Monday, May 5, 2014

"Here and Now: Queer Geographies In Contemporary Photography" Curated by Rafael Soldi

Richard Renaldi

Rafael Soldi curated the upcoming exhibition, Here and Now: Queer Geographies In Contemporary Photography, at Silver Eye Center for Photography, opening on May 15th, 2014. 

Rafael Soldi is a Peruvian­-born, Seattle-­based photographer and independent curator. He holds a BFA in Photography & Curatorial Studies from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Soldi has helped curate exhibitions at Farmani Gallery, Wilgus Gallery, MICA, Silver Eye Center for Photography, and Photographic Center Northwest, where he is the Marketing Director. Soldi’s photographs have been exhibited and published internationally at the Frye Art Museum, American University Museum, Griffin Museum of Photography, Greg Kucera Gallery, Connersmith, Emory University, PCNW, Vertice Galeria, and G. Gibson Gallery among others. He is a 2012 Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Award Winner, 2014 Puffin Foundation grant recipient, and his work is in the permanent collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, and the King County Public Art Collection, among others.

We Are the Youth

Ashley Kauschinger: Tell us about the exhibition “Here and Now: Queer Geographies In Contemporary Photography” How did your ideas form? How did it come together?

Rafael Soldi:
When I was approached by Silver Eye to curate an exhibition on queer photography my initial instinct was to decline. All too often we see survey exhibitions that place works by queer artists in one room simply because the artists are queer, with no regard to other paramount aspects in the work. This practice prevails as well with women and artists of color, to name a few. What these problematic exhibitions promote is the idea that not only can queer art only be seen alongside other queer art, but that all there is to it is its queerness. It makes an assumption that all artists of the same gender, race or orientation must only exhibit in those contexts, and it is not any different than putting on an exhibition about artists with brown hair, or artists who are tall, for example. As I look around me—as a queer person, artist, and curator—I see peers making work of incredible complexity and depth. Many of them are exploring queerness in their work, but they do so in infinitely different ways. Some of the work, in fact, is so different that even in their shared exploration of queerness they don't go hand-in-hand. To dilute work by queer artists to simply “queer” disregards the multidimensionality of their practice and the conceptual framework of their work. For this reason, I chose to accept the challenge to present an exhibition of queer work so long as I was able to present it in a context that defines it as other than “just queer.” I began by thinking about relevant queer artists in my immediate and extended community whose work has made an impact on me. Then I asked myself: save from being queer, what underlying themes and conceptual threads run through these projects that make them so successful? What approaches are queer artists using today and how can we use this to trigger discourse around queerness in more meaningful ways?

Elle Perez
AK: What was your thought process behind choosing each artist? How do they each inform the overall theme of the exhibition?

I started to notice themes and groupings of artists with a shared approach to exploring queerness that, when put together, painted a more complex view on the subject by giving us a different context through which to consider it. One that stood out to me was mobility, the idea of journeys and surveying the physical and emotional landscape in search for a bigger picture, for a narrative, for a sense of place and connectedness. Oscar Wilde once said 'A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.' A search for Utopia is particularly significant for queer subjects who have spent a lifetime imagining the world other than as it is. In this exhibition images become the spaces where new maps are imagined and created, they helps us map our own place within a larger territory as we define what it means to be queer today. 

Molly Landreth
Molly Landreth presents a 7-year journey through rapidly changing communities across America to offer brave new visions of what it means to be queer in America today. Elle Perez also takes on a countrywide journey to document queer Diasporas, but her photographs draw attention to the often unspoken and undocumented space between genders. Michael Max McLeod has photographed over 200 adult video arcades throughout America, utilizing a voyeuristic tool—the camera—to photograph an architecture of voyeurism. McLeod’s images reveal circumstantial worlds that exist entirely in the dark, proving why adult video arcades still exist in the internet era. Richard Renaldi’s Hotel Room Portraits offer a glimpse into the artist’s life on the road. His images are not only a record of intimacy and journal of his travels with his partner Seth, but also an affirmation of their commitment to one another over the span of over fifteen years. 

Zackary Drucker’s work complicates established binaries of viewer and subject, insider and outsider, and male and female in order to create a complex image of the self. Drucker’s video work Lost Lake posits beauty and fear as inextricable from the psyche of the American landscape. Contemplative moments and stunning vistas are jarringly punctuated with the vocabularies of witch-hunts, hate crimes and psychological violence. We Are the Youth (Laurel Golio & Diana Scholl) and #1 Must Have (Adrien Leavitt & A. Slaven) are both artist teams working on photographic journalism projects that chronicle the individual stories of queer people. We Are the Youth focuses on addressing the lack of visibility of LGBTQ young people by providing a space to share stories in an honest and respectful way through portraiture and storytelling. #1 Must Have re-frames the queer experience outside of the victim paradigm often seen in popular culture and presents their subject through contemporary vernacular such as zines, tumblr sites, community exhibitions, and queer dance parties.

