STRANGE BEDFELLOWS collaborative practice in queer art Curated by Amy Cancelmo
Strange Bedfellows Amy Cancelmo 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 (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, and Intersex) 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, to 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 break down distinctions between art and life as static and separate categories through inventive publications and mail art, performances,
Strange Bedfellows - Amy Cancelmo
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. Collaboration and queerness can both 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, but working collectively does not automatically mean 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 nonheteronormative 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 first iteration of Strange Bedfellows range in their queer identities, politics, strategies, and reasons for collaboration. I’ve attempted to present diverse 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, many of which are included in this catalogue, 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, the 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.” (1) In acknowledgement of the long lineage of collaborative political organizing around the rights of GLBTQQI people, Strange Bedfellows features ACT UP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) ephemera, loaned from the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society’s archives, alongside these contemporary projects. Jordan Arseneault’s work, “Silence = Sex,” is in direct conversation with this lineage, reframing the ACT UP slogan “Silence = Death,” 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 Stephen’s and Sprinkle’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. 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.” (2)
Strange Bedfellows - Amy Cancelmo
The need for love and support as a matter of survival have 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.” (3) 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 eight months. We’re much closer now, and it is still very much a work in progress.” (4) E.G. Crighton 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 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.” (5) 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. Queering the archive is also 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.” (6) One of the paintings 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’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.” (7) 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 casts himself in the roles of 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.” (8) 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 shipping the Aida cloth across the country to the collaborator to finish.
Strange Bedfellows - Amy Cancelmo
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 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: 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 subsequently blur the line between life and art. In taking their own romantic relationship as subject, Chris Vargas and Greg Youmans are also queering the personal. Vargas and 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.” (9) 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. 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 & Events Coordinator for Root Division, where she annually oversees twelve exhibitions and works with over 500 artists annually. She has been curating solo and group exhibitions of Root Division Studio Artists and Affiliates at offsite venues such as ODC Theater and the Spare Change Artist’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, curated by Amy Cancelmo, is a nationally traveling 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 in San Francisco as part of the National Queer Arts Festival in June 2013. Strange Bedfellows: Collaborative Practice in Queer Art at Root Division included works by: Bren Ahearn & Jesse M. Kahn Jordan Arseneault & poster/VIRUS E.G. Crichton & Barbara McBane, Sean Fader Alexander Hernandez* with Rude House Sarah Hirneisen Amos Mac & Juliana Huxtable LaDoshaÂ Tara Mateik billy ocallaghan Adrienne Skye Roberts Annie Sprinkle & Beth StephensÂ with Luke Wilson Julie Sutherland* Tina Takemoto & Angela Ellsworth Chris Vargas & Greg Youmans Angie Wilson & Amber Straus * Root Division Studio Artist
Upcoming Dates: 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. Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. September through November, 2013. 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 Confrerence. Chicago, Illinois. January through February, 2014.
Learn More: http://www.strangebedfellowsexhibition.wordpress.com
Bren Ahearn & Jesse M. Kahn
Bren Ahearn & Jesse Kahn, Collaboration #1 (1BA, 2JK, 3BA), 2013. Cotton, polyester, 12 in. x 12 in.
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; segregating utilitarian items 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 a single purpose, like a quilting or sewing bees. Quilting Beeâ€™s became popular in the 19th century as social gatherings and skillshare opportunities; the final products of which would often be used to commemorate special events, such as weddings or births. Sewing circles were often groups of women who met regularly to sew, often for charitable causes, or community needs. (It was also a term 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 shipping the Aida cloth across the country to the collaborator to finish. Ahearn and Kahn each work with wrestler imagery in their individual practices, among other symbols. Interestingly they both chose to use wrestlers to start their samplers independent of each other. The overlap of their visual language led to two complete samplers playing with the line between homosexual innuendo and heteronormative masculine expressions of violence. Ahern has called this phenomenon, â€œsporn,â€? or the intersection of sports and porn.
Above: Bren Ahearn & Jesse Kahn, Collaboration #2 (1JK, 2BA), 2013. Cotton, polyester, 12 in. x 12 in.
Jordan Arseneault & poster/VIRUS
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Silence = Sex Silence = Sex Silence = Se The criminalization of HiV+ people perpetuates stigma and prevents prevention. HiV+ people are often caught in a “catch 22,” 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
Jordan Arseneault for PosterVIRUS, Silence = Sex, 2012. Poster, 12 in. x 18 in.
The criminalization of HiV+ people perpetuates stigma and prevents prevention. HiV+ people are often caught in a “catch 22,” 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
The criminalization of HiV+ people perpetuates stigma and prevents prevention. HiV+ people are wherein disclosure is required by law, but often leads to immediate rejection. inform yourself: ov
Aids Action Now, (AAN) is a grassroots Canadian organization committed to improving access to support, treatment, and visibility for people living with HIV/AIDS in Canada and beyond. Through demonstrations, research, lobbying, and collaborating with other community organizations, this group of activists empowers those most affected by HIV/AIDS to be the force driving contemporary conversations about the epidemic. Alex Mclellan and Jessica Whitbread are two activists who collaboratively produce poster/VIRUS, a series of posters made by contemporary artists and AIDS activists developed with AAN for Day With(out) Art / World AIDS Day. A Day Without Art, was piloted in 1989 by Visual AIDS, the same organization that popularized the red ribbons associated with AIDS awareness. The action called upon arts organizations and museums to shut down as a symbol of the impact HIV/ AIDS has on the arts community. Each year Visual AIDS would produce a copyright free broadside to spread visibility and act as press coordinator for what became Day Without Art / World AIDS Day. 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.
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Silence = S ex
The criminalization of HiV+ people perpetuates stigma and prevents prevention. HiV+ people are often caught in a “catch 22,” 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
e = S ex
ma and prevents prevention. HiV+ people are often caught in a “catch 22,” ds to immediate rejection. inform yourself: overcome stigma and get laid!
12-09-16 11:32 PM
Silence = S ex
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. The edgy and often controversial images raise issues of poverty, sex work, incarceration, criminalization, and disclosure. Poster/VIRUS’s grassroots style activism recalls the earlier days of the AIDS crisis both in strategy and visual language. 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. Based on the poem Arseneault wrote about this experience, printed below, the poster was designed by Ryan Nunn for AIDS Action Now, and first published on the web in July of 2012 by Visual AIDS. Poster/VIRUS provided the funding and support to also have the poster produced in French to reach a wider Canadian audience.
The criminalization of HiV+ people perpetuates stigma and prevents prevention. HiV+ people are often caught in a “catch 22,” 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
Above: Jordan Arseneault for PosterVIRUS, Silence = Sex, 2012. Poster, (Detail). 12 in. x 18 in.
Thirty Years Later: A Curator’s Interview with Jessica Whitbread and Alex McClellan
>> Amy Cancelmo: How do you see AIDS activism as having evolved over the past 30 years? poster/VIRUS: AIDS organizing has drastically changed in the past 30-years. But it isn’t that any of the issues are that different, but rather the milieu in which we operate has radically changed. Under neoliberalism AIDS responses have bureaucratized and institutionalized. Ironically much of the radical self-care and support organizing that was necessitated due to the lack of any state response in the 80s has now been fully NGO-ized and is essentially now a shadow state. Thus, much of the AIDS response in Canada has been evacuated of any politics and has been co-opted into the seductive individualizing and self-actualizing arms of neoliberalism. >> How do you see visual arts as interacting with activism? PV: We see art and activism as one and the same language capable of talking to different sectors of society. But art has liberties and traction that activism doesn’t - and vice versa. Art can provoke dialogue and be talked about in circles with those who often don’t identify with an activist agenda. Thus, merging art with activism becomes a space for continual learning and pushing each other to new limits. >> How did you select the artists for poster/VIRUS? PV: We have a distinctly Canadian focus, as we have a unique political environment in our country. But despite this many of the issues we cover are
relevant other places. For the artists they must be working in Canada, be doing work that we respect, and be open to engaging in a activist- based collaborative process. In short, they need to be doing work we like and have awesome politics. >> Where have the posters been shown? PV: We started with Toronto, but it has blown up and the works have been shown in NYC, Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Washington, and San Francisco. Also, all the works have been dispersed across the magic of the internet through our Tumblr at: http:// postervirus.tumblr.com/ They have also been in a popular newspaper in Zimbabwe. Oh yeah, and German fags love us. >> What has response been? PV: It depends who you ask. There is no in between with the response to many of the posters. Some people want to put them up on their walls, and some want to tear them down. Either way, PosterVIRUS has gotten people talking in ways that are often forbidden in the mainstream discourse around HIV. >> What are your favorite ad campaigns or political posters from the early days of the AIDS epidemic? PV: In this post-post-post-modern moment, we have actively approprated the style and tactics of Gran Fury, the Silence=Death Project, and General Idea, most of whom originally appropriated from others as well. With this, we are inspired by remix culture and the new meanings that can be created through intertextuality (bringing various works
/ VIRUS together) and intersectionality (bringing various issues together) to bring a new complexity to AIDS work that others try so often to evacuate. In regards to specific works of art, ad campaigns or political posters, we really like the past artistic work of AIDS ACTION NOW! in the 90s including the flyers and posters targeting political leaders. These works speak directly to our current reality and past as people living in Canada in ways that Gran Fury and ACT UP do not. We encourage others to learn about the history in their own city, province/state, country and region of the world, as AIDS activist histories need to be better documented and understood outside of the canonical works of Gran Fury. >> In a digital age, why have you opted for print media (i.e. a poster series), and how has the work been distributed? What relationship does it have with your online presence (Tumblr & Facebook) PV: Part of poster/VIRUS is about confrontation and if the posters are on the street passersby have to deal with them opposed to clicking them away. Also some of us old-schoolers like things that are tangible and can be held in our hands. In saying this others don’t see a big difference between the works existing in the material versus the digital world, we are people pleasers in this way. We have produced printed versions of the posters and put them up across Toronto, while at the same time we post them online on our blog and on Facebook. Both intertwine with each other in interesting ways. For example, as a result of having a big online
presence we sent the posters to San Francisco and ACT UP postered them around the city. >> Do you consider your work a collaboration with the community in that the virality of the work depends on the community distribution? PV: All of our work is collaborative. We are not the biggest fans of the word “community”, as it is used so often in our response to essentialize and categorize. More often than not it really means absolutely nothing, or is just a euphemism for people with HIV or those at “risk”. But we need to point out that there is no “community” among these folks. Community is something constructed by NGOs, public health and the state so that they can discern a population to target for interventions. Our work is a collaboration with artists, activists, and those who directly impacted by HIV and Hep C, but these folks do not constitute a “community”. We like to understand the people who encounter the works across various cities or on the internet as collaborators in realizing the works and interpreting them. Some people have been outraged by a number of the messages, and this has drawn out powerful conversations and discussions that would have not happened otherwise. Whitbred, Jessica and Alex McClelland. Email interview with author. May 21, 2013.
