Artist2Artist Conversations

Molly Jae Vaughan & Randy Ford aka Aísha Noir

In 2021 Art Matters was proud to launch a new regranting program titled Artist2Artist, where our grant recipients — artists — act as grant-makers. How does Artist2Artist shift moments of fracture and competition, to support the care networks artists want to build? In four Zoom recordings, we get a glimpse into the relationships, process, and practice of Artist2Artist’s pilot year fellows. Playful and profound, these revelatory exchanges model how artists and culture workers empower their creative kindred. We are grateful to them for allowing us to learn from these intimate Artist2Artist conversations.

Molly Jae Vaughan  00:16

Hi, Randy.

Randy Ford  00:28

Hi, Molly!

Molly Jae Vaughan  00:30

How are you today?

Randy Ford  00:31

I'm doing good. I'm doing good. It is Friday. How are you?

Molly Jae Vaughan  00:36

I'm doing well. I'm really excited that it's like, it's also Friday. And, you know, there's a weekend coming up.

Randy Ford  00:44

You know what I mean? Yeah, yeah, yeah. How are you holding up this morning?

Molly Jae Vaughan  00:49

I feel good. I'm really excited to talk with you and to kind of talk about this amazing opportunity that Art Matters presented us. And I just want to say like, you know, as I've said before, like, I don't know anybody more deserving than this for this than you. And I just, you know, they, the moment that this was an opportunity for me, I just, it was like, there was nobody else. There was nobody else that I could think of that, that deserved this more than you. So I'm so excited to be here and to like, catch up about your work and what you've been doing and how everything is going. So like, what did you think like, you know, the work that you do is so community centric, it's so peer centric. And, you know, whether it's the work that you're doing in your own art practice, or, you know, as a choreographer or a dancer and see, you know, rapper, music video star. I mean, like, what don't you do? But like, like you all that work is so community-centric, so peer-centric, and then on top of it, like you're also doing this amazing nonprofit organization fundraising work, too. So, how did this process like, register with you?

Randy Ford  02:23

It was— And I keep telling you this: I am forever grateful. Even before Art Matters, I'm forever grateful that you and I crossed paths, because Project 42 was such a very transformational project for myself as well, too. And we'll get into that later, you know! But the process I guess it's been

Molly Jae Vaughan  02:45


Randy Ford  02:46

dramatic. You know, just to say the least. You know, I've been feeling like my art has been very slow comparatively to other previous years. You know, I, I was that girl who is in something every month, you know, every weekend, every something in 2020 has forced me to like... Put like a slow-down reverb halftime, half of that halftime, half of that halftime halftime, and still try to feel like I'm producing work. And so when you called me, and actually you were trying to get a hold of me for some weeks. About that, like you, you know, and you're trying to get a hold of me for like, a minute. And I was like, oh yeah, uh huh, I'll hit you up. Or oh, my god. Yep. Molly, I'm gonna text you. Yep. And then finally, I don't know what it was that we finally got on a call together. And I was like, wait, what? What do you mean, me?!

Molly Jae Vaughan  03:45

I think I was like, this is really important...

