Meg Onli: How did you first encounter Ulysses’s work?
Erin Christovale: The first time I encountered Ulysses’s work was in the landmark show Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980, curated by Dr. Kellie Jones in 2011. The show featured Black artists working in LA from the 1970s to the 1990s, but more broadly, it was one of the first shows that presented wide-sweeping scholarship of an older generation of Black artists. Ulysses was the only video artist in that show, and that really stood out to me. At the time, I was actively thinking through Black experimental moving image with my ongoing project Black Radical Imagination, so the discovery of this artist whose work wasn’t widely recognized or easily classifiable was hugely important for me.
The same year, I met Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar, founders of the Otolith Group. Once, over dinner, we bonded over Ulysses and our shared sense of his importance as an artist. Shortly after, I got an email from Kodwo, which basically said, “You and your friends should do a show on Ulysses. I think it would be wonderful.” That was one of the first moments in my curatorial history I was given permission, by someone I respected in the field, to do the work I wanted to do.
What about you?
MO: Now Dig This! is a seminal exhibition to my curatorial practice. Especially given that you and I are both from Los Angeles, Dr. Jones had uncovered an entire history that I’d been so hungry for. I paid a lot of money to go to art school, and I remember seeing the show and feeling frustrated: What? I totally missed all of this.
The next time I saw Ulysses’s work was at the Whitney’s reopening exhibition, America Is Hard to See (2015), which screened his films Without Your Interpretation (1983) and Mass of Images (1978). Later I realized that I drove past his murals on my way to school as a kid and that some of his public access work was filmed blocks away from my childhood home. By the time I started working at the ICA and Alex Klein curated Broadcasting: EAI at ICA, Ulysses was a person I was thinking seriously about.
Erin, you and I have often talked about Ulysses as the forefather to the practices of so many people we are invested in—folks such as Aria Dean, who’s written about Ulysses’s work, and Martine Syms, Sondra Perry, and Jibade-Khalil Huffman, who are all making video work that seems to be in dialogue with Ulysses’s. It is important to look back and chart that history, especially given the way Black experimental artists have come to the forefront in art spaces and independent film spaces in recent years, putting forward radically different modalities of moving-image making.EC: Ulysses committed to video as a format at the same time it was introduced to the public—it’s highly ephemeral, malleable, and most importantly, it’s affordable. In contrast, when considering the history of film, numerous Black artists and artists of color have not had the opportunity to explore cinema because of structural barriers in the production process. Video is a more democratic medium and, in many ways, synonymous with documenting Black quotidian life. We continue to see that legacy in the work of the artists he has influenced.