GLBT Historical Society & ACT UP
Above: “Silence = Death” Dollar Bill. & “Silence = Death” Sticker, ACT UP SF, San Francisco LGBT Groups Ephemera Collection, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society
For Strange Bedfellows, ACT UP ephemera was loaned from the archive of the GLBT Historical Society. The archive holds over 500 collectioned documents of the lives of average people and community leaders, as well as records of the work of community organizations, businesses, and political campaigns. Several items for the exhibition were drawn from the archives of ACT UP chapters San Francisco, Golden Gate, and Los Angeles, as well as the personal file of William Struzenberg. Struzenberg was a graphic designer, active in ACT UP San Francisco and ACT UP Golden Gate from 1992 until 1998 when he passed away from AIDS related illness. ACT UP’s beginnings are attributed to a speech given by Larry Kramer in March of 1987 at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York. Kramer, co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, spoke out against his organizations inability to make political change. When the call to political action was raised in his speech, a group of over 300 people responded by meeting two days later to form ACT UP. The “Silence = Death” design was part of many early interventions and continues to be the strongest visual representation of ACT UP, but it’s design and distribution predates the organiztion. A group of men including Avram Finklestein, Oliver Smith, and Chris Lione, several of who were designers, and all of whom
were being critically affected by the lack of visibility and political conversation around the AIDS crisis are credited with the design They created and wheat-pasted posters around New York that read, “What’s really happening in Washington? What’s happening with Reagan and Bush and the Food and Drug Administration?” and “Turn anger, fear, grief into action.” (10) Many of these men were present at Kramer’s speech and became active in ACT UP. The symbol of the inverted pink triangle, originated during World War II, as required badges for homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps. During the 1970’s the triangle was reappropriated in an upright position as a symbol of gay pride. By utilizing this symbol and the text “Silence = Death,” the designers and protesters were drawing parallels between the oppression of the Nazi regime and the AIDS crisis, “declaring that ‘silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival’.” (11) The symbol and slogan are contemporarily used by ACT UP and other AIDS organizations internationally.
Left & Above: ““Free Yourself” Sticker (yellow) & “HIV = Anti Gay,” Sticker (blue) & “Action = Life.” Business Card, ACT UP SF, San Francisco LGBT Groups Ephemera Collection, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society
E.G. Crichton, Barbara McBane & Susan Working
Above: E.G. Crighton, My Father’s Jewels (for Veronica), detail from “So boring! - but not you, Nature!” (Oliver and Veronica), 2013.
As the first Artist-in-Residence at San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society, E.G. Crichton has been collaborating with the personal contents of historical archives by connecting them to contemporary artists since 2008. Her project, LINEAGE: Matchmaking in the Archive, creates a framework for other artists to directly engage with the archives and respond in their chosen media. The results of her over 30 connections have included performances, public installations, and exhibitions on four continents. So far Crichton’s interest in archives has expanded into two international projects Wandering Archives and Migrating Archives, that through public exhibition and online presence create dialogue with queer ancestors and contemporary artists and forge connections between archival collections and historians. When Crichton asked Barbara McBane to participate in LINEAGE, she offered three archives that might be of interest based on McBane’s interest in voice, sound, and dialogue. McBane selected the archive of Veronica Friedman, a slim box that preserves a year and a half of Friedman’s life, from 1979 to 1981. The box contained institutional documents, poetry, and journals from the months before and after Friedman underwent the medical procedures changing her gender from male to female. 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, a sort of elegy to both women, or “displaced mourning.” Crichton, having also experienced 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, Crichton began piecing together the unspoken details of her father’s life, including his interest in biology, Darwinism, and hints of gender struggles in sports and military documents. With the expansion of the LINEAGE project, Crichton had already begun creating connections between the archives in her mind: impossible relationships and exchanges in lives that would have never overlapped. In her mind, she connected her father’s experience to Friedman’s. McBane and Crichton decided to create a dialogue and relationship between these two archives, in a multimedia installation for Strange Bedfellows. The museum-like arrangement of these intimate objects gives the viewer the experience of mining an archive. The writings of both Oliver and Veronica are projected scrolling next to each other in an impossible “duet” on a Plexiglas screen. Scrolls of biological drawings cascade over scans of original archive materials in an illuminated vitrine designed and built by Susan Working. Notes alluding to Oli and Veronica’s imagined relationship are scrawled on red napkins in reference to the napkin poetry in Friedman’s archive. McBane describes Friedman’s writing as, “almost operatic in its intensity,” and selected passages for San Francisco based singer Nomy Lamm (another contributor to the LINEAGE project) to create a libretto, which is played in the gallery, adding a haunting audio dimension to the installation. (12) Left from Top: E.G. Crichton, From Oli’s Notebook, detail from, “So boring! - but not you, Nature!” (Oliver and Veronica,) 2013, & Barbara McBane, Veronica’s Napkin- “Always,” detail from, ”So boring! - but not you, Nature! (Oliver and Veronica), 2013.
Archive and Elegy: A Curator’s Interview with
>> Amy Cancelmo: E.G. what started your interest in archives at the GLBT Historical Society? E.G. Crichton: I have always felt the need for antecedents, for evidence of queers who came before me. There is a way that I want to rescue these archives from oblivion, to bring them out, off their shelves, to use art to make them more visible. There is a voyeurism in exploring the archives that is at once disturbing and pleasurable; playing matchmaker allows me to invite others into my own historical promiscuity! >> Barbara, you were asked to participate in E.G.’s project Lineage: Matchmaking in the Archive how were you paired with an archive? Barbara McBane: When E.G. decided to find me a match from the San Francisco LGBT Historical Society archives, she first proposed a few alternatives. I was strongly drawn to Veronica Friedman’s box, partly because there was so little in it. There was a file folder of poetry written on cocktail napkins. There were pages from personal journals. There were letters to friends, family and others. There were no photographs at all, no personal objects or clothing, nothing that gave you a sense of the physicality of Veronica beyond these documents. >> E.G., in your Lineage project, you connect other artists with the archive. What led you to connect your own father’s archive with the work Barbara was doing with Veronica? EGC: I started to imagine matchmaking archives to each other. How would a Japanese internment camp gay male survivor relate to a lesbian flight trainer
from World War II? How would each of them relate to a gay man who worked on the Manhattan project? What was unexpected in this process was my father’s death in early 2013, my need to spend hours, days and weeks immersed in his packed apartment archive, going over stuff with my three brothers, getting caught up in our life-long questions about his life, deciding what to keep and who would keep it. Since Barbara and I had already started working on Veronica’s archive, I couldn’t help mentally bringing the two of them together. Veronica’s archive is so spare that I started wanting to “give” her things from Oli’s archive - feminine brooches and knickknacks, but also his botanical drawings in which gender symbols appear on almost every page. He was a high school biology teacher with a passion for Darwin, lichen, and the entire natural world. What would he have thought of Veronica, who was also a father? How would he have construed survival of the fittest to transgender disphoria? What would have been “natural” or “unnatural” about Veronica to him? >> E.G.’s connection to her archival subject is clear, Barbara have you personally connected with Veronica’s archive?
BM: Veronica seemed like someone who had been so marginalized she was on the verge of disappearing. But her determination to remake herself through gender reassignment focalized her energies and gave a strong theme to her distinctive voice. The core of feeling she expresses is almost operatic in its intensity. I’d worked as a film-sound editor for many years -- on feature films, art films, and
BARBARA MCBANE documentaries. Dialogue and voice had been my specialty. I was very drawn to this voice. Also, I could certainly relate to her resistance to gendering, and to her experience of the violences of the gendering process for our generation. >> How much does accuracy of history matter in collaborating with these archives? How do you relate to revising history, or creating new dialogue? BM: I was drawn to Veronica’s archive precisely because of its incompleteness, what I’ve called its ‘porosity.’ This quality made room for imaginative engagement, for a kind of traction -- you could take hold of the archive and insert yourself into it because there were holes for grabbing. I’ve tried to respect and preserve the data that was present in the archive: the dates and names and chronologies and institutional documents. But I’ve resisted trying to fill out Veronica’s history more than it’s already filled out. EGC: My own inclination - different from Barbara’s I think - is to want to find out more about Veronica, to become a sleuth. I want to photograph all the addresses referenced in her archive, write all the individuals who make an appearance, research what she may have been reading in the early 1980’s, locate a photograph of her, find out what happened to her wife, daughter and son, meet the person who donated her slim portfolio to the GLBT History Society, etc. But while I have started to do this kind of detective work, Barbara and I agreed that it’s a different project from this one in which we imagine the relationship between Oli and Veronica.
