Local Artist Duo Selected for Prestigious Tito’s Prize

Ariel René Jackson will collaborate with Michael J. Love this fall

“The AURALVISUAL MIXTAPE Collection, Part II: DOPE FIT!” Live Performance Still, 2019 (Courtesy of Michael J. Love. Photo by Uli García Vela.)

Ariel René Jackson was pleasantly startled when it was announced that they had won the coveted Tito’s Prize in a last-minute Zoom meeting. They joked, “it was a bit of an ambush. It showed me that I don’t do well with surprises.”

The award, which includes a $15,000 stipend from Tito’s Handmade Vodka and an exhibition at Big Medium, will allow Jackson to produce the first iteration of a three-part project entitled, “We are the [Hackers], Baby, [Hackers] are we," with longtime collaborator Michael J. Love.

The artist first met Love in 2017 at a meeting of the Black Graduate Student Association at the University of Texas, and they quickly formed what would become a lasting creative partnership. The two maintain their own separate art practices – Jackson as a sculptor and video artist and Love as a professional tap dancer – but they share a common interest in performance, particularly as a way to explore constructs of Blackness and queerness in American life. Their work together has been presented in venues across the United States, including at the 2020 SXSW Conference, but this show will be the first time they have exhibited at an art space in Austin. Love affirmed that “it’s great to be recognized in your community.”

“Lesson Disruption” Mixed media, 2015 (Courtesy of Ariel René Jackson)

While remaining largely elusive about the upcoming exhibition, the duo shared a few intriguing details. The installation will include a three-channel video piece where the artists, as their alter-egos Confuserella and Babé, will illustrate “a futuristic location where Black America's history of agriculture and tap dance merges to create a transformative landscape.” The videos will later appear in the second and third iterations of the series, which will eventually include elements of live performance.

As the two artists are considering the exhibition of their work at the Big Medium, located in a gentrified area of the historically Black East Austin neighborhood, they want to privilege the experiences of Black visitors and create work that ultimately serves a healing purpose for this community. “I'm very focused on us creating something that is not harmful to Black people, regardless of how many non-black people are in the space witnessing us,” says Jackson. This informs their choice to address racialized experiences through a science-fictional lens; they hope this approach will “give a Black audience reprieve and to bring Black joy into a space that is built on top of Black demise.”

Jackson and Love consider their work to be celebratory of the resilience of diasporic and LGBTQ+ communities. “All of [our work] is wrapped up in the experiences that we both have as being not only Black, but also queer and on that spectrum," says Jackson. "We’re thinking about the doors that are closed to us and the doors that we have to envision for ourselves.” With the support provided by the Tito’s Prize, these creators can begin to actualize and share these expansive visions. In a matter of months, the artists will transform the walls of Big Medium into a rich, speculative landscape, and all will be welcomed to explore its depths.

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Tito's Prize, Big Medium, Ariel René Jackson, Michael J. Love

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