BREN AHEARN & JESSE KAHN / JOE VARISCO & QUEER LEXICON / DUTES MILLER & STAN SHELLABARGER / ANNIE SPRINKLE & BETH STEPHENS / CHRIS VARGAS & GREG YOUMANS / E.G. CRICHTON, BARBARA MCBANE, & SUSAN WORKING / AMOS MAC & JULIANA HUXTABLE LADOSHA / TINA TAKEMOTO & ANGELA ELLSWORTH / SEAN FADER / TARA MATEIK / SARAH HIRNEISEN / JULIE SUTHERLAND / BILLY OCALLAGHAN / ANGIE WILSON & AMBER STRAUS / ADRIENNE SKYE ROBERTS / ALEXANDER HERNANDEZ & RUDE HOUSE / POSTER/VIRUS & JORDAN ARSENEAULT JANUARY 16–FEBRUARY 22, 2014
Julie Sutherland My Medusa (After Hosmer), 2013 acrylic, oil, and graphite on canvas, 21” x 26”
Strange Bedfellows Curatorial Statement
My interest in the subject of queer collaboration began in a series of questions: Why are there so many collaborative artworks in contemporary queer art practice? Is queerness inherently collaborative, or is collaborative practice inherently queer? What is to be learned about both practices by considering them together? Definitions are sometimes helpful when beginning this kind of inquiry, but the interesting thing about queerness, and about collaboration, is that both of these concepts share the trait of being in a constant state of negotiation and evolution. Queerness and collaboration also share the grey area of being a matter of identification. Postmodern and Post-structuralist theory have provided a framework to understand that nothing exists in a vacuum, and that every action is a collaboration, yet not all artists define as collaborators, or acknowledge multiple authorship. Queer is often used as a blanket term to attempt to encompass the range of diversity within the GLBTQQI population, but not all homosexuals define themselves as queer, and not all those who define as queer are homosexual. Queerness can be defined as both an expression of non-heteronormative sexuality or gender expression, or as a social and political stance. Queer is a noun, but it is also a verb. To queer something is to make it strange,
to present an alternative, provide a point of rupture in what we think we know. You don’t have to identify as queer to actively engage in the queering of something. The concept of “making strange,” has long been a goal of artists, perhaps best articulated by the Russian Formalists, who referred to the practice as ostranenie, or estrangement. The concept estrangement is based on the principle of repositioning language and symbol in order to create alternative perceptions, possibilities and interpretations for the viewer. By this definition, ostranenie, could also be understood as queering. Fluxus, one of the late 1960’s most international and gender inclusive Avant Garde movements, also explored the notion of estrangement through breaking down distinctions of life and art. For Fluxus artists, this idea of making strange could be applied not only to language and symbol but also to everyday occurrence. These artists attempted to break down distinctions between art and life as static and separate categories through inventive publications and email art, performances, musical concerts, and many other hybrid actions. Their interventions destabilized conventional definitions of art in much the same way that many of the artists participating in Strange Bedfellows use their own lives, relationships, and bodies as sites for artistic and political intervention.
Jason Fritz Michael Falling in Love with Chris & Greg, 2009 colored pencil (left) Tara Mateik Diana Ross is Dorothy (with Rob Cohen, Barry Gordy and Diana Ross), 2013 video (right)
Collaboration and queerness can be spaces of social, political, personal, and artistic revolution. In presenting alternatives to the singular author paradigm, collaborative practice like queer politics can be read as critique of the systems of hegemony, in this case capitalistic and individualistic notions of authorship. Collaboration and queerness can be spaces of social, political, personal, and artistic revolution. In presenting alternatives to the singular author paradigm, collaborative practice like queer politics can be read as critique of the systems of hegemony, in this case capitalistic and individualistic notions of authorship. So, is there something inherently queer about collaboration? Yes and no. It’s possible to theorize that collaborative practice positions itself in radical opposition to commodification and traditional concepts of authorship and identity, and is therefor queering the singular artist/author paradigm, working in critical opposition. There are many reasons for collaboration including the logistical.