>> Do you see this collaborative work as elegy? BM: E.G. first invited me to contribute to LINEAGE quite a while ago -- about four years. I took a quick look at Veronica’s archive, but then I moved to France to work for two years and did nothing with it. Just after I moved back from France, a year and a half ago, my mother died. Soon after my mother died, I dove back into Veronica’s archive and developed a response. Veronica’s archive has a built-in elegaic quality in that it ends by chronicling Veronica’s admission to Herrick Hospital in Berkeley with a brain tumor. It documents the story of her terminal illness, her death in 1986, and her circumstances at death of estrangement from her biological family, and her economic poverty. One can’t help but be moved. EGC: I pinned all the notes I found in my father’s apartment to a wall in my studio, just to see the scope, to see them flutter and cast shadows, to climb a ladder and read the words and diagrams. Building this relationship between him and Ronald Bruce Veronica Marie Friedman has been a way for me to process his absence, just as I speculate on the sense of absence that is so palpable in Veronica’s archive. Crighton, E.G., and Barbara McBane. Email interview with author. May 21, 2013.
Above: Sean Fader I Want To Put You On, Raini, 2007, Digital C-print. 36 in. x 24 in.
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. 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. He says, “I call them inter-subjective portraits – it’s where our two subjectivities collide in the middle that’s neither them nor me but it’s a portrait of me performing their idea of who they think they are.” (13) A mirror of his or her self-concept, Fader
recalls subjects directing him to “be sexier,” and the like. What is created in this process is a multi-layered expression of the idealized self — both that of the artist and subject — through the shared embodiment of one another. In our recent interview he mused, “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.” (14) While compression may be part of the process, Fader has left the scars of the union visible. Though he could have easily merged the two bodies and identities in Photoshop without a trace, Fader’s choice to include the zipper serves as the rupture point in the piece, identifying the universal falsity and the lies inherent in any outward expression of self. In creating photographs of “impossible performances,” (15), these collaborative portraits expose more about both the artist and the subject through proxy. Fader’s intersubjective portraits raise interesting questions about authorship and self identity. Neither strictly portraiture, nor self portraiture, these images explore the possibilities of shared identification and collaboration.
Left from Top: Sean Fader, I Want To Put You On, Bryan, 2007. Digital C-print. 24 in. x 36 in. I Want To Put You On, Dad, 2007, Digital C-print. 20 in. x 36 in.
Alexander Hernandez w/ RUDE House
Above: “Jenna Talia,” performing in Alexander Hernandez, Haute Mess 003, 2013. Root Division, June 8, 2013. Photo Credit: Plinio Hernandez
Alexander Hernandez explores the collaborative nature of drag culture in Haute Mess 003, 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. Alexander, a nonperforming member of the group, contributes creatively by designing and preparing the costuming for the queens. With an MFA in Textiles from California College of the Arts, and an interest in traditional embroidery techniques of Oaxaca, Alexander incorporates his interest and experience in Muxe culture into the costuming of RUDE House. In the summer of 2011, Alexander visited the Muxe community in Juchitan de Zaragoza to learn embroidery techniques and participate in the Velas de las Muxes, or the Vigil of Muxes. Muxes, (pronounced mooshays), are considered a third gender in Zapotec society. Much like “queer,” Muxe is used as an umbrella
term describing non heteronormative gender or sexual expression. In his time in Mexico, Hernandez was inspired by the acceptance of Muxes in traditional religious ceremony, as well as the supportive and familial culture surrounding creation of costuming and preparation for procession. 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 SF Bay Area including The Café, DNA Lounge, The Lookout, and Pa’ina Lounge, but this is the first time they have invited the public to engage in the preparation 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.
From the Top: “Vanity,” performing in Alexander Hernandez, Haute Mess 003, 2013. Root Division, June 8, 2013. Photo Credit: Plinio Hernandez & Alexander Hernandez & RUDE House, Haute Mess 003, 2013 Performance/ephemera, site specific installation.
Above: Sarah Hirneisen, My Sister Natalie, 2009. Fabric, embroidery, altered photographs, brass, silver.
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. “When Sarah first approached me about this piece, I was a bit reluctant to say yes, as my transition has been a very personal thing to me and due to some bad experiences in the past, I was concerned about making a public exhibit of it. I want people to see me as me and not judge me on my past. In the end, I said yes, as I hoped that my family and others could see the exhibit and consider how my (and other trans people) life could have been growing up as Natalie and hopefully understand just a bit better how I feel.” (16) Natalie shared many specific memories with Sarah, which were used to revise 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.” (17) Similarly, the quilt included in the installation was hand stitched from Natalie’s actual baby clothes, and is embroidered with a variation of the prayer their parents made them say nightly. “Now I lay me down to sleep... I pray to be a little girl re-born.” Sarah based this quilt off of the intimate memory her sister shared with her about praying to wake up a girl every night. Though the piece cannot fully express the range of emotions and events that led to Natalie’s transition, the experience of visualizing their childhood as Natalie would have wanted it brought the sisters closer together. Sarah said that,“By doing the piece I was not only showing her my support but also hoping that it would be a gift for her to have a recreated childhood more like what she wanted. I do feel that the visual documentation has made the transition more real for me and hopefully the rest of my family as well.” (18)
Left and Above: Sarah Hirneisen, My Sister Natalie (details), 2009. Fabric, embroidery, altered photographs, brass, silver,
Amos Mac & Juliana Huxtable LaDosha
Above: Amos Mac, Untitled (Mailroom), 2013, C Print, 20 in. x 30 in. Next Page Top: Amos Mac, Untitled, (Blue), 2013. C-Print, 20 in. x 30 in.
Amos Mac is a contemporary trans-male photographer best known for Original Plumbing magazine, a self-published transmale quarterly. Inspired by alternative queer magazines and a lack of positive exposure for the trans-male community, he partnered with friend Rocco Kayiatos to produce a publication to fill that gap. Original Plumbing, now in its fourth year of distribution, features Mac’s playful and often sexually suggestive portraits of FTM trans-men interwoven with articles and interviews in photo spreads styled after Teen Beat. By taking on the guise of teen magazines, and celebrity fan periodicals, Mac’s photo publications offer a platform for the circulation of the diverse lifestyles, bodies, and politics of trans “celebrities” and create opportunity for accessible and consensual consumption of trans bodies. Mac continues his efforts to rupture notions of gender and the role of alternative publications with the project Translady Fanzine. Each issue of this publication features photo-pictorials of one trans–woman as its centerfold and artistic collaborator. 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. Translady Fanzine, features photo-essays created in collaboration with the artist/model Mac features.
The first Translady Fanzine was made with performance artist Zachary Drucker in the intimate settings of her childhood home and high school in Syracuse, New York. 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. House of LaDosha is group of artists and performers that met in New York City, most commonly known for their musical performances. Antonio Blair (“Dosha Devastation”) and Adam Radakovich (“Cunty Crawford LaDosha”) dually make up the musical phenomenon that is House of LaDosha, but the group includes artists, writers, and other creative individuals of diverse backgrounds, drawn together for the sense of family and community. Originally from College Station, Texas, and a “generally abusive life,” Juliana, born Julain Letton, moved to New York City in 2010. She describes her reference to The Cosby Show in her taken name saying,” If there was a queerdo, t–gurl Huxtable child who booped the black enterprise career track, generally did her own thing, and maybe got cut off from the family funds for showing up to Spellman in a Bard look, I would be that child.” (19) In after hours photo shoots, Amos Mac and Juliana Huxtable LaDosha shot a series of photos in the offices of what would soon be LaDosha’s exemployer, the New York office of the 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. 21 Left: Amos Mac, Untitled, (Tree), 2013. C-Print, 20 in. x 30 in.
Brooklyn is Burning: A Curator’s Interview with
>> Amy Cancelmo: How did you meet and how did you begin collaborating? Juliana Huxtable LaDosha: I knew about Amos far before he knew me from Original Plumbing. He was sort of a queer icon for me. Working with Amos was a dream come true. I tried not to literally gag when he first reached out to me. Amos Mac: I’m in the process of making a living archive of portraits featuring a young generation of queer culture makers/artists/performers. I saw Juliana at a house party in Bushwick a couple of years ago and left the party kicking myself for not saying “hi.” The next day she added me on Facebook and pretty soon after that I asked if she’d let me photograph her. >> You two have worked together before on Amos’s Bedroom Series. What was different about this project, and what made it more of a collaboration? JHLD: Our earlier projects were him photographing me in settings that were circumstantial. Although clearly I knew he was coming to my apartment to photograph me, the ultimate goal was to capture me as a subject in surroundings that would be there regardless of the presence of his camera to capture it. AM: When I am going to shoot an artist in their space or out in a specific location, they know that I am going there with my own vision, to capture a particular moment. With collaborations, it’s about the bigger picture and seeing where we can go with an initial idea and what we can get away with. With the series I made with Zackary Drucker and Juliana, (Translady Fanzine) I approached them to make a larger body of work
AMOS MAC with me -- I wanted them to be part of the bigger picture. I see these as separate projects, the specific collaborations vs. my own portrait series. >> So Translady Fanzine was the first “collaborative” photo shoot you worked on. Can you talk a little bit about that project and your first iteration with Zackary Drucker?
