Friday, October 27, 2017

ESSAY: Thumb Through

Exhibition Essay: Jade Yumang and My-O-My 



“If men were angels no government would be necessary.” James Madison, Federalist No. 51.
- Case document excerpt, New Jersey v. Shapiro, 1973



In July of 2012 I bought Jade Yumang a vintage gay porn magazine on Fire Island. A pop-up shop in Cherry Grove, New York was selling high quality reprints of 1970s stud mags like Dynamo! and HONCHO, along with island knick-knacks and some belongings from the estate of Rue McClanahan (God rest her soul). I immediately thumbed through a few issues, grabbed two or three, and ran back to the house to proudly flaunt my finds and offer a few gifts. The magazine covers were reprinted in a sturdy glossy plastic laminate—no doubt a material response to the flimsy, fading paper covers of the 1970s that clung to their staples with all the commitment of a short-term relationship. Two of the magazines were more traditionally hardcore: locker room scenes, hikers in denim cut-offs with tall striped tube socks and hiking boots, leather scenes, that sort of thing. The issue I had in mind for Jade was far more romantic and unimaginably colorful.

Printed and distributed in the early 1970s, My-O-My Volume II focused exclusively on two male models in a studio whose sexual narrative unfolded over the course of the 32-page book, at first intimately kissing and undressing page by page before eventually succumbing to one another for several more pages. The models were set against lush monochromatic backdrops of what can only be described as deeply timely colors for the 1970s: rust, ochre, sea foam, deep mauve, avocado green. Solid backdrops of color cast focus on the rich textures and character of each man’s garments and their pink and peach bodies in various states of passion and undress.

My-O-My also had another life as material evidence in New Jersey v. Shapiro, the Superior Court trial of Edward Shapiro and Milton Nerenberg after two police raids of their bookstore, Action Auction, in 1972. At question frequently in the suit was whether indecent material had any “redeeming social significance.”[i] What is remarkable about the language in the case is that it refers to the content of the magazine as “nude males making love to one another,”[ii] which in descriptive terms is actually quite sweet. (The title of the other magazine obtained from the raids was Togetherness.) Apart from this, the case language makes no other mention of the magazines’ sexual content, apart from their "obscene" nature. These notions of speaking around bodies and transforming desire into something harmful are at the center of Jade Yumang's Thumb Through series. 

Consistent among the 32 objects, which vary in form and content for each page in My-O-My, is the use of page scans printed in archival ink on cotton and wrapped around long tubular forms, like pillow-soft porcupine quills. Some hang from or jut out of vintage fabrics and objects, resembling—or fastened to—fringe, tube socks, and refashioned garments from the early 1970s. Others like Page 28 (2015), bright and colorful and collected in a corner, offer sewn-cotton candy echoes of Felix Gonzalez-Torres piles. Like Felix’s practice and the pornographic images in My-O-My, Yumang’s works transfer intimate emotion out into the public realm.

The magazine’s retro design features, like typesettings, borders, layouts, and ads for back issues of other magazines in the series, frame the desire on adjacent pages. The edges of the artist’s sculptures pay careful attention to this detail. Fabric borders and underbellies of objects flaunt fringe, long strands of fibers, satin rope, and smooth patches of leather, recalling both nostalgia and biological features of organic creatures. Each sculpture’s tendrils appear both soft and dangerous, wielding a tender and uncertain harm. Like the models in My-O-My, works like Page 10 (2015), Page 12 (2015) and Page 5 (2016) themselves appear to be in states of undress, with zippers revealing inner layers, teasing and unveiling their private contents.

**

For a time that summer on Fire Island, Jade was tucked away in a basement studio designing and sewing elegant garments of white tulle that resembled diaphanous dragon spirits made of slender clouds. Objects in Thumb Through find echoes of these queered monster-forms, combining intimacy and absence, perceived potential harm and soft surfaces. Neither Jade nor I were yet aware of the power—and the redeeming social significance—of this random porn mag. Looking back it seems fitting that it was a gift from the island. (Had the nude men in the pictures cruised these beach forest paths? Were their ashes underfoot?) In Yumang’s careful hands, the intimate layers of these queer, quiet histories are shed one by one, transformed into something strange—and strangely powerful.

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[i] State v. Shapiro (Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division (Criminal) January 26, 1973), Law.justia.com 300 A.2d 595.
[ii] Ibid.