Is there something inherently collaborative about queerness? In this show, I aim to present queerness as both an expression of non-heteronormative sexuality or gender expression, a political stance, and a possibility of a life lived outside of, and perhaps in direct opposition to, “normal.” In order to invert something, you are implying your relationship with it. You must hold it and relate to it before you flip it on its head. Queers are constantly in conversation with their opposite. Queer only exists if there is a normal. Non-normativity only exists in opposition to normativity. Operating at odds means operating in relation or collaboration with the inverse. So by this definition it can be theorized that there is, in fact, something inherently collaborative about queerness. But that’s just in theory. In practice, queers have long relied on collaboration for a variety of reasons, not the least of which have been physical and emotional safety in numbers, or political presence. The artists that I present in this iteration of Strange Bedfellows range in their queer identities, politics, strategies, and reasons for collaboration. I’ve attempted to present a range of strategies and situations to explore the roles I see collaboration playing in contemporary queer art practice including the personal, performative, and political. I conducted personal interviews with the artists in this exhibition to get a better sense of how they see collaborative practice in relation to their idea of queerness, and how that manifests in their art.
For artist Adrienne Skye Roberts, this spirit of social and political critique is inherent in her definition of queerness, and is reflected in the way she merges her art practice with political organizing. She says, “Queerness, as a critique of systems of power, speaks back to the capitalist fantasy of the individualist and everything we are taught about isolating ourselves in our work or our nuclear family or when we need help the most. This is opposite of what so many of us—queers, radical thinkers, many marginalized communities—know to be true: that we rely on each other, that we need each other every step of the way for our survival, our resistance and our joy.” In acknowledgment of the long lineage of collaborative political organizing around the rights of GLBTQQI people, Strange Bedfellows includes work representative of a new generation of AIDS activism. Jordan Arseneault’s work, Silence = Sex, is presented alongside his poem of the same title, and is in direct conversation with the iconic ACT UP slogan “Silence = Death.” The work was featured in a poster series distributed by the Canadian AIDS action group poster/VIRUS.
Roberts and Arseneault utilize the visual language of protest, but “critiquing systems of power,” can take many guises. Queer activism and environmentalism overlap in the work of Annie Sprinkle & Elizabeth Stephens. Their performative public marriages link love, politics, and environmentalism by queering the marriage ritual. Working with over 2000 collaborators, their weddings feature performers, artists and sex workers in an experimental public performance based on the tropes of traditional western matrimony. Performance works, especially at the scale of Annie & Beth’s projects, often rely on multiple authorship for the logistical production details. However the collaborative nature of this type of work is not always acknowledged. For Strange Bedfellows Alexander Hernandez presents an installation that brings the backstage culture of drag dressing rooms to center stage. By inviting audience participation in the preparation for performance, Hernandez shines light on the often overlooked skill sharing that takes place, including his own role creating costuming for the drag house, RUDE House.
In order to invert something, you are implying your relationship with it. You must hold it and relate to it before you flip it on its head. Juliana Huxtable LaDosha, who collaborated with photographer Amos Mac on a series of photos for the exhibition describes her own experience of being a part of House of LaDosha. “They represent the beauty of queerness in many ways, because we are each other’s family in the most real sense and I wouldn’t be able to really face the difficulty of the world If I didn’t have my sisters with me.” The need for love and support as a matter of survival has long led queers to build communities and networks outside of their given families. When Angela Ellsworth was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, she began sending her friend and artistic collaborator Tina Takemoto photos from across the country documenting the effects of treatment on her body. In efforts to be both a witness and a support system, Tina began staging “rhyming” photographs of her own body recreating Angela’s photos. Ellsworth credits this hopeful and empathetic connection with her recovery, saying, “Ultimately, I believe that making the images and performing together really did lead to my health. My experience with cancer was being heard and seen. It made it seem worthwhile because my experience became much more than just this awful personal ordeal that I was trying to endure. During that time, my relationship to my family was pretty strained and complicated. But in our collaboration, I was supported and I didn’t feel forgotten.” Artist billy ocallaghan has used his artwork as a means of connecting with and engaging his aging mother. When she moved in with him as a result of memory loss, he had her assist in the production of his zines and started a side business with the cards they made together. Of the collaboration he says, “I think my having something for her to do was critical, at times, to her making the transition to living with us over the past 8 months. We’re much closer now, and it is still very much a work in process.” E.G. Crichton and Barbara McBane also used their work to connect with their parents, though for these artists, it is in elegy. Crichton and McBane collaborated with Susan Working to create an installation connecting the objects
