Into That Fog at Leslie-Lohman Museum Project Space, New York, NY
October 13 - 15, 2017
Chris Blue, Anna Campbell, Heather Lynn Johnson, Jamal T. Lewis, Rodrigo Moreira, and Virgil B/G Taylor
In the fog, things are nebulous and blurred; form and meaning are contingent; the visible and invisible cling to one another. The artworks here, made by six artists working across numerous mediums, contend with ideas of obfuscation, concealment, and obscuring in relation to the queer and marginalized body. Taking its title from Etel Adnan’s 2012 poetic work “Fog,” the exhibition unites works that hold visibility and invisibility in tension as a means of undermining binary modalities and the confinement of categorization.
Many of the pieces on view engage obfuscation through formal means — materials mask one another, shapes supersede text, and the body is excised. Collage, in particular, is used as an obscuring agent across several artists’ practices. Other works approach concealment conceptually by addressing surveillance and immigration; the stigmatization of femininity and fatness in gay male dating culture; and racial signifiers in ethnographic photography. Repeatedly, the body is absent, altered, or contingent.
Adnan writes: “To be in the fog is to be in a state of suspension. What’s true is then not true; the mind’s liberation. Beyond anti-matter, more matter or more sprit?”
Chris Blue uses methods of collage in the service of a multidisciplinary practice, here represented by a sound piece, a video, and a work on paper. While many of Blue’s video pieces interweave found audio files and video footage, the piece on view is a silent loop of famed saxophonist Branford Marsalis and singer Bruce Hornsby performing the National Anthem at the 1991 NBA All Star Game. In removing the audio component of the Anthem, Blue points to the ways it is insufficient and alienating. A sound piece in the hallway pulls audio from 1991 action movie Point Break and the work on paper spotlights Matthew Henson, the first black Arctic explorer. Blue foregrounds feats of extraordinary achievement to frame athleticism, bodily strength, and excellence as tools of perseverance.
Anna Campbell’s recent sculpture invokes the body in its utilization of objects meant to be activated by human presence. Found materials — such as beer cans, a ladder, and an athletic mat — imply a dual narrative of destruction/construction. The Coors cans, in particular, function as signifiers of larger structures and historical narratives, specifically the beer manufacturer’s historically homophobic corporate position. Campbell’s interest in removing the veil from queer histories is also manifest in unique laser cut drawings from her “Ever Your Friend” series. In these works, the artist has, in her words, “abstracted” photographs found in the Lesbian Herstory Archives to show only the hands and bare arms of the images’ subjects. Again, Campbell’s formal method impels the viewer to decode the implied narrative.
Jamal T. Lewis’s video piece is composed of footage taken from their in-production documentary film titled No Fats, No Femmes. Lewis’s film work interrogates sexual racism and body shaming while also making the struggle of the fat and femme body visible. The piece on view addresses the expectation in gay male dating culture that femininity and fatness be concealed. The video’s subject playfully shifts from a “feminine” to a “masculine” presentation, saying, “This is my masc(k). ‘Cause masc(k)linity is a drag too.” Kevin Prodigy’s song “Miss Thing (Puma Ha),” which serves as the video’s soundtrack, draws a connection to Lewis’s participation in drag balls and the House-Ballroom community as part of the House of Lanvin where intricate categories allow identity to be played with and performed.
Heather Lynn Johnson works as a writer, photographer, performance artist, and poet. Taken from a larger series titled I Hate the Way You Love Me, the works on view alter and deconstruct photographs from the Alan Lomax collection. Primarily known as an ethnomusicologist, Lomax also photographed Black communities in the American South in the 1930s-50s, titling his images “Baptist Preacher,” “girls and women,” “section hand.” Johnson uses collage to memorialize the racial signifiers that have been used to mock and fetishize blackness. By placing hearts around the faces of young Black girls and a Black man’s lips, she begins a conversation with the Lomax archive that attempts to reclaim what was systematically stolen from the Black community as an act of self-love and ancestral acknowledgement.
Rodrigo Moreira employs a dark humor in works that intermingle his experiences immigrating from Brazil to the U.S. with issues around desire and gay dating culture. Required to submit a vast quantity of personal data during the immigration process, Moreira began to invent a fictional one-sided relationship with the anonymous immigration officer on the other side and reimagined the NSA acronym to mean “No Strings Attached.” The artist’s interest in wordplay is also manifest in the neon piece on view, which flickers between the words “date” and “data” in a wry meditation on intimacy in the age of surveillance. The neon is paired with a darkly tongue-in-cheek immigration form, which gallery visitors may take away with them. In another piece, a slide projector flips through redacted transcriptions of interviews conducted by Moreira. By arbitrarily obscuring these texts, Moreira undermines the supposedly neutral systems by which people are assessed, classified, and controlled.
Virgil B/G Taylor interrupts minimalist formal concerns with queer interests. Taylor mines the political resonance of line and shape, with the aim of expanding his reduced field of mark making to include the many turns of queerness. Taylor’s lines expose and obscure. The artist’s interest in obfuscation extends beyond his drawing practice to his digital zine Fag Tips, in which he routinely utilizes obstructive shapes and erasure. The artist’s most recent works employ sheets of lead, which he conceptualizes as an abject and taboo material with metaphoric connections to the queer body.