Pretty Queer @ River House Arts

Mainstream society is dominated by heteronormative standards. The prevalent lens people typically view the world through is being challenged more each day as discontent with these standards continues to grow. Pretty Queer features nine artists whose works explore concepts of identity, cultural history as well as politics and subvert expectations of what that all means. Materials, techniques, and familiar subject matters are used to bring to light what has typically been overlooked due to complacency with outdated societal norms and conditioning.

Visibility is an overarching theme throughout the exhibition. Many of the works are layered, holding secret histories and meanings underneath sleek veneers of colorful gradients, kitschy objects, and formal compositions. Robert Fitzgerald’s Boys Wear Blue utilizes found objects to play with the concept of gendering colors. Three exposed drawers contain vignettes that include ceramic figures, golden apples, and mirrors. Fitzgerald’s work manipulates the iconography of objects, presenting multiple meanings and allowing the audience to make connections that may not have been visible before. Circular mirrors bring the viewer into the composition, allowing a moment of reflexivity. The presence of the golden apple can be read as temptation, knowledge, and even discord, depending on the stories and history one is familiar with.

Colton Clifford’s photographic print Untitled renders the audience a voyeur rather than a participant. While Fitzgerald explores ideas of masculinity, Clifford takes on the other end of the standard spectrum: femininity. The scene veers into the uncanny with two feminine figures enacting behavior that is usually associated with the mystical and femme. Tarot reading, a protective flower circle as well as the synchronization in the styling of the figures gives strength to a feeling of ritual and closeness (physical touching, the act of bonding, the practice of the occult) while at the same time keeping the audience at a distance from this intimate scene.

The concept of the body is approached in several ways within the exhibition. Stephen Owczarzak and Troy Hoffman’s work take on the body in an abstract sense. Owczarzak’s Throat 003, a singular ceramic cup, is a vessel rendered useless. Without function to consider, the piece’s relation to the body – particularly the hands, mouth, and throat – become a focal point for the audience to ruminate.

Hoffman’s Untitled, a collage of digitally rendered butthole roses could be considered vulgar. Despite that, there is a poetic gesture in the comparison of a part of the body that carries so much baggage to an icon of romantic love. The work is both subtle and confrontational, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of the comparison allows it to unfold in a devilishly playful way.

John Paul Morabito, "Frottage 052" & "Frottage 049"
John Paul Morabito, “Frottage 052” & “Frottage 049”

All things are visible, though we only see what we chose to focus on. The artists of Pretty Queer highlight concepts deemed universal and show what they look like when presented outside of dominant cultural norms. Being able to confront issues that were once considered off the table by heteronormative standards is refreshing. Unlearning what we’ve been taught to keep hidden and ignore as a society takes time, but this exhibition displays an elegant push-back and challenges the audience to do just that.

 

Pretty Queer, presented by Contemporary Art Toledo, is on view at River House Arts until August 5th. For more information visit https://www.catoledo.org/pretty-queer and http://www.RiverHouseArts.com/

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“Whipstitch: The State of Contemporary Textiles” @ Gallery 117, Ann Arbor Art Center

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Send Katy & Valentine, Rebecca Ringquist

The convergence of technology and fiber is ingrained within the discipline’s history; Jacquard punch cards paved the way for the invention of the first computers. Whipstitch: The State of Contemporary Textiles takes a look at the many facets of fiber and its existence as an industrial, decorative, technological, and highly intimate practice.

Dreamer (Series) #1: Maitena, a multi-media piece by Reed Esslinger-Payet, taps into universal concerns through emotional intimacy. A little girl’s outline, a cyanotype, is presented on a woven hammock and accompanied by an audio component: an interview with a male immigrant. He laments that he is able to disguise his background if he stays silent but is worried about speaking to others as it would give him away. He also worries about how the current socio-political climate of the country will affect his daughter. The outline of the body on the hammock is an imprint, a memory of simpler times, but simultaneously resembles a chalk outline. The work rides a fine line between memory and memorial.

Sensory experience is often a part of fabrics and textiles: the vibrancy of the colors, the feel of the materials, and even the sounds they make. Soft Sound, a work by EJTECH, an entity consisting of artists Esteban de la Torre & Judit Eszter Karpati, explores sound within textiles through the use of a conductive material adhered to fabric and activated with neodymium magnets. It’s a performative textile that comes off as a scientific project, emitting a low hum, which can be compared to white noise. The production of sound from the sculpture is reminiscent of the Fluxus attitude towards music, one that put forth that everyday background and white noise can be considered as a “legitimate” piece of music.


