A.J. McClenon

AJ McClennon

“He Kind of Skips Over Me” still, courtesy of AJ McClenon

Black Water: Polarity

Multimedia Performance


Black Water: Polarity examines an unreported, long-term (approx. 1989-2001) gasoline spill that occurred in McClenon’s childhood neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Through video and sound performances that include news articles, narrative and poetic texts along with instrumental, electronic sound, and the sounds of echoes and breathing, Black Water works through the reality that a predominantly black neighborhood had to prove the negative effects of the gas spill with biological evidence wherein the end resources were unavailable to secure such proof.

Black Water also highlights the cultural and historical consequences of black people not being allowed to swim in swimming pools, delving into personal interviews and the 2015 McKinney Texas Pool Party incident. Another component of Black Water looks into the Lead Contamination Control Act hearing (HR2840) of 1991, held in Washington, DC.

Black Water: Polarity works with movement and performance collaborators alongside scripted writing, composed music, and live improvisational sound. Performers will work with both written material and choreographed movement, responding to one another through repetitive action and sound.  Inspired by elements of theatre, modern and popular dance, personal stories, and historical events and circumstances. These elements of performance and movement speak to science, water contamination in black communities, the Atlantic slave trade and the historical segregation of swimming pools in the US.

The project is influenced by the polarity of water and its resulting properties, delving into the tensions between the existence of water within our biological and historical selves and the water around us within and outside of our environments.

Artist Statement

With my work as a whole, I set personal narratives alongside empirical data, leveling the hierarchies of truth. There are some instances where truth is relative and there are instances where the relativity of truth becomes dangerous. Where systems are created to speak to and to “educate” the masses with what the powers-that-be, deem as valuable or factual truth. This authoritative truth often does not reflect or the lived experiences of underrepresented communities.

I am greatly influenced by the sonic vibrations of cities. As a young person I spent a lot of time at home, hearing the sounds of the outside world, of the buzzing TV seeping in through the walls blending what is public and private. With housing close together and sometimes close to major streets and traffic, sound travels: voices, the news coming from Barbara Walters from a neighbor’s T.V., radio playlists from passing cars and nature come together.  Nature often times prevailing. The sound of barking dogs or the bird’s nest that was right outside of my bedroom window in my grandmother’s D.C. home. I’m deeply interested in the collaging of sound using non-linear narratives, T.V. and radio interviews and popular and underground music. I’m very interested today in information brought into the home through music, text and overheard news.

Artist Bio

AJ McClenon

Photo by Ally Almore

Originally from Washington D.C, A.J. McClenon grew up in “D.C. proper,” Baltimore and New York during the administrations of Reagan, Clinton, and Bush. A.J.’s work sets personal narratives alongside empirical data, leveling the hierarchies of truth. A.J. holds a Masters in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in creative writing from the University of Maryland College Park. A.J. has also studied at Eugene Lang College. A.J. has performed and shown work throughout the US, at institutions including Steppenwolf, The Promontory, Woman Made Gallery, Echo Park Film Center, Chicago Filmmakers, Fine Art Complex 1101, and Longwood Arts Center. A.J. is currently a co-organizer of Beauty Breaks, an intergenerational beauty and wellness workshop series for black people along the spectrum of femininity.  A.J. is also a co-founder of F4F, a domestic venue that cultivates a femme community, centers blackness, and expands upon understandings of what domestic space can be.


Beauty Breaks