We had the good fortune of connecting with Denise Prince and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Denise, can you share a quote or affirmation with us?
I’ve been captivated by an Existentialist concept for months because it ties a bow on my aspirations and mirrors a quality in my most beloved work. Found in Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Ethics of Ambiguity, the concept is roughly, Freedom is effort over time, with lack. I understand it to mean that freedom is a commitment. It is not attainable as an end but since it is over time, it is the road. So, true freedom is a commitment to a path and that path as freedom in action – attained but only with lack. Lack, in this sense, I understand (from the book) to be rooted in human’s awareness of mortality. An easier way to understand it is that we are not Gods. There is no being for us, only existence, and implicit in that is a deep awareness of what we are NOT. I have long felt like one of the most difficult jobs of being an adult is knowing the difference between what is real and what isn’t. The great news is that by embracing lack we take something that can seem frightening and fold it into the only elegant thing we can do knowing we will die, to live fully and to love what IS instead of what we wish life were. I’m just gripped by the ways the concept creates value from what one is willing to suffer for. The concept embraces all of what life is and I dunno, it’s like life itself, endlessly unfurling before me such that I feel very alive within what it offers.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m mostly known for my photography and secondly, film/video work. I make saturated, heavily-styled art that uses the commercial visual language. It is playful, even when it offers fantasies that bring in a good deal of a real life normally left out of the conversation. My work has always mostly centered on subtle and complicated aspects of being a woman. I’ve faced moments where I’ve realized projects were not being embraced as I expected and instead of giving up found myself giving more to it, committing more fully. Those moments can be exhilarating / terrifying and by continuing, I had the chance to develop the work and to grow as a person.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love the Rothko Chapel and a sunrise viewing of the James Turell sunrise light sequence at Rice University (closed apparently during the pandemic). If you aren’t familiar with it, it is an art piece, a light sequence projected onto the ceiling of a pavilion that you see juxtaposed to the changing light in the sky through an aperture in the roof. Of course, sunset is also nice but this is my itinerary. I would also go to the Station Museum, the MFAH (they have one of my photographs in their collections!), the Menil and the Art Car Museum!!!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Charles Merward is a clinical philosopher and (my) psychoanalyst who turned my face towards the fire of enlightenment even when I thought I was terrified to behold it and has, by example, reminded me that I could choose to organize myself around ethics. My gratitude is centered around his listening to me speak, without editing myself, for year after year, at one point five days a week. That alone, the sheer amount of time he has patiently listened to me is outstanding. There is a lot of complaining and general inelegance in the process. And how he has met all that I am with grace, intelligence and love for humanity staggers me.