A less mechanical approach of blurring boundaries within textiles can be seen in several wearable pieces in the exhibition. A marriage of interaction and activation is presented by Heidi Kuamao’s Wired Wear. The work features an audio-activated bra that lights up as sound intensifies. Video documentation of the garment being worn, on loop, plays next to the work. At one point the video shows a train speeding by, sounding its whistle causing the bra to light up. This scene brings to mind the often sexualized images of women hitchhiking throughout pop culture. The garment, and its activation, transcend that issue by evoking a curiosity when it comes to the mechanics of the piece.


Video accompanying fiber was a running theme throughout this exhibition. Varied Choreographies by Erika Lynn Hansen & Wes Kline presents a woven rug placed in front of a large screen playing an animation. This piece creates a place of meditation that exists between the physically fabricated and the digitally fabricated; a delineation between the two where the viewer can exist in an in-between space away from the everyday.

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Apparently the smog has something to do it with: 3 & 5, Erika Lynna Hanson

Blurring boundaries with technology allows textiles to no longer be confined to the old conventions that they are commonly associated with it. Pushing and questioning traditions, as well as exploring the potential and the future of textile work, is invigorating. Whipstitch gives the audience a glimpse into that future and shows us the possibility of what’s to come.

 

Whipstitch: The State of Contemporary Textiles is on view at the 117 Gallery at the Ann Arbor Art Center through April 29th. For more information visit: http://www.annarborartcenter.org/exhibitions/whipstitch-state-contemporary-textiles/

“Sweeping Close… and Now,” SIEN Collective @ the Walter E. Terhune Gallery

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Left to right: “Moth Lady,” “The Hungry Witch,” “Dream of the father,” “Martha Jane,” “Crocodile Girl,” “Hummingbird,” “Learn This,” “Sigurd,” “Percival,” Cyanotypes, framed, 2015

In time things reveal themselves to those who chose to look, rather than just see. When we take the opportunity to pay attention, that’s when everything dwelling just beyond our gaze suddenly becomes visible. SIEN collective’s work gives us the chance to look past the surface and discover the underlying details that normally escape our attention.

Sweeping Close… and Now is a collection of work that is powerful in a subtle way, exploring ideas of duality that are inherent in nature, mythology, and materials. Works that, at first, seem simple and straightforward, but are actually ripe with secrets that lure the viewer to take a closer look. Multiple processes, such as cyanotype printing, encaustic assemblage, stitching, and drawing, are used to create a body of work that has an undeniably feminine undertone. Many of the sources for the work deal with issues of the natural, the feminine, and even misconceptions concerning the body.

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Left to Right: “Isadora,” “Hysterika,” “The Wanderer,” Cyanotype with drawn paper negative, 2016

Early theories concerning the female body are breached in a series of cyanotypes consisting of three pieces titled Isadora, Hysterika, and The Wanderer. The triptych is a take on the ancient Greek belief that the uterus is a wandering organ, shifting as it pleases and dictating how a woman feels and acts at any given moment. The prints each feature a uterus with legs, a literal take on the misconception, offering an underlying challenge to the fallacy by granting a sense of autonomy to the mysteries that dwell within the body.

When we’re faced with the qualities of nature, we’re made aware that they aren’t just black and white, but in fact an intricate grayscale: ranging from calm and serene to ferocious and destructive. These murkier and more intricate qualities are seen in works referencing characters such as Baba Yaga, a witch that either hinders or helps whoever seeks her out.

Baba Yaga Blind is an encaustic assemblage loaded with different types of fabric, piled and sewn together to depict the mythological character’s iconic dwelling. Susannah, another encaustic assemblage, takes from biblical source material about a woman who is threatened by two men, who claim she was betraying her husband, so that they can force her into having sexual intercourse.

Though the two works have similar imagery – a singular tree draped with fabric, which evokes a sense of isolation and mystery – there is also a curiosity that is conjured by the minimal compositions. The concept of choice is the connecting theme between these two works: the choice to aid or hinder those who are in need and the choice of whether or not to give into those who seek to exploit and inflict harm.

The choice to harm or help is also explored in a more modern sense through the reuse of materials throughout the works. Still Life, a black plastic bag that is embroidered with colorful floral imagery depicts new life being brought to something that was meant to be discarded, or conversely act as the means in which other things are discarded. By putting natural imagery on a material that is expendable and has the ability to do harm to the environment, an exploration of alternatives and the complexity of nature is once again brought to the audience’s attention.

There’s power in subtly; the mixed media works of SIEN collective come across as simple, but reveal their complexity in time and with inspection. The connection to deeper narratives concerning myth and the everyday become more apparent as one dissects the work. Once the dots start to be connected, the work opens up and changes each time it’s examined; in it’s own quiet way, it sticks around long after it’s been seen.

Sweeping Close… and Now is on view at the Walter E. Terhune gallery until March 24th. For more work from the SIEN collective visit their site: https://siencollective.com/.