Amos Mac with Juliana Huxtable la Dosha Untitled (Tree), 2009 Photographic C-print
and writings of Crichton’s recently deceased father with the archive of Veronica Friedman. Friedman’s archive is housed at the GLBT Historical Society, and was matched to McBane through Crichton’s project LINEAGE, which she presented as the society’s first artist in residence. McBane did not fully engage with the archive until the passing of her own mother, saying, “Veronica’s archive had a structural element of elegy that made it an irresistible vehicle for my own displaced mourning.” Collaborating on many levels, these artists are engaged not only in their own personal connections, but also in relation to the archive itself—collaborating with the past, and queering its present impact. Joe Varisco is creating an archive of his own entitled QUEER LEXICON. Working with Chicago based queer artists, Varisco conducts audio interviews and presents them alongside an intimate portrait series. Varisco invites viewers to engage with contemporary Chicago queer culture makers, and collaborates with his community to present their stories and experiences in the gallery setting. Collaborating with history and queering the archive is a major tenet of Julie Sutherland’s work. In a series of paintings addressing the life of former first lady Rose Cleveland, Sutherland blurs the lines between fact and fiction in her work. She says, “I realize its not consensual collaboration, but even still, when I’m working on the paintings—from this source material—I’m spending time with it. It does feel like I know their story. It’s my interpretation, so I put a lot of myself into it, but I’m trying to do right by her. I’m also collaborating with whoever built the archive, collected items for it, donated to it… I love the thought of being indebted to people because of your shared obsessions.” One of the painting in the series, “Cleveland,” combines the portraits of President Grover Cleveland with both of his first ladies; his sister Rose, and his young wife Frances. In creating these intersubjective portraits, Sutherland queers the historical associations around Cleveland’s legacy and brings the forgotten histories of the first ladies to light.
Sean Fader I Want To Put You On, Dad, 2007 digital C-print, 20” x 36” (left) Jordan Arseneault and Poster/VIRUS Silence=Sex, 2012 paper (right)
Tara Matiek also utilizes performance and impersonation in his practice. In staged live recreations, using archival audio, Mateik recreates historical screen tests and interviews. Collaborating with impersonators of queer icons Diana Ross and Judy Garland, his performances play with personification, identification, and concepts of home. Mateik cast himself in the roles director and producer mirroring his actual role in providing the creative framework for each performance, but he acknowledges his dependence on his collaborators saying, “I created the structure and the content—but it can’t exist without the impersonators. And each person’s interpretation just becomes part of a larger conversation.”
Sean Fader’s work also visually merges identities, queering portraits and examining the concept of intersubjective identity. His photographic works present similarly layered identities in portraits combining his own head expertly merged with the bodies of friends and family in zippered “costumes.” He says, “I create photographs of impossible performances. These performances never occurred in one single frame. The I Want To Put You On, series is the compression of a three-hour conversation into a single image. It’s about the performance, the negotiation, the in between messiness, all of this stuff that happens between us and that compresses this three hour time into a single image.”
Bren Ahearn and Jesse M. Kahn are engaged in a collaborative project called Crafty Faggots, that has similar goals of using a predefined structure to create a piece larger than the sum of its parts. In a sort of cross-national sewing circle, the artists set parameters including scale and time, for each piece. Each artist began his work on one sampler, drawing from his own personal iconography, and then shipped the Aida cloth across the country to the collaborator to finish. In these works Ahearn and Kahn both work with wrestler imagery, a common theme in each of their individual practices. The overlap of their visual language led to two complete samplers playing with the line between homosexual innuendo and heteronormative masculine expressions of violence. Their collaborative practice challenges gender normativity and queers the concept of craft and sport. Angie Wilson and Amber Straus are dedicated to challenging enforcement and gender expression in their work, and in their lives. When the artists decided to grow their family, their creativity and anti-corporate politics, informed how they decided to bring a new life into the world. Straus and Wilson created a personal account of their process in a zine called, A DIY Guide to Babymaking:
Queers are constantly in conversation with their opposite. Queer only exists if there is a normal. Non-normativity only exists in opposition to normativity. Operating at odds means operating in relation or collaboration with the inverse. So by this definition it can be theorized that there is, in fact, something inherently collaborative about queerness.