Randy Ford  03:49

You're like, okay, girl, like, I'm not just trying to, you know, be in your space. You're like, I need to talk to you. I'm like, okay, okay. I'm sorry. I didn't want to seem like I was pushing you off, either. Because, you know, but I'm just very like that, you know, I'm very frantic and all over the place. And I was very all over the place when you called me and so to get this call... You know, it'd be like, hey, yeah, like, I chose you. I was like, wait, I really couldn't register at first what you were saying. Like, I was just like, what is she talking about? And I'm like, okay, what am I applying for? You know what I mean? And then I was like, okay, I'll apply, yes. Yes. Oh, my God. Thank you. I love this. Cool. You know, I'm not gonna lie. I was like, Okay, great. Another application. Awesome. Thanks. And then gotten the call with Abbey and Meghana. I was like, oh, wait, did I hear that correctly? Oh, sh-. It was the affirmation that I honestly needed. Like, it really was. I was feeling so, so, so bad. That you know, I premiered this show in 2019. 2020 — everyone's plans were disrupted. And it's like, no, you're not doing shit. And I really thought like all hope was lost. Like I really was. Like, Oh my God, no one's gonna see this show. You know, even though so many people saw this show in Seattle, I really need to, like, stop doing that to myself. So it was, it was, it was everything. Like, it really was just so time. I think also, I was nominated for the Queer|Art Prize for that, for that show. And I was just an I again, that was a surprise to me. And so when things like this happened to me for Queen Street specifically, I'm always like, but I only premiered it one weekend, like who was in that audience that week, and like, oh, my God, some people came to this little show, over here in the corner of the Pacific Northwest, and getting recognized in New York, getting recognized by you, getting recognized in Atlanta. I'm just like, whoa. And it's just really I don't know, like, I feel it — I'm trying not to get emotional on this call. But it was very, you know, when you just you're an artist, you know, we want to push our stuff out. We want people to see it, we want, you know, the tour, we want the life. We want the everything. And when it doesn't quite happen how we want it. We're just like, ooh, we must not be doing, you know, like, but it's just an affirmation that no, Randy, you're doing exactly what you need to be doing. Keep doing all the shit you're a part of. Your art is arting. It's doing what it needed to do. It's doing what it needs to do. And I just I thought it was done. You know, I really thought like, oh, okay, I'm not going to reimagine Queen Street some other big fancy ways that people can be like, oh, yeah, remember that show, but people still talk about it.  People still like you. I'm just like, Oh my God, you're right. I didn't do that. Like, ah, you know, and so yeah, this process, honestly, it's just been so emotionally dramatic and amazing. And really getting me to just like, trust myself into just, yeah, like, I'm really just starting to feel my shit, honestly. And just, like, live and be like, you know what? Whenever I decide to bless y'all with something, that's gonna have to be my thing, versus, oh, I ended up put something out, you know, because nothing's happening. But. No, and the process was amazing. Like, I yearn for processes like this, where they're like, hey, you're an artist. Here's some funding. Right? You know how many applications — I'm just like, in the middle — I'm like, I'm not gonna get this. Yeah. You know, and then you're just like, I didn't get it. Great. But at least my name is out there. Cool. Um, you know, so yeah, like, this was one of those. And I kept telling myself, I wanted to work smarter, not harder during this pandemic, like I'm an over-worker. I lose myself and stuff, you know, and I dream. And so this was really, it really brought me back to be like, it's okay. You don't have to be doing all that extra shit that you think you need to be doing. Just do what you've been doing. Yeah, I just really need to trust that, and I'm forever grateful to again, have met you well, before Art Matters met me. And it's just again, it just it proves that the work that I've been doing has always been intentional. Always been for a reason. And so yeah, just — the process has been great. Phenomenal.

Molly Jae Vaughan  08:17

I totally agree. I mean, this is something which, you know, as I've mentioned, like, with you, as someone who is part of other institutions — I brought this process to them and just been like, we need to be doing this. Like, there's no reason why we can't be doing something that is, you know, as community-centered and peer-centered as this is. And I think like in Seattle, we have this like, amazing moment where, you know, people are really looking at how they run their organizations, and they're open to hearing things like — you know, I have said in meetings of organizations that are important institutions, you know, why are we why are we looking at people's resumes for these academic, you know, check marks that they're capable of, like being in a leadership position? Why can't we evaluate, like community leaders and people who are running organizations on the ground? Like, why aren't those the same as, you know, academic credentials that, you know, don't necessarily provide people with experience and can actually lead to the sort of like ivory tower, sort of, like, ivory in its essence. But, you know, like that this tower of, of, of restriction. And it doesn't bring in new ideas, it doesn't bring in connections, it just keeps people more further isolated. Oh, it is. Yeah. And the fact too, like, you know, it's so hard to win a grant and then they're like, okay, so you have to spend all this money to get all this money. And it's like, well, if I had that money, like, how can I spend this? I don't have this, it's not something I have. So to have an open-ended grant, especially during the pandemic, like that where — we all had so many other types of like life costs. You know, like I used mine on medical costs. And, you know, it was, it was the difference between night and day for me to have that money and like, and to know, I could rely on it. And it's just brilliant that that is that as a sign of an organization that is thinking about how to equitably help artists rather than being like, assuming that you're coming from a place where you're able to spend money in order to be given money back, you know? Absolutely. Like, what was it like when you got, you know, your Art Matters? You know, like, because you got your first time around, right, like, yeah, how phenomenal and monumental was that for you? I had no validation. I had none. You know, I was out of grad school. And I'd had some grants, but nothing, you know, nothing like this, nothing I'd never applied for. Because I didn't apply for — I still don't know today who nominated me for my original Art Matters grant. And...

