I can remember first hearing the phrase “Keep Austin Weird” and thinking there is no way whoever came up with that slogan has ever visited New Orleans. Our Texas neighbor may have some quirky elements, but since the city’s official inception in 1718, New Orleans has truly embraced the “weird,” welcoming artists, musicians, writers, dreamers and the like to claim the city as their own, all adding to the bizarre that we all call home. Artist Kelsey Scult was meant to bring her vision and creativity and weave it into the city that keeps getting “weird.” Growing up between Boston and Seattle, this multidisciplinary artist has had a phenomenal year sharing her art with not only the members of the city with an artist workshop at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, but also having a movie premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. This month, we learn more about the artist and projects that continue amplifying what makes New Orleans weird.
Q: On your website, it says you’re a multidisciplinary artist. Can you explain what exactly that means? I started kind of wanting to be a muralist. I was really interested in large scale painting that was just really, you know, larger than life. So, the past couple years I’ve been more interested in creating immersive spaces that are not necessarily on the sides of buildings, but applying my painting background and…activating it with other art forms. I love making these skin [like] tapestries that I sew together. I’m working on a film right now where I’m really trying to cover an entire room in orange peels sewn together. Just trying to kind of play with painting and film and photography in this hybrid art form that brings together my different creative practices. I love the experience of the texture; the visceral experience of looking at a painting and the texture of it. The tactile-ness of it. I’m trying to translate that experience into other mediums. For me, fruit skin being at the center of my art practice, it just represents so much to me. I’m interested to play with fruits as a material and how far can I take it.
Q: How did your interest in using something like fruit come about? A lot of my work explored the violence done to and caused by the female body. Something like fruit skin, it just feels very much like literal skin. There’s something so luscious and juicy about it, and very sensual, but then there’s also this element of decay. I like pairing that with the act of sewing, which is historically feminine. The practice of sewing in the domestic space, and being this very feminine art form, but when you’re sewing together skin, it becomes this kind of almost violent act. So, taking these things that are the one on the one hand, very feminine and very sensual and juicy and luscious, and so violaceous. Then as they start to decay, the needle becomes almost violent. Like active sewing and stabbing. To me it represents that dichotomy of femininity that I’m always trying to work.
Q: You recently led an artist workshop at the Ogden, can you explain how that came about and what the workshop entailed? I showed a short film in the Ogden for their Louisiana Contemporary Exhibition. The piece is called “Her Teeth and Where to Find Them.” Are you familiar with the French folk tale about the woman who has this green silk ribbon around her neck? Her husband keeps asking, “Why do you have this ribbon around your neck?” She says “Don’t touch it.” Then when she’s asleep, he takes it off, and her head falls off. [My] short film reimagined the piece, but more empowering. I was thinking [about different medical treatments] during quarantine. I went to the pharmacy museum and the French Quarter explor[ing]older medical practices. I was just interested in, with COVID, thinking of different plagues and how they treated different things over the years. There was this whole section in the pharmacy museum about like how they used to treat melancholia and women in the 19th century, these crazy treatments. The piece is very much about like reimagining a folktale, and retelling it and recontextualizing it. So, for the workshop, we had a list of different Louisiana folk tales, we tried to extract iconography to make little sculptures that reimagined the folktales interpretations. Some of them actually had folktales from their own cultures, like one [person was] from Puerto Rico, so she did a family folktale. So it was about how we can take these oral histories, these fables from different cultures, and reimagine them and retell them; how to keep these stories alive in different contexts.
Q: You had a film premier at Sundance Film Festival this year. What was the film about and what did it feel like having a film you produced on such a big stage? Yes, that was our premiere festival. The film is called “Ma Belle, My Beauty” and was written and directed by Marion Hill. It’s a queer, romantic drama, about three musicians that are in a polyamorous relationship in New Orleans, but all of the film takes place in the south of France. It takes place a couple years after the three of them are no longer in a relationship and two of the three are now married. So, the film kind of starts when the third comes and visits from New Orleans and it just kind of explores what is polyamory looks like as it crosses between cultures. We recorded the soundtrack, which is all original music composed by this incredible local musician, Mahmoud Chouki. He’s a Moroccan guitarist, and he brought on New Orleans’ best jazz musicians to make the scores. It’s just very much a new experience together. And then to have it premiere at the best festival in the U.S. was just the dream. A little bittersweet, because of COVID, you know. Any other year, we would have gotten to go in person. They did a satellite screening, a pop up for Sundance, basically. So, we got to show it at the Broadside [Theater], which was really special.
Favorite Local Artist: I’m working with a director right now, producing her next film and I just think her work is really important. Her name is Zandashe Brown. She does Southern Gothic horror film, and it all kind of explores the Black Baptist Church and healing for black women and the southern black Baptist Church, through the southern Gothic horror lens.
Favorite spot in the city that inspires you: I really love Rue de la Course café Uptown. They have these huge ceilings and they’re always playing classical music. It just feels very youthful and I like going there to work.