Richard Renaldi
AK: What is your prospective on how LGBTQ artists are portrayed in the contemporary art world? What does your exhibition contribute or dispute in that conversation?

RS: We are very lucky to live to witness a major shift in our politics, even when there is still a monumental amount of work to do. Any time that progress comes about it sheds light on both the best and worst of humanity, and we are certainly witnessing both. We have made major strides towards equality (in the U.S.) and that is the direction we are heading, I am certain of it. It is far from perfect but as Wilde said, progress is the realization of Utopias! The art world's relationship to queer subjects is fascinating, and a very closeted one. Queerness has been accepted within the arts community for a very long time, but the same cannot be said for arts institutions, who bear the responsibility of disseminating art to the masses. There is a long and robust lineage of queer artists—and not just any artists, major figures in the history of art. But you wouldn’t know it because museums, textbooks and survey courses have only recently begun examining this dimension of art history, even though sexuality is a fundamental aspect of movements like Pop Art. 

Michael Max McLeod
Our institutions (i.e. museums and foundations) have shamelessly re-written history right in front of our eyes to tell a story that was more convenient to them. For example, consider these statistics in the context of the monumental role that queer people have played in New York’s art and civic history; there are 8 major museums in New York City:

• The Museum of Modern Art has less than 3% of gay art in its collection
• The Metropolitan has less than 1.5%
• The New York Historical Society has never used the words gay or lesbian

Some of the greatest artists of our time have had their life stories re-written by institutions in order to present a picture that is more appealing to influential (conservative) donors, collectors, and institutional leaders. This is still happening TODAY. A 2013 exhibition at MoMA presented works by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns made during a six-year period of collaboration. The specific timespan of this ‘collaboration’ refers to the six years during which Rauschenberg and Johns were lovers—this relationship was the driving force behind this fruitful collaboration. At the museum the introductory placard described the two artists as being “in dialogue with one another,” never even hinting at the nature of their real relationship. This puzzling decision by MoMA essentially put Johns and Rauschenberg back into the closet. They selectively omitted one of the most important aspects of these artists' histories and the sole reason the works exist to begin with, effectively re-writing history. Museums, even seemingly progressive ones like MoMA, remain more closeted than you might think. 

Michael Max McLeod
This type of censorship happens every single day and we saw it when Republicans censored the recent exhibition HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture which put the issue of sexuality in American art on the map. I am sure that there is at least one right-wing supporter of that censorship who owns a handsome, nonpartisan cityscape by Berenice Abbott without even knowing she was a self-proclaimed lesbian who prior had spent her years photographing the lesbians, gays, and bisexuals of 1920’s Paris! So it is in this context that we are discussing queer art and artists today. We see queer artists everywhere, we have seen them for over a century. They have been a backbone of our culture, prominent taste-makers, legendary thinkers, and influential figures. They are in our museum collections, they are in exhibitions, they bring staggering prices at auctions worldwide. Yet, we have been told an entirely sanitized story that warps history. This is monumentally problematic because when we don’t tell the history of sexuality in American art, we get art history wrong. For this reason I think it’s important to present exhibitions like Here and Now that don’t just present work by queer artists, but rather honors their conceptual framework and gives us a platform for meaningful discussion beyond ‘this is gay.’ This is just one conversation, and there are infinite ones to be had. I like that this idea of journeys is relatable and easy to connect back to other artists, writers, and thinkers that are familiar to us—this idea just provides and entry point, a conversation starter.

Molly Landreth

AK: If you could include any historical photographers in this exhibition, who would they be and why?

Within the context of the show, what Berenice Abbott was doing in he 1920's in Paris was not much different than what many of the artists in this show are doing. That work is virtually unknown to many and so much more charged and interesting than a lot of her New York work which I find quite dry. But for the sake of just sharing exquisite work by queer artists from our last century I would include works by Thomas Eakins, as well as by Peter Hujar, Minor White, Mark Morrisroe, Arthur Tress, Felix Gonzales Torres, Ruth Bernhard, George Platt Lynes, and many more. I like Mapplethorpe and consider him a hugely important figure, but I prefer Peter Hujar's vision of that era over Mapplethorpe's. At a time when being queer was not openly acceptable, many artists banded together to form movements and work as teams. I love the work of collectives like General Idea and El Grupo Chaclacayo, a Peruvian collective that sequestered themselves in the outskirts of Lima during the conflict of the 1980's whose endeavor was one of the most daring episodes of artistic experimentation and sexual-political performance to emerge in Peru.

Zackary Drucker

No comments:

Post a Comment