CHALLENGING GENDER EXPRESSION AT ARTSPACE
by J. Fatima Martins
New Haven, Connecticut – As expected, Artspace New Haven has presented another challenging and amusing statement exhibition. “hello, world!” is an entertaining, absurdist and intellectual mixed-media, mixed- technology exhibition featuring erotic taco eating, vaginal pillows, muscle men, battling blonde wigs, Lorde lyrics, surreal hazy interiors, a Venn Diagram of dysfunctional family dynamics, videos of an artist’s head submerged in various watery locations, photographs that were buried and retrieved, a woman covered in golden drapery and a statement about hard bones and soft tongues.
The works, which range from standard two-dimensional wall hangings — paintings and prints — to film and video and a kinetic installation, are displayed in three main gallery spaces and the central hallway as well as the bathroom areas. Together they are meant to dialogue specifically about the ways in which queer identity is defined, manifests itself and borrows from or influences heteronormative culture.
While all the works do convey a certain eroticism and mystery, identifiable sexual preferences or gender constructs are not explicit in many of the works, allowing “hello, world!” to exist — in a general way — as an inclusive and universal statement about the limitation placed upon the human body. Some of the images are direct representation of subject, while others are subtle, poetic and conceptual.
A few interconnected motifs glue the show together: text or words, wetness and viscosity, motion and dance, and human hair or the head to suggest the obvious — fluidity, evolution, growth, change and creativity. These subjects are presented in either comic-ironic, surreal, emotionless or dramatic styles via various media. The visuals are beautiful, confusing, uncomfortable, profound and hilarious.
The exhibition’s title, “hello, world!,” and conceptual mission — to redefine and offer a “visual syntax” or new language — derive from the “Hello Word!” computer programming output testing code. Curator J. R. Uretsky, who selected 12 artists who deconstruct and usurp “normative definitions of identity,” explained the exhibition this way: “The title ‘hello, world!’ reminds us that language is learned, tested, reframed and, hopefully, hacked.”
The artists are: Genesis Báez (alternative photography); Emmy Bright (text-based silkscreen), Eduardo Restrepo Castaño (five-channel video on TV screens); Brian Christopher Glaser (mixed-media collaged sculpture); Nicki Green (mixed-media fabric sculpture); E.E. Ikeler (painting, latex enamel and acrylic); Sakura Kelley (alternative painting printmaking, inkjet on vellum), Local Honey (kinetic sculpture; motion installation), Maziyar Pahlevan (neon sign), Alee Peoples (Super 8 film and sound); Nabeela Vega (HD Video) and A.K. Summers, author/illustrator of the book “Pregnant Butch” featured in the exhibition and on sale in the gallery. Summers will present a special discussion of her work on February 23.
These artists destroy what we believe to be reality, spotlight illusions, highlight false narratives and reveal secret personal worlds. As a group, the artworks speak to and about everyone, wrestling with the ways in which artificial human-created civilizing organizational systems define, control and oppress.
The most conventionally beautiful compositions on display are E.E. Ikeler’s latex enamel and acrylic on canvas paintings of large-scale poetic text quotes such as “Build a man a fire and he’ll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire and he’ll be warm the rest of his life.” The paintings were inspired by the artist’s research fellowship at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library examining gay and lesbian magazines.
Sakura Kelley also creates poetry in a series of inkjet-printed painterly images of vague landscapes and interiors on vellum. Kelley used discarded photographs as the image source and found that by printing on a surface that could not hold ink, the material image collapsed on itself to create a final form that appeared watery, as if melting.
The most inventive photography experiment comes from Genesis Baez. The “Reclamation” series was once photographs of Puerto Rico that were buried in the ground for a period of time, dug up, reprinted and finalized as prints of decayed, transformed and resurrected subject.
Nabeela Vega makes the show’s most important and relevant statement through “Visiting Thahab,” a series of four one-to-two minute HD video segments: “Thahab in the Summer,” “Thahab goes to the Liquor Store,” “Thahab Orders Pizza” and “Thahab Hates Showers.” It shows a woman wearing a luxurious golden garment similar to a hijab or burqa.
In the video, Thahab is isolated away from community participation, and almost silenced. In the summer segment, Thahab can’t eat an ice cream cone because she’s not allowed to expose her face; likewise she can’t wash herself because female nudity is prohibited, so she simply stands in the shower allowing the water to fall over her while dressed in her glorious golden protective oppressive drapery. She does, however, successfully order pizza and buy beer while