Randy Ford  11:32

 Bless them. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  11:33

I just — yeah, totally. I had just come out, like the guns, socially transitioning.  And...I had ideas, but like, I couldn't fund them. You know, I was playing around with ideas. And I was making very little money. And like, it was just the difference between everything, like. To like, get this money. Like when I got the original grant. Like, I called Abbey, no pardon me, I called Sacha. And was like, can I talk to you about my idea? Like, I don't even know if this is a good idea. Can you help me understand if this is a good idea? And then I talked it through with Sacha, and they provided me support and — that's the money that started Project 42. Wow. And like, without that money Project 42 would never have begun. 

Randy Ford  12:30

And I wouldn't be here with you.

Molly Jae Vaughan  12:33

Yeah, because — excuse me, pardon me, I'm on the tail end of COVID, everybody, so...

Randy Ford  12:43

And looking good doing it.

Molly Jae Vaughan  12:45

Thank you. Um, you know, I was trained in painting and drawing, I wasn't trained in textiles and dance and like, I needed that money to really help me to, like, take that leap of faith and be like, I'm gonna invest in this entirely different discipline and see what happens. And, it just came to be something which, you know, as you know, has been so life changing. You know, it's changed my life, like, and it is my life's work. You know, it's my life's work. And what I hope is that the 42 people, you know, that I'm memorializing, like, that that will be a discussion from the past. Right?  And it's heartbreaking that... 

Randy Ford  13:42


Molly Jae Vaughan  13:44

It still isn't... 

Randy Ford  13:45

Yeah, last year was shit. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  13:47

Yeah. And, you know, the way that the project and I don't want to just talk about me! I know. And I throw that in there, though. I had to throw that in there to give credit where it's due. I'm sorry. It's important! Because Project 42 is the reason how I'm here. Like, your genuine life's work, like so please. Background on it, because it's why I worked with you. You know, traveling these pieces, like just coming back from the Netherlands for three of these garments, you know — it was like such a human idea in the beginning. Like, I want to make garments that embody people who have been murdered. Trans women who've been murdered. Gender non-conforming people have been murdered. And I want to give them life experiences that were stolen from them. You know, and traveling these pieces to all these other countries and having people just be like, I just want to take this garment that you sent me and go out and like, sit and have a meal in the piazza in Italy. Or, I want to take this garment and I want to activate it in a 16th century church in Arnheim, Netherlands. Or, like, you walking out on that stage in front of 3,000 people, and just tearing the place down. Like, all of that is like, you know, it's just my attempt to, like, give voices and, and love back to these people who, like, who lost those opportunities. And you know, I just it's such a humbling privilege to be able to make this work.  And—when, let's let's talk about the TEDx because, yes, we we work together at SAM. 

Randy Ford  15:55

Yep, that was the first one.

Molly Jae Vaughan  15:57

And I and I had Deja, and Myra, and Lorena. And I still — Lorena was the really big dress. And I still remember you saying to me, when I asked you to do the TEDx. I still remember you saying to me, but I want something big. And so, we made you something big. And you said to me, because Jade had just performed at Sam and unfortunately, one of the garment straps, because I don't know how to sew, snapped during Jade's performance. And I was really worried and you're like, "No, I'm not gonna do anything like that." And then we had that little tiny window to like, dress rehearse. They were like, "You have five minutes to dress rehearse." And you walked out on stage, and you started shaking, Tyra. So just like, powerfully, and alI I could think was I sewed 500 bells in there. And I hope that my seams stay together and they don't fly out at the audience.

