This article is part of Hyperallergic’s Pride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.
Deep in the rural Chiricahua Nde (Apache) lands of what we know as southern New Mexico, trans nonbinary artist and writer Everest Pipkin resides on a quiet sheep farm, reflecting on collective care amidst a crumbling society as they tend to their garden and animals. In observation through isolation, Pipkin considers the garden to be the site of both pleasure and consumption, calculating the balancing act of a utopian space and its intrinsic limitations. Through game design, interactive browser add-ons, useful web tools, and narrative text and imagery, Pipkin employs data as their medium to expand on the dichotomies of the broader “garden” and the often violent ways in which we preserve its beauty and bounty. In the following interview, Pipkin outlines their continued interest in the natural world as it manifests in their works, the psychological ramifications of humanity’s reduction into datasets, and the notions of queerness as not an exhibition of gender identity, but rather a deeper questioning if not subversion of relationality.
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Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?
Everest Pipkin: I am an artist, writer, game developer, and resource maintainer for a variety of projects and tools across the internet. In general, my work follows themes of ecology, tool making, and “data” (although only ever with the full knowledge that data is simply the aggregate information of people). I am also interested in fantasies of apocalypse or system collapse, and the desire to unmake the world into one of collective care that so often drives them.
Much of my current work has to do with the garden as a site of utopian thinking (as well as dystopian process). I’m interested in gardens as a place of pleasure, even hedonistic pleasure, of consumption that is not inherently extractive, of a give and take of labor and fruiting; in gardens as a site for humans to plant and other non-human interactions; in the construction of community that is trans-human. A site that at its core demands work and gives in return.
So too, though, the garden is a site of ecological disruption and violence. It is a constant war against the slugs, the aphids, the rabbits. It is a place of imported plants and approved types of growing. Weeding, pruning, harvest in the prime. The world is walled out. The garden’s contents are confined, isolated, domesticated, and used. The garden is called beautiful. The garden is put on postage stamps. The garden becomes the excuse to supplant people. The garden is political.
I have a show opening in Leicester next week along these themes, particularly as applied to walled garden game worlds (all game worlds) which float in rounded isolation. Opening hours and information are available here.
H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?
EP: Gender is generally not my subject, and sometimes I bristle at the expectation of performing queerness through my work, as if the lens of my life were so painted by otherness that what it sees becomes always marked. Because so much of my time is spent in isolation (in the studio, but also in my broader life — I live alone, very rurally) performative gender is not a part of my daily fabric. Most days I am not witnessed, I do not perform, and I sink into my body in the way I sink into my bed; easily, with great fondness.
But in that a landscape is not a landscape until it is framed by a human view, gender is of course a part of my frame (even if it is not always the subject of what is contained inside). All of the themes of my work must pass through that window, informed by such statements as “I remade and relearned to live in this body as an adult, a process that is ongoing”; “The line between me and the environment is blurry at best; the self gets lost in the texture (and I like it that way)”; and even “I am one of many animals in this world, and in that vast relationship of connections there are so many thousands of ways to be present and to be witnessed, what is my gender to a crow?”
And, in truth — despite my prickliness — some of my past work has touched directly on the subject of gender identity, particularly in work like “Shell Song” (2020), which looks at what it is to be a person’s voice as mediated through a dataset, captured and sharped alongside others, to be melded into a tool or a weapon where individual identity breaks apart to form instead a mass, as if that mass could hold “truth.”
In this way, the contemporary condition of “collection,” where bodies are fragmented into commercial units of self, bought and sold in batches of information which may include; the eye, the voice, the browsing habit, the words, the name, the attention, the consumer report, the heart rate, the history, the thumbprint; in this, the fragmented dataset becomes a trans-human body, a more-than-human body, a chimera. My interest in “data as medium” is partly motivated by the horror of that, the misery of the being watched, being gathered, with no real opportunity to revoke consent. And also, in truth, by the closeness of that — the touching of me against the whole world.
And in that are the real echoes of queerness in my work. It is in works about connection — as seen in “Default Filename TV” (2019) and “The Cloister” (2020); about desire and distance — demonstrated in “The Barnacle Goose Experiment” (2022) and “World Ending Game” (2022); about touch and touch mediated — explored via “Anonymous Animal” (2021) and “Soft Corruptor;” about refusal — exhibited through “Image Scrubber” (2020) and “The Anti-Capitalist Software License” (2020); about gifts — through “Gift Game” (2020) and “Drift Mine Satellite“(2023); about searching through “Sungrazer” (2023); and, of course, about love (which is absolutely all of it).
H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?
EP: My touchstones are, as ever, ecological writers (Robin Wall Kimmerer, George Gessert, and some of John McPhee), information, tool, and technology theorists (Ursula Franklin, Tung-Hui Hu, and Shannon Mattern), dis/utopian (but never technocratic) science fiction (Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Josephine Giles), game developers poking at the edges or using resources from “commercially viable game creation flows” to produce broken, subversive, or otherwise barbed projects (Robert Yang, David Kanaga, and Lilith Zone), musicians and performers who bring a weight and presence to the texture of the moment in such a way that sound becomes shelter (Ryuichi Sakamoto and Fever Ray), and writers and theorists speaking to the capacity of digital spaces to be or to mean something profound to those who live inside of them (Austin Walker and Em Reed).
Beyond that, I take great support from and joy in my neighbors, human and non-human, who make the life I am living possible. Dawz, Ray, Olivia, Clover, Zephyr, Louise, Dorkis, those who I call on and am on call for. They are the web of my safety, and have grounded a once-floating existence into the world.
And of course, I live among animals and plants (those of my own farm, which I tend, and the wild ones, which I watch). Their lessons in quiet, in patience, in want, in presence, and in satisfaction are the substance of my days.
H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?
EP: I would wish us not just survival in this present moment of horror, but a thriving that does not stop at or even stem from LGBTQIA+ community or identity. Which is to say that our struggles are, and must be, mutual. They must be inextricably linked with all struggles for liberation.
My greatest fear is that we lose that solidarity, that radical potential, and instead become successfully fragmented by fear — that some take shelter in “being one of the good minorities,” that others lean on wealth or connection or whiteness to achieve safety, while still the rest have no retreat from threat and are left now alone. That in this terrifying now where the non-normative is under legal, medical, and physical attack, we are made to turn our back on our power.
If we lose that solidarity, we lose ourselves. I want us thriving because the world is thriving. Which is to say — I want queerness not as a condition under which we are labeled and are made to suffer, or even as a condition under which we are labeled and find individual joy, but as one (of many) gifts for the world. Queerness as a methodology of being that can inform, intersect with and become a part of the necessary fight to unmake capitalism, to excise colonial power, to live after land back, to see prison and police abolition. It cannot ever be the only only paradigm (and it never is the only paradigm!), but it could be one of them.
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As they say, with the rising tide lifting; there’s no liberation in isolation.
I want us to be a part of the ocean, not the boat.