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In the studio with… Every Ocean Hughes

16 January 2023

Every Ocean Hughes’ interdisciplinary practice encompasses everything from photography and performance to installation and text. Her work is often collaborative and touches on a range of themes including grief, queer experience and kinship. Her solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (until 2 April) builds on a recent series of works inspired by the artist’s end-of-life doula training and includes a new performance commission that tells a mythical story of a community with the ability to cross into the underworld and back again.  

Where is your studio?

My studio is in Stockholm, Sweden, but I am currently based in Brooklyn, New York, and also in rural Maryland. So, I guess my studio is wherever I go.

How does working in Sweden compare to working in the United States?

I was in Stockholm full-time for nearly nine years. It was extremely productive for me – it felt like a retreat from New York. I was able to relax in a way that produced different things. But when I come back to the United States and I am connected to the scenes that raised me, that’s where I feel the most excited. I am a person that really needs that kind of retreat, but also really needs to be connected. I’m trying to figure out that balance.

Still from One Big Bag (2021), Every Ocean Hughes. Courtesy the artist

How would you describe the atmosphere of your studio?

It’s colourful and comfortable. I’m not an industrial-studio kind of person. It has everything I need there if I decide to stay the night. When I’m in the middle of a project, I want to stay inside it and interact less with everyday life.

Do you have a specific studio routine?

It very much depends on where I am in the process. When I’m mounting a show, I can be busy for months – I love having that focus.

When I’m writing, I like to stay in it. I do something which I like to call a self-made retreat – I basically tell the people who like to call me, not to call me. Once I have the idea and I know what the project is, then I can come in and out of it. But when I’m trying to start, I like to create space and time around myself. My routine is basically knowing when I need to retreat. Otherwise, I’m a working hours kind of person.

Still from Help the Dead (2019), Every Ocean Hughes. Courtesy the artist

Is there anything that frustrates you about your studio?

The only thing that frustrates me is that it is sometimes not where I am. Right now, for example, it’s in a different country. I plan on trying to set something up in the United States. I don’t produce in the studio. I have a very collaborative practice and over the last few months I’ve been making with prints with custom frames, which involves a lot of production off-site. My studio is my notebook, my computer and a place to think, but it’s always through a process of collaboration that the projects materialise.

Do you listen to music while you work?

I value silence – it took me a while to understand that I needed that. But I also love music. I make seasonal mixes for the studio and also for walking around – they’re very different!

In the studio, I don’t listen to music with lyrics. I would say there are two albums that I’ve listened to for a very long time. One is an album of Bach’s cello suites and the other is an instrumental album. I also listen to contemporary music. Someone I worked with on my last record called Sarah Hennies has a composition that is 30 minutes of bells. I listen to stuff like that.

From the series The Piers Untitled (2010–23), Every Ocean Hughes. Courtesy the artist

What’s the strangest object in your studio?

I have moved so many times and every time I move, I bring less with me. My life has become so consolidated that I don’t have anything weird and wonderful!

Who’s the most interesting visitor you’ve had to your studio?

Can they be the imaginary people who have visited my mind while I’ve been working? I was trying to make friends with an imaginary pelican for a while. I named him Beaux. So we’ll go with that!

‘Every Ocean Hughes: Alive Side’ is at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York until 2 April 2023.