If you’re familiar with Atlanta’s art scene, chances are you’re familiar with Maggie Ginestra. After arriving in the city from St. Louis in 2012, Ginestra quickly became an instigating force wearing different hats: artist, poet, collaborator, administrator, curator, and organizer. She was half of the duo that conceived Sumptuary, a creative performance/art series at MINT gallery in 2014. She continues to facilitate the Walthall Fellowship, WonderRoot’s yearlong program for emerging artists, which has her returning to Atlanta on a regular basis.
Ginestra relocated to Philadelphia in late 2014 with dancer Helen Hale, another former Atlantan. We checked in with Maggie to see what they’re up to.
Andrew Alexander: Hi, Maggie. I guess you’re calling from Philadelphia, correct?
Maggie Ginestra: Yes. I’ve been dividing my time between Philadelphia and Atlanta. The Walthall Fellowship in Atlanta meets every two weeks so I’ve been back to Atlanta every two weeks since I moved here. It’s been cool to live in two cities and have two homes. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it. You have to pack your home on your back. Atlanta feels like home in that when I go there I have my collaborators and my friends and my family. I fall into their arms and we catch up on the million things we’ve been thinking about and doing. There’s a rigor and vibrancy to the conversation. And then I come back to Philadelphia, which, because of my travels, has developed a kind of monastic vibe. Philadelphia isn’t inherently a quiet place but it has winter a little more than Atlanta. I have my desk and my nun’s bed and my slow discoveries of this town. It’s a very meditative and literary world I’m getting to build here.
AA: My understanding is that you’re living with dancer Helen Hale, working on a performance?
MG: Yes. I totally moved here to live with and work with and sync with Helen Hale. I don’t think we knew what that would look like going into it. We had worked together before through the Walthall Fellowship. I had presented her as part of Sumptuary [a project co-created with Mike Stasny]. The conversation was always very open and investigative. I moved to Philadelphia kind of trusting that energy. I showed up in my little car in August and we signed the lease on a little place to live and have a dance studio together. It’s a two-story row house in South Philly. Downstairs is open living space with a wooden floor; we basically don’t have any furniture. There was this ’70s South Philly decor thing, with large mirrored walls. So we have a large mirrored room as our space.
The morning we went to sign the lease, Helen told me an idea she was having about a duet. It suddenly became a container for our ideas. We now have a full-length performance that we’re going to present a first draft of in our home starting March 4. It’s called Gem n’ I. It’s the first in a series of living room dances we’re going to present that won’t necessarily be by us, but we thought we’d start with ourselves as guinea pigs. People will find a record there of Helen and I coming towards each other as collaborators: one movement artist and one poet. There’s some poetry and speech in the piece. There are two characters that live in and maintain this winter world. It’s pretty playful. It lets a dream world that you might have in the winter because you’re not out in the real world as much exist in a living room.
AA: What sort of things have you observed and experienced about creating in Philadelphia versus creating in Atlanta? What have you perceived as some of the strengths and deficits in each place?
MG: These first few months, traveling back and forth from Philadelphia to Atlanta to meet regularly with the Walthall Artist Fellows, I may have developed a caricatured awareness of both places. Atlanta is the bosom, where my inventive and nurturing art family is hard at work building futures: WonderRoot is blossoming; Elevate, Dashboard Co-op and MINT gallery are strong containers for experimentation; Art Papers has wild ghost tentacles; GSU is pumping out young mavericks; ACAC and MOCA GA are beautiful flags we are learning to wave. My plane lands in Atlanta and I descend into rich tales of the next best thing. It’s fantastically energizing. The bosom, and the brawny shoulders.
And then, Philadelphia is the sailboat. I get on board and feel buoyed by fullness and a bit windblown by new vocabulary. Which makes it sound like New York City, but Philly’s a sailboat, not a speed boat. Here, everyone on board is a crewmember and we’re not going too fast to see landmarks on the horizon. FringeArts has a new permanent space, which is a re-orienting of the landscape. The Whole Shebang opens in South Philly next month and will draw rigorous makers together who are hungry to share knowledge—I think it will have huge impact. Vox Populi, Fidget, FringeArts again, Temple Contemporary, Fleischer Memorial, Artists U, Slought Foundation, ICA … I’m making it out to these places for the conversation so far, more than the performances and openings. People are making time to think about the making, so I don’t feel too out of step to calmly rise each morning to a stack of books, a rehearsal with Helen, and a field trip to a room of new people who seem bursting with urgency and yet are incredibly calm.
AA: I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the completion of one of your largest Atlanta projects, last summer’s Sumptuary.
MG: Mike and I finished that feeling really positive and really, really exhausted. We built something that was almost intentionally unsustainable, as a gesture towards imagining new sustainabilities. I felt like we did meaningful work. Some of the artists we commissioned through Sumptuary said they felt like they made steps forward in their process through it. There’s just nothing cooler than that. A lot of artists tried something new because it was this uncharted territory that had some clarity and rigor around it. We had some really great conversations with people who came often or even every night. I like to fantasize that new ideas were birthed there that Mike and I don’t know about.
AA: You said ultimately it wasn’t sustainable. It was such a fantastic project that it’s somewhat sad to hear the word “unsustainable” attached to it. Do you really think that model is something that couldn’t be here all the time?
MG: We built it as an intensive. I think it could be retooled to exist. It was hard. The whole thing was an art project. Our learning how to run a bar was a performance for us. Richland Rum gave us a beautiful case of rum that lasted the length of the run, which then turned into profit for our artists, but that’s not sustainable long-term. Mike and I tended bar for free for five weeks. Sumptuary could have evolved to look more like a gallery or more like a bar. We wanted to do something more deeply immersive and to give all the profits to the artists and see what that felt like.
AA: One of the things you seem particularly good at is “turning a page,” that is, starting something totally new and different. I think a lot of people get stuck in a rut because they find something they’re good at, they do it for a while, and then they start thinking that’s all they can do. Any advice for others about turning pages and starting something new?
MG: I think part of the reason my work keeps changing is that I’m often half of it. I’m learning now about what it is that Helen and I make. I had a really beautiful time learning about what Mike and I made. What looks like page turning is actually a collaboration-centric life. If we zoomed in a microscope on little old me, I might be providing some pretty similar stuff, like an interest in feeling that the structure that houses the work is as much the work as the content. Or an interest in having a very human touch on every element of the work, like my absurd insistence on hand-stamping every piece of currency that was part of Imaginary Millions. It was a dumb move but I like to touch everything. I would never have made Sumptuary by myself. It was something so synergetic between Mike and I. I want synergy in my life, as a state of unknowing or faith.
Sumptuary was deeply collaborative. The piece Helen and I are making, I think neither of us would make it on our own. I think I’m much smarter when not on my own. That’s why I keep moving. I’m excited about getting older and some of my collaborative relationships getting long …. My advice would be, for men and women alike, to get in touch with your feminine energy, which will spiral nonlinearly, and is not very goal oriented! But I’m realizing I have always had a pretty unshakeable trust in mine, and my wild turns of the page have led me again and again to deeper love and learning.
Andrew Alexander is an Atlanta-based critic who covers visual art, dance, and theater.