AM: I knew Zackary, her films had played at OP events in LA more than once... and we were in the same world, you know? I emailed her, asking her if I could take portraits of her for a project that I would print into a periodical of some kind. The finished product was all to be determined at that point-- but I knew I wanted it to be one trans-woman and multiple “looks” or scenes. She responded to my email that she would love to “collaborate on performative photographs” with me. That was the first time I had heard a photo shoot called that! And it completely hit me and I got it immediately --- It put the series in a whole new light and I realized how she was not just a subject but an artist herself, who wanted to create a body of work WITH me, not just allow me to use her body/ presence in any way I saw fit through my lens. It opened my eyes-- not only as artist but as a transgender person -- and it has taught me more about trust between artists, and about ownership, visions, and human connection. >> How did you two decide on shooting at the ACLU? JHLD: I’ve worked for two and a half years as a Legal Assistant for the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU. What began as my dream job eventually turned into something that I felt trapped in. It had less to do with the organization itself
JULIANA HUXTABLE LADOSHA
than the general trials and difficulties that come with transitioning in the larger 9-5 workforce. I felt restricted by the gap between the politics of people who, despite their best and most liberal intentions, saw me as a problem. AM: Shooting at the ACLU was such an incredible option. When Juliana and I were brainstorming about collaboration ideas, she brought up the issues she was having and feeling around her work place, and talked about quitting soon, and what she wanted to express. When the option of shooting within the ACLU after hours came up, it felt so perfect, almost like a dream. I knew we had to get in there and shoot! >> Juliana, tell us a little about House of LaDosha. JHLD: House of Ladosha is my family here. We support each other and uplift each other. There is of course cattiness, in-fighting, and the occasional dramatic moment, but we all love each other and our work and lives are heavily influenced by the respective energies we put into the world. I spend Christmas and Thanksgiving and most holidays with the House, and they are who I turn to for advice, when I need to borrow money, etc. 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. >> House of LaDosha is often talked about in relation to the film “Paris is Burning.” How do you see contemporary houses relating to that moment in history?
JHLD: The ballroom scene has grown in so many ways since that film, and I think the influence it had on all of us, largely as people moving from other parts of America, via our education, to New York, is a testament to the legacies and mythologies created by that community. I now call many of the current Labeija’s, for example, my cohorts and sisters in nightlife. It’s all a very complex, beautiful testament to the power of queer family and the power of queer cultural production. >> What is similar and different from defining a group of queers as a house, today, in a very assimilated queer popular culture? JHLD: I think that the popular culture that might be called ‘queer’ really only relates to ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, and ‘trans’ as static categories. The ballroom scene is still largely marginal in the wider context of American popular culture, especially the elements related to trans and gender variant identities (realness categories as an example). New York operates on its own terms, the bits and pieces that get out into the larger culture may linger, but most are ephemeral moments of sensationalism (the obsession with trans people on talk television is another example of this). So while it is very different to be in the place I am in today, I’m ultimately still an alien to the rest of the country and world. Mac, Amos and Juliana Huxtable LaDosha. Email interview with author. May 20, 2013. Full interview online at: www.strangebedfellowsexhibition.wordpress.com
Above: Tara Mateik, Love Hangover featuring the Tin Man, a character study, 2011, single channel video still.
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. Mateik cast himself in the roles of Victor Fleming, director of The Wizard of Oz; Sydney Lumet, and Rob Cohen, respectively director and producer of The Wiz; mirroring his actual role in the project as director and producer. Mateik provides the creative framework for each performance, and the cast of impersonators — including MILAN from RuPaul’s Drag Race, SAPPHIRA CRISTàL, MISS GAY NY USofA, MargOH! Channing and K8 Hardy — bring their own interpretation to his vision. In Friends of Dorothy: Screen Test #1 the impersonators discuss their relationships with Diana Ross and Judy Garland, revealing layers of collective associations and dissociations with these queer icons.
Mateik’s collaborative practice is as layered as the levels of impersonation happening in these videos. He is at once collaborating physically with a myriad of performers, but also with the audience in the staged live recreations, and with the archive in queering of history. His practice has long been collaborative, having cofounded Dykes Can Dance, an under-ground social action dance troupe with Emily Roysden and JD Sampson in 2000, and the Society for Biological Insurgents, “an embryonic cell organization that wages strategic operations to overthrow institutions of compulsory gender,” in 2002. (20) He has been an active part of organizations such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an organization that works for the rights of non-gender conforming individuals; Paper Tiger Television, an independent video collective; and Greene Acres Community Garden in Brooklyn. His work has also been featured in the queer feminist art journal LTTR. Mateik also organized an exhibition and public artmaking residency at Art In General, for the release of LTTR issue 3, “Practice More Failure.” Clockwise from Top: Tara Mateik, Friends of Dorothy: Screen Test #1, 2012-ongoing & Unauthorized Interview #1 (Live from Studio 54), 2012, video stills.
My Favorite Shape is a Circle: A Curator’s Interview with
>> Amy Cancelmo: Tell me a little bit about the Friends of Dorothy project, and how you came to be interested in The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz. Tara Mateik: As a book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (and its subsequent titles) have a super interesting transfeminist background. I started experimenting with the The Wizard of Oz as the source material for a liberation narrative, in part, because its 20th century origin. The author, L. Frank Baum, lived with his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, an eminent suffragist abolitionist. She coauthored The Declaration of Sentiments and edited the first three volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Designated an Underground Railroad site, her home was also Baum’s residence. Her influence permeates Oz, especially in the governance of Oz, a land where women (queens) rule. My project revisits and fleshes out the feminist thread present in the Oz series, expanding these themes to challenge the concept of the leading man as well as the governing principle of gender itself—the binary. The technological innovation, mishaps, and experimentation kept me captivated. Starting with L. Frank Baum’s TheFairylogue and Radio-Plays. In the original title, “radio” was a term generally used to indicate the latest in technological advances, like “high tech.” Though The Fairylogues and Radio-Plays often sold out, ticket prices couldn’t support the cost of crew, musicians, and facilities. The show closed in December 1908, though it was originally intended to play through 1909. Sadly, There are
TARA no surviving prints of the Fairylogues –travelogue movies about mythical fairylands. You dig and you find other facts that keep you engaged with the same material. For example, in The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), the sequel to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz Dorothy Gale does not even appear. Instead the story’s protagonist is a boy named Tip—who was born female and, at the end of the book, transitions from Tip to Princess Ozma, the rightful heir to the Emerald City. Most recently I collaborated with WOW! Café Theater to produce Friends of Dorothy. In it’s mission they “welcome the full participation of all women and trans people in solidarity with women.” To be able to work collaboratively with a collective that articulates in their mission what I wanted to tease out of the Oz narrative is pretty awesome. Both The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz, celebrate non-gender conforming models and female heroines while the theater collective, WOW, reflects this not only on stage but in governance. >> Who are Diana Ross and Judy Garland to you? TM: They are an entry point to a conversation. >> I’m interested in the idea of collective consensus on queer icons: do you think of these icons as collaborators in the creation and presentation of queer identity - sort of like a collective unconscious? TM: I think of the impersonators and tribute artists as collaborators, but I don’t think of Diana or Judy as collaborators. They are the part of the material I’m
MATEIK working with. I typecast people or their drag personas, for example, you’ll see in the production photo credits “MargOH! As BT Shea as MargOH! Channing as Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale.” I’m interested in a practice that includes regular participation in a collaborative process, one that fosters transfeminism, an inclusive feminism that integrates the lived experience of genderqueer people and extends important feminist concerns beyond the limits of rigidly defined gender. >> Your work is really performative, do you have a background in theater at all? TM: I was trained as a competitive gymnast from three to twelve. So in terms of physicality and team effort, I was trained. As a video artist (I went to college in the early 90’s) performance is an important part of my practice and history. I think most of us got comfortable in front of camera at the same time we figured out how to be within the frame— we featured ourselves in our own and in each other’s projects…I came to video inspired by early AIDS activism and media collectives like Paper Tiger TV—both with a history of non-traditional performance.
Rob Cohen, and Steve Rubbel. Is that more slippery than sticky. As a director, it’s my vision, 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. Maybe the interpretation of the icons by each performer is the sticky part. It’s definitely a less controlled variable. Gestures, costumes, the use of props—these are things that I discuss with each performer—but ultimately, this whole project is about the concept of home and the idea of knowing yourself as being home. >> How do you think working collaboratively has affected your individual practice? TM: My favorite shape is a circle. Mateik Tara. Email interview with author. May 29, 2013.
>> You position yourself as Victor Fleming, the director. Is this the role you identify with in your practice? You are often collaborating with so many artists, and authorship can be a sticky subject. TM: I’m the director/producer and perform as the director/producer. I’m not just Victor Fleming, I’m Sydney Lumet,
Above: billy ocallaghan, yet another gift from our sun, (installation view) 2013, Print/accordion zine 11.5 in. x 2.5 in. Center: billy ocallaghan, Template: 12 Stations of the Rainbow, 2013, 36 in. X 29 in, Printed template for studio edition notecards.
Artist billy ocallaghan has been working with themes of reconnect-ing to the environment in his self produced zines with subjects such as Owed to Plants, Birds of America Redacted, and The Gods Sure are Queer/Perv, Local Organic. His most recent projects center around the sun, more specifically, the rainbow hues that result from its light. When his mother moved in with he and his partner as a safety precaution in light of her declining memory, ocallaghan sought ways of connecting and engaging his still mentally and physically active mother. Several years prior, while ocallaghan was pursuing his MFA, 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. Having a production assistant also offered an opportunity for ocallaghan to explore short runs of notecards to sell in a side business with his mother, to help cover the cost of travelling to book fairs with his zines. One of the first notecard images they made was of a photo of a rainbow ocallaghan had taken in their home,Â another was the same image inverted. He envisioned a zine in which a user is able to flip through the full spectrum so that the book transforms the colors of the rainbow in a continuous process that ends back where the rainbow started.
