We had the good fortune of connecting with Stephanie Chisholm and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stephanie, how do you think about risk?
There is a particular thrill to risk, something enticing about diving into the unknown. Perhaps I’ve done this a bit too casually in my life; thrown caution to the wind to follow my heart and see what happens. Sometimes the result is a painful lesson filled with growth and humility; Sometimes it’s the best decision I could have made. There is a risk each artist makes in deciding to pursue their craft full time, but there is inherently more risk for those of us who fly. We train and practice to perfect, to learn to trust our bodies in new ways, to defy gravity, but each time our feet leave the ground we are taking a risk with ourselves. It’s calculated, which we minimize and manage with hours of training, conditioning and rehearsal, but a risk none the less. And then there is the question of how do I set up my life to make this work? Will this path I have chosen work in the end? There are pivotal moments where this question looms large and each decision feels like it will make or break my career. Yet there is no right answer. The only way I have found to navigate these moments is to trust my intuition, which often leads to a scary step forward. There have been lots of scary steps on my path and moments where I wasn’t sure how to continue. At times I have to slow down, recalibrate, shift my direction and keep going. The most terrifying and fulfilling step for me personally has been to uncover my own voice as an artist. To lean into being authentically myself, on stage, vulnerable and emotional, is terrifying. It flings open the door for criticism and judgement, inviting it in. But to be fully authentic and expressive is so freeing and exhilarating. For me creating art is about what I feel; what is important enough to create something that expresses that? Being that vulnerable is risky, but to uncover that place in myself that is wild, emotional and free is the best discovery I continue to make everyday.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I consider myself to be a body artist. What does that mean exactly? My body is my tool to make art- in the air and on the ground. I’ve been flying as an acrobat for the last 10 years, traveling the world with various circus & variety theater companies and spent many of those years in a duo aerial partnership. When I started working solo I began exploring other avenues of expression as well. I had done some nude photographic modeling previously but really began to explore this medium in a new way. I contacted photographers to work on collaborative projects and discovered that I loved exploring new ideas with other artists. I’ve always been very comfortable with nudity and find there is such vulnerability and power in the naked image. I want to capture the intrinsic beauty of the human condition- all of its fragility, messiness and imperfection. When I started working with photographers in this way, my aerial work changed as well. Whereas before I was more concerned with perfection, my work now has a component of rawness and emotion that distinguishes it apart. I feel most free when I am spinning wildly around in the air. It is a balance of control and chaos that I feel is most expressive and alive. I think my fascination with human fragility and vulnerability comes from my own experiences of heartbreak, failure and struggle. There have been many moments when the path in front of me came to an abrupt dead end; when I felt my life shatter around me. In these most desperate moments I have found myself by diving deeper into my artistic journey. Being broken to pieces has given me the freedom to understand what is truly important to me and allow me to rebuild my life in a completely new way; one that is more authentically me. The journey has not been easy at all and there have been some years that I’ve wanted to forget completely because they are filled with so much pain. From what I see we all have moments of absolute disaster; personal crises that derail plans and intentions and leave us gasping for air. But In sharing these moments, allowing someone else to see me in all my glorious mess, I have experienced the most intense love from friends and sometimes even strangers. For me, the power of human connection is in honest vulnerability. I want to make art that makes someone feel less alone in their struggle. Pain is such a universal human experience but I want to love others a little better by acknowledging and bringing to light my own internal struggle. I’ve put up a good front in my life before, feeling the need to present the best version of myself to the world and hide my messy parts. I’m trying to choose differently now. I want to show up and be seen exactly as I am, emotional, chaotic, silly, grateful, struggling, whimsical, and beautifully imperfect. Since the pandemic hit I’ve been experimenting with other mediums and expanding my vision for the future. Like many aerialists, I was grounded for the past few months, which left me searching for other ways to create and express myself. I felt this need very strongly as well as a desire to connect to the greater experience we are collectively having. I wanted to capture this unique moment; the fear, uncertainty, compassion and gratitude that ravaged me on a daily basis. This time felt so unstable, so impossible to define. One moment I’d be so grateful for all the little things I could still enjoy, the next I’d be devastated by the uncertainty and horror of the virus spreading around the world and all of those suffering and fighting for their lives. It now feels like a universe or two ago when humans ghosted into quarantine mode turning the streets of Miami into desolate spaces. During this time I was taking a night walk through the deserted streets of Miami listening to an improvised work by Henning Hoffmann and Thomas Steudel, two musicians from Germany. Fear and uncertainty pierced through me that night and I was struck by the solitude of the deserted city which is usually so vibrant and how fragile everything felt. My friend, Sten Garcia, and I went out at 5 am to film an art piece capturing the essence of the city in this unusual vulnerable state and the inner disquiet which shook us both. I am so grateful for the ability to create, especially now; to harness all of this emotion and turn it into something I can share with others experiencing the same thing. I believe that art can really save us from the darkest of places and connect us in ways that are beyond words. In this strange time we are living in I hope to find new ways of creating and sharing my own vulnerability and connecting with those who find solace in my work.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I love the little local places in Miami as well as the stunning outdoors the city has to offer. For a week long visitor I’d definitely start on south beach taking bikes around, swimming in the ocean and hitting up La Sandwicherie for lunch and a smoothie. Wynwood is definitely a go-to as well with a fun night at Lagniappe, which is my favorite spot in Miami. For the full Miami experience I love to go out sailing on Biscayne Bay. It’s an amazing way to see the city from the water and enjoy the natural beauty of the salt, wind and sea. There are so many great places for grabbings drinks and a bite but my personal favorites are Broken Shaker, Sweet Liberty & Soya e Pomodoro. However, in my opinion, the best way to spend an evening is grab a bottle of wine and a blanket and head out to the sand to listen to the waves and watch the lightning over the ocean in the summertime.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to give a shoutout to Rachel Walker, who has been an amazing support and inspiration on this journey! Rachel has always encouraged me to try new things, experiment and say yes. I’m really grateful for my time working with her.
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