 1994, and shares stories of how difficult it was to pursue a career as a full-time artist in the city three decades ago. She recalls ordering from Julia’s Empanadas when she could only afford a cup of beans and rice for $1.50, and her server packing as much as she could into the cup with a sympathetic look on her face.
“Looking back at that now, I’m like, ‘How?’ It’s just like, ‘This is what I’m doing. I’m going to do it no matter what.’ I’m grateful to be on the other side of that now, where I get funding and have sustainable work.”
Glover, who has only been in the city full-time for six years, also opens up about how he was “willing to be hungry and couch hop” as he built his network and found paid opportunities.
“The way somebody like me can even get to this point is because I was going to do it regardless,” he says, reinforcing his commitment to churning out continuous work and building longevity. “A lot of people don’t have that kind of fight.”
He says people really supported his hustle, and without those folks, he wouldn’t be here right now. He also credits Transformer as one of the first reputable galleries that pulled him from the underground arts scene, giving him new opportunities.
Bass jumps in, saying, “D.C. can be a very supportive space, and that’s why places like Transformer have been so critical. Transformer gave me my first group exhibition, my first international exhibition, and so many opportunities to perform and make that transition from the performing arts world to the gallery and museum space.”
They both see a strong need for funding mechanisms within the city’s economic structure that allow artists to thrive and support themselves, but they are also quick to speak highly of the changing landscape of District’s creative scene — and how we advocate for one another. This is perhaps the strongest thread between Glover and Bass: a mutual respect that stems from building community.
“I saw that [Maps] wasn’t just trying to move his own career forward individually, but that he was always trying to bring others along,” Bass says. “That’s something that’s really important to me as well. It does me no good to be a singular entity working alone. I want to be part of a community that’s rich and generative and creative. As one of the more experienced artists in D.C., it’s incumbent that I reach out — particularly to younger artists — and help support them.”
The artists have in many ways shaped each other’s approach to creating, from how Glover’s use of materials and studio practice have influenced Bass to how Bass has expanded the way Glover considers and explores the physical spaces they’re working within.
“It’s a nice balance,” Glover says.
Don’t miss “Double Rainbow: PRISMMMs” at Transformer from now until February 25. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Catch more work from Bass at Tephra ICA’s “between a rock and a soft place” through February 26 and from Glover at the Anacostia Community Museum’s “The Utopia Project” through March 1. Learn more about Bass here and Glover here.
Transformer: 1404 P St. NW, DC; 202-483-1102; transformerdc.org // @transfomerdc
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