featured gallery for June 2014
Eyes, Lilacs & Spunk: Queer Aesthetic from Suggestion into Abstraction
“There's a touch of homosexual in all of us. It's not the cock. And it's not the twat. It's the eyes, don't you know, and sometimes the smell of lilac.”
— Tallulah Bankhead (to Bea Arthur in conversation, traveling by train, mid-1950s)
I’ve been publishing Spunk [arts] Magazine since 2003. Because the majority of its contributors would identify as homosexual, and because some of the art featured in the publication is of an erotic nature, people frequently associate me with “gay art.” When they verbalize this association to me I correct them saying “I’m not interested in gay art; I’m interested in a queer aesthetic.”
The association is understandable, but the difference between what I think of as gay art and what I refer to as a queer aesthetic is significant. What people refer to as gay art would be, I believe, more accurately described as homoerotic art. And while I may be personally moved by (pun intended) some homoerotic art (e.g. Tom of Finland) and love the history of it (Physique Pictorial, etc.), I am not particularly “interested” in it.
I think that any art with a specific agenda (whether that be erotic, political, or otherwise)—while it may be skillfully executed and/or effective—is inherently limited. I prefer art to be expansive: to be unspecific enough to be open to interpretation, to move me aesthetically and intellectually, and to continue to grow—expand—in my mind with reflection. This is my intention with Spunk.
My curatorial process: For a work to be included I first have to respond to it instinctively; it has to resonate with me. Then I begin to pair works (recontextualizing them), finding unintended relationships between the images—similarities, contrasts, or compliments. Sometimes the pairings are difficult (or even impossible) to explain, but something happens between them that inspires me. The images that I choose, and the relationships between them, reflect queer content and create what I call a queer aesthetic.
The Tallulah Bankhead quote speaks to this illusive idea of queer content over explicit sexuality. The quote is initially humorous because it seems ridiculous—how could homosexuality (queerness) reside in the eyes? Let alone in “the smell of lilacs”? However, as it sits with the reader the truth in it expands and becomes apparent. There is a secret unspoken language between us all. We recognize and know each other on sight. How else can we explain this? And with the smell of lilacs she takes notion of queerness a step further—into the realm of abstraction.
I curated this web gallery for Visuals AIDS the same way I would curate an issue of Spunk. Without much (or any?) overt sexuality, queer content is lurking through all of these 18 works.
There’s queerness in the humor of John Hanning’s Untitled, in the surreal eroticism of Michael Harwood’s Line (Larry, 1998), and the camp sexuality of Scott Hunt’s The Dream’s End. There is a queer past connected to a queer present in George Towne’s Abandoned Capote House, a reference to old Hollywood (the constructed beauty of gay icons like Dietrich) in Luna Luis Ortiz’s untitled (Melissa Xtravaganza), and a family’s lineage traced to a queer present (and constructed beauty) in Kia Labeija’s Kia and Mommy. Queerness is, in fact, in the eyes (and the subtle gestures) of Benjamin Fredrickson’s Evan, New York, Carmine Santaniello’s Untitled (c31), and Peter Hujar’s Darryl Ellis (I). It’s in the smell of lilacs—the abstractions by Ifrain Caraballoso (Abstract-1) and Max Greenberg (surviving the white squall out of the light on to the landscape i talisman-4), the strange glamour of Andrew Zealley’s I'll Be Your Mirror II, and the combinations of potentially disparate images in David Wojnarowicz’s Fever and Jack Waddell’s Difference. It’s between the images themselves—in the zig zag lines echoed from Luis Carle’s Gay Pride, Pier Dance Fireworks to Darrell Jones’ Woman I. Queerness is even in the titles (Per Eidspjeld’s DNA) and the mediums (Stephen Andrews’ Snakepit, xerox on latex).
I want the images I curate in Spunk and in this web gallery—the relationships between those images, the cumulative psychological effect of them, page after page and spread after spread—to cause the viewer to dream. Because of this intended subconscious psychological effect I compare Spunk to old Surrealist journals (or Dada, in its apparent chance relationships) rather than other contemporary queer publications. Similarly with this web gallery, through ambiguity and suggestion, through the nuance of the eyes and the scent of lilacs, I wish to make the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar intriguing. In a way I’m creating my ideal world—a world without divisions between past/present, high art/low art, gender or sexuality. I’m proposing an alternate present, or a template for a desirable future.