Garth Amundson & Pierre Gour Therese Buchmiller Paul D. McKee
Garth Amundson & Pierre Gour Therese Buchmiller Paul D. McKee Essay by Gayle Clemans Residue reveals the psychic and physical remnants of how we live or the remains of a domestic dream never lived. Therese Buchmiller, Paul D. McKee, and the collaborative team of Garth Amundson & Pierre Gour conjure up the nostalgic dregs of an idyllic domesticity, the memento mori of home life past, or the vestigial traces of actual, bodily inhabitation. Loosened pages in a photo album bear traces of generations of touch, a forgotten bauble in a cleaned-out junk drawer becomes a relic, curling wallpaper whispers about time, taste, and neglect. Through the alluring trappings of home dĂŠcor, intriguing archival apparatuses, recognizable objects and images, and seductive textures, patterns, and colors, these works of art invite us in. The longer we visit, the more we intuit connectedness and reminiscence, as if we are witnessing familiar, elusive narratives under construction. But we are also greeted with displacement and discomfort, shadows and disrepair, and a creeping awareness of the spaces between objects. Home life is uncovered, screened, and dismantled. As artists in long-term relationships with same-sex partners, they are particularly concerned with the location of gay identities and domestic experiences within or outside of hetero-normative models. Their works of art can suggest the normalcy and intimacy of everyday home life, a togetherness forged in a private, safe realm. Yet the works can also disrupt a mainstream notion of domestic bliss in America, built on predominantly heterosexual, patriarchal imagery and structures which have re-inscribed traditional masculine and feminine roles within the domestic sphere for over a century. This is a critical moment when perceptions of domesticity are being reconstructed and reinscribed. From the hotly argued status of same-sex marriage to advertising featuring multiracial families to lingering fall-out from the foreclosure crisis, understandings of home and family are shifting. Residue reflects these fluctuating structures, the loosening of rigid boundaries, and the bits and pieces that remain. 4
Garth Amundson & Pierre Gour, Cut-It-Out, altered pigment print installation detail, 2009.
Garth Amundson & Pierre Gour Cut-it-Out, the large-scale, multi-paneled, archivalesque installation, was created to expose absence. As a gay, bi-national couple, legally married in Canada (Gourâ€™s homeland), Amundson and Gour are acutely aware that their partnership is unrecognized and invisible in the United States due to the Defense of Marriage Act and immigration laws. Portrait after portrait has been excised of its original functions of identifying and memorializing. We are faced with absence: absence of identity, subjectivity, power, representation, and historical presence. After snipping heads out of vintage and contemporary photographs for Cut-itOut, the artists were left with a large Ziplock bag of tiny faces. Now, pinned to the wall in circular, haphazard arrangements in the installation titled HEAD(s), these left-overs form a quasi-scientific display of hives of men, busily presenting themselves as serious, playful, handsome, or contemplative. The feeling that their installations are both fact and fiction, commemorative and secretive, rests in part on the enduring belief that photographs are documents of actual people captured at specific times and places. The conventions of photographic portraiture are so ingrained that we feel a kinship with vintage portraits, despite the anonymity of the subjects. Amundson and Gour deploy and disrupt these expectations and conventions; the dense groupings, exaggerated scale, and various interventions into the original source material probe the ideas of originality, authenticity, and the lineage of photography and family portraiture. Ultimately, the images seem to take on lives of their own, revealing semiautobiographical, pseudo-documentary, unseen, reclaimed, or idealized queer narratives. 5
Therese Buchmiller Like well-designed store windows, Therese Buchmiller’s collages, installations, and mixed-media panels are enormously enticing, stimulating desire and the possibility of fulfillment. Her precise selection and composition of colors, textures, and forms entreat us to look, to hold, to repossess the past. They evoke a joyful longing to put the pieces of these vivid worlds together in a way that makes sense. But for all their allure and familiarity, and as much as they play with us and off each other, Buchmiller’s objects and images are separated from each other and dislocated from their original owners, functions, and meanings. There’s a detachment and dispersal that forces us to acknowledge, almost on a subconscious level, the impossibility of complete comprehension. Buchmiller seeks to elude and collapse easy distinctions, a desire built upon her orientation as a bisexual, her interest in semiotics, and her background in museum work and the problematics of display, interpretation, and labeling. A search for meaning in her work relies on a bouncing interplay of our preconceptions, perceptions, and reassessments. The installation Work Table is just that: a surface across which a variety of things are distributed, where we can work at decoding this table of elements. The objects, images, and words are composed in ways that invite and confuse classification. Just when your eye is drawn from color to color, you begin to see repeated shapes, and then your knowledge of the objects’ function or meaning kicks in to scatter the more obvious possibilities of categorization. Our own hazy associations with these things override all logical systems, forging a delicate, imprecise web of recollections and connections.
Therese Buchmiller, Work Table, household and studio objects, latex paint, plywood, sawhorses, 2011.
Paul D. McKee, Trophies of the American Home, mixed media installation, 2008-2010
Paul D. McKee Hybrids of plush Victorian parlors and belligerent hunting lodges, Paul D. McKee’s installations are almost predatory. With aggressively ornate fabrics and wall coverings, tangles of stag antlers, and a sense of stylish dereliction, the environments exude a voracious sensuality. We are lured in by the elegant excess and captivated by the inconsistencies and peculiarities that intentionally induce discomfort. McKee’s deliberate staginess, juxtapositions of masculine and feminine, and fissures between what is known and unknown force us to acknowledge what we do and do not recognize, identify with, or feel comfortable within. McKee draws attention to the artificiality of an idealized home life. He fractures and deconstructs representations of an American dream that can be exclusionary for gay couples and families. The series of sculptures titled Trinkets for Michael are condensed versions of McKee’s elaborate, large-scale installations, like concentrated packages of the uncanny. Antlers, markers of a deer’s masculinity and trophies of hunting, an activity associated with masculine faults and virtues, have been fetishized and feminized through pink paint and satiny ruffles. These linear, piercing forms do not rest on frothy poufs, but on squared-off cushions neatly tailored with graceful fabric. Like the Surrealist sculptors, McKee generates cognitive dissonance through the contradistinction of what is familiar and unfamiliar. But for all their mischievous discord, these sculptures — like the enshrinement of Cinderella’s shoe or the presentation of wedding band on a ring pillow — can also be read as displays of cherished, exchanged tokens of love, as more than mere trinkets for Michael, McKee’s partner. 7
Gayle Clemans teaches art history at Cornish College of the Arts and contributes regularly to The Seattle Times. Recent publications include essays featured in The Map as Art (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009). Prior to moving to the Northwest for graduate school, Clemans worked at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where she connected exhibiting artists with diverse community groups to create innovative programs. In 2011, Clemans received her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Washington with a dissertation titled Parental Points of View: Photographic and Filmic Acts in Contemporary Art. Garth Amundson & Pierre Gour’s project was created with partial support from the following: Artist’s Trust GAP Grant, Western Washington University RSP Summer Research Grant, and the generous support of the FundaciÓn Valparaíso. Paul D. McKee’s Disparate Dream was created with a generous grant from King County 4 Culture. Image details: Garth Amundson & Pierre Gour, HEAD(S), mixed media pigment prints, bank pins, 2012. Therese Buchmiller, Victory Garden, mixed media collage and latex paint on panels, 2011. Paul D. McKee, Disparate Dream, mixed media installation, 2010.
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