Dakota Gearhart is the progeny of a philosophizing mechanic and a feminist director. Identifying as a bisexual mermaid, her practice in video, projection, and installation deconstruct hierarchical value systems of desire and consumption. Dakota has exhibited at the Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; On The Ground Floor, Los Angeles, FalseFront, Portland; Vulpes Vulpes, London; and Taiyuan Normal University Gallery, Shanxi. She is the recipient of the Artist Trust Project Grant, the 4Culture Individual Project Grant, and is currently a fellow in the AIM Program at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. She received her BFA from Florida State University and her MFA from the University of Washington. She lives and works out of a decomposing cement box in the Pacific Northwest.
I moved to the Northwest because John Mann recommended a grad school to me called the University of Washington. I took him up on his advice and I got accepted. I’ve been out of grad school for three years now and it’s been so important to stay in the city that I graduated in, to work with other artists and give and take from the collaboration that’s happening in the city. Yet, I continue the conversation elsewhere by doing residencies and fellowships. I’m in New York now. I’m going to Portland in August.
I also make as much work as I can. Coming out of grad school, I was scared I would stop making art because a lot of people I knew were going to or were talking about it. It’s really hard to make art, so I just started scheduling myself, committing to shows and saying yes to things. Before I knew it I had a lot of stuff lined up. I was just so nervous that I was going to get depressed and overwhelmed from grad school and stop working, so I forced myself to be really proactive.
I call Tallahassee my spiritual home because I feel that at Florida State I was really encouraged to dig deep into meaning. My mentors, Paul Rutkovsky, John Mann, and Pat Ward Williams, really challenged me to make something honest and to be soulful with the work. And the creative community that nurtured those teachings was the BFA warehouse; a once in a lifetime experience of young artists playing and working under one roof 24 hours a day. Generally, up here in Seattle, it’s more of a minimalist, intellectual, cold hard logic and it’s so different than how I experienced academia in the South, where it feels more like a continuous search for the rusty edge of depth. It’s romantic and there’s also a warm, gothic narrative. Florida State essentially prepared me to look inside my own heart and mind and figure out what I wanted to put out into the world. Grad school taught me how to present it.
Don’t self-isolate. Try to reach out and spend time with other artists. Artists need each other and nobody makes it alone. I used to think that being alone was really romantic and deep, and it is, but there’s also really something deep about connecting with a group of people who are going through the same struggles and sharing the same desire to be a good artist. The more we get to know people that are creative, the more supportive we become of each other. Some people look down on it and see it as networking and capitalism at work, and in some ways it is, but it’s much more meaningful than that. It’s connecting with your people in the world who are on the same wavelength. For me, this is much more valuable than money or fame.