“In the midst of all this, people have been really interested in what I’m doing, eager to talk. It is different from putting art in galleries.”
Boston-based artist Xray Aims tackles cultural, gender, and sexual politics in art exhibitions ranging from collaborative performances to installations. Otherwise known as Aliza Shapiro of Truth Serum Productions and its various unique parties, they often use strings to create folding geometric shapes, and have also held needle performances in which volunteers are pierced.
Aims has worked in Canada and Europe, and recently traveled to Germany to produce an installation there. Around Boston, Aims has been an active cultural organizer for more than 20 years, and recently took over a basketball court at Jefferson Playground in Jamaica Plain for a new public art project.
They will host an opening today, June 5, from 4-8pm, and are inviting people to come and experience the art. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own gloves if they would like to interact with the installation. We asked about what you can expect to discover.
You said the idea for your latest installation came from a dream where basketball hoops were connected to each other. How did that dream translate to the installation?
On the night of May 13, I was falling asleep and I had a somewhat visual dream of a model of a basketball court in my hands. The backboards, without the hoops, were connecting to each other with thread or rope. I had designed where the rope was on the corners of the backboard. The string was going from the backboard down along the court, and up to the other backboard.
Maybe this is because I have a past as an architectural designer. This was the inspiration to think about the court near my home—and whether I could do something there.
In September 2019, I went to betOnest artists’ residency in Stolpe/Oder Germany. It had been an old concrete plant. There were these rubber gaskets (to connect the cylindrical concrete to another, for sewage, etc.) in one of the buildings, and I decided to make something with them. When I was traveling back from Germany I was researching the gaskets. But I was looking for more used stuff, then it dawned on me—bicycle tubes! Long history of being a biker, so yeah… I’d been making installations when the BasketArt Court came to me.
I started this pandemic by doing an installation at the elementary school across the street from my apartment. There is an empty playground there and it gave me space to try and figure out more about the tubes. And another was made in New Hampshire. I was thinking about my performances with temporary piercing and collaborators, which I love to do, but I was trying to reach more of a public audience.
Of course, now we have the 6-feet between us, so my performances with collaborators are on hold. The bicycle tubes have become my medium, and for now I’m working solo and outside.
So the dream gave me one idea, but there have been a ton of ideas for how to use this space. … Is it just a connection between the two backboards? Maybe they don’t meet in the middle, instead one is really long and squiggly, and maybe the other is heavy and thick and straight. Maybe they are spitting at each other. Maybe one is a [question mark]. And the other is the [exclamation point]. The last thought I had, and perhaps the best, was that maybe they are tied in the middle. The tubes are tied together with a square knot. That’s what I’m doing on and on and on every day. I think the final “done” way is that they will be closed with a square knot.
Do you normally find inspiration in dreams? And has the pandemic changed where you pull inspiration from?
No! I’m not usually inspired to do art because of my dreams. That’s why I had to go complete this dream. Because I have felt pretty lost considering the pandemic. I started another tube design at the school across the street from my apartment. It was helping me figure out what can be done with the tubes. And there is no one in the school, might as well put it to use!
You also mentioned that the installation touches on some of your current political thoughts. What political role do you think the installation plays?
In the middle of March they started closing sports games on a national level. Then there was news that the basketball courts and all public spaces were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they had been running late on the basketball court near my home. They ended up taking the hoops down around the 11th.
Then the dream. And the drawing. And I just had to do it.
Maybe it is the beginning of political thoughts. Basketball players and everybody involved in sports… All sports… It kind of just pisses me off that all of these sports players are making millions of dollars for their work, whereas artists are barely making a living off their work. So I’m thinking of all of the public spaces that are geared towards sports, athletes, Frisbee players, etc., and wondering, Where are the spaces for the artists? Maybe we can have sports spaces turned over to artists, and we can add to the space.
Much of your work touches on identity, gender and sexuality. Does this installation also incorporate these themes?
I think this installation might hold those ideas for some people, but generally I am putting it out to the public so they can form their own ideas around it. I haven’t worked it all out, per se. It’s just this interesting thing that I’ve designed in the basketball court, and it’s beautiful, and it’s getting more and more intricate.
Part of me would say, Yes, of course it deals with those ideas. But part of me didn’t really think about it when I started working with the tubes at the basketball court. The work I do that is performances with other people, generally, we are asked to do specific parts in the performance. But I am using tubes by myself in these installations. It’s solo, until other folks decide they want to change it. … But connections, through the medium of thread, using people, or tubes, using basketball hoops—you can interpret that many ways.
Was it a different experience working to create an installation during this time?
It’s been really interesting. Really alone to some extent. I’m there, doing my work, talking to tubes most of the time. And then I’ll communicate with people who I had never had the opportunity to talk with.
It has been interesting to be talking with people about what it means to them that this basketball court has been turned into the BasketArt Court. It’s really interesting that the majority of the folks I have talked with have been supportive of my redesign.
My work has not been so exposed to the public before, and now it’s in public, when everything is shut down, and people are wary of contact. In the midst of all this, people have been really interested in what I’m doing, eager to talk. It is different from putting art in galleries. First of all, there are rarely kids allowed in galleries. It’s difficult for me to have a conversation when I’m performing, generally, with other performers.
Are you worried about the art community because of the coronavirus?
I’m not really sure, for a couple of reasons. I have been so focused building this installation that I don’t have time to read and listen to the radios, etc. My brain doesn’t work like normal people, I guess. And it’s not because I’ve had two strokes, it’s just the way it works for me. Always have. I know that this has changed the way the media is covering art and the way that art is being made and the way that artists are making money. In April I was going to go to Seattle to perform with my friend Adrian Cronos, but I canceled because of the pandemic.
Because everything is shut down, including basketball courts, do you feel like there is more space for art and artists at the moment?
Yes. And because public art is kind of new in my work, I’m finding the right folks to support this work. I think there is a lot of public art that is happening and can happen, now. Get out there artists! Take the public spaces over!
You used tubes from bicycle tires for the installation. What made you choose this material?
The rubber gasket in Germany where the tubes were easy to find. Reuse, DIY. Bikes Not Bombs, Ferris Wheels Bike Shop, Community Bike Supply, Papa Wheelies Back Bay, and Landry’s Bicycles were great about letting me use tubes.
How are you planning to present or encourage people to see the installation?
I was told last week that it was probably going to be a month before they reinstall the hoops.