Randy Ford  16:54

I shook the shit out of that dress!

Molly Jae Vaughan  16:57

You did. And when, you know, like when we had the show at BIMA and they were, they played that performance part of its Tedx. You know, the gallery would be really quiet and then there'd be this moment of these bells. And then your screaming of Tyra's name. I mean, it was just like, it really was just a soundtrack that echoed what the work is trying to do. You know? And the way that you brought the TEDx to life was, I mean, it was astounding. Talk about that process, because that's really like — I think SAM was when we first started working together. And your piece at SAM was like, incredible. You know, and it was amazing, but Tyra was so much more interior. 

Randy Ford  17:59

Yeah. And I had less I think time to research Tyra, too. Because I remember the first dress I did — remember it was Deja? And I got the, — I was doing another Deja, which was so wild since I had two Dejas pretty much, which is so sad. You know, like, and so, that's just one thing. Right? And so, and yeah, the whole — I'm just compare SAM to yeah, TEDx because there was just so — just everything so. So yes, SAM, with the garment where I took it off the wall and put it on in front of everybody and then took it off, I believe, right at the end. Oh, yeah. I think I took it off at the end and put it back on. I think. Maybe. One of those. Yeah. And I think I was dancing to music, right? I wasn't dancing to music the second time. So yeah, it was, the first time I did it at SAM. That was one of the first times where, again, I was entering my social transition as well to probably like, maybe a year into it. I forgot what year that was. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  19:10


Randy Ford  19:11

Yes, I was probably just starting my social transition, actually. Wow. And, you know, so many things going through my mind as, one, someone living in Seattle, Washington versus you know, Deja was murdered in DC. And Florida. There was a Deja murdered in DC and a Deja murdered in Florida. And so just thinking about that, you know? I'm over here in the Pacific Northwest, in a region where, you know, it's still pretty bad. You know, it's still horrible, you know, you still have your accounts of violence, you know. Everything you know, transphobic everywhere. Black transphobic everywhere, you know. Like, at that. But still even here, you know, I'm able to perform at an art museum, you know what I mean? Half naked in front of people. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  20:04

And breaking all the rules 

Randy Ford  20:06

And breaking all the rules.

Molly Jae Vaughan  20:07

You know, that's what we wanted. We really pushed for that.

Randy Ford  20:10

Yeah. And so, so yeah, like just all of that all of that was coming into my mind this first iteration. I wanted to do it correct. I was very nervous. It was being recorded, you know? Both them are recorded. But you know, it was it was the first time I really wanted to make, you know, I really wanted to do the garment justice. I didn't want to break it.  And, but, it was just — just phenomenal. Just really thinking about that whole process. And then yeah, and then connecting you with Jade, and that whole thing. And then TEDx, when, you know, we're in the dressing room, you, me, Amanda and your other interns — was Seraphim there? 

Molly Jae Vaughan  20:53

Seraphim and Caroline. 

Randy Ford  20:55

And Caroline. And so I just remember doing my makeup, and you bringing out all of the layers. And I was just like, oh my goodness, like, this is, I don't know, I was way more confident that round. Surprisingly, I was it was a big ass audience. There were so many people there. And I was one of the biggest, largest audience I performed for the second large, like that, second time in my life. And so I'm always just like, ooh, this is the life I wanted, you know, like, oh, my God, I'm performing. But again, the nature of the performance. I did not want to make anyone in the audience comfortable. You know, so I remember coming out just mad, you know, just like in shaking those bells. Like, do you hear this? You know, like, do you hear this? Like, I just remember, like, I was like, this is my chance to like, get these people to think. You know, like, because again, we were one program out of what, so many other TEDx speeches and we were probably one of the only transpacific ones as well, too? Not the only queer ones, because the lovely Anastasia Renee was there as well. Sharing the stage with her anytime. So—

Molly Jae Vaughan  22:10

Oh, my God, totally.