“My mom cut the first sample and love 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).” (21) 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. Inspired by Felix GonzálesTorres’s endless editions, ocallaghan realized he could share this experience with viewers, and in a sense, continue the cycle of producing this artwork. The work is titled, yet another gift from our sun, because, “I feel that color is just one small gift in the scheme of the gifts we receive from our sun. Also the rainbow has become one of the symbols for queer politics. Given that human-made religions are the foundation for a lot of anti-queer bigots, my efforts to take the sacred back to nature also takes it out of the place that denigrates queers. So the rainbow then becomes even more charged as a potentially sacred object on the path to learning from nature how to live within this amazing system for life, including how to live and let others live.“ (22)
Above: billy ocallaghan, yet another gift from our sun, (detail & print template) 2013, Print/accordion zine 11.5 in. x 2.5 in.
Adrienne Skye Roberts
Above: Adrienne Skye Roberts, 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, (installation view), 2013, Watercolor, acrylic on mat board, and audio.
Adrienne Skye Roberts is an artist, activist, educator, writer, and curator based in Oakland, California. Her practice expertly navigates the spaces between these disciplines exploring issues of class, race, gender, sexuality, and gentrification in a variety of media. Her strategies of community engagement and political protest call to mind political actions implemented by groups like ACT UP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) and Gran Fury in the early days of the AIDS pandemic. Like many contemporary queer activists, her aim is to fight the oppression of all silenced populations. She is currently an active member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). 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 CCWP 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? Their answers speak to the universality of oppression, and provide inspirational stories of personal and collaborative success. Their personal stories are edited together with audio from the Chowchilla Freedom Rally, a mass mobilization to protest overcrowding at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, CA, highlighting the individual in collective protest efforts. Roberts’ 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. In a time of assimilationism, queer politics have necessarily expanded beyond the rites of GLBTQQI people, many of whom feel that being given “rights” of heteronormative, militaristic, and capitalist structures don’t meet their ideals, or suggest “equality.” Queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz asserts that, “queerness is primarily about futurity and hope.” (23) How then do we define queer politics? Adrienne’s political organizing offers a vision of hope for a future free of mass incarceration and human rights violations. Perhaps being a contemporary queer activist means fighting for the rights of all silenced populations and envisioning a world outside of current structures of oppression.
Left from Top: Adrienne Skye Roberts (center) at the Chowchilla Freedom Rally & Adrienne Skye Roberts (left) with members of the CCWP at the Chowchilla Freedom Rally. Photo credit: Daniel Arauz
It’s our Duty to Fight: A Curator’s Interview with
>> Amy Cancelmo: What is your involvement with the California Coalition of Women Prisoners? Adrienne Skye Roberts: I have been involved with CCWP for three years as a volunteer member. I wear many different hats in this organization. I am part of a visiting team that regularly visits our members who are locked up in the women’s prison in Chowchilla—many of whom are serving life sentences—and I work in the county jail as part of Fired Up! a weekly self-empowerment group where I also do legal advocacy and support for people who are pre-trial and their family members. As an organization we are involved in various campaigns, protests, and coalition work for prisoners rights—these days we are focusing our energy on the overcrowding in the California state prisons, the abominable medical care, and putting pressure on the Department of Corrections to release people through the various programs they have designed but haven’t implemented.
have any illusions about the limitations of art making. In other words, I will never be satisfied only making art about the issues I care about because at the end of the day no matter how successful a gallery show is or a poster series, art will not address the very tangible and basic needs of someone getting out of prison or a family who is facing eviction. Art has the ability to communicate what a protest or meeting may not be able to, it can shift consciousness and educate and lift up certain stories and voices and we need that—and we also need political pressure, policy change, direct services, funding, and more support. >> I’m really interested in how CCWP has recently used the phrase “Overcrowding = Death,” a nod perhaps to ACT UP’s slogan “Silence = Death.” Do you see a connection between AIDS organizing, and/ or queer radical politics in general with prisoners rights?
ASR: This is something I think I will forever be figuring out. I believe in artists as agents for social change and in that sense, there is very little distinction between my political organizing and my art practice. The artwork I do emerges directly from the political context I work in and communities I am a part of. Organizing and art making comes from the same place for me emotionally—the desire to effect systemic change, to build deep connections with people.
ASR: It’s funny I never thought about the ACT UP slogan—even though I am super gay! “Overcrowding = Death” was part of the messaging we developed for the Chowchilla Freedom Rally which happened in January of this year and it is just the most accurate description of what is currently happening in California state prisons. CCWP was founded in a similar political moment back in 1995 when people incarcerated in this same prison filed a lawsuit against the state of California because the medical care was so bad it violated their 8th amendment rights. Some of the founders of CCWP on the inside were themselves HIV+ or living with AIDS—so there is a very obvious connection between these issues.
In many ways organizing and art making are also very separate in my life. I don’t
But I think there are less obvious connections, too. Prisons rely on a culture of
>> How does political organizing interact with your art practice?
SKYE ROBERTS silence—they are built on the silencing of certain people, the removal of those people from our communities, the silencing of dissent and the expectation that our voices will not be heard. In both the crisis of prisons and the AIDS crisis, silence becomes an instrument of a system that says some lives are more valuable than others. So, the organizing around both relies on breaking this silence. Prisons are places that make visible intersecting oppressions—racism, classism, transphobia, and so on. Organizing from my queerness and my feminist politics means acknowledging this intersectionality and critiquing systems of power: patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism—all of which are the foundations of mass imprisonment. Prison abolition, like queerness, relies on imagining an entirely different world—and then not waiting for that world to be given to us, but working together to make it a reality. >> Tell me a little about the your collaborators. ASR: I collaborated with three people for this project—all of whom are survivors of prison and members of CCWP. Windy Click was released from prison in September 2012 after serving 17 years. She has been a member of CCWP for 10 years and an organizer inside and facilitator of many peer led groups. Windy was a core organizer of the Chowchilla Freedom Rally. Mary Campbell survived 5 years at CCWF (Central California Women’s Facility) and she is a member of the self-empowerment group at the county jail and we facilitate this group together. Misty Rojo is the current Program Coordinator at CCWP. She survived 10 years at CCWF and was a board member of the organization Justice NOW during her incarceration.
>> What role do you see art playing in activism? ASR: I ask so many artist-organizers this same question myself because I am desperate to know how people reconcile these things! I am indebted to Jeff Chang and Favianna Rodriguez who introduced me to the idea of cultural organizing; that culture and politics do not exist in a vacuum but actually influence each other. We need cultural organizers for so many reasons. Art provides another access point for many people who may not be inclined to attend a political meeting. Artists are storytellers and stories often speak to people more than statistics or a legislative analysis. >> Do you think there is something inherently queer about collaboration? ASR: In my definition of queer, yes. 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. Roberts, Adrienne Skye . Email interview with author. May 16, 2013. Full interview available online: www. strangebedfellowsexhibition.wordpress.com
Annie Sprinkle & Elizabeth Stephens w/ Luke Wilson
Above: Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, Blue Wedding, 2009, Marriage to the Sea at the Venice Biennale, Italy.
Despite the controversy surrounding same sex marriage, artists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens have been married sixteen times. They’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 and 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. Working within the structure of Linda M. Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art, Sprinkle & Stephens set out on a journey to produce collaborative artwork about love in a project they call the LoveArtLab. Inspired by Fluxus and performance artists, sex workers, feminists, and political activists, the two artists stage weddings as political and social performance art. Like Montano’s project, their weddings incorporate the colors of the chakras as a structural and thematic base. At their fourth wedding, the “Green Wedding,” the artists made vows to the Earth, and “formally entered the environmental movement.” This wedding was a transitional one, defining their “Ecosexuality,” and shifting the concept of Earth as mother, to Earth as lover. Their subsequent
marriages have all linked love, politics, and environmentalism by queering the marriage ritual. ForÂ Strange Bedfellows, Sprinkle and Stephens worked with sculptor Luke Wilson to create an audio-visual installation featuring simultaneous screenings of their first seven weddings. This installation is based upon a wedding chapel project that they presented at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, but is visually suggestive of their ecosexuality through the inclusion of Wilsonâ€™s organic sculpture.
Left & Above: Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, Green Wedding, 2008 & Marriage to the Earth, Santa Cruz, CA & Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle with Luke Wilson, We do! 2004 to 2011 and 2013, Video, Installation and sculpture.
Marriage and Ecosexuality: A Curator’s Interview with
>> Amy Cancelmo: For Strange Bedfellows, we’ve decided that you’re going to be showing seven videos of your weddings on stacked monitors. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Elizabeth Stephens: So we are showing this tower of videos in a chapel or installation that’s “ecosexualized.“ Annie Sprinkle: The real beauty of the piece is the sound of the collaboration. That’s what really impressed me, the visual is beautiful, but the sound blows me away because it is actually so harmonious and it’s so full of joy and applause and cheering and singing it really sounds fantastic. >> And the weddings began in relation to Linda Montano’s project, right? AS: We’ve done now 16 weddings but we have videos of the first 14, which are in relation to the chakras, ALA Linda Montano’s 7-year structure. She offered this structure, it’s such a brilliant thing and it’s so powerful to do it. I don’t know that we would have become ecosexuals that married the earth if we had not done her structure. ES: No, because we would have never encountered the color green. When we married the earth, part of our project became about who or what really needs protection and rights. And who or what needs trust and collaboration. AS: It became so much bigger than us and the love was so huge. ES: I think we figured out it’s like 2300 people have collaborated on the weddings. >> How do you feel about the national stage that same sex marriage has taken?
