CREATIVE SPOTLIGHT - Julia Knight:"SKIN: A MEDITATION"...
1) Where were you raised? West St Paul Minnesota
Can you paint a picture of your childhood? I grew up dancing, drumming, playing the piano, camping with my family, and riding my bike as a little kid around the neighborhood. I was a Tomboy. I loved playing kickball in the street, directing my friends in made up plays with costumes and collecting salamanders. My Father took me fishing and camping and taught me to shoot a gun and catch fish. After one morning of Deer hunting and seeing him kill and gut a deer, I decided at age 10, that shooting an animal was not for me. I learned how to bake bread, sew and make cookies with my Grandmother. I loved my School and my community. My Mother played games with me in the kitchen to explore senses of taste and touch and smell by blindfolding me and having me sample foods and spices. She made costumes for me and gave me ice cream. Jazz music filled the air in our home and my Father taught me to play the drums. Hearing music with big headphones was how I fell in love with Coltrane, Max Roach and Billie Holiday. My Dad would bring home percussion instruments for us to play. I recall the vibration in my body from crashing big cymbals that were so heavy to hold. He encouraged me to bang them together and demonstrated how to do it. It thrilled me to be told I could make the loudest sound possible with these gigantic shiny objects . Because of his musical influence I became a drummer and was in the Jazz Band as his student. Being only 1 of 2 girls who were drummers in the band gave me a sense of empowerment that girls can wear pants and keep the tempo for the group,( all other females in the band had to wear skirts at the concert) This costume of wearing pants began my sense of being a feminist and a leader. I gardened and took great pleasure in feeding my family with the food I grew. Making salads and soups with veggies after riding home with my harvest with a full bike basket of food I had grown. Digging in the dirt and watering my garden brought me peace and joy. I ran on the track team, and played volleyball.
My Sister and I would play Monopoly, Yahtzee, and Double Solitary. When we sang, sitting beside her on the bench, I felt close to her. I looked up to her as I have my entire life. We would watch Perry Mason..I loved the tension and debate in the courtroom in the show...searching for facts and how they sorted thru the lies, and confronting the witness to get to the truth. This was the actor in me wanting to understand why people do what they do. My early years were great.
When I turned 9, My Mother was given a bipolar diagnosis and I became aware of her suicide attempts with trips to the hospital. Our home became a place of tense quiet coupled with emotional explosions. I wrote a lot during that time to record what I knew and what confused me. I was scared. I would put my head in the laundry shoot to hear them argue. My Father struggled to keep it all together. She left when I was 14 and they divorced. My Dad was someone I trusted and respected and could count on, yet it was a dark time living with a man who had a broken heart. He held His secret that he fell in love. My Stepmom was a new chapter. We moved to a new house and this transfer to a new school in the middle of my Junior year marked a fresh start. This time of healing and excelling in academics was transformative. My Stepmom embodied kindness and I fell in love with her spirit. She taught me private singing lessons and I joined the School choir. My creativity and performing was very healing and a great expression where I felt whole and alive.
2) Did you always create art as a kid, or did you come to it later in life? I painted and wrote in my journal, and began writing poetry as a child. I recall singing at the top of my lungs in the mirror standing on the bathroom counter with my hairbrush as my microphone.My voice was larger than my body could hold in my Snoopy Nightgown!
3) which artists have influenced your work? Why and how?
I went to North Carolina School of the Arts, the artists there were from all around the world. The cultural diversity was inspiring. The training was intense and a perfect fit. I moved to NYC after graduation.
I've been inspired by Ray Charles, Max Roach, Ella Fitzgerald, Coltrane, Riki Lee Jones, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, Sting, Van Morrison. Blood Sweat and Tears, Nina Simone, Paul Taylor, Bach, Mozart. Gregory Porter, and Bob Marley as well as Sia and Bjork to name a few. Teachers inspired me to see the world beyond my upbringing. My Acting teacher, Cigdem Onat, taught me to listen to the whispers in my heart and that everything one does is a meditation. Olympia Dukakis taught me fear is the teacher..to bravely go into the mouth of the lion. That as an actor, that is the fuel, the clue, to unveiling the truth, and that conflict is often the catalyst to get there. Gerald Friedman taught me to take a note with the word YES to just say “yes, I understand.” That a director’s note is a gift not something to debate. Dance Teachers like Mabel Robinson and Molly Murray stretched me to use my body and feel its power enabling me to express myself fully. I studied with Felix Ivanov, he taught me martial arts every morning. I earned a black belt with him, then became a personal trainer and studied yoga extensively.
