Who: TJ Kiser
What: Visual artist
Where: Old Number 77 Hotel
Artist’s chosen location for interview: On the riverfront with his unbelievably sweet dog, Huck, who was along for the interview with us
Q: When do humans stop caring about identity?
A: I don’t think little kids care about identity. I guess because they haven’t been harmed yet. More specifically, they haven’t been show to care about identity.
I was in an elevator one time, and there was this little kid on there. This really old man walked onto the elevator, and he had this absolute scowl on his face. The little kid looked at him and said, “Hey, how you doing?”
Of course, the old man had to reply, so he said, “I’m fine. How are you?”
After that, I decided to always try and be like that little kid. At some point society changes you and tells you to care about identity, but kids don’t care about any of those things that separate us. I’m not even sure that they see those separations, and that’s what I want to practice.
Huck [his dog] and I try to be that way. Huck helps a lot because he’ll go up to pretty much everyone.
Q: If someone was to take up residence in your previous apartment, what could they make from the items in that apartment?
A: I’m going to go one apartment before my last apartment because someone could create anything they wanted with the stuff that was there. My place was more like a house venue than anything else. We had shows there, my roommate put on a burlesque show there for my birthday, we had comedians there, and bands played their first shows there. So really, a person could do anything there — music, art, performance, anything.
I definitely made a lot of paintings in that place. Although, space doesn’t really affect how I create. I can pretty much paint anywhere, but I know that’s not necessarily true for other artists. My girlfriend needs a big table and a lot of space in order to create her work.
All I need is my sketchbook. That’s how Huck and I get around.
Q: How does your behavior change when you’re in a new place?
A: It doesn’t. At least, I don’t think it does. I may be a bit more reserved, but as far as my overall behavior, it’s about the same. Even if I travel to a foreign country, I try to find a niche that matches with how I am. I’m not too susceptible to being pushed out of my comfort zone.
Except I did have to leave Huck last summer for three months, and I felt like I might die. That was pushing me out of my comfort zone in a way, but I’m very much myself no matter where I am at. Last summer when I was in Europe, and even before that when I had traveled around, I’ve always been me, and I met friends that way. I think my parents helped me be like that. They’re really good parents.
Q: What is an item you wish you could find and include in your work?
A: Right now I’m trying to make a Voodoo installation, so I am looking for things that would go along with that. I guess I’m really searching for items that will say that I was here. I keep my eyes peeled when I’m walking around and through the streets. That’s what everyone told me to do.
I’ve been in one cemetery so far. I haven’t been to Marie Laveau’s tomb, but I hear that her grave is the most visited grave in the city. We went to a tiny cemetery, but I can’t remember the name of the streets. I keep looking for things, though.
Q: What’s a place you’d like to read about but never visit?
A: I guess Asia. I read a lot of old school stories from Asia, but now that I think about it, I’d love to go to Bali or Thailand or China. I’ve never been, and I would love to see the countryside there. I read Journey to the West when I was like sixteen, and it blew my mind.
In regard to places I wouldn’t want to go, though, I wouldn’t go back to Belgium. I’ve been there, and I don’t really have any desire to go back. They have chocolate and beer there, but they have that everywhere. It has a cool little town square, but other than that, I’d tell people to skip it. In fact, I have told people to skip it.
Now, Austria, Prague, or Amsterdam. Those are good spot. And Puerto Rico. My grandma lives there in Puerto Rico, and I have been there almost every year since I was a kid. It’s incredibly beautiful. It’s dirty. You can get everything there. And they have bioluminescent beaches. I jumped in one night, even though you’re not supposed to, and you just glow. Mind you, you’re killing thousands of bacteria with each stroke, but still. There are secluded beaches, you can take boat trips, and they have a ton of coconut ice cream, which is my favorite.