ANNIE SPRINKLE AS: It’s really a very exciting time. It’s really about getting equal rights for us. I say we’ve occupied weddings. We use the traditional elements but we totally queer them up and mess with them, at the same time we I wouldn’t say exploit, but that we utilize, it is a beautiful ritual of love. ES: People think of marriage as their big day, but we’re even undermining that because we’ve had so many big days now. So part of our project is an undermining of some of the privilege of marriage. Weddings and marriage are extremely political, and I think that they are very problematic because it’s a very heteronormative ritual, which has been used to keep some people in and other people out. AS: But it does generate love and beauty and the ritual really works. At our weddings there are people gathering, there’s a procession, there’s offerings, then there’s a homily usually, promise rings to remember the promises the kiss to seal the vows, and then the recession, so it’s these basic theatrical elements but we make it totally into performance art and we mess around with it a lot. ES: It’s a good standby ritual. AS: We always have an objector to the wedding too. “Does anyone have any objection? Speak now or forever hold your peace.” Of course there’s a lot to object to. ES: Well we have objections. Politically I’m very critical of weddings, but this morning we were at our accountant’s and she was like “Sooo, are you all married?” and we were like, “well, we don’t really know, because we got married in Canada, but we didn’t tell the United States. We’ve never told the United
ELIZABETH STEPHENS States that we are married, therefore are we married, or aren’t we married?” I’d love to file as a married couple, but really I think the only reason to get married is for the money. If it’s going to allow us to save money on our taxes then dammit… AS: I get health insurance that is a big perk. ES: There are perks but I feel like what that really points out is the lack of equal rights in our society, and that’s what the issue really is. I like the freaky queers that don’t get married and that hate war. AS: It’s a matter of choice if someone really wants to be in the military they should get fair treatment if someone really wants to get married they should get fair treatment They don’t have to get married, and they don’t have to join. ES: Marriage is powerful. There are some people who really don’t want the queers in. AS: They’ll start marrying trees and rocks and marrying the earth. ES: That’ exactly what we intend to have happen. These weddings, we take them very seriously they look kind of fun and kind of crazy, and they are, but we’re dead serious about what we’re doing.
>> How did you begin collaborating with each other? AS: I’ve always really appreciated performance art, which is the art I love, and Fluxus, there’s a lot of collaborations, more than most art. I think when we got together we were using art as a conversation, a way to make love with each other, the creativity was a part of our sex life in a way, ES: It still is. AS: We both had solo careers…but of course you never really have a solo career. ES: It’s total double speak is what it is, everyone collaborates all the time it’s just whether you admit that you’re collaborating or not. >> How do you think about your individual careers now? ES: We don’t have them. I’m so uninterested personally. AS: I’m not either. I want to be with her. Sprinkle, Annie and Elizabeth Stephens, Interview with author. San Francisco March 24, 2013. Full interview available online: www. strangebedfellowsexhibition.wordpress.com
AS: We are very politically motivated. My core cause is prostitutes rights and decriminalizing prostitution. We can’t be a sex positive society until that’s struck down. ES: And my core issue is the environment so that’s how the Ecosexuality came to be. It’s sort of a combining. AS: We’re building a new sexual movement, a new environmental movement, and a new area of sexual research.
Above: Julie Sutherland, Gingham (Taupe) 2013, Acrylic on canvas 11 in. x 14 in.
Julie Sutherland’s Union series offers a queering of American history and a blurring of gender lines. By combining portraits of a President and their respective First Lady sourced 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. She is collaborating with the archive, but also collaborating with the collective national memory or stories of each president to offer a different lens on a legacy of patriotism. 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, a Victorian, a tad ‘mannish’ 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. The position was really to be the social center of the White House - you had to have dinners and luncheons and meetings and create an environment in which politics ran as smoothly as possible. She was First Lady for about a year and a half, apparently didn’t really ‘fit in,’ but left the post once Grover married his ridiculously younger bride, Frances.” (24)
The queer history was only brought to light when the 1970’s Gay Task Force of the American Library Association was alerted to the presence of love letters between Rose Cleveland and Whipple. Historian Jonathan Ned Katz was sent to unearth the letters which revealed passionate corres-pondence complete with allegorical role-play and endearing pet names. Years later, after leaving the White House, and after Whipple was married and widowed, the two rekindled their relationship and relocated to Lucca, Italy where they were part of a community of artists and lesbians. Sutherland found, “one reference to a friendship with Harriet Hosmer, a marble sculptor in Rome. Hosmer is part of a significant circle of lesbian marble sculptors in Rome, including Edmonia Lewis.” The iconography of busts, and marble sculptures worked its way into Sutherland’s series of paintings. In a series of works addressing these multifaceted histories, Sutherland has woven a narrative of longing, propriety, patriotism, love, and illness. Imbued with her own language of symbols, including textile patterns and veils of paint, Sutherland presents an installation for Strange Bedfellows that queers history. This queering of history presents itself through the sense of making strange through abstraction, and literally in evincing non-heteronormative relation-ships in the collective consciousness of American history. The artist sees herself as collaborating with the historical figures, the archival documents themselves, and also the archivists who have carefully preserved these histories. She says, “it’s nice to sleuth around and discover that what actually happened was far richer, and far crazier than you’ve been told. It’s inspiring,” (25).
Left from Top: Julie Sutherland, My Medusa (After Hosmer), 2013 Acrylic, oil, and graphite on canvas, 21 in. x 26 in. & Cleveland, 2013. Oil and acrylic on canvas 24 in. x 40 in.
Union Rose: A Curator’s Interview with
>> Amy Cancelmo: Who was Rose Cleveland, and how did she come to be First Lady? Julie Sutherland: Rose was the younger sister of Grover Cleveland. She was an author, academic, a fan of George Eliot, a Victorian, a tad “mannish” and in love with a woman named Evangeline Whipple for many years. Her unmarried brother became President of the United States and she was asked to move to Washington and act as his First Lady. The position was really to be the social center of the white house - you had to have dinners and luncheons and meetings and create an environment in which politics ran as smoothly as possible. She was First Lady for about a year and a half, apparently didn’t really “fit in”, but left the post once Grover married his ridiculously younger bride, Frances. After stepping down from her post, she wrote and lectured and eventually expatriated to Lucca, Italy, and it seems as though she joined a community of artists and lesbians. I found one reference to a friendship with Harriet Hosmer, a marble sculptor in Rome. Hosmer was part of a significant circle of lesbian marble sculptors in Rome, including Edmonia Lewis. That social circle, and queer history has made its way into the paintings. >> Tell us about Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple. JS: It seems that Evangeline was the love of Rose’s life. Although Rose didn’t live to old age, she died from the epidemic of her time (the spanish flu) - correction I think Rose lived to age 70, but not sure. they spent their lives together and were buried next to each other. Like any authentic complicated relationship they
JULIE fell in love - wrote some steamy letters, then they parted, Evangeline married a man, Rose wrote books and lectured, and a few years later when the husband died they got back together and shacked up in Italy. Pretty nice. >> Can you tell us a little bit about the archive of letters, and how they came to be public? JS: I only know for sure that Rose and Evangeline were lovers because in the 70s, the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association was tipped off to the existence of love letters between the two women kept at the Minnesota Historical Society, and a historian named Jonathan Ned Katz unearthed them. I haven’t been able to get actual copies of these racy letters, but I guess they were sort of set aside and not listed. The very helpful librarian at the archive told me they were perceived as private, or of a sensitive nature, but the effect of that is they’re hidden. It’s like when you have a queer relationship, and your folks say, “Oh no we haven’t told anyone because it’s your private life”. They’re protecting you but they are also hiding you. But who is really to say what Evangeline would have wanted - they’re her letters. Do you think she wants some strange Californian rifling through her salacious fantasy laden letters? I mean I’m a private person, but maybe she’d be into it, personal is political and information is power, right? >> You do a lot of work with archives, and historical research. What is it that draws you to this content? JS: Partly it’s a standard fear of death and an inability to sort that out. An archive is remembering and sort of living
SUTHERLAND forever. Another part is feeling like the general history we learn is maybe a little suspect. Recorded history is often evidence of who is/was on top and not the full range of what actually happened. When you’re dissatisfied with the way things are (like have a nagging feeling that things are set up to help some people and hurt others), it’s nice to sleuth around and discover that what actually happened was far richer, and far crazier than you’ve been told. It’s inspiring. >> What do you think focusing on First Ladies adds to our understanding of history? JS: First Ladies, for me, are kind of a portal to the unknown details of history and power. If as Americans we’re going to use the ideas of the Founding Fathers as models or instructions for how we move forward, I don’t fully subscribe to that. So, who is my model? I’m trying to find an authentic entry point into larger political topics. I’m always trying to find something that I can own and that can also be political. These women were college educated (mostly) white ladies in America and I feel like I can speak to that. And I think Rose in particular is a great story. She just didn’t fit in, but she was doing it anyway. I totally identify with that. >> Is it possible to collaborate with a historical figure, or an archive? How do you see your practice as collaborative? JS: I think so. I realize it’s 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 her, or their story. It’s my interpretation, so I put a lot of myself into it, but I’m trying to work with her. I’m trying to be authentic to her.