This is How We Did It, to empower feminist mothers, both queer and queer allied. Wilson and Straus’ work reclaims the power of childbirth and the determination of gender identification outside of hegemonic and capitalist structures, and blurs the line between life and art. Husbands Dutes Miller & Stan Shellabarger are also engaged in blurring the lines between their lives together, and their art. Their seventeen-year collaborative practice challenges the tension of connection and separation in their relationship. For Strange Bedfellows they present photographs of a performance in which the artists dug graves next to one another, with a connecting tunnel so that they could hold hands as they lay together. In taking their own romantic relationship as subject, Chris and Greg are also queering the personal. Chris Vargas & Greg Youmans “play” themselves and explore the dynamics of a trans and cisgender relationship in
their serial sitcom Falling in Love with Chris and Greg. Vargas reflects, “I do think there is something natural or obvious about collaborating with one’s lover, boyfriend, or same-sex life partner. I’m referring to the energy that’s there in the beginning of the relationship that’s pure magic, and for many it feels right to harness and direct it toward something outside of yourself.” Perhaps that is what all art aims to do—to direct energy outside of oneself into something larger that can be shared. This exhibition offers a multiplicity of perspective on the queer experience and a variety of strategies for collaboration including political organizing, empathy, intersubjective identity, appropriation, familial relations, and romantic partnership. I am inspired by the creative ways that these artists engage in their lives and practice. It’s an honor to share their work in this exhibition. —Amy Cancelmo
ADRIENNE SKYE ROBERTS
Adrienne Skye Roberts is an artist, activist, educator, writer, and curator based in Oakland, California. For Strange Bedfellows, Roberts has created a new piece titled, It is our duty to fight / It is our duty to win / We must love each other and protect each other / We have nothing to loose but our chains, based on an Assata Shakur chant that the California Coalition for Women Prisoners says before and after most actions. Roberts collaborated with four fellow coalition members, Windy Click, Misty Rojo, Mary Campbell, and Samantha Rogers, all prison survivors, on an installation featuring hand painted signs and audio based on her interviews and recordings from the recent Chowchilla Freedom Rally that they organized together. For the interviews with her collaborators, Roberts asked three questions: “How did you survive prison? What do you need to survive now that you are out of prison? And what does a world without mass incarceration look like?” Roberts’s hand painted signs based on quotes from each interview connect her to each individual’s cause, taking it on as her own, and giving their voices a haunting and palpable presence.
It is our duty to fight/ It is our duty to win/ We must love each other and protect each other/ We have nothing to lose but our chains, 2013 watercolor, acrylic on mat board, audio
BREN AHEARN & JESSE M. KAHN
Crafty Faggots is a collaborative project including textile artists Bren Ahearn, Greg Der Ananian, and Jesse Kahn. The artists are engaging in a cross-national sewing circle, in which they rotate fabric pieces to complete several multi-authored embroidered artworks. Craft is a term often used to designate high from low arts; utilitarian item from fine art. It also has a long history of being a social experience, in which communities came together to work on joint projects for single purpose, like a quilting or sewing bee. Quilting Bees became popular in the 19th century a social gatherings and skillshare opportunities, the final products of which were often used to commemorate special events. Sewing circles consisted of groups of women who met regularly to sew, often for charitable
Collaboration #2 (1JK, 2BA), 2013 cotton, polyester, 12” x 12” Collaboration #2 (1BA, 2JK, 3BA), 2013 cotton, polyester, 12” x 12” (bottom)
causes or community needs. This term was also used to describe the relationships of closeted lesbian and bisexual film actresses such as Marlene Dietrich in the early 20th Century. Embroidery in particular is often associated with feminine handiwork, and therefore the perfect medium for this group of artists to explore issues of gender and the normalization of violence in masculinity. The first iteration of this group collaboration, shown for Strange Bedfellows, is two collaborative samplers crafted by Ahearn and Kahn. With allotted parameters of scale and time, each artist began his work on one sampler, drawing from his own personal iconography, and then shipped the Aida cloth across the country to the collaborator to finish.
My Sister Natalie (detail of installation), 2009 Fabric, embroidery, altered photographs, brass, silver, 60” x 120”
In My Sister Natalie, artist Sarah Hirneisen has revised her family history in a collaboration with her transgender sister Natalie. By modifying family photos and gendering toys and other childhood ephemera, Sarah is re-envisioning Natalie’s childhood, and transforming her own family memories, to fit who she now knows her sister to be. This project raises interesting questions of authorship, as Sarah is in a sense appropriating her sister’s transition experience for her own art. Yet, the piece was done as a collaboration, and with Natalie’s support. Natalie shared many specific memories with Sarah, which were used to recreate her experience. The recreation of a family portrait from their aunt’s wedding casts both Sarah and Natalie as flower girls. Sarah recalls, “I found out that was a pivotal moment for Natalie in that she desperately wished she had been the flower girl and worn the dress. She shared with me that she would try on that dress (which was kept in my dress up bin) when I was not home.”