By Evan Garza

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Evan Garza is Director of Public Art at Rice University. In 2011, he co-founded Fire Island Artist Residency in Cherry Grove, New York, the first residency program in the United States exclusively for LGBTQ artists. Garza served as Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin from 2014–2016 and was Exhibitions and Programs Director at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from 2011–2014. He has organized and curated several exhibitions internationally and his writing has been published by Hyperallergic, Flash Art, ART PAPERS, and Artforum.com

Saturday, September 16, 2017

DOCUMENTATION: CAMPER: SUBTEXT

Documentation from CAMPER: SUBTEXT, with workshops facilitated by Dr. Jeanne Randolph and Amy Fung, in concert with Contemporary Calgary’s symposium NEVER THE SAME: what (else) can art writing do?








Friday, September 8, 2017

ESSAY: In Blood and Bone



Exhibition Essay: an aware form of care

In Blood and Bone is a compilation of Alana Bartol's many multifaceted constructs; its result is similar to a corporeal body. This body—an accumulation of different organs, which in turn are different facets of Bartol’s work—reaches out into the world in a multitude of ways. The body works and in doing so makes this body of work.

First, there is the Orphan Well Adoption Agency (OWAA), which walks the line between a real functioning not-for-profit and a fictitious organization. The OWAA, like any adoption agency, busies itself with matching orphans, in this case orphaned oil wells, with people that will act as their caretakers. While at a first glance, the OWAA may seem the penultimate step towards a reconciliation with the land and its peoples, Bartol knows the reality to be far more complex; she knows this to be but the first step of many*. In actuality there may be no final step towards a reconciling but instead a resolve to actively care with awareness.The OWAA is a radical step in envisioning—stepping out of fantasy and into a messy reality. The responsibility inherent in privilege is only performed if a person puts their agency into action, and this is something that Bartol clearly is devoted to doing in this exhibition. Bartol utilizes her privilege granted from the exhibition version of In Blood And Bone to draw attention to the hazy grey area between real organizations, performance within fine visual art. This in turn is a tool to consider what it would be like if we entered a realm focused on care.

Also exerting the pushes and pulls of a physical body is Bartol's water dowsing practice, a second tenet of this exhibition. Dowsing, or water witching, is the practice of using a pendulum, dowsing rod, or forked stick to determine the location of water or other rare minerals. Water witching itself is contentious and controversial and is seen by many to be a dubious practice, though it has been practiced for over a century to successfully find water. To practice this, the dowser must ask the rod yes or no questions. Bartol also has a blue uniform for dowsing and uses Ganzfeld goggles, which renders the user's vision blank, making her as susceptible as possible to the whims of the dowsing rods, and responses to her questions. The dowsing rods are tools of the field worker but they also relate to the third and final element of In Blood and Bone, which comes flying into the gallery and becomes an entity of its own. Black vinyl neckties made of garbage bags, representing corporate culture, patriarchy, and evil spirits in general, which haunt the land and places where these orphaned wells reside. The dowsing rods themselves are installed to animate the dispersion of these ties, and this is represented in both the installation of the neck ties in the space and the animated video in the gallery’s front room.

The great pleasure of a body of work like this is that it offers viewers a space to consider the gargantuan and contentious issue of the oil industry within Alberta in a completely different manner. The absurdity of the ties that bind corporate structures to the land is intimated by the black neckties, which add an element of humour. The laughter that follows can both confound and disarm people to discuss socially and politically charged subjects which can be very difficult to address within the economic systems that we have created. Bartol poses the questions, “How do you get people to connect to issues that are overwhelming even if they are relating to them personally?” and “How do you shift a perspective so that the contentious and uncomfortable topic of oil can be considered?” If this exhibition is to serve as a starting point in which Bartol begins her inquiries, she does so by first listening, processing, acting, and persisting—with care.

By: Ashley Bedet

*A consideration she is aware of given Bartol’s history of incorporating walking into her practice. See A Woman Walks the City Limits, 2016.


Ashley Bedet came back to Calgary, where she was born. Bedet is the product of many very different worlds reproducing, meeting difference, and then reproducing again. That makes her the product of at least four distinct separate paths. She graduated from NSCAD University in 2014 and has been slowly making and showing work since.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

DOCUMENTATION: Does Your Body Remember How To Play?

Documentation from Mabel Tan's Does Your Body Remember How To Play?