Kandis Williams’s versatile practice spans collage, performance, assemblage, publishing, and curating. Her work explores and deconstructs critical theory, addressing issues of race, nationalism, authority, and eroticism. Her meticulously compiled collages are densely layered, both in structure— through repetition of forms and figures—and in content, with an emphasis on politically loaded and libidinal images. Often inspired by history painting, these works are composed of images culled from magazines and archival texts, placed into an unsettling interplay. Williams considers these collages as a disintegration of photographic value into layered schematics.
Similarly, Williams’s performance practice explores coded social choreographies, emphasizing structural and systemic violence. In her performances, disembodied segments of text become collages, making up scripts for her performers. Through this process she proposes what she calls experimental pedagogy, a “consumption of academic texts that have a nondiscursive output, an affective output that mythifies—weaving what kinds of knowledge are immediately relatable to an individual with the creation of a paradigm of thought.”
The new large-scale collage works on view here are the result of Williams’s research in The Huntington’s various collections, with a particular focus on the history, discovery, and nomenclature of so-called invasive species. Each collage is a portrait of either a member of one of these species or an adventurer-botanist, a type that Williams describes as a “collector of the natural who then assigns it value as currency.” Her compositions consider the difference, from a botanical standpoint, between icons and indexicality in the representation of new plants. Indeed the criterion for making an icon (which Williams is following as a model for her portraits) is to depict a subject surrounded by an ecosystem of the other natural things that relate to it. In looking at a wide variety of plant life, she homed in on invasive species since they have been stigmatized through their classification as invasive but are now being reconsidered and relabeled as “successful,” indeed resilient, as vehicles for the preservation of other species that are at risk of going extinct. Through these portraits of a plant, an adventurer-botanist named Maria Sibylla Merian, and the fictional character who founded Jurassic Park, Williams considers the colonial narratives of appropriation and instrumentalization and employs these plants as an analogy for contemporary cultural practices. In addition to these collage works, Williams’s Cassandra Press has produced a textual accompaniment to the exhibition in the form of a reader. This bound collection of images and writings contextualizes these collages and is available through Cassandra Press online.
In Made in L.A. 2020: a version, the artist's work is present in two institutions, across Los Angeles. See Kandis Williams's work on view at the Hammer.
Kandis Williams was born in 1985 in Baltimore. She studied at the Cooper Union School of Art. Her practice spans collage, performance, writing, publishing, and curating, and it often explores and deconstructs critical theory around race, nationalism, authority, and eroticism. In 2016 she cofounded Cassandra, a publishing project that she runs with the artists Taylor Doran and Jordan Nassar, which produces lo-fi activist and academic texts, flyers, posters, pamphlets, and Williams’s Readers series. Her ongoing collage practice seems to function as a catalyst and container for work in other mediums, such as choreography, performance, and pedagogy. The collages are built in a very dense manner, both in structure—through repetitive forms—and in content—through intense and highly libidinal images. Williams describes the imagery she produces as a disintegration of photographic value into layered schematics. Her performance practice has explored the way socioeconomic and cultural descriptors are embodied in coded social choreographies. Williams’s choreography pulls out ethical paradoxes produced by affects elicited from moving bodies by structural and systemic violence. Within her performance practice, slices of texts become collages that make up the scripts for the performers. With this process Williams proposes what she calls experimental pedagogy, a “consumption of academic texts that has a non-discursive output, an affective output that mythifies—weaving what kinds of knowledge are immediately relatable to an individual with the creation of a paradigm of thought.” She is currently a visiting faculty member at California Institute of the Arts.