ALEXANDER HERNANDEZ & RUDE HOUSE
Alexander Hernandez explores the collaborative nature of drag culture in Haute Mess, a performative, site-specific installation with RUDE House. RUDE House, which stands for Raging Unified Drag Ensemble, began in early 2013, as a collaborative effort to help Amaya Dorable (Jason Dominic) with her first performance. Recognizing the strength in collectivity and skill sharing, the house now consists of a core group of six artists and performers, Ben Rodriguez (Jenna Talia), Mitch Laffins (Darla Gayle), Eric Aviles (Vanity), Myla Baker (Cara Couture), Alexander Hernandez, and Korey Luna. Much like a sewing circle, backstage preparations for drag performances are community driven spaces of creative, technical, and social support. RUDE House has performed at various venues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area including The CafĂŠ, DNA Lounge, The Lookout, and Paâ€™ina Lounge, but this is the first time they have invited the public to engage in the process. For Strange Bedfellows, Hernandez and RUDE House have brought the little seen world of backstage drag culture to center stage inviting visitors to kiki with the house and engage with the queens trading makeup and costuming advice before the culminating performance.
Costume from Haute Mess 003, 2013 performance/ephemera
AMOS MAC & JULIANA HUXTABLE LADOSHA Amos Mac is a contemporary trans-male photographer best known for Original Plumbing magazine, a self-published trans-male quarterly. With his project Translady Fanzine, Mac ruptures notions of gender and the role of alternative publications. Each issue features one trans–woman as artistic collaborator in photo-essays created for the publication’s centerfold. The presentation of feminine-otherness in a format based on teen magazines and celebrity fan circulations challenges preconceptions about the media and of the sitter. For the second installation of Translady Fanzine, Mac partnered with Juliana Huxtable LaDosha, an artist, writer, and member of New York’s infamous drag house, House of LaDosha. In after-hours photo shoots, Amos Mac and Juliana Huxtable LaDosha shot a series of photos in the offices of what would soon be LaDosh’s ex-employer, New York’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). LaDosha met a good deal of liberal racism and transphobia in the two and a half years that she worked at the ACLU. In reaction to this and her decision to leave her position, LaDosha and Mac came together to create a series of photos reclaiming that space. In bold photos shown alongside her essay about the transphobia she faced in a “liberal” and “progressive” office setting, this project reclaims the commodification of trans bodies on the artist’s own terms.
Untitled (Mailroom), 2013 photographic C-print, 20” x 30”
E.G. CRICHTON, BARBARA MCBANE , & SUSAN WORKING As the first Artist-in-Residence at San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society, E.G. Crichton has been connecting the personal contents of historical archives to contemporary artists. Her project, LINEAGE: Matchmaking in the Archive, creates a framework for artists to directly engage with the archives and respond in their chosen media. When Crichton asked Barbara McBane to participate in LINEAGE, she offered the archive of Veronica Friedman, a slim box that preserves a year and a half of Friedman’s life, from 1979 to 1981. The archive is slim in its records as Friedman only lived for five years after her transition, dying in 1986 at the age of 41. It wasn’t until the death of her own mother, that McBane was able to fully immerse herself in Friedman’s archive, as a sort of elegy to both women. Crichton, having also recently gone through the experience of parental loss, with the death of her father Oliver, dove into another archival investigation. Exploring documents and ephemera in the same way she explored the GLBT archives. With the expansion of the LINEAGE project, Crichton created connections between the archives in her mind, examining impossible relationships and exchanges in lives that would have never overlapped, and in doing so connected her father’s experience to Friedman’s. For Strange Bedfellows McBane and Crichton created a dialogue and relationship between these two archives.
