Moses Sumney On the Beauty of Present: “There's nothing that says, ‘I am here now' more than nature”

By Gabrielle Pharms | February 2, 2022

Multi-disciplinary artist Moses Sumney has always considered himself a storyteller first. Though Sumney’s music – specifically his 2020 critically-acclaimed two-part album Græ – has been at the forefront of his career, he’s in a position now to take his storytelling to a new frontier. “I think as an artist I have a story to tell. I find that every story requires its own specific medium, and there might be a different set of tools and a different box of language needed to tell each respective story,” Sumney tells EDITION. “As the years have gone by, I've needed more language to express more ideas, and the visual medium came naturally out of creating music videos and directing. The music and the visual art are deeply connected, but at the same time, I'm trying to find ways for them to stand on their own.”

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So, in alignment with his artistic vision, Sumney made his auteur debut with the live performance film Blackalachia during Art Basel at the Perez Art Museum in partnership with UTA. Additionally, from February 3-March 5, 2022, he will showcase the film alongside his first-ever series of photographs at Nicola Vassell Gallery in New York City. Blackalachia will be shown on loop amid a gallery of photographic prints, primarily self-portraiture and documentarian style, taken around the time the film was shot last year.

See more: Nicola Vassell's Eponymous Gallery Showcases a Diverse Array of Talent

His initial introduction to the art world took place in 2021 with the debut of an experiential audiovisual installation, technoechophenomena, presented by Pioneer Works. However, merely two years ago, Sumney ordered a vintage film camera during the lockdown and began exploring photography more in-depth. He states, “I was advised if I wanted to be a better director to get into photography. Then, I was like, ‘Oh, that's perfect,’ because I've always thought of myself as a photographer who didn't take pictures, but I was already thinking photographically because I had been directing videos and making treatments and pulling images and mood boarding for years and years. It all just started to feel really natural to photograph.”

Just as Sumney’s musical work dashes genre definitions to pieces while bringing people together through an ethereal soundscape, his visual art evokes introspection in otherworldly beauty. Blackalachia explores the natural world and self-reflection. “I am addressing what it feels like to be alive now. There's nothing that says, ‘I am here now’ more than nature. Nature is something that I am incredibly interested in. I feel so honored and humbled by its presence, and I try to situate myself in it as much as possible, both personally but also in my artistic practice,” Sumney says.

Among some of the standout clips from the film is “Bystanders (in space).” The performance was shot by one camera in one take. “That moment in the film was important for me because so much happens in the film. I'm on the stage, and I'm in the forest. The whole point of making the film for me is to say, ‘Yo, I'm really doing this shit live,” Sumney says. “I'm really singing, and nothing communicates skill in a film more than a long one take. You get what you get. So, that was such an important moment because I wanted to do as they say, ‘stand flatfooted and sing.’” In the performance, Sumney is standing on a small spinning platform. He adds, “I really just wanted to feel like a star in space, and the camera is a planet rotating around it. It made sense because the song is talking about being a standalone individual. There's such an incredible loneliness that I address in a lot of my work, and I wanted to try to create a visual metaphor for that.”

For Sumney, creating art is essential as a signifier of his life. “To make art is to create a record of existence, and I think that it's important for me to make a record of my existence. And I make that record for myself,” he mentions. “Then, when I go to release the work, that's when I think of the audience. I think what I want them to know is that I existed, and ‘I’ means that there was someone existing in a Black body flirting and indulging with the alternative, and with the in-between, and with the abject.”

While music may not be Sumney’s current focus, fans can expect even more visual art through photography and potentially in the fashion realm. “My goal is to continue to make work in an interdisciplinary fashion – which means to explore stuff outside of music. I want to take more pictures, and I want to share more of my photography, which is why I'm so glad the Nicola Vassell show is happening,” Sumney adds. “I want to do more stuff in fashion, and when I do return to music, doing so in a way that feels experimental to me, which means just like trying new shit that sounds different than what I've done before.”

Photography by: Moses Sumney; Corrado Amenta for Onkei Photography/Courtesy UTA.