On Feb 5th 2011, I was on hand to sponsor Desiree D’Alessandro, an artist who turned her studio into a modest boxing training facility as part of the UCSB Art Department’s MFA Open Studios at Harder Stadium. There, she engaged in a public endurance session that lasted 4 hours, training incessantly for 2-minute rounds with 1-minute intervals. Patrons were surprised and intimidated by the noise that invariably contaminated the entire building: the rapid pound of a speed bag being worked and the grunts and slams of power combinations against the heavy bag. Many wondered just what exactly D’Alessandro was doing and how it related to an art context. In order to investigate this concern, we must review her artistic record, similar to how one would investigate a fighter.
D’Alessandro is a 25-year-old artist from Tampa, FL. She received her BFA degree in 2008 from the University of South Florida with a major in Electronic Media and minor in Art History/Critical Theory. D’Alessandro is currently pursuing a MFA degree from UCSB with an emphasis in New Genres. Simply stated, New Genres is a contemporary realm, arguably more complex and convoluted than the discernible or traditional art practices of the past. It is this realm where D’Alessandro hopes to develop her voice and actively contribute to discourses that are generative, relevant, and even unexpected.
With her latest work, Art in Athleticism: The Form and Physicality of Boxing, one could say that this subject matter aptly fits the description.
I met D’Alessandro in August 2010 while co-coaching boxing with Henry Calles, owner of Duke’s Boxing and Fitness Gym, Isla Vista, California. On that first day at the gym, she signed up and has since been training and exploring boxing as art. She has lost forty pounds and incorporates rigorous training to coincide with her graduate studies. D’Alessandro explains, “I want to explore the boundary where art meets athleticism and invite spectators from different arenas to converge and converse. I am interested in interaction, reception, and the questions and challenges the pursuit of boxing in an art context raises.”
D’Alessandro expressed that her work leading up to her current boxing exploration was also unconventional. “My interactive efforts have revolved around political and topical issues via a variety of platforms and sites, including the online forum of YouTube.” In regards to D’Alessandro’s YouTube work, her critical remix videos, or mashups. are a form of transformative production that subvert dominant media messages as instances of Fair Use. “In a way, it was an exercise in fighting back digitally and speaking against the powers that be,” explains D’Alessandro. Her remix works have had numerous screenings in New York and have also been reviewed online by formidable remix practitioners including Diran Lyons and PoliticalRemixVideo.com’s Jonathan McIntosh and Elisa Kreisinger.
“There came a point where I grew tired of the digital battle lines and desired a shift in my practice. I think that’s what drew me to boxing. I needed to get away from the computer and into a physical arena, where I could be more concerned with the physical act of hitting and getting hit, as opposed to worrying about how many ‘hits’ my YouTube Channel was getting.” D’Alessandro continued, “Since Rocky Balboa, It’s interesting how boxing is creeping back into people’s immediate vocabulary through FOX’s new series Lights Out and the recently released film The Fighter (2010), or Million Dollar Baby (2004). I was rewatching Fight Club (1999), and I think Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt, said it best: ‘How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?’ Rather than remix the answer, I’m trying to discover it first hand.”
Some could argue that D’Alessandro’s practice is fundamentally a reaction against the polished expectations of the art world and corresponding capital and rhetoric. With every jab-cross-hook combination, D’Alessandro conveys that talking is not enough. In response to a world that thinks it’s connected yet remains so disconnected, this is the farthest thing from Twitter you can get. With every punch, with every blow, with every violent contact, there is real contact. There’s nothing ethereal about it. D’Alessandro’s work also resonates politically in correspondence to current events in Egypt, Libya, and Iran where civilization is teetering on savagery. The arena is global, and we are all under threat. Get ready. Only the strong will survive. To this end, D’Alessandro’s practice is unapologetic and relentless.
D’Alessandro will host an exhibition in mid-April at UCSB’s Old Gym Gallery 479 that further explores boxing as art. Her collaborator, Raymond Douglas, will assist her efforts by photographing student boxers on campus that will then make a physical appearance during Gallery hours and use the exhibition space as a training facility to host an exhibition bout. Follow her work by going to her website desiree-dalessandro.com or via her blog at dalessandroart.blogspot.com.
In closing, I am very impressed with Desiree D’Alessandro’s continued improvement in the boxing ring, where I see her just about every day. I also treasure her sincerity and the honest bond we have developed outside the ring in just seven months. I wish her the best in her artistic endeavors and athletic ambitions. She has made me and others feel blessed just knowing that she is a friend.
Photo Credits: Troy David and Raymond Douglas