“So boring!—but not you, Nature!” (Oliver and Veronica), 2013 video, sound, light, box vitrine, napkins, photo prints
JULIE SUTHERLAND Julie Sutherland’s Union series has offered a queering of American history and a blurring of gender lines. By combining portraits of a President and their respective First Lady from the Library of Congress, she challenges the role of first ladies in contemporary understandings of history and blurs the lines between fact and fiction. For Strange Bedfellows, Sutherland has queered a particularly interesting presidential pairing: Grover Cleveland, and his first lady, and sister, Rose Cleveland. In mining the archive and queering history, Sutherland came across this odd couple that had a much queerer history than she anticipated. According to the artist’s research, Rose Cleveland was an author, academic, a fan of George Eliot, and in love with a woman named Evangeline Whipple for many years. When her unmarried brother became President of the United States she was asked to move to Washington and act as his First Lady. Acting as First Lady for about a year and a half, she didn’t ‘fit in,’ and left the post once Grover married his ridiculously younger bride, Frances. In a series of works addressing these multifaceted histories, Sutherland has woven a narrative of longing, propriety, patriotism, love, and illness.
Covers, 2013 acrylic and graphite on canvas, 16” x 20”
JORDAN ARSENEAULT & POSTER/VIRUS A Day Without Art was piloted by Visual AIDS, the same organization that popularized the red ribbons associated with AIDS awareness in 1989, as a day of mourning. In 1997, Visual AIDS turned the emphasis from closing down art spaces to enabling more artistic interventions by artists living with and working to fight HIV/AIDS. The brackets on With(out) were added in 1997 to highlight the work of these activists and artists. In a continuation of that vision, Aids Action Now has launched two poster/Virus interventions at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, in 2011 and 2012, and covered the streets of Toronto with images and text designed by artists living with HIV in the 21st century. Jordan Arseneault’s poster for 2012 poster/VIRUS project is featured in Strange Bedfellows. Arseneault appropriated the original imagery of ACT UP’s slogan “Silence = Death”, and tweaked it to “Silence = Sex”, in order to more accurately reflect his personal experiences with disclosure and rejection.
Silence = Sex, 2012 paper, 18” x 12”
Silence = S e x
The criminalization of HiV+ people perpetuates stigma and prevents prevention. HiV+ people are often caught in a â€œcatch 22,â€? wherein disclosure is required by law, but often leads to immediate rejection. inform yourself: overcome stigma and get laid!
12-09-16 11:32 PM
Tara Mateik is a New York based artist whose video and performance work explores notions of home, gender, and queer iconography. For Strange Bedfellows, Mateik presents Friends of Dorothy, a new body of work, deconstructing the myths of home and identity through investigating The Wizard of Oz, and The Wiz. In staged live recreations, Mateik uses archival audio to recreate historical screen tests and interviews. Collaborating with impersonators of queer icons Diana Ross and Judy Garland, his performances play with personification and identification of heroine Dorothy Gale.
Love Hangover featuring the Tin Man, a character study, 2011 video
TINA TAKEMOTO & ANGELA ELLSWORTH
Tina Takemoto and Angela Ellsworth met in 1991 while pursing graduate degrees at Rutgers University. Both went into the program as painters, but became interested in the artistic intervention in everyday life. Ellsworth and Takemoto started performing together under the name Her/She Senses (initially with Jennifer Parker), within their first year at Rutgers, and later organized For-Play, a monthly event featuring time-based performances by students and local artists. However, when Ellsworth was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1993, the content of their collaboration shifted. At this time, the artists were living in different cities, so in order to share the experience, and under-
Imag(in)ed Malady: Neck Marks, 1994 photographic print, 17.25” x 10.25” Imag(in)ed Malady: Blown Veins/ Jelly Hand, 1994 photographic print, 17.25” x 10.25”
stand it more fully herself, Ellsworth began sending Takemoto photos documenting the effects of treatment on her body. Takemoto began staging “rhyming” photographs of her own body in staged recreations of Ellsworth’s photos. In this series of “rhyming” photographs, the artists documented the physical and emotional ramifications the disease was having on each of them. The trauma of Ellsworth’s illness affected both artists in very intense and very different ways. The mirroring photographs began as a way for both artists to try to understand the confusing dynamics of a sick/well experience.