4) any other influences (people, places, ideas)?
I listened to a lot of Jazz and big band as a kid, Music has been a tremendous influence.
Film and Theater have also played a large role in my creativity and the way I perceive the world. Wes Anderson and Jane Campion. Poetry by Rumi and Pablo Neruda. Movie: Max and Mary, a story of vulnerability and self acceptance and learning to love ourselves.
I also fuel my spirit with travel. Places like Berlin and Hamburg Germany, Jamaica, Italy, Turkey, the Bahamas and the dense rainforest of Costa Rica and the water caves of Tulum, Mexico.
The idea that forgiveness is about moving forward and feeling light. My friend Jim Marion told me that truth can never remain buried. I completely agree. I am doing what I can to leave people better off than how I found them. Beauty is all around me. What I focus on grows. I have embraced how essential it is to blend my heart and my mind in my decision making process. To choose kindness and the power of taking a pause in everyday moments.
The song BLACKBIRD calms me and calls on my true north.
5) tell me about your practice—how do you generate ideas, what medium do you use?
I love to write, sing and move. I walk in nature to generate peace and space in my imagination to create. My collaboration with Valerie Barnes has been a very meaningful experience. My poetry and using film as another layer to the expression and editing together to blend visuals with language has been an interesting blend.
6) is your art more concept-driven or image-driven?
This project has been a collaboration born out of many hours of conversations about SKIN. We are using the concept of SKIN to create a meditation for conversation about my story of having melanoma as well as, my wish for my daughters skin to then have people share their unique stories. It began with the poetry as the seed...then expanded with film, sound and images, and the writing wall.
I recently watched the documentary “I am Evidence” and was very disturbed that there's so much violence and misogyny in the world. I want people to value one another’s Spirit and the Skin that wraps around it.
7) why do you make the art you make?
Creativity is a way of life. Acting, Dance, Poetry, Film, Singing... are all expressions of connection and being a conduit for truth.
8) does your art influence your life, and vice versa? yes.
9) what do you think about the notion "the lonely artist"? I don't feel lonely. I experience my creativity and others as a way of connecting to my humanity and being of service.
10) does your art connect you to the world in some way, or does it help you navigate the world? My art has been a way to navigate emotion and has taught me how to express myself in a more meaningful way. Art has saved me from myself. As a child being an athlete and dancer was a vehicle of healing to break the inertia of trauma. No one lives in their body rent free there is always a price. Seeking truth and living in my truth as a way of connecting and knowing when to have a boundary. Dancing, Drumming and Singing was a way to feel seen and heard and to be in the joy of the work. It has always brought me happiness and a sense of feeling alive. Being in the theater has been a sacred experience to be a storyteller, a conduit.
11) do you make art for yourself or other people? both
12) what purpose do you think art serves today? Art conjures questions,conversations and awareness. It unites people and plucks feeling from bruised hearts. It is essential to our culture. For me, it is an expression that lifts consciousness and brings clarity and humor thru the story telling....reminding us it is ok to not know the answers to our mysteries. Art reminds us We are never alone. Art seduces us into feeling deeply, in receiving it, we re-awaken what is “not done” yet, it gives us clues to what needs attention. Art has the power to excavate a memory. Art invites us to the dance floor to sweat our tears and remember what it means to be soft, electric and live our brave selves. In doing this, in showing up for and receiving or creating Art.... we open our spirits to write the ending of our story with vulnerability. We fall into a lyric, a story, a melody that heats our cheeks and drums the tempo thru the inevitable resistance of our truth. We embody it ... this moves us into the raw inner space of transparency...of being able to hear our insatiable questions that we have ignored for a moment or a decade…. like clues on our windy path… Art fills our lungs with the breath to speak and act with courageous authenticity.
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