Kevin Jerome Everson by Jordan Cronk, Bomb (2017)
Ohio-born, Virginia-based Kevin Jerome Everson is one of America’s most prolific and unpredictable filmmakers. Over a span of fifteen years and upward of 100 films, Everson has worked at a near tireless pace, framing largely anonymous images of working-class African Americans through an impressionistic aesthetic palette that is equally informed by street portraiture and observational nonfiction. From his early work with found footage to the vividly rendered suburban and inner-city social vignettes, Everson—who’s currently a professor at the University of Virginia—has continued to move nimbly between academia and the avant-garde.
In typically industrious fashion, he has this year brought new and recent work to the Rotterdam and Courtisane film festivals, New York’s Whitney Biennial, and the film program at Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival, where a selection of shorts were shown alongside a new installation that cast four otherwise unrelated films in something like a study of twentieth-century American consciousness, linking both industrial evolution with corporeal decline, and traces of early cinema with unknown reaches of a medium in flux. Shortly after Big Ears, I spoke with Everson about these wide-ranging programs, his ever-restless practice, and the nuances of the artist-audience relationship.
Jordan Cronk I get the impression when watching your work, particularly as an entire program, that you’re something like a filmmaker in the truest sense of the term. And by that I mean that the actual process of making films is where you derive your greatest satisfaction—which might explain why you’ve made so many. Can you speak about your films as acts of creation versus works to be exhibited to an audience?
Kevin Jerome Everson I come to film from the arts—from photography, sculpture, painting, and printmaking. Especially with photography, you have to make a body of work, you know? And I feel that in film, too. I can’t just make one. I have to make these other components to see if my formal qualities are working or being exercised to the fullest. And if not, then I can adjust next time. I was recently reading Darby English’s book, 1971: A Year in the Life of Color, about these black abstract painters in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and I realized I approach film like abstract art in some weird way—like maybe they don’t need an audience? Like, I’m just making things. (laughter) They’re just so self-referential.
One strategy is that I’ve been trying to have the people on screen be smarter than the audience—in the sense that the subjects don’t need them. A lot of my professors in undergraduate school came out of the University of Iowa’s art program in the early ’70s. And because of that, I feel my work has to present itself as material, process, and procedure. So the act of making—the camera, film stock, even time or whatever else goes into it—is all part of the film’s content.
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