ANGIE WILSON & AMBER STRAUS
When artists Angie Wilson and Amber Straus decided to grow their family by raising a child together, their creativity and anti-corporate politics informed how they decided to bring a new life into the world. Choosing to avoid the overly medicalized conception process often associated and encouraged in lesbian pregnancy, Wilson and Straus engaged in DIY babymaking: insemination and childbirth at home without medical intervention. The artists relied heavily on the text of the now out of print, The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy & Birth, written by Stephanie Brill of Maia Midwifery and Preconception Services. With an interest
Questioning, 2013 fabric, ink
in empowering feminist mothers, both queer and queer allied, Straus and Wilson created a personal account of their process in a zine called, A DIY Guide to Babymaking: This is How We Did It. For Strange Bedfellows, the zine is available for visitors to take, and shown alongside a mobile Straus made as well as the first iteration of Wilsonâ€™s textile project Questioning, which consists of a series of onesies. Like many queer (and non-queer) parents, Wilson and Straus grappled with issues surrounding gender enforcement and gender expression, even before their daughter was born.
CHRIS VARGAS & GREG YOUMANS
Chris Vargas and Greg Youmans met in the Digital Media department at UC Santa Cruz in 2006, where Youmans was Vargas’s teaching assistant for a film theory class. They started their romantic relationship and collaborative art practice a year and a half later. Their video series Falling in Love With Chris and Greg is an odd couple style sitcom in which Youmans plays “the cisgendered gay-liberal half to Vargas’s transgendered queer-radical half.” In short episodes and “specials,” Vargas and Youmans “play” themselves, addressing issues that came up in their relationship and in the queer political arena including gay marriage, pregnant men, and Proposition 8.
Falling in Love… with Chris and Greg, Season Two, Series Finale: “Cheesecakes and Memories,” 2013 video
For Strange Bedfellows, Vargas and Youmans will be presenting the final episode of Falling in Love with Chris and Greg. This episode, styled after the montage finales of The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, addresses the upcoming changes in both artists’ lives, including a move to upstate New York, where Youmans will be taking a position as Visiting Adjunct Professor at Colgate, and Vargas’s recent awards and accolades.
ANNIE SPRINKLE & BETH STEPHENS
Despite the controversy surrounding same sex marriage, artists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens have been married sixteen times. Theyâ€™ve married each other legally in Canada, married their community, the Earth, the sea, the rocks, the moon, the snow, and many other natural elements in extravagant and colorful performances. In taking the guise of a heteronormative structure, Sprinkle & Stephens have radically shifted the notion of marital union to include all matter of personal and environmental connection. Working with over 2000 collaborators, their weddings feature performers, artists, and sex workers in an experimental public performance based on the tropes of traditional western matrimony. For Strange Bedfellows, Annie and Beth present an audio-visual installation featuring simultaneous screenings of their first seven weddings.
We do!, 2004 to 2011 and 2013 video on digital frame
Born in Ridgewood, New Jersey—a conservative suburb of New York—Sean Fader was always active in the performing arts. Attending both Northwestern and The New School University, then pursuing his career by performing on and off Broadway, Fader’s history as an actor informs his fine art practice. He attributes his performative background and his lack of formal art training (until receiving his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) for his lack of reverence for the “truth” in photography.
I Want To Put You On, Raini, 2007 digital C-print, 20” x 36”, (left) I Want To Put You On, Bryan, 2007 digital C-print, 20”x 36”, (right)
Each photo in the 2007 series I Want to Put You On depicts Fader’s likeness, namely his head, expertly merged in Photoshop with the bodies of his various subjects. A zipper down the center of each body is left slightly open at the collarbone exposing Fader’s hairy chest and neck rising out of the “costume.” Fader selects his subjects based on their bearing qualities that he covets. His “trying on” of these bodies then is an exploration of those traits within himself. Fader begins by photographing his subject in their own environment, and then in an interesting role reversal, has each subject photograph and direct him in acting as or “being” the subject.
MILLER & SHELLABARGER
Untitled 1 (Grave, Basel, Switzerland), 2008 archival inkjet print in artist-made pine frame with UV plexi, 26.5” x 20.5”
For Strange Bedfellows, artistic and romantic partners, Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger present documentation of a 2010 performance in Basel Switzerland. For this work, the husbands each dug side by side graves in relation to their body shape, and ultimately created a small tunnel between the two graves to allow the artists to hold hands. Inspired by the works of Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, and The Work of Mourning, which explore the anticipation of loss in any relationship, the artists create an impossible reality in this performance: the ability to remain connected, even in death. Many of Miller and Shellabarger’s collaborative works deal with the embodiment of connection and inevitable separation, including actually stitching their clothing together and cutting the threads in, Untitled (Sewing), which the artists will perform at the A+D Gallery during the opening reception. Often employing craft techniques and utilizing their masculine, bearded appearance to complicate and confront stereotypes, the artists are adamant that the work is not politically motivated or exclusively about queer relationships. Their performances reflect the universal challenges of any sort of relationship, and visualize the connective threads and gaps in human connection.
