INTERSECTIONALITY IN THE STUDIO: Fontaine Capel
Fig. 2: Fontaine Capel, Open Studio, 2019, Installation documentation, 9 x 14 ft. Courtesy the artist.
Recently a stranger in an expensive suit walked into my studio and asked: “What am I looking at?”
He was looking at a life-sized model of a Brooklyn stoop. It was the entrance to the Park Slope apartment building where my mother and her sibling grew up, where my grandparents taught me to roll my Rs while my parents worked, the home my immigrant family had rented for over half a century until they were displaced by developers and replaced with high-paying tenants.
Had he climbed the stoop, the man could have looked down Harlem’s West 125th Street at subway tracks, traffic, a vacant McDonalds, and a brand new Columbia University building. He could have listened to a series of Harlemites’ anonymous voice messages lamenting Columbia’s plan to demolish the McDonalds and replace it with a university-owned hotel. Or recounting the history of the school’s shameful relationship with the neighborhood. Or a voice saying, simply, “I hope you get what you deserve.”
His question made me feel like a weary double-agent. I could have told him he was looking at stoop, a threshold, a contested, liminal space. But to explain what he was actually looking at I would have to reveal my true identities. Admit my own liminality.
My identities are slippery. I’m a child of Latinx immigrants who can be both racialized and white-passing. I grew up working-class but speak with private-school diction. My sexuality is assumed often and incorrectly. I’ve both been affected by and perpetuated gentrification. I’m validated by institutions and crushed by student debt. I’ve lived my life code-switching and respectability politicking just to survive in spaces that continue to invite me in, but neglect to support me once I’ve arrived.
It feels like each object I make, performance I endure, open call I put out, or project I run is an exercise in asking and answering the same long-simmering questions. I’m a culture worker whose identities—and allegiances—are not easily guessed, and who continues to be beckoned through gates by their keepers. So how should I take up space? In this moment, in this institution? How much? How forcefully? What emotions can I afford to show? How much of a mess can I afford to make, and with how much abandon? Where do my responsibilities to explain and represent begin and end? How can I continue to make space for others, and how much should I hold for myself?
Fontaine Capel is an interdisciplinary artist and organizer born, raised, and working in New York City. She is a current MFA candidate at Columbia University.