Art Review: 'Here & Now: Queer Geographies ...' at Silver Eye
Earlier this year, when Rafael Soldi, a Peruvian-born, Seattle-based photographer and independent curator, was approached by Silver Eye Center for Photography to curate an exhibition on queer photography, his initial instinct was to decline.
But, he says, “As I looked around me — as a queer person, artist and curator — I saw peers making work of incredible complexity and depth. Many of them were exploring queerness in their work, but they did 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.”
That's when Soldi realized something. “To dilute work by queer artists to simply ‘queer' disregards the multidimensionality of their practice and the conceptual framework of their work,” he says. “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.' ”
On display at Silver Eye Center for Photography, the exhibit “Here & Now” does just that, exploring queer culture across America through the work of five artists and two “artist teams,” who intuitively looked for meaning through their personal travels and relationships.
For example, Molly Landreth presents a seven-year journey through rapidly changing communities across America to offer brave new visions of what it means to be queer in America today. In images like “Ducky and Her Friends, Cedar Rapids, IA. 2008” and especially “Dusty and Judy, The Ozarks, MO. 2009,” we get a sense that one's sexuality has no bearing on other aspects of lifestyle, such as friendships, pastimes and careers.
Hanging opposite, Richard Renaldi's “Hotel Room Portraits” offer a glimpse into the artist's own life on the road with his partner of 15 years, Seth. For example, in images like “Thailand, 2005,” the two share a tender morning moment in a sleeping car on a train traveling through Thailand.
As Soldi puts it, “Not only is an image 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 15 years.”
Works by the artist teams — We Are the Youth (Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl) and #1 Must Have (Adrien Leavitt and A. Slaven) — fill places and space in between the aforementioned, more personal explorations, through photographic journalism projects that chronicle the individual stories of queer individuals as presented through a more panoptic view.
We Are the Youth focuses on addressing the lack of visibility of LGBTQ young people by providing a space online (wearetheyouth.org) to share stories in an honest and respectful way through portraiture and storytelling. In this exhibit, several photographs of participants are arranged alongside a computer linked to a database of stories and anecdotes related to each that visitors are privy to read and explore further.
The work of #1 Must Have hangs opposite. An amalgam of diverse images, they re-frame the queer experience outside of the victim paradigm often seen in popular culture by presenting their subjects through contemporary vernacular, such as zines, tumblr sites, community exhibitions and queer dance parties.
The only video work in the exhibit, Zackary Drucker's “Lost Lake,” is a real highlight. Blurring the lines between male and female identity, it's a self-portrait of sorts that features a transgender person in contemplative moments, on a phone, at a lake house, overlooking a crimson spotted valley in autumn, etc. But in each, she spouts jarring quotes and extrapolations from witch-hunts, hate crimes and scenes of psychological violence among popular films. It's a mish-mash of beauty and fear that is sure to get your attention.
Finally, the rear gallery reveals a more seedy side of this collective culture. Images like “Abandoned Porn Shop, Houston, TX, 2013” is just one of more than 200 adult video arcades throughout America that Michael Max McLeod has photographed. It hangs among nearly a dozen more that reveal circumstantial worlds that exist entirely in the dark, proving why adult video arcades still exist in the Internet era.
It's worth noting that his investigation, above all others, isn't related only to queer lifestyles. And as Soldi so elegantly puts it, the projects presented in this exhibit are not just “queer-specific.”
“Over the years, I noticed that the only place to see queer art and photography was in queer-specific exhibitions, and that most times, the only thing that these works had in common was that they were made by queer artists,” Soldi says. “So I asked myself, ‘What approaches are queer artists using today, and how can we use this to trigger discourse around queerness in more meaningful ways?' ”
“In ‘Here and Now,' it was really important to me to present the work of a selection of queer artists in a very specific context and move away from a one-liner exhibition that just says, ‘These artists are gay, and that's all there is to it,' ” he says. “The artists in this exhibition are mapping emotional and geographical space through their photographs and video works in search for a bigger picture, for a narrative, for a sense of place and connectedness.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.