JOE VARISCO & QUEER LEXICON
Joe Varisco is Chicago-based queer documentarian and producer who has been active in building community through his projects since 2009. For Strange Bedfellows, Varisco presents a selection of interviews and photos from Queer Lexicon, an oral history series he piloted in 2012 which documents and archives the lives of Chicago’s queer creative community. The subjects of Varisco’s interviews and photos in the presentation include Jackie Boyd director of Chicago’s Queer Choir and co-founder of Project Fierce Chicago, a grassroots agency developing housing for trans youth; H. Melt author of SIRvival in the Second City: Transqueer Chicago Poems and writer for Original Plumbing; and
Queer Lexicon: An Oral History Series a JRV MAJESTY Production, 2013 framed photographs and sound
fashion designer GNAT (Gnat Brilmyer) Point Scholar, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s The Walk Fellowship recipient and Bernhard Willhelm intern. Varisco’s work speaks to the power of collaboration in producing events and developing and disseminating culture through the queer community. His interviews are available online, and serve to connect queer artists, writers, performers and scholars, in a living, evolving, archive of contemporary culture.
billy ocallaghan’s most recent projects center around the sun, more specifically, the rainbow hues that are “evidence that life is still possible on our planet.” When his mother moved in with him and his partner, as a safety precaution in light of her declining memory, ocallaghan sought ways of engaging his still mentally and physically active mother. Several years prior, his mother helped make the zines he was producing by doing the initial cuts on publications from across the country. Faced with a new living situation, having her assist him in his production seemed a clear next step as they negotiated their life together.
yet another gift from our sun, 2013 print, accordion zine template, 18” x 24”
One of the first notecard images they made was of a photo of a rainbow ocallaghan had taken in their home, another was the same image inverted. “My mom cut the first sample and loved how it looked. I folded and bound it into an accordion and flattened it in a book press overnight. In the process, I discovered that this form I had made could be flipped through like a flipbook without a spine, it was a rainbow slinky of sorts, it could be played like an accordion. It was magical. And, like an accordion, it could also open up into a large zine. I was very excited (as was my mom).” For Strange Bedfellows, ocallaghan presents a rainbow accordion fold poster print that functions as a template for the zine, with instructions for building and playing the accordion.
About the Curator Amy Cancelmo received her MA in Queer Art History from San Francisco State University in 2011, and a BFA in painting from Syracuse University in 2004. Her current creative pursuits focus on curatorial practice, research, and writing. Cancelmo is currently employed as the Exhibitions and Events Coordinator for Root Division, a visual arts non-profit located in San Francisco. In her position she annually works with over 500 artists to produce 12 monthly exhibitions. In addition, she has been curating solo and group exhibitions of Root Division Studio Artists and Affiliates at offsite venues such as the ODC Theater and the Spare Change Artistâ€™s Space since 2011. As a curator, Cancelmo is interested in presenting work that addresses current social issues, and creates opportunities for dialogue, learning, and critical engagement by all participants. About Strange Bedfellows Strange Bedfellows is a nationally travelling exhibition exploring collaborative practice in queer art making. The project is fiscally sponsored by the Queer Cultural Center, and was first presented at Root Division, San Francisco, as part of the National Queer Arts Festival in June of 2013. The exhibition then travelled to the Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania from September through November 2013. It is being presented at the Averill & Bernard Leviton A+D Gallery at Columbia College Chicago as the sponsored exhibition of the Queer Caucus for the Arts for the College Art Association Conference. Strange Bedfellows will continue to travel and evolve, including regionally specific collaborative projects in each new presentation, and raising new questions about the role collaboration plays in queer life, and artistic practice. Upcoming venues include the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College, New York. To learn more about Strange Bedfellows visit: strangebedfellowsexhibition.wordpress.com
+ d es i gn
AVERILL AND BERNARD LEVITON
TUESDAY – SATURDAY
619 SOUTH WABASH AVENUE
11AM – 5PM
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS 60605 312 369 8687
11AM – 8PM
This exhibition is sponsored by the Art + Design Department at Columbia College Chicago. This exhibition is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.