New York artist India Salvor Menuez is co-founder of the Luck You Collective, a young crew of artists who organise art shows, run zine workshops and make news with their thought-provoking performances.
India Salvor Menuez lives in a walk-up apartment in deep Chinatown, between raucous vegetable stands and bail bond agents. Along with a cat named Peony and an artist boyfriend called Jack Shannon, she occupies three small rooms filled with curiosities: sculptures made of broom handles and bras, a shrine filled with child’s sunglasses and doll parts. India’s world harkens back to the New York described by Patti Smith in Just Kids: a dicey playground for creative spirits. Unabashedly multi-hyphenate, India acts, models and makes art. Over tea, she shows me zines that she’s made with friends over the years. There are several from Luck You, the collective she co-founded while still in high school, and a small pink one from the Gyno Landscape show curated by her friend Petra Collins. With her long red hair parted in the middle, India feels quite like the mysterious American bohemian she played in Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas’ film about art and politics in 70s Europe. Yet she’s more sprightly than that character and endlessly curious. India’s own work takes many forms, but she has recently moved into performance and movement. We sat in small chairs and chatted about art and the city with Peony purring at our feet.
"I'm hitting art from both sides of the brain. I saw my fairy godmother the other day. We were talking about the future and I was stressed out, and she said, ‘Just remember you’re a witch.’ It was so cool to hear her say that in such a chill way."
I watched a video on your Tumblr where you were sort of dancing...
Sort of dancing! Basically I always thought of myself as just an artist, but that could mean anything. The more I’ve stepped into filmmaking, acting or writing for film, suddenly I’m presented in the spotlight as an actress, which ties into modelling really easily and that’s something I’ve always done for money. It felt like a natural thing to start thinking about performance art. I think a big part of that is movement and dance. Such a crazy world.
What’s it like living with another artist?
It’s good and bad, hard and fun. Because I don’t go to school for art anymore, I sometimes miss the peer feedback of an academic environment. So, living with someone who was a friend for years and has seen my creative journey, he can be like, “This reminds me of something you were doing back then.” It’s nice to have someone to be in creative dialogue with that you respect.
It’s like a 24/7 workshop.
Yeah! There are sculptures in the bedroom. If you go into the bathroom there’s this bent-up ironing board and this wire I brought home one night. We both fight our collector sides. If you saw my first studio apartment, it was three girls, a cat and a rat, and five times as much clothing. Here there are always little objects that we play with, we have these found sculptures that we’re altering or moving around, or he’ll make something and I’ll photograph it.
What is your creative community like?
I’m really excited, tomorrow night we’re having a Luck You meeting here. It’s been a really sporadic thing, because where each of us individually is now versus where we were when Luck You started is really far. Me and my friend Julian Bennett-Holmes put on a big group show one night when I was 15 years old, and that was the first show, and it was five years ago.
“There’s so much inspiration in New York, but so much trying to squash you. It’s not worth getting upset about: if you don’t want to live in New York, don’t live in New York. There are always going to be bright-eyed beautiful people running around trying to do something new here.”
How have you changed since you were 15?
Well, now I’m financially independent, I’m still trying to figure out what that means. I’ve decided to be a performance artist; it’s like a weird thing to do.
Are there any performance artists that you like?
I really like Cosey Fanni Tutti. I’m interested in Chris Burden and the stuff that Genesis P-Orridge does. Also, a lot of musicians who tread the line, like Björk. And Marina Abramovic, I think she’s done really incredible work.
Do you feel a kinship with other New York artists from the past?
I wouldn’t go into naming too many in particular, but certainly. I know that New York is different now than it was before, but at the same time I think there’s a certain energy that continues. I grew up between Park Slope and Chinatown. But definitely there’s a kinship with other artists who continue to work here. There’s so much inspiration, but at the same time there’s so much trying to squash you. It’s not worth getting upset about: if you don’t want to live in New York, don’t live in New York. There are always going to be all these bright-eyed beautiful people running around, trying to do something new here.
What do you like about Chinatown specifically?
Visually, it’s really lush to me. Also as much as I say I don’t care that the city’s changing, Chinatown’s a little harder to change. Even though I’m really against shitty plastic toys, I can spend a whole day walking around 99 cent stores, and be so inspired but so disgusted at the same time. Also, I like being around people speaking a language I don’t understand, it gives me a little bit of headspace.
“Ever since I was little I believed in stuff beyond what I could see. You could just call that having an imagination, but I believe it’s how I manifest all of my dreams... ”
What else are you working on?
I’m really excited because I was just in Iceland with my friend filming this movie that we’ve been working on for three years, which I co-wrote. We were in India for a month last year and then Iceland for a few weeks, and now she’s editing it in Japan. It’s a fantasy film. Iceland is supposed to be the idea of the moon.
Where do you think your interest in fantasy comes from?
I’m hitting art from both sides of the brain. I used to be really into math and science in school, I was a bit of a nerd. I was into quantum physics and all the strange magic that exists there. All of the ideas that an intuitive mind might come up with can be proven on a microscopic scientific level. I saw my fairy godmother the other day. We were talking about the future and I was stressed out, and she was like, “Just remember you’re a witch.” It was so cool to hear her say that in a chill way, just a casual thing to say. Ever since I was little I believed in stuff beyond what I could see. You could also just call that having an imagination, but I believed so much in it and how to manifest all of my dreams.
What would be your dream project, assuming you have superpowers and no limitations whatsoever?
Something interactive. I would want to create a really dreamlike context. It would be somewhere with really special food and architecture and beautiful art on the walls. Creating an ideal context for creative interaction. It’s really funny, I have the space in mind. It’s this old abandoned firehouse with a garden.
It sounds doable.
I don’t shoot too far. I always think that the next step you make can only be from where you’re standing now.