And certainly I’m 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 interests. This series has made me think a lot more about selfcreation, as artists and lesbians, etc. The thought that Rose and Evangeline may have been in a small community of lesbian artists is thrilling, because it’s this totally relatable experience and is essentially a collaborative identity. My interpretation from some of Rose’s essays and poems was that she was trying to have a very thoughtful, real life. And if you’re a lesbian, that means creating a community in which your unacceptable life can thrive. So part of this piece is an overlaying of collaboration - between my work as a painter and their real lived experience, between Rose and Evangeline and their community, and between me and archived material and the people and organizations that made that possible. >> Do you see your Union Series as queer or made strange by difference? JS: I definitely do. Though it’s basically portraits of First Ladies as the President, to me it becomes something more genderless. The Union series is trying to mess with the recognizable, stable, and heteronormative aspects of power in American history. With the paintings in this show, the queerness lives in the real-life story of Rose and Evangeline and their larger creative community, as well as my own research and thinking about this couple and their life, and lastly, more formally in the way in which the painted narrative is disrupted and in pieces. Sutherland, Julie. Email interview with author. April 27, 2013.
Tina Takemoto & Angela Ellsworth
Above: Tina Takemoto & Angela Ellsworth Imag(in)ed Malady: Blue Feet, 1994, Photographic print, 17.75 in. x 10.25 in.
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. According to Takemoto, â€œIn the early 1990s, Rutgers had a lot going on in terms of art, identity, and politics. The work of ACT UP, the Womenâ€™s Action Coalition (WAC), and identity politics all informed our thinking at the time. Many of our mentors (including Martha Rosler, Joan Semmel, Emma Amos, and Geoffrey Hendricks) were challenging notions of representation and power as well as engaging in art as everyday life,â€? (26). 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. Her/She Senses explored feminist and anti-racist politics through absurd and often comedic performances, including Ellsworth stuffing Hostess Snowballs into her fishnets, or using clothespins to pinch the loose skin around her face, and Takemoto using chopsticks to commit hari-kiri (ritual suicide) or eating ramen out of a bowl perched atop her head, all while dressed in geisha drag. 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 understand 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 rhyming photographs began as a way for both artists to try to understand the confusing dynamics of a sick/well experience. But when Ellsworth’s cancer went into remission, the parameters of the project became unclear and Takemoto’s trauma manifested in physical harm to herself. In a photograph she intented to rhyme with Ellsworth’s blown veins from chemotherapy, Takemoto taped five matches to her arm and lit them one by one. The experience landed her in the emergency room, almost in a psych ward, and complicated any continuation of the project. This collaboration is an interesting expression of empathy both cognitive and emotional, and raises questions about how the dominance of one person’s needs, particularly in a sick/well relationship can be traumatic to all parties involved.
Left from Top: Tina Takemoto & Angela Ellsworth Imag(in)ed Malady: Blown Veins/Jelly Hand, 1994, Photographic print. 17.75 in. x 10.25 in. & Tina Takemoto & Angela Ellsworth, Imag(in)ed Malady: Neck Marks, 1994, Photographic print, 17.75 in. x 10.25 in.
Her/She Senses: A Curator’s Interview with
>> Amy Cancelmo: Tell me a little about the beginnings of “Imag(in)ed Malady,” and how the rhyming photos began. Tina Takemoto: When Angela was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, she was living in Phoenix, Arizona to be closer to her family and I was doing doctoral work in upstate New York. She started sending me stacks of photographs that she took at the hospital during various cancer treatments as well as at home as she noticed various changes with her body. Angela Ellsworth: In the beginning, I didn’t know anything about cancer or chemotherapy. I thought, “I’m going to be throwing up. I’m going to get really skinny, and I’m going to be bald.” The photographs were a way of visualizing the fact that illness was happening. It was as if I needed to prove even to myself that I was sick. TT: After Angela started sending me these photographs, I started restaging her photographs using everyday objects on my body as a way of reimagining or “rhyming” her medical images. I was acutely aware that my pictures could never capture the gravity of her cancer experience. Instead I tried to create images that could resemble or mimic her scars or sores, but in a clearly makeshift manner that emphasized the impossibility of producing an “adequate” visual equivalent. AE: When I saw the images I was really moved. We looked at our photographs side by side and we knew we were on to something. The act of sending these pictures to Tina felt really important. I wanted someone else to have responsibility for them. I wanted them to be out of my hands. The chemotherapy took
away all of my energy. I felt flat. I felt like I had no creativity left in me. So I relied on Tina to carry the work. I knew I could pass something along, and Tina would add the spark to it and make it into something else. >> The trauma of Angela’s illness obviously was affecting both of you in very intense and very different ways. Can you talk a little about the concept of empathy in relation to this project? TT: Looking back, I would say that Imag(in)ed Malady offered a way of expressing empathy, trauma, and grief in a direct and indirect manner. There was a feeling of urgency around Angela’s illness. In an irrational way, I thought if the visual rhymes continued to be “good” and our performances continued to be successful then, of course, our work would lead to her health and recovery. AE: 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. >> This project brings to light the confusing dynamics of a sick/well experience, and how the dominance of one person’s needs in collaboration can be catastrophic. Can you talk about the damaging effect that the end of the project had on Tina? TT: Shortly after Angela got news that her cancer was in remission, she went on a trip to Italy. I was elated for her but also worried that she might get sick
while she was away. This was before cell phones or email, and it was the first time we would be out of contact for many weeks. After she left the country, I couldn’t stop myself from imagining and generating the visual rhymes. The images in my head were becoming increasingly graphic and extreme. Ultimately, I ended up taping five matches to my right arm and burning them as an attempt to rhyme her blown veins from chemotherapy. I had to go to the emergency room and almost ended up in the psych ward. My first thought was, “Oh no, I totally screwed up. I really failed Angela and our project.” Thinking back, perhaps it makes sense that I had an emotional breakdown while we were out of touch. All my fear and anxiety over Angela’s illness and the possibility of losing her was always present and driving the work, but never could be openly acknowledged.
AE: I think that everything went haywire because there was too much focus on me. Even though the premise of our work was about the interrelationship between a person who is sick and a person who is well, we only focused on my experience of being sick. We were not addressing how it was affecting Tina. At the same time, there was a point where I just didn’t want to be sick anymore or always positioned in the sick role. I take responsibility for keeping myself in the “sick” role, but Tina also played a part. Even after my cancer was in remission, our work was being funded by grants and supported by publications. Also, it was some of the strongest work (or most recognized) work we had done up to that point. When Tina burned her arm it was complicated because we were performing work that focused on my illness and not her recent traumatic event. This
was a disservice to her. The new “sick” event complicated our understanding of the project and confused our goals. >> How would you say that the experience of “Imag(in)ed Malady” has influenced your individual work, or collaborations with other artists? AE: What I learned formally in the collaboration with Tina continues to resonate in my own work. I often hear Tina saying “Angela, that is too much” or “Do we really need that?” TT: It’s funny because I often have Angela’s voice in my head too. When I am putting together a performance I often wonder, “How would Angela visualize this piece?” “What would make it more fabulous and absurd?” When I can’t conjure up an answer, I usually just call her and ask. Takemoto, TIna and Angela Ellsworth. Email interview with author. May 24, 2013. Full interview available online: www. strangebedfellowsexhibition.wordpress.com
Chris Vargas & Greg Youmans
Above: Chris Vargas & Greg Youmans, Falling in Love...with Chris and Greg, Season Two, Series Finale: “Cheesecake and Memories” (installation view), 2013.
Chris Vargas and Greg Youmans met in the Digital Media department at UC Santa Cruz in 2006, when 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 cisgen-dered gay-liberal half to Vargas’ 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 Propostion 8. With just enough coded references, DIY aesthetic and awkward pauses to keep it campy, Vargas and Youmans take on both personal and political queer experience in intelligent and critical comedy. This structure, though fruitful, has proven to be limiting for both artists. Despite efforts to change the framework by having “specials,” the series was set up in such a way that Youmans’s character would constantly fail in efforts to understand Vargas’s identity, and therefore limited the opportunity for growth. For Strange Bedfellows, Vargas and Youmans present the final episode of Falling in Love... with Chris and Greg. This episode, Cheesecake and Memories is styled after the montage finales
of sitcoms like The Golden Girls and Seinfeld. The episode addresses the upcoming changes in both artists’ lives, including Vargas’ recent awards and accolades and a move to upstate New York, where Youmans will be taking a position as Visiting Adjunct Professor at Colgate. The installation at Root Division mirrors the nostalgic tone of this “clip episode,” and serves as a “goodbye” to the artists’ life in the Bay Area. It features the artists’ own legendary couch, which Vargas purchased at a Goodwill, only to find that it had been stuffed with $11,000 by it’s previous owner. The couch, and it’s financial support affected the artist’s life so dramatically that he tattooed its likeness on his left arm. The vintage couch, table, and grainy quality of the antiquated television add to the nostalgic tone of their final episode and farewell to the Bay Area. Above & Left: Chris Vargas & Greg Youmans, Still from “Hair Breakdown Special,” 2009, 4 min, DV. & Jason Fritz Michael, Falling in Love... with Chris & Greg (detail), 2009. Colored Pencil. 11 in. x 14 in.
