T.J. Dedeaux-Norris is not a filmmaker by trade, but for the past decade has been gathering footage for an evolving project.
When they participated in an informational session about the Iowa Artist Fellowship Program, one example was about an artist finishing a film and taking it to a festival.
That’s exactly what Dedeaux-Norris needed to do.
And that’s exactly what they’ll get to do.
Dedeaux-Norris is one of three Iowa City recipients of $10,000 grants from the Iowa Artist Fellowship Program. There are five recipients for this particular grant, with the others artist recipients based in Dubuque and Grinnell.
The program is designed to support creatives who show “commitment to advancing their artistic practices at a pivotal moment in their careers,” according to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
The Press-Citizen interviewed the three Iowa City recipients to learn more about their work and what audiences can expect to see.
T.J. Dedeaux-Norris: Film arises out of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation
T.J. Dedeaux-Norris is an associate professor at the University of Iowa in painting and drawing, and an interdisciplinary artist whose recent work includes a solo exhibition at the Figge Art Museum and a visual LP titled “Still (a) Life.”
Dedeaux-Norris was invited to Prospect New Orleans triennial 10 years ago. After graduate school at Yale, they wanted to make work about the Mississippi region post-Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that devastated parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and remains one of the deadliest hurricanes to hit the country, according to the National Weather Service.
But their work evolved into both wanting to make a film about life after the hurricane and their life navigating three worlds: academia, art and their roots as “a girl from Mississippi.”
Dedeaux-Norris made a film less than a decade ago, one that was more installation art than something that could stand on its own, they said.
“Then after making that film, life changes and happens and I realized the film constantly needed updating,” they said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, OK, I’m a filmmaker — sort of — making an ongoing film that actually evolves and gets re-contextualized every couple of years based on events.’”
Events such as the death of her mother and grandmother, who were captured in earlier iterations of the film, or a global pandemic. With more than a decade’s worth of new events, the footage and content has unsurprisingly evolved.
“(There’s) a lot of really tough topics about types of systematic oppression, like, ‘What does it mean for my family to suffer Hurricane Katrina and then for me to be living in Cedar Rapids and go through the derecho,’ and finding a connected line to these events and my history and my family’s history,” Dedeaux-Norris said.
Viewers get a chance to see Dedeaux-Norris’ life and experiences over the course of years, but so does Dedeaux-Norris themself. For example, they reflected on the visible exhaustion captured on camera their younger self faced in the midst of career opportunities, but also the healing and physical strength they’ve shown since.
Their new goal is to go back through the film and transform it into a few short films and premiere it through a festival.
It’ll be an opportunity for Dedeaux-Norris to see the work they have dedicated so much time, resources and money into to reach a new audience and share a story she believes is more universal.
The film has been presented alongside her other artistic work in museum or gallery settings, but that setting meant that audiences could engage, and disengage, with it in a handful of minutes while observing their other work.
“I want somebody to know that they’re going into watch a film … with the expectation that they will stay from the beginning to the end. That’s crazy for me, but I’m excited to allow that process to take place,” Dedeaux-Norris said.
DJ Savarese: Arftul activist and poet looking to find audience in Iowa
David James Savarese is an artful activist, public scholar, writer and teacher.
He grew up in Grinnell and graduated from Oberlin College in 2017. He lives in Iowa City.
The writer has published poems including in the Seneca Review and is the author of “A Doorknob for the Eye” and a collection of poems forthcoming from Nine Mile Books.
He co-produced and narrated “Deej: Inclusion Shouldn’t be a Lottery,” which explores how Savarese, who is autistic and communicates through nontraditional ways, has dealt with his past and the “paralyzing beauty of his own senses.”
For the purpose of this article, Savarese shared documents he’s written about himself and his work to the Press-Citizen to discuss more about his interest in the Iowa Artist Fellowship Program.
Savarese calls himself an artful activist. The term refers to creative forms of resistance, he said. Another definition, from the Center for Artistic Activism, is to combine the “creative power of the arts to move us emotionally with the strategic planning of activism necessary to bring about social change.”
