Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye Considers The Relationship Between The Social And The Spatial
This February, Gray Area debuted its first first large-scale immersive exhibition entitled, The End Of You, inviting visitors to explore multi-sensory installations that encourage new ways of perceiving the self within the living world. Throughout last fall, artists participating in the Experiential Space Research Lab have been reimagining ways to radically shift perspective through the power of immersive art.
Kevin Moultrie Daye is a spatial designer whose work sees architecture as a means of cultural and social production. He co-founded the Oakland and Rio de Janeiro-based architectural collective SPACE INDUSTRIES. Kevin taps into his multidisciplinary background as a spatial designer, curator, and musician to enrich the work in our Experiential Space Research Lab 2019–2020 and Gray Area’s first immersive exhibition The End Of You.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your practice.
I am a spatial designer. I make music, design, curate, fabricate and theorize about people, places and how one informs the other.
What are some topics and themes of your artistic inquiry?
My work focuses on the relationship between culture and Space™. On how the way that we build reveals our cultural frameworks, follies, and (potentially) our futures. What is the connection between material extraction and racism/classism? Can we think of climate change as a spatial war on the global south? How does the width of a sidewalk pertain to a given neighborhood’s attitude towards homelessness? The answers to all of this, if they exist, are inscribed into the very spaces we move through everyday.
What are obstacles within your work that you’ve faced and possibly overcome?
The barriers to increasing access to an institutionally accepted knowledge of Architecture and Spatial theory are great. As a result, diversity in the field is just above non-existent. For those reasons many of the connections between the realities of marginalized communities and the practice of space making have gone long unnoticed. Many times, if it does not fall into a canon that the institution/discipline recognizes (read: Eurocentric) there is very little support or even understanding.
Despite this, the knowledge gained and completed outside the walls of the institution is some of the most critical, fulfilling and important work I think architects can do.
What led you to Gray Area’s Experiential Space Research Lab?
The way that we engage with art and with the traditional barriers to access that art are changing. The Experiential Space Research Lab is an amazing opportunity to test out new ways of making all of the complex and beautiful ideas that get wrestled with in the art world more accessible and visceral.
The challenge of making something that engages the body and mind equally, has both spectacle and depth, and is both challenging and comprehensible — that’s the goal for any project, in my opinion.
Plus, with a name like “Experiential Space Research Lab,” how could I turn it down?
How do you consider your audience throughout the creative process?
Constantly, cautiously and with tender care. Without people and love there can be no Place™, only Space™.
What do you hope people gain from interacting with your work?
That they remember that just being a body in space is a powerful thing, and that there are many, many ways to construct and deconstruct and reconstruct Space™. That they are not passive victims to the environment, they are shapers of it.
My project, “This hammer killed John Henry, but it won’t kill me” is an exercise in visualizing environmental injustice issues through spatial art. The installation is a kinetic memorial to the ongoing radioactive cleanup crisis in San Francisco’s Hunters Point and the recent discovery of a highly radioactive object in a parcel of Hunters Point (that had been declared safe since 2004). Named after James Baldwin’s 1963 KQED documentary about Bayview–Hunters Point, the installation is comprised of 75 paper lanterns (one for each year since the nuclear contamination of Hunters Point) that are inscribed with headlines from the Bay Area’s oldest Black newspaper, the San Francisco Bayview. As viewers approach the object its radiation signature responds, illuminating the lanterns with increasing intensity and color relative to their proximity, and challenging us to consider living with the chemical Body Burden of inhabiting a toxic environment — one which our Black neighbors have endured for almost a decade.
Your work at Space Industries treats architecture as a social and cultural practice, a discipline which should no longer be regarded as “neutral.” With that in mind, what media and tools will you be exploring during the incubator? And what embedded motives or values do these tools hold? How do you plan on employing them or recontextualizing them?
Interactivity is a key tool for understanding that space is not neutral. In our daily lives, there are many rules and regulations that reinforce an idea that you cannot alter or be an agent of change. As a regular citizen, you can’t just move things around, or redesign your street (unless of course, you are wealthy) It’s literally against the law. This Experiential Space Research Lab project allows us to create an environment that facilitates a new way of interacting with things we might typically assume are “Not to be Touched.”
Your studio’s projects, “Critique of Pure Violence” and “Taxonomy of Spatial Violence” deal with the notion of challenging neutrality in architecture and how the built environment is used to regulate bodies. Will you be weaving these concepts into your work here?
Certainly we will be using architectural techniques to control, regulate and suggest bodies’ behavior within the space. There is no way around this, since two things cannot be in the same place at the same time, displacement and conflict are inherent in anything that happens in Space™. Hopefully, we can utilize this fact to create a space of joy, connection and learning as opposed to oppression.
Aside from your career as an architect and designer you have also worked in a curatorial capacity, curating “Forever, A Moment: Black Meditations on Time and Space” at SOMArts alongside artist Yetunde J. Olagbaju. Can you tell us more about your experiences working in this role? Will you be drawing from the themes you explored in this exhibit, collective memory, black agency and Afrofuturism for your work in the Experiential Space Research Lab?
Working with Yetunde on Forever, A Moment, was an amazing experience. As curators, our goals and vision were closely aligned and the result was the ability to dig deep into pulling threads together into a cohesive whole that, hopefully, provided something more than the sum of its parts. As the Experiential Space Research Lab has its own project directive and is a collaborative effort between all members, I have not found it to be an appropriate place to further interrogate and explore those themes. While elements of these things have surely bubbled up in the process, my desire to take what is learned from this experience and utilize it in future projects.
What possibilities or affordances does experiential design offer (to your work in particular) that traditional architecture doesn’t?
The financial, legal and temporal restraints are much different. Working in an art space affords different (although I wouldn’t necessarily say greater) freedoms and modes of expression than what one might find in a traditional architectural firm. Perhaps more importantly, there is a greater degree of control and see-through to the final result than is possible in the even more highly collaborative and regulated realm of architecture. But, as with most things, one hand washes the other, and I have benefited greatly from digging my toes into both sandboxes.
As co-founder of of the architectural collective,
Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye brings his experience in design, curation, and project management.
Seeing architecture as a social and cultural practice, he expands on his architectural training through through writing, teaching, and artistic practices to challenge aesthetic, cultural, and socioeconomic assumptions.
The End Of You was on view at Gray Area from February 7–March 1, 2020. Learn more at EndOfYou.io.
The End Of You is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between Gray Area and Gaian Systems, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to explore the potential of immersive art for social impact through the Experiential Space Research Lab. The open call for participation, Reworlding: The Art of Living Systems, invited artists to propose novel experiences to cultivate planetary thinking.
The Experiential Space Research Lab is an initiative by Gray Area studying how artists can work with immersive environments as critical thinking tools. The Research Lab supports a diverse team of artists exploring the potential of immersive art as sustainable creative practice, and as a tool for engaging with our world. Through research, field surveys, prototyping, and the production of new works, the Experiential Space Research Lab will ultimately develop a playbook for artists interested in creating immersive digital art experiences.
This interview was conducted by Miriam Abraham , Gray Area’s Creative Development Intern. Portrait of Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye by Hannah Scott.