04/10/2012 01:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ten Years of Conversations Wit De Churen

In 2009, I was included in an exhibition 100 years of performance, a collaboration between Rosa Lee Goldberg's Performa and MoMA PS1. Although I was happy to have my 2006 video Lollypop and 2007/2010's Melody Set Me Free included, I wondered why none of the installments from my "Conversations Wit De Churen" series were included. I felt this work was equally important in the context of the exhibition, which was to highlight video and performance artists and works that were important to the evolution of the medium.

A year later, I was on a panel discussing my and others contribution to contemporary art. Another panelist included me in their presentation that placed me with a lineage of artists who came before me, then dubbed us as "This is the way things use to be done". I do not believe the presenter meant any disrespect, but all I could do was think: "Wow". Barely into my thirties, am I already considered ancient, old news? Am I on the wrong path? Should I consider a new career path? After seriously wondering, WTF? It came to me that I have to be an advocate for my own work even if others decide to champion me or not. All artists should.


In 2002, I submitted two videos to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture when I applied to their summer residency program. One was "Holy Moses":

The other was the first vignette to my "Conversations Wit De Churen" series. In the video, two of my Caucasian friends/classmates lip-sync to my Southern dialect, although a bit exaggerated, you can hear similar speech patterns in the area I grew up. These videos explored the African diaspora in relationship to language, race, entertainment, and displacement.

I was accepted and offered a full scholarship to the residency. The University of South Florida (my alma mater), and Skowhegan split the bill. At the time, it was a huge deal for a video and performance artist to be accepted into a program that primarily accepted painters and sculptures. In addition, they only awarded three artists a full scholarship. During the residency, I was encouraged to continue with the Churen series. Below are two of the vignettes completed that summer.

That fall, I returned to school and completed my thesis "Conversations Wit De Churen II: All My Churen". Two years later, it was reviewed in the New York Times by Holland Cotter. Click here to read the review.

Amazing things happened from this point on.....

WHERE ARE WE (da Churen) NOW?

To celebrate ten years of "Conversations Wit De Churen", I have created and dedicated two episodes of "Melody Set Me Free 2012" to the Churen series. With the drama unfolding primarily through telephone conversations, like all the previous installments, but centered around a new set of characters, here is the first of the two, Episode 2.8 "Conversations Wit de Churen, pt. 1" ("Melody Set Me Free 2012").

James Franco on WhoSay

Hope you enjoy!!! Hope we are still relevant ten years from now!