He likes to explore creative forms of resistance because of how they “allow us, not just to exist in the world we’re given, but to create new ways of being for and with ourselves and others,” he said.
Poetry, according to Savarese, offers the “closest alphabetic translation” to his experience because of its sensorial, metaphoric nature.
One form of poetry he is interested in is ekphrastic, the word stemming to a word in ancient Greece that meant the skill of describing a thing with vivid detail, according to the J. Paul Getty Museum.
“Seeing how coupling the visual (and) poetic opens people to hopeful, alternative ways of being, I sought out the works of those autistics — some nonspeaking, others not —who choose non-alphabetic forms of expression. Collectively, they invite us out into the field where the senses — not reason — have their season,” he said.
Within his poetry, Savarese incorporates “distinct and rare creatures from nature,” such as a Mandarin dragonet or a hickory-horned devil. Equally often, Savarese uses extended metaphors to find connections between seemingly different things, such as adoptive love and ice fishing, that when likening the human and nonhuman, refuses “to privilege the former over the latter.”
Savarese finds himself in a conundrum in that he is known nationally, not so much locally.
He said he wants to “re-root” himself here, but to do so, he needs financial advice to build a sustainable, community-based artful activism cooperative in Iowa City, reconnect with Iowa-based networks and learn how to promote his work in ways that may be unique to Iowa, particularly its rural communities.
“I wanted a chance to try out my poetry in Iowa,” he said. “Thus far, all my events have been elsewhere. And I wanted a way of reimagining more than simply writing as a way forward. I loved the public engagement aspect of the Arts Fellowship.”
Last year, Savarese taught multigenerational global poetry writing courses for beginners online, and collaborated with other poets and artists to focus on the artwork of Malcolm Corley.
Savarese likes helping people by bringing them together through poetry. With the grant, he can try that in Iowa and gauge if there’s enough interest to keep it going, he said.
Jennifer Colville: Writer looking to foster inventive female voices
An essay that caught national attention was confirmation for Jennifer Colville that the path she was on is the right one.
Colville is the founding editor of PromptPress, Porch Light Literary Center and Retreat in Iowa City, co-organizer of the Free Generative Writing Workshops and a writer.
Thanks to the Iowa Artist Fellowship Program, Colville will finish a few projects she had started.
That includes a novel, spun out of her collection of short stories “Elegies for Uncanny Girls” about young women fighting against the stifling roles of American girlhood, Colville said. In it is a story about a writing student who uses decorative detail to recount a professor seducing her, the very thing he advised her against using.
“It’s both about power dynamics and academic creative writing world and how those filter into what styles of writing you should or shouldn’t be using,” she said. “That’s sort of the launch point for the novel.”
Another project Colville has is a follow-up to an essay published in the Iowa Review in 2019 titled “White Ink and the Great American Macho,” an exploration of sexism, including in literature, which can be masked not only as the norm, but as brilliance.
This will expand upon the ideas about gendered language and form in hopes to guide female-identified writers seeking new, experimental ways to write about their experiences, she said.
It’s an interest that Colville has always had, she said. She grew up in a family of artists, a musician father and visual artist mother, and then started writing. That had an influence on Colville’s writing, writing that wasn’t “in vogue” as a college student in the 1990s, writing that was determined to be “overly feminine.”
Colville clarified that this is not to essentialize what is male or female, but rather that what is popular is deemed masculine.
In tandem with Colville’s work will be a virtual and in-person workshop at Porch Light to teach the inventive female voice as well as a monthly gathering for moms who are artists to present their works in progress, get feedback and foster connections and inspiration from each other.
“It can be very isolating to be a writer or artist mom. And I think maybe especially in Iowa, in a conservative state, where oftentimes motherhood is viewed as sort of your ultimate identity. … I think the pressures on moms over the pandemic has definitely increased,” she said. “The pressures of home-schooling and the lack of good child care, it’s been hard over the last two years. So I think we’re ready to come out and meet each other, support each other.”
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach her at PBarraza@press-citizen.com or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.