'Seeing' series: A pair of Vermont brothers, two drag show competitors and how to collaborate on art
In the series "Seeing…the Unseen and In-Between within Vermont's Landscape," we have explored the intersections between culture, people, Vermont’s landscape and the creative process. These stories have followed everything from the individual journeys of artists to the ways artists think about their legacies.
For the last installment, we’re diving into artist collaborations.
Shanta Lee introduces us to two creative pairs: Visual artists and brothers Jude Desmont and Julio Desmont of Burlington, and drag artists Justin Marsh and Taylor Small, whose work together has grown from the stage to television and into other parts of their lives. Small is also a member of the Vermont House of Representatives.
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We recommend listening to the audio above; for accessibility, we also provide a written transcript below. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Shanta Lee: We start with Julio, who is eight years older than his younger brother, Jude.
Julio Desmont: There is this, first this, OK, this belonging, you know, being brothers, you know, there's this blood thing, this fraternal thing that we, you know, that we share. He grew up around me doing certain stuff, you know, working as an artist. But you know, when you look at it is you being a little bit older and him being a little bit younger, sometime it takes time to get this collaboration. But how does it start? It starts by, you know, being open and let him be around the things that I do.
Shanta Lee: Jude chimes in.
Jude Desmont: I follow, I follow his footsteps on the art, you know, we're brothers, you know, we love each other we — and I'm pretty sure you learn from me too, because you know, we learn from each other.
Shanta Lee: For Justin Marsh — stage name Emoji Nightmare — and Taylor Small — stage name Nikki Champagne — things started out a bit bumpy before smoothing out. Here's Taylor.
Taylor Small: It wasn't love at first sight by any means. But more of a shade at first sight.
Justin Marsh: I started performing in the spring of 2015. And so she was a bit more established at that point. And I just remember talking shit about her in a pretty small space that I'm pretty sure was audible to her.
Taylor Small: Once Emoji started getting on stage and performing, and once I started respecting her name and stopped calling her "what's her face," and instead called her Emoji Nightmare, I became enamored with her performances. They were out of the box, they were very prop-heavy. It was like nothing we were seeing in the Vermont drag scene.
I would say our bonding moment was that night when I came out as trans to her. And she was shocked by the information, but was super supportive, which is exactly why I shared that piece of myself. And that really allowed us that connection and establishment to really move forward in future collaborations.
Shanta Lee: In 2017, the two decided to create a public access program together called The Tea, a program focused on arts and activism as a way of bringing the community together, that ran for two seasons.
Justin Marsh: Three guests per episode, and we filmed two episodes in one day. And then I would edit them that same day.
Taylor Small: So it was a lot of work that was being put in, and also caused a lot of strife for ourselves. We were working ourselves pretty ragged, you know, trying to do two episodes on a Sunday, and found ourselves in a really tense space where we had to step back and reevaluate: Is this something that we can sustain? Or is this gonna end our friendship and working relationship?
"If you understand what you're doing, you have willingness, passion, compassion, and comprehension, you can move on and collaborate with others. If you have those, that would be the advice I would give people."Julio Desmont, visual artist
Shanta Lee: Justin, or Emoji Nightmare, still runs the Vermont chapter of Drag Story Hour. And Taylor, or Nikki Champagne, is an occasional reader. Their work with drag story hour has met navigating transphobic comments, mostly online. Justin and Taylor say keeping an open line of communication about what is working and what is not working in their various collaborations has been key.
Justin Marsh: So I just think honestly, like being forthright, and just — you gain so much respect and trust with someone when you can, when you can go there with someone. And ... they're not fun conversations to have. But I think every time that I've ever had something tough to say to Taylor or vice versa, like we've left the conversation, pretty much OK, you know what I mean? Like, we have the hard talk, someone makes a joke, you know, or says something stupid. And we move on and we talk about something else, and we kind of like — it disarms us a little bit. We're like, OK, all right, we did that, we hear each other. Let's carry on and move on from this.
Shanta Lee: Brothers Jude and Julio say over time, their were together has also changed. And it's even morphed into creating an educational nonprofit that works in Haiti. Here's Julio.
Julio Desmont: My brother and a couple of other friends of ours, we just put this thing together, "Draw One,' where we collect, you know, a little money and just kind of like help these kids get this opportunity, at least, to know how to read and write. But we do have the idea to move forward into getting them to learn something like a trade thing, you know, like something that they can do with their hands and stuff like that. By the time they reach the age of 13-14, they'd be able to already have some kind of skills where they can work and do certain things.
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Shanta Lee: For both pairs. It comes down to the willingness to continue the partnership. Here's Julio, again.
Julio Desmont: It is something that connects us all, that makes us feel like 'Hey, there was one part of my mama or part of my father is in you, is in me.' So this is — we can collaborate. If you understand what you're doing, you have willingness, passion, compassion, and comprehension, you can move on and collaborate with others. If you have those, that would be the advice I would give people.
Taylor Small: I would say we're really adaptable. I mean, between our internal relationship, interpersonal relationship dynamics and working through them, but also being able to respond to our environment. Drag Queen Story Hour is wildly different from performing a night show, versus doing a public access television show. All of those aspects really came in, and we were able to shift and adapt and acclimate each time something new came up, maybe like a winding river.
Justin Marsh: The adaptability is is super real. We're still pretty collaborative, even though our roles have shifted. It's interesting that we can continue to have that we show up for each other in different ways throughout, no matter where we're at.
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This story is part of "Seeing…the Unseen and In-Between within Vermont's Landscape," a series dedicated to the exploration of culture, place, people, and the stories that run deep here in Vermont.