Crushing on Chris & Greg: A Curator’s Interview with
>> Amy Cancelmo: How do you generate ideas for “Falling in Love… with Chris & Greg,” and what does your process look like? Chris Vargas: In the first year of the project we made videos really really fast. We made three in one year; now we’re averaging 1-1.5 a year. Issues would come up in our actual relationship and because we were still in the energetic limerence phase, we made videos about those issues. Our first videos were about open relationships, gay marriage, pregnant transgender men, and Prop 8. These were all things that were happening in and around our own relationship and in pop culture, and the videos just made themselves. Or at least that’s what it feels like looking back. It was really fun and easy. Now it feels much slower and harder. Greg Youmans: Well, from my perspective, I think it was more that we hit a wall with the framework of the project. It’s a strongly generic, oddcouple format (or at least it’s supposed to be). This means that we play polarized halves of a couple, and my character is the cisgendered gay-liberal half to Chris’s transgendered queer-radical half. We couldn’t keep making episodes where my character perpetually fails to understand Chris’s embodiment and gender identity; same with the politics. The series was set up, like TV sitcoms, so that we would perpetually have tensions around our relationship and politics but neither of us would ever change or learn. It’s a limiting framework in a lot of ways, which is why we keep breaking the frame and making episodes with “Special” in the title—as a way to tweak the recipe. On the other hand, it’s a really generative framework: it’s like we can drop any topic or issue
CHRIS VARGAS into the odd-couple dynamic and come up with something interesting. One thing that’s come up though is that I have a lot more difficulty playing “myself” than Chris does, because my character runs the spectrum from cluelessly pathetic to shrewdly manipulative throughout the project. But he’s not yet been, say, smart, or generous, or kind. >> Do you have intentions of changing that in the work? Is this going to be one of the issues addressed in the piece you’re making for Strange Bedfellows? GY: It was really hard for us to come up with what to do for Strange Bedfellows, largely because we wanted to change those dynamics in the project. To help us figure out what to make for the show, we had a session with our amazing friend Beth Pickens, an experienced arts administrator and a trained therapist who works mainly with artists. She works with them on grant writing and professional development but also with counseling. We asked her to do a session with us, a sort of collaborators’ couple therapy. A lot came up, much of which Chris and I already knew were tensions between us. It turned out though that I was more ambivalent than I realized about continuing the project, in part because my character felt so boxed in, in the ways I just mentioned. But also because I’d been feeling a need to branch out on my own instead of always investing my creative energies in this project. We had to ask ourselves some heavy questions: Will the piece we make for your show be the last video we make in the series? If so, how would we reach closure with it?
GREG YOUMANS CV: Playing with the idea of gay collaboration, we thought first of making a video in which we perform as the members of Wham!: George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. That collaboration resonates with us in a lot of ways, though it’s also too lopsided because it’s seldom remembered as a balanced pairing of talent. Then we thought about recreating Marina Abramovic & Ulay’s break-up walk along the span of the Great Wall of China, but maybe the world doesn’t need another piece inspired by Marina Abramovic right now. After that, we decided to make a piece inspired by Siegfried and Roy, with our cat Holiday in the role of Montecore. >> Why Siegfried and Roy? GY: I saw an IMAX film about them a long time ago (well before the incident that ended their show) and in it Siegfried said, “I’m the magician; Roy’s the magic.” I thought that was so sweet. It’s stayed with me for a long time and I often mull it over thinking about what exactly he meant. They’re inspiring queer collaborators. >> So why didn’t that idea pan out? GY: We planned out the whole episode, but it felt false, or forced, or, I don’t know, somehow not right and uninspiring. It was the same odd-couple dynamic as the earlier episodes, and I was over it. I was feeling at wit’s end.
the series finale and our farewell to the BayArea. It suddenly all felt right: closure on multiple fronts. >> Tell us about the final episode. CV: The final episode is modeled after a sitcom “clip episode” wherein we sit at the kitchen table eating cheesecake, à la The Golden Girls, and reminisce about our life in the Bay Area. There’s flashbacks and everything! There’s also allusions to our future in Central NY using references to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And to top it all off there’s a Seinfeld-esque montage to the music of Green Day. GY: We’ve gone back to our roots: two gay guys sitting in the kitchen bantering. At the same time, we play with the limits and constraints of the genre and of our project. For instance, we head off the odd-couple schtick just as it’s rearing its head at one point in the episode, and at other points we show a complicity between us that hasn’t been seen in the earlier installments. Vargas, Chris and Greg Youmans. Email interview with author. April 20, 2013. Full interview available online: www. strangebedfellowsexhibition.wordpress.com
And then, this May, our world turned upside down. I got a position in upstate New York as a Visiting Assistant Professor in Film and Media Studies. It’s a temporary gig but a good break. So now we’re suddenly getting ready to leave the Bay Area in a little over a month’s time. The video transformed into both
Angie Wilson & Amber Straus
Above: (from left to right): Angie Wilson, Questioning, 2013, fabric and ink. Amber Straus, Munari Mobile, 2013, Wood, acrylic paint, ribbon, paper. Angie Wilson & Amber Straus, A DIY Guide to Babymaking: this is how we did it, 2013, Paper, 8.5 in. x 7 in.
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 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. In the introduction to the exhibition catalog for Queer Zines, AA Bronson defines the purpose of a zine as “to create one’s own culture.” (27) Wilson and Straus are creating a culture of information sharing and personal disclosure so that all women interested in childbearing can benefit from their experience, boost their own fertility, and prepare their bodies for conception and pregnancy without medical intervention or intimidation. Like lesbian feminists before them, Wilson and Straus are reclaiming the power of childbirth for women outside of the heteronormative and patriarchal structure.
For Strange Bedfellows, the zine is available for visitors to take, and shown alongside a mobile Straus made, and the first iteration of Wilson’s textile project Questioning. 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. “It was very important for us to not know the sex of the baby in utero; knowing the sex of the baby doesn’t tell you anything about who they are. It is not a helpful clue. We were glad not to know also so that we wouldn’t get a lot of pink or blue baby gifts. It is important that there be genderneutral options for children (toys, clothing, etc). Adults project so much on to children about their own interests and values, and we want to allow our child to become whoever they are on their own terms.” (28) The colored onesises shown for this exhibition are just beginnings for Wilson’s Questioning project. She is engaging in a series of interviews with queer community members about their childhood gender expression, and design-ing clothing based on these interviews. In their collaborative and solo artworks, and in their lives, Wilson and Straus promote the determination of ones own gender identification outside of corporate or hegemonic coding. They are working to create expansive understanding of bodies and empowerment for their own child, and for the next generation of parents.
Top & Left: Angie Wilson & Amber Straus, A DIY Guide to Babymaking: this is how we did it, (details) 2013. Paper, 8.5 in. x 7 in. x .5 in.
Sources Cited: 1. Roberts, Adrienne Skye . Email interview with author. May 16, 2013.
16. Hirneisen, Natalie. Email interview with author. May 23, 2013.
2. Mac, Amos and Juliana Huxtable LaDosha. Email interview with author. May 20, 2013.
17. Hirneisen, Sarah. Email interview with author. May 12, 2013.
3. Takemoto, TIna and Angela Ellsworth. Email interview with author. May 24, 2013.
19. Grant, Yulan, Justin Allen, and Brandon Owens. “ISSUU - THE WHOLE HOUSE EATS by BAD GRAMMAR.” ISSUU - You Publish. Web. http:// issuu.com/badgrammar/docs/ the_whole_house_eats/1 (accessed June 6, 2013)
4. ocallaghan, billy. Email interview with author. May 27, 2013. 5. McBane, Barbara. Email interview with author. May 21, 2013. 6. Sutherland, Julie. Email interview with author. April 27, 2013. 7. Fader, Sean. Phone interview with author. April 27, 2010. 8. Mateik, Tara. Email interview with author. May 29, 2013. 9. Vargas, Chris and Greg Youmans. Email interview with author. April 20, 2013. 10. “SILENCE = DEATH -- Social Design Notes.” Socially Conscious Design. Web. http://backspace.com/ notes/2003/04/silence-death.php (accessed June 11, 2013) 11. ibid. 12. McBane, Barbara. Email interview with author. May 21, 2013. 13. Fader, Sean. Phone interview with author. April 27, 2010. 14. ibid. 15. ibid.
20. “About – Tara Mateik.” Tara Mateik. Web. http://www.taramateik.com/ about/ (accessed June 6, 2013) 21. ocallaghan, billy. Email interview with author. May 27, 2013. 22. ibid. 23. Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press, 2009. P. 11. 24. Sutherland, Julie. Email interview with author. April 27, 2013. 25. ibid. 26. Takemoto, Tina and Angela Ellsworth. Email interview with author. May 24, 2013. 27. Bronson, AA, Philip Aarons, and Alex Gartenfeld. Queer Zines. New York: Printed Matter Inc., 2008. 28. Wilson, Angie and Amber Straus. Email interview with author. May 19, 2013.
About Root Division Root Division is a visual arts non-profit located in the Mission District of San Francisco. Root Division’s mission is to improve appreciation and access to the visual arts by connecting personal inspiration and community participation. We provide subsidized studio space to working artists in exchange for their service in creating shared learning opportunities for the community. Artists develop creatively and professionally by teaching art to underserved youth, leading adult education classes, and producing exhibitions that showcase local emerging artwork. By combining multiple opportunities for creative exchange, Root Division cultivates an artistic ecosystem that enriches life throughout the Bay Area. Root Division is supported in part by grants from the The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission: Cultural Equity Grants, Grants for the Arts: San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, Crescent Porter Hale Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, W A Gerbode Foundation, and Bill Graham Memorial Fund.
3175 17th Street | San Francisco, CA 94110 | 415.863.7668 www.rootdivision.org
Root Division Staff Executive Director:
Michelle Mansour Exhibitions & Events Coordinator:
Amy Cancelmo Education Coordinator:
Emily Doman Installations Manager:
Kate Stirr Copy Editing
by Nicolette Hall. Exhibition photos
by Kija Lucas. www.kijalucas.com Typeset using Mission Gothic by James T. Edmondson, 2013. www.jamestedmondson.com Catalogue Design by Micah Rivera
Published on Sep 20, 2013
Strange Bedfellows is a visual art exhibition curated by Amy Cancelmo exploring collaborative practice in queer art. Featuring the work of...