in conversation with Billi London-Gray

Can you describe where you are while writing this and what you can see from your window?

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, writing from an iPad. My cat Chuck Norris is sleeping on the table in front of me. Out the window, it’s a sunny summer day in my backyard. I can see birds flying around, squirrels digging in the dirt, and trees swaying in the breeze. I can hear the swells and ebbs of cicadas buzzing. 

What is your chosen medium for recording your Landlinks work?

I made a video with narration and music for Landlinks.

What and who is the 'driving' force or major influence for your work?

American culture — most importantly, the ideal of equality, and how we do and don’t live up to it here — is the thing I’m constantly looking at and thinking about. 

You work in a variety of different mediums...and working methodologies may differ. How important is research and experimentation to your work and can you outline some of your working processes for us?

Research and experimentation is critically important for me, both conceptually and materially, because I have not specialized in one medium or a relatively static subject. Plus, I like to learn. I do a lot of tinkering and making things that are not art to get circuitously to art. I spend a lot of time observing and thinking and messing around aimlessly with materials, which inevitably leads to specific ideas for pieces or series. When I get an idea for a piece, I sketch it up and start targeted research. Do I need more background information and context? Do I have the funds to make this or do I need to back burner it until I can get a grant? Do I need to develop a new skill to work with a meaningful material? Do I need to invent something that’s a one-off, or does it need to be repeatable? Do I need to get other people involved because I don’t have the skills to do the thing in my head? Once I have a clear idea, I turn on the crack focus and execute it. But the vast majority of my creative time is spent wandering around.
With my piece for Landlinks, for example, I did the synchronized walk in March, collected a lot of digital materials thinking vaguely that I’d make a sound collage or video, and then didn’t look at them for a couple months because life intervened. Once I sat down with dedicated time to work on the project, I did everything — came up with the specific concept, storyboard, script, sound composition and recording, editing — in about a week. 

Can you talk a bit about walking and the importance of walking in/to your work?

Walking is what makes me feel grounded and present, which is necessary to make art that I think is worth anything to me or the world. Walking is intrinsically rewarding; it doesn’t require anything special; it doesn’t need to be efficient or productive; it’s a way of resetting my feelings and thoughts with the world outside my own little bubble. I supposed if I couldn’t walk, I would say, more specifically, that moving through the world, feeling the air, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds, slowly looking at things, encountering other people and creatures — all that sensory engagement makes me feel grounded and present. It’s important to my work in two ways: first, just for thinking and wandering, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, and second, for closely observing signs of equality and inequality in the world with my own eyes.

What do you think about when walking?

I think about everything or nothing when I’m walking. Depends on the context of the walk. I know that’s a non-answer answer, but I’m not disciplined in how I use my headspace while I’m walking.

You are part of the Landlinks project and the synchronised walk that took place April. We would love to hear your feedback on this networking initiative and your resulting creative response to that walk

I did the synchronized walk in March. I haven’t taken advantage of the networking opportunity but I am encouraged to know that there are numerous other artists, writers and creative people out there who value walking as part of their creative processes. I live in a car-based culture where many people do not savor walking, and I haven’t found many other artists who think being able to walk around in the world is a big deal. (Or rather, I hadn’t prior to the Covid lockdown.)

Do you collaborate with other artists or groups? If so who and why?

I am part of a collective, Sister Death, with three other artists: Marcela Reyes, Holly D. Gray, and Christine Adame. We collaborate on events, games, installations, and daily little actions, like texting encouragement and sharing resources, that promote equality. 

Landscape and the environment are both important areas of creative exploration to you. With current concerns about our environment, how do you see your role as an artist?

As an artist, I think it is my job to say, “Hey, look! We’re taking this for granted! A check is in order!” I hope my work prods people to consider what they take for granted and check what they assume against other people’s viewpoints and reality.

Can you describe your favourite place and why?

That’s hard to say, because different places are valuable to me for different reasons. I love Big Bend (a region of the Chihuahuan Desert in Texas), because it is so open and beautiful. When I am there, I am consumed by it, and I forget about everything else. I love my parents’ house, my grandmother’s house, and my in-laws’ house, because they are tender places filled with complex people and complex histories. 

The Covid 19 is having a massive impact on so many lives. Are you able to say what effect it is having on your working/creative life and what you have planned once Covid 19 retreats?

I can’t wrap my head around all the changes from Covid-19. My plans are to hug my grandmother first, then every other member of my family, then all my friends as soon as I can do so with a clear conscience.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading “Other People’s Children” by Lisa Delpit. 

Do you consider your work political?

Yes, but I also see almost everything In the context of politics. It saturates life here, so that looking at the world is inevitably political. Botanical drawings of plant species in my neighborhood would be political. I live in a suburb, so that content would be related to the building of white wealth in suburbs, the values cultivated in suburbs, native versus imported and invasive species, the tradition of botanical painting and drawing in relation to colonialism, and how my own values are implicated. If I observe uses of land, it’s political. If I observe changes in a place over time, it’s political. What are all the names of a place? Political. Who’s present? Who’s absent? Who’s gazing where? Is anything being appropriated? Is the art for sale? Is the art de-commodified? All political. For that matter, regardless of content, it seems like simply identifying as an artist is a political act in a world where most people identify themselves primarily by what they get paid to be.  

And a question from Billi...who asks for answers from you:
How are walking artists/writers/creatives involved with the larger field of contemporary art and/or political dialog in your area?
How does the public get involved with walking artists?


Billi's website: