Our Stories Are Not Ghosts

My first solo exhibition was held in Little gallery in Seville, Spain on Saturday, September 14th, 2019.

This was a very busy and exciting day for me. First we got to the gallery. It was my first time seeing the location that I had spent two weeks designing an installation for. All the work I completed I had to guess the dimensions of the room. This meant that I needed to have an awareness of providing room for the viewer while at the same time allowing for an immersive installation.

I setup the area which would house the audio components, four MP3 players with over the ear headphones. The seating were found objects, logs, which the viewer would sit on and listen to the stories of gay and queer individuals of Spain. The fiber art/textile pieces were hung up as the viewer enters the space on a simulated clothes line, and the Jarapas and Fig branches were hung up opposite of these – in the direction that the viewer would exit.

There was a very good attendance and everyone reacted to the work in one way or another, but no one reacted negatively. I consider this a resounding success!

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Week two of the residency

The first week of the residency I was getting settled in and attempting to find materials as well as exploring what it means to be a gay or queer person in Spain. I was reflecting on the work that I had conducted last Spring and realized that I need to move from an autobiographical mode of expression that focused on shame, vulnerability, and trauma. I had been reading called Relational Aesthetics over the summer published by Nicholas Bourriaud. This reading focused on the commonality that can be found within an audience when presented with artwork in a shared space. I have also been reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, which focuses on the concepts of vulnerability and shame within men and women. Although this reading doesn’t tackle queer or gay individuals specifically the research she presents covers both men and women in a way that also includes gay and queer individuals.

Over the past year I have read a great number of theories regarding Queer Theory, the Abject and Uncanny, as well as oppression. Below is a list of these readings (although some titles are missing because the books are at home and I am not):

Freak and Queer by Charles R. Batson, Hayley Malouin, Kelly Richmond, and Taylor Zajdlik

The “Uncanny” by
Sigmund Freud

Hegemony, Relations of Force, Historical Bloc. The Gramsci Reader
by Antonio Gramsci

Hegemonic Heteronormativity: Toward a New Era of Queer Family Theory
by Samuel H. Allen and Shawn N. Mendez

Sculpture and the Expanded Field
by Rosalind Krauss

Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection
by Julia Kristeva

One Place After Another
by Miwon Kwon

Imminent Domain: Queer Space in the Built Environment
by Christopher Reed

Relational Aesthetics
by Nicholas Bourriaud

Some Kind of Beautiful: The Grotesque Body in Contemporary Art
by David Cross

The Uncanny and the Queer Experience
Vincent Bourseul

The Queer Carnival
By Bruce Bayley

Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection
By Patricia Hill Collins

Contemporary Art and the Sublime
by Julian Bell

Making Things Perfectly Queer: Art’s Use of Craft to Signify LGBT Identities
Matt Smith

Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community
by John Chaich

 

As I moved from my first week of the residency into the second week of the residency, I found myself inspired by the ideas of Tradition. As I was talking to residents of the southern region of Spain regarding the culture and practices of its people, one word came up very frequently – Tradition (or Traditional). The word was seemingly used in place of or synonymously with conservative (read socially conservative). Very often it was said that Northern Spain was less Traditional, but Southern Spain was very traditional. The architecture and art, even contemporary Spanish art, displayed a tendency or need to reflect what had come before. I visited several museums, including the historical Museo De Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Art), Museo Arqueologico (Archeological Museum), and the Centro Andaluz De Arte Contemporaneo (Andalusian Contemporary Art Center).

It was expected that the Museo De Bellas Artes would consist of primarily political and religious art and the Museo Arqueologico would reflect Roman influences, however, what I didn’t expect was to see that even art in the 1950s reflected the same imagery, poses, and symbolism that images in the 1600s did. As an individual who has either actively or innately sought to move outside of traditions, I found this extremely peculiar. I wanted to know what the queer or gay experience was in regard to family, community, and traditions in Spain. What did it mean to be a queer person or someone who is on the outside of these traditions? How did that experience differ from someone who identifies as gay? Is there a difference between the concepts of being Queer and being Gay in Spain?

So, I looked at my environment. As a foreigner I was innately queer within this environment. I looked for things in the environment that would be considered banal or common – something traditional. These objects and environments would become the inspiration for the aesthetics of the installation piece I would be creating. On September 14th, 2019 I will be having a solo exhibition of my work as it related to gay and queer people in Spain at ESPACIO LITTLE (Calle Corredurias 5, Sevilla). However, I realized I knew little about the history or culture of gay and queer people within Spain. So, I sought out additional information and resources to assist me.

In discussing gay and queer people in Seville with both the Martina Durendez (the residency host) and queer writer, activist, and art historian Juan-Ramon Barbancho PhD., I was informed that from approximately 1939 to 1975 Spain was under a dictatorship. This meant that the government dictated both the social and political rules of the country and society. The early effect specifically targeted queer and gay individuals, because the dictatorship first made gay or queer acts in public illegal. So, if you were a man (gay or straight) and were caught kissing another man you would risk being arrested and placed in jail. This moved to a point of extremism as jails specifically for gay men were constructed. The law transitioned from gay acts being arrestable to that state of being gay having consequences. Barbancho describes this history in his book Lo Personal es Politico: Historia del Activismo homosexual en Andalucia (The Personal is Political: History of Homosexual Activism in Andalusia). In our meetings and interviews we discussed the history of queer identity and how these laws affected the personal identities of gay people within Spain on both the community and individual levels.

The dictatorship not only targeted queer people but went so far as to separate gay men based on the role they play sexually. A person who identified as a top (referred to as activo in Spanish) would be placed in a separate jail than those who identified as a bottom (referred to as passivo in Spanish). If someone was versatile (or vrt in Spanish), they would be placed according o how they performed their gender identity or mannerisms. These actions directly reflected the actions that took place in Nazi Germany; however, I had never heard of it happening. Even people I talked to from within Spain were unaware of the extent at which persecution occurred within the dictatorship. The information was gathered by Barbancho through interviews and historical research. It made me implicitly aware of how important queer history, personal narratives, and the ability to share our stories is. Reflecting back on queer history in the 20th century, I realized how much of our history was lost or hidden. Only in the more liberal areas, such as the arts, were reflections of the queer experience made available. Even these reflections had to be dissected and history shared from individual to individual for most of the story to be presented.

Thinking about the importance of oral histories, I reflected on what I had been reading about vulnerability and shame from Brown’s book Daring Greatly within the gay community. I thought about how as a gay individual I share my most personal history, like my coming out story or relationship with my family, with other gay people in intimate settings. It’s one of the moist commonly asked questions when dating or becoming vulnerable with someone else in the gay community. The sharing of coming out stories to create a common bond and build a community based on shared or universal experience (some might even say a gay or queer tradition), much as described in Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics.

I came to understand through various interviews that there is a difference in how Spanish people view the concept of Queer compared to how Americans view this concept, and then even the difference between how Spanish individuals view the concept of Queer compared to Homosexual. I also spent time exploring the gay and queer scene in Sevilla with Juan-Ramon Barbancho and his colleague activist, actor, and performance artist Juan Jose Morales Acosta (affectionately referred to as Tate by his friends). They showed me the contemporary gay life in Seville, as well as the gay nightlife. There were differences in behavior between the gay culture of America and the gay culture of Seville Spain. I was curious about this as well as the potential similarities between American and Spanish gay life.

To explore this, I decided to twist my idea of creating a “queer environment” by incorporating the meat texture I’ve been working with into a manufactured environment where these stories might be shared. I wanted to create an intimate space where these stories might be shared among individuals of the queer or gay community. The “traditional” environment would be queered, allowing for a sharing of queer oral history. The environment would be reflected using imagery/items I had seen within Spain as I walked the countryside. To facilitate the sharing of oral history and education, as well as to have a clearer understanding of gay life in Seville, I decided to incorporate audio within my installation project. This would consist of a series of questions to be asked of the participants which in my experience are things commonly shared in coming out stories. The interviews took place through Juan-Ramano Barbancho’s organization and with the use of his apartment to record in and limit exterior noises. There were a variety of individuals ranging from younger to older and those that identified as strictly gay and those hat identified as queer.

I had several questions as a result of these interviews:

  • What is the common thread between early childhood experience and gay or queer people?
  • Is there a cross-generational commonality that is a universal experience to all queer and gay individuals?
  • Does location either geographically or socio-economically change this experience?
  • Is the concept of community or being part of a community universal?
  • Is loneliness innate to the queer experience?
  • Is sharing a coming out story integral to showing each other vulnerability and excising shame from ourselves by joining us in a shared experience?
  • Are oral histories integral to the queer and gay experience?

I wanted to ensure that the responses were as genuine as possible. To accomplish this, I realized that having the people I interviewed speak in their native language was vital. Hopefully, this would limit the self-editing process and help with the respondents giving a more genuinely intimate response. The interview questions were graciously translated into Spanish by Martina. The interviewees were asked to respond to the questions while I recorded the audio using a portable microphone attached to my Microsoft Surface. It was asked that the responses to include the question to ensure that the audience, or participants, of the installation would understand the context of the conversation. Martina would later help me translate these to English for use within the United States.

The next phase of my installation project is to fine tune the installation and continue construction on the items to be included. The sculptural objects being created are designed in such a way that I can transport them back to the United States. This means using a great deal of techniques and materials which are light weight and portable. Luckily, fiber arts and crafting materials/techniques are all very portable and lightweight – which is why they were often used as women’s work since women were responsible for raising children and managing the household tasks. These techniques also add a great deal of beauty and structure to my artistic process, enabling responses that include both the uncanny and the grotesque simultaneously. I will be editing the audio with the assistance of the residency’s assistant Rosa Aphalo, who has been so important to assisting me with navigating Castilblanco (where the residency is placed) and Sevilla, especially since I speak little to no Spanish.

 

Below are some of the images for my work:

 

 

Setting Expectations

Just a quick blurb of my current studio practice and what I’m focusing on within my residency over the next month:

I’m currently working on the concept of queer spaces and questioning if simply the introduction of a queer object or queer person into a space thereby queers that space. I am intending to examine if the voluntary othering of oneself (or object) within a space will allow for the opportunity of voluntary othering within the viewer or potential participant of that space, which would then allow for a shared queer experience. I’ve been researching Relational Aesthetics, the Uncanny, and the Grotesque as my modes of expression for these concepts. The reason I am using the Grotesque as a modality is because of the shared connection between the desire to touch and repulsion of touch a grotesque Object has and how that relates to the queer experience, or the uncanny queer experience, of both being a part of and apart from the heteronormative cultural hegemony. The Grotesque also allows me the opportunity to touch on the shared trauma that queer individuals experience as they form identities within this cultural hegemony.
In my residency I will be focusing on moving these objects out of the gallery setting to see how the average person will interact with them when they happen upon these objects within their everyday lives. This will afford me the opportunity to not only see if this othering effect will be universal, but also whether the sense of trauma expands beyond the queer experience and is shared as a universally human experience. I plan on documenting this with video, photo, and written documentation as the residency proceeds and as I am able. The first two weeks of the residency will be object making and the last two weeks will be installation and documentation.

Long Post: New Semester, Trip Abroad, and Thesis Ideas

So, it’s been an intense summer of reflection on myself, my practice, and the research I’ve been completing. While my first year of graduate school started by focusing on objects of the hand, such as handmade toys, it eventually evolved into me talking about trauma and my own queer experience. One may ask, how do you move from making toys to making meat sculptures? That’s a phenomenal question!

I’ve come to realize over the last year that the graduate program at CCAD has allowed me an opportunity to do something that I’ve never had the opportunity to do before. This would be focus on myself: as an artist, a lover, a partner, an individual, and a member of a community (whether I choose to be a part of it or not is another story and a section of my research). I realized that I was studying three parts of myself over the last year: Phil Weasley, the Person; Phil Weasley, the Homosexual; and Phil Weasley, the Queer.

The year started with me exploring my own identity in the safest way possible, through my earliest moment of being othered or identifying my own queerness. It was the reason I was so fixated on toys as my mode of expression, although I didn’t realize this as I was welcomed into the program. My first moment of being othered was when I was very young, around three years old. I remember that my family was going to a variety of yard sales and I was allowed to go through the toys at one of them. I found a little black baby doll and I fell in love! She was going to be my baby and I was going to take care of her like mommies and daddies do. There was an argument between my parents and I believe my aunt who was with us (my mom had 13 brothers and sisters. So, it wasn’t uncommon for the aunts to travel in packs). My father did not want me to have a doll, because I was a boy and no boy of his would play with dolls. My Aunt or Mom made the purchase and I left very happily with the doll, but shortly after it was taken from me and thrown away.

This was my first experience with knowing that I was different. That I wasn’t what I was supposed to have been according to my father’s vision, or what the heteronormative hegemony and patriarchy of rural mid-state New York deemed acceptable. Feeling that kind of loss, rejection, abjection, and othering framed the rest of my life in a variety of ways. It may be surprising, but I remember a great deal about my earliest childhood. This is primarily due to changes in neural development that occur in children who grow up with trauma or homes that dealt with scarcity.  I had to learn at an early age to fend for myself. This wasn’t just due to living in a poor family, although that also greatly affected my development and how I learned to identify myself. Around this period of time I was also raped as a child by someone who’s care I was placed in. I don’t remember who. I don’t remember the specifics of what happened. Much of that I blocked from my memory. I remember specific feelings. I remember where it happened. I remember physical sensations. I remember the aftermath.

I remember being angry for a long time. I remember acting out. I remember trying to do my best but not knowing why I couldn’t act like the other kids. I remember my dad giving me corporal punishment as a result of me acting out and that punishment getting worse as I got older. My identity was being evolved around not fitting into a mold, not being able to fit in that mold, and being  physically assaulted each time I was unable to fit into the mold of what people thought I should be.

I relived trauma every time there was an incident. Every time I didn’t meet someone’s standards or expectations of behavior. Every time I was queer.

My queerness became my trauma and my trauma became my queerness.

It’s not something we talk about in polite company. It’s not something we discuss over cocktails or at the dinner table. It’s something that you talk about between sobs as your husband holds you at the kitchen table at 11 pm at night because you finally remembered that blank spot in your memory that caused you so much trouble for so many years.

It’s like picking up that horror novel you never finished from behind your headboard as you move your bed to rearrange your life to make room for something better and reading the last page. My identity as a queer male is tied directly to my trauma, although they are not one and the same. However, my identity as a gay male is tied directly to trauma as well. Just as no one talks about queerness, no one talked about homosexuality in a way that allowed me to understand that the expectations for building a relationship with a man were the same for me as anyone else.

My life experience taught me that men did what they wanted to whomever they wanted. This means, as it relates to my identity as a homosexual, that my first date with someone ended with that individual date raping me. He proceeded to get me drunk and had sex with me without my consent. How terrible is it that as a 17 year old I did not know that this was not okay? So, when during my final critique Molly stated that the work spoke more about trauma to her than queerness, she was right.

The work I am doing currently and did throughout my second semester was an exploration of bodily forms. But the importance of this was to highlight the concept of queerness, queering spaces, and my own identity as a queer individual. Homosexuality, Queerness, and Trauma are all interrelated for me. They always will be. There’s no way to cut that tie and every time I am with a partner sexually, emotionally, or mentally these are things that I face. I wonder, is this trauma innate to the queer experience or innate of a person that does not fit into the heteronormative hegemonic cultural structure we currently have? Do we create subcultures of queerness in response to this trauma and our shared experiences of trauma?

So, this leads me to my residency. I will be going to Seville, Spain on September 23rd to complete a month long residency which will focus on these questions. These questions which led me to examining the need for touch that humans have in developing and maintaining intimate relationships, specifically as it relates to queer identity and relations. Exploring the tactile and material qualities and how these correlate to the desire or repulsion of touch. I began exploring this through an ongoing installation project that highlights the need for touch within interpersonal relationships or a community.

I have been creating large- and small-scale sculptures that emerge and invite the public to engage them both visually and physically. Since my practice is focusing on intimacy and touch, I am welcoming members of the public to physically engage with the sculptures. I have been placing the work in public settings to emphasizes the act of touching an object in public we may otherwise only be inclined to touch in private.

This shared public action further underscores the need for touch as a method of interpersonal expression and collective experience as a community of bodily entities. Exposing bodily sculptures in a public setting allows for the space to be both public and intimate at the same time, allowing the viewer to experience an uncannily queer environment in a visibly grotesque way. The viewer can either engage in this queer space or reject it.

This will largely be the focus over the next year for my practice. As such, this residency directly compliments my research and studio practice. I’m excited to hit the ground running and will be creating many more gross yet enticing sculptures over the next year. I will be expanding my materials to include ceramics and fiber arts. This is in an effort to help capture the beauty that I see in the body, as well as the hidden trauma and labor that queer individuals experience while moving through a heteronormative hegemony.

 

 

 

 

Final installation Semester 2

This semester has been a very productive time for me. I’ve focused on the ideas of queerness as it relates to public space and performance of queerness by the audience and individual.

Through my research that my own personal biography very much affects my concepts of queerness and my relationship to it. I’ve realized that my sexuality, how I express it, my personal trauma relating to intimacy, sexual trauma, and touch/body issues are inseparable from one another. As much as I would like to focus on just the aspect of queerness within my work it invariably reflects my own narrative as though it were a book spread open for the world to view.

I find these objects to be beautiful and although not the standard beauty as the public may perceive it, rather a perverse and terrible beauty that reflects the nature of a life lived. The experience engaging these objects is visceral and reactive, all the while leaving an imprint on ones psyche for later reflection.

The world and life are both terribly beautiful things. Much like Queerness.

Sketches

I’ve been completing a series of sculptural maquettes and sketches to base some larger forms off of. This gives me a better sense of materiality and how the viewer responds to specific forms, shapes, colors, and material compositions.

I used parts of my everyday routine to create these sculptures. The base is crafted from eggshells, which I consume daily for breakfast. These eggshells have been collected after each day’s breakfast. It has now become part of my routine to collect them, clean them, and store them as part of my creative process. I also used my own hair from trimming my beard, which I do weekly, within my sculpts.

This process has spoken directly to the habits I have not only as a human person, but also the actions I take as a queer individual to take care of my body and make it presentable to the public or potential partners.