Randy Ford  22:12

I felt I was in my prime. I was like, wow, this is like, I don't know. Like, this is that — one of my friends Jade Solomon Curtis, coined, or maybe not coined, but she said the term a lot and it's the first time I saw it. But, artivism. You know, ART-ivist. You know, this is like, I want the art to speak to people. Just I don't know, like, I just felt like that was this is the time like, this is that activism moment. Like, even though I'm not speaking, except for saying her name at the end, I am speaking, you know, so I that process for me, my first TEDx only TEDx so far. But yeah, I don't know, like, I loved every moment of that. I just, yeah, it was. Because the thing is for me, oh, thing for me, Molly. Sorry. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  23:12

No, I don't care.

Randy Ford  23:13

With our work, you know, specifically, Project 42 / Queen Street, I feel like a lot of people think that work is done. And that's what also kind of really fuels me for like, leading moving on, you know, because like, people think that, you know, because 2020 was really eye opening for me as well too. Like, I don't know, I'm jumping. But yeah, 2020 was very eye opening for me. And I was very just disappointed in community, honestly. Like, there's the whole uprising that happened. And there's all this attention on, you know, redistributing wealth and all of this stuff. And then it just died before the year ended, and has not been an ounce of the same since then. And it's like, and again, like, Project 42 is still so phenomenally important and relevant, because we had the deadliest year last year. Queen Street is so prevalent and relevant. And everything just because like, so many things have happened in my life since this pandemic. I'm just like, wow, this world does not give a fuck. You know, like, and so, really like, any chance that I get to do art that I feel totally affirmed in, where I get to kind of just do whatever I want to do without taking into account anyone's feelings, especially, especially audience members? I take it. Because I'm like, this is the work I want to be doing. Like, I don't want to make people comfortable just because they think I'm pretty. Or just because they like what I'm wearing. I'm like, no, you have to understand that this came from somewhere. And this is coming from somewhere. And it takes a lot to even do this. To even do this. Like, this isn't — I don't want this to be your life's work. You know, I don't want this to be my life's work! Like, I want to be able to make art about anything, you know? But I feel compelled to do art that is like highlighting that, hey, just because you like me or Molly does not mean that you are for trans liberation. Unless you're not doing that day to day work, like it takes more than just showing up to our shows. Or saying that we look good. Yeah. Or, you know, giving us a grant here and there, you know?

Molly Jae Vaughan  25:27

I mean, like, I think, you know, one of the things that — you know, Project 42, like, it's grown so much since I started it, and one of the biggest things that has changed is like my unlearning, and my, like, my, you know, I really started it in one place, like, how am I going to, like, get this message out? And, you know, within the second piece I did, I was like, okay, you need to, you need to rethink everything. Because this is not about you, as a white Trans woman. And what I found in, you know, was this sort of, like, shifting, right? Like, in how I thought about the work in terms of no more, no more like, like, I'm not gonna take like white ally, tears.

