As Never Before: 2015

Hof, Iceland. Photo by Mary South.

2015 was a year of firsts. It was a year for homecoming. Above all, it was a year of collaboration. So much of what I did this year happened thanks to talented, generous friends. Working with them strengthened my confidence in the kind of life I want to forge —a life fueled by community and art. Here are the highlights.

(There are a lot of highlights.)

From January to July, I was living in Italy and finishing my tenure as a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. My favorite project from my time abroad (and probably the year) was the music video for “Parturition,” which Austrian artist Krist Mort shot and directed in Italy. We filmed at a gloomy Etruscan necropolis near Orvieto and the shining expanse of beach at Sabaudia. Chatting about being DIY with Kristina while driving through terrifying traffic in Rome was beyond a privilege. It was also cool that Noisey premiered the video with an interview by Meagan Fredette. You can read it over here.

This year I went on a tour that took me around Austria, Italy and to Wave-Gotik-Treffen, the large goth music festival that occurs annually in Leipzig, Germany. An airport fire in Rome forced me to take a train to Milan and a flight from there so I could land in Berlin on time. I sat on busfuls of goths traveling to and from their festival in Leipzig. My suitcase, packed with precious, towel wrapped guitar pedals, mysteriously broke and needed last minute replacing. A train strike across Germany rerouted me across the country. One venue paid me in high quality absinthe. The owner of another cooked me dinner and put me up in a medieval church turned hostel. It was my first tour as a solo artist and a total adventure. I’m grateful to new friends like experimental musician Steffi Neuhuber who helped me book shows and ensured I had a safe place to sleep.

Leipzig, Germany. Photo by Mary Roberts.

This year I co-created my first sound installation, Prex Gemina, with New York composer Paula Matthusen. It was exhibited at Cinque Mostre, a show at the American Academy in Rome. Paula and I were interested in ancient catacombs that are historically linked to female Christian martyrs. The stories of these martyrs tend to present rape as prerequisites for their sainthood, something you don’t see the histories of male Christian martyrs. We explored how these stories fetishize the violation of women’s bodies through illicit, manipulated recordings that we made in the catacombs using EVP techniques. I say “illicit” because the Vatican actually rejected our request to record in the catacombs. According to the Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, recording in holy spaces is Absolutely Not Allowed. The Commission also could not understand why anyone would be interested in “stories like that.” Like…about women?

Naturally, Paula and I went ahead with the project by hiding voice recorders under our clothes to get what we wanted. You can hear one of the results below.

I wrote and published my first freelance article this year. It’s about a family of tarot artists I met in Milan and is up on Atlas Obscura. Honestly, it was one of the more difficult projects of 2015. Pitching a piece, researching a topic outside my comfort zone and writing in a nonacademic style was haaaard. I’m excited I succeeded. I’m even more excited I got paid.

Canadian designer Bramble Lee Pryde of Wolf + Sadie and I created a photo story titled RESTLESS. It’s a photographic narrative of our respective desires to move beyond old projects, like my EP Migration, and look ahead to new work. Krist Mort shot the series in Linz, Austria at a crumbling castle and it premiered in Culture Mag. You can see the whole series here.

“RESTLESS.” Photo by Krist Mort.

In September, I moved back to Chicago, where I received the warmest, most loving welcome I’ve known. The work continued. Wolf + Sadie invited me to contribute to their Ancestors look book project. I worked with Meagan Fredette on my contribution, and she shot some gorgeous photos like the one below. You can view the rest over here.

hidden worlds. Photo by Meagan Fredette.

I played more shows. Noise artist wrtch invited me to Seattle to perform at Bloody Wednesday, an arts festival focused on female power. It was one of the best performances I’ve given, and apparently I made people in the audience cry. In Chicago, I played at an event that featured a multi-course dinner menu by chef Abra Berens inspired by my music.

And best for last: earlier this month, I finished my PhD in Classics at the University of Chicago. Eight and a half years of grad school are over — years of courses, exams, travel. It was a road I couldn’t have traversed without my family and friends, so I guess it takes a village to make a doctor. If you ever want to know about cross-cultural interactions in the Roman Empire, hmu. Or, you know, read my forthcoming articles. 💅🏾

2015 stands out as the year I immersed myself in the power of community and collaboration. I’m grateful to everyone who made that possible. It was an exhausting year, but it’s also given me a clarity about who I want in my life and who I want to be.

My heart has bloomed and I’ve been renewed. 2016, I’m ready for you.