Randy Ford  26:38


Molly Jae Vaughan  26:40

I'm gonna, like, you're gonna get involved in this. And so when, you know, that's when I started doing the thing where I was, like, if you're going to collaborate, you have to do your own research. And, you know, when I had the big show last year, at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, and we shared the 21 garments and the 21 flags, you know, the docents, they showed up so — the way they showed up was just incredible. And, you know, I'm a former docent in the museum, that's where I started teaching. And so like, I have a real soft spot for docents, some artists, you know, like, you know, I don't, I don't do guided tours when I go to museums, but like, I have a soft spot for them, because they are the connection between the work and the public. And some of, some of those docents, you know, most of them are retired older people. You know, the majority of them were white women. And they came back again, and again, to train. They came back to, like, learn how they could do this better. They came back to make sure that they were representing the work in a way that was, like, you know, truly valid and honest. And what I asked them all to do, and what they did was I said, like, I want everyone in here to pick one piece. And I want you to become an expert on that person. And I just, like made them go, you know, that was my request for them. And I would go to drop-ins, do workshops, and like meet with the curators, or whatnot. And I would hear them talking and I would be like, okay. Bam. You know, and that's, you know, that's like this idea of, you know, we talk about like allyship versus like accomplice, like being an accomplice. And like, that's definitely part of like, you know, like, when I work with you, like, you're already you're, you're more fucking revolutionary than I am. You know, you just exist and embody activism and community and potency. And, like, you know, I don't have to worry about that with you, right? But when I'm talking to somebody who's 70 that grew up in a different world, like, you know, you have a and they're already an ally, you know, they're already thinking about this thing. It's like just taking them down and like seeding that like, extra thing. Like, I don't want you to like imagine what this might be like for you, I want you to just go and see like, read and learn and hear what it was like for them. Because you can never be them. And I think that we do create a lot of connection through empathy and the sort of like placing ourselves into people's shoes, but like, that's, it can't just stop there. It has to go deeper than that, you know. And, you know, we talk a little bit like peers and like how peers affect us, like, you know, Greg Robinson, who's the curator for there is one of those like old school queer gay men that like — chicken soup patrol from the AIDS epidemic that like, worked on the streets of Seattle in the 80s, with queer youth of color, like knee-deep, right, like in like, queer gay activism. And like listening to him, and listening to his ideas about how to, like, apply these things. And then him listening to mine, in terms of like, like how we're doing activism now. Like, it was just, you know, that peer to peer engagement is so just so powerful and so unnecessary. And, you know, I remember I got your name, when I did the work at the Henry with, I think it was Anna Connor, who recommended you. But also Nina, from the Henry also recommended you and like the moment I saw you, like perform, like online, you know, in some videos, I was just like, I want them. Like that, as a performer that is just going to bring this project — yeah, bring this, these lives to such a place of vibrancy. You've done that every time. You know you've vibrate. And it's having you as my peer is like, I mean, it's humbling. So I think our I think we're going to need to wrap things up. But I just really want to thank you for being here. I want to thank you for making the work you do. I want to thank you for your friendship. And like, I just love you and I'm so like, honored that I was able to like, share this opportunity with you. It's just the first of so many for you. You're gonna be — you're gonna be shining bright for a long time.

Randy Ford  32:29

Molly, thank you so so, so, so much — it, I'm humbled to also just be in the same room. Andagain, just. Just thank you for reminding me that I'm doing doing good. Doing great. Better than good. You know? Like, 

Molly Jae Vaughan  32:52

You're doing so good. 

Randy Ford  32:54

Yeah, I'm doing so good. I'm doing great. And just like I forever cherish this connection, forever cherish this friendship, forever cherish this collaboration. Like I said, Project 42 changed my life, as well, too. And it probably influenced the way I approached Queen Street and the way I approach my music and the way I approach my activism. And so just thank you. And thank you, Anna Connor as well, too. For the recommendation, well. Shout out to just all of the shoulders that I stand on. I'm looking forward to making more stuff, and blessing people with whatever I feel like releasing and not feeling like I need to catch up to anything. So just thank you, thank you so much, you know. You're a reminder that we have to stick in this together. For me, you know, and so just thank you. Just thank you and we're gonna keep doing it. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  33:50

Yes, we are. 

Randy Ford  33:51

Yeah, this is the first of many for you as well, or the many of many. How about that? And I can't wait to be on another call with you. You know, like?

Molly Jae Vaughan  33:59

I look forward to it. 

Randy Ford  34:00

Being like, oh my God. Remember, Art Matters? That was a years ago and look at us now! Oh my God. Hopefully the world is better by now. By then. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  34:10

It will be! 

Randy Ford  34:11

And it will be because our art mattered — ah!

Molly Jae Vaughan  34:15

Obviously, we're going to put on the best Whitney Biennial ever, you and I curating the best of the best. 

Randy Ford  34:23

It's going to be the best. Thank you. Thank you Art Matters. I love thank you so much. Thank you so much Avery and Alina, as well.

Molly Jae Vaughan  34:33

Thank you very much.

Randy Ford  34:35

Just yeah, accessibility period. So. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  34:39


Randy Ford  34:40

100% So let's just do more. Let's do more, community. 

Molly Jae Vaughan  34:44

Let's do it. 

Randy Ford  34:45

Yeah. Okay. Bye. Bye. I'll talk to you soon.

Molly Jae Vaughan  34:50

Bye, everyone.

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