Adrienne Skye Roberts and Danny OrendorffSuggestions of a Life Being Lived premises queerness as a set of political alliances and possibilities, informed by the projects of 16 artists or collectives working in photography, film, video, activism, and education. Untethered to institutions of sexual or gender normativity and in pursuit of greater freedoms, the work in this exhibition represents three broad thematic investigations into the current, radical-queer political imagination: the public sphere as a site for protest, education, and affection; self-organized communities (both intentional and fictional), utopian, alternative worlds; and the performance of self-determinism therein.
Organized for SF Camerawork by independent guest curators, Danny Orendorff and Adrienne Skye Roberts, the exhibition begins from a place of personal and artistic “outness”, unconcerned with categorical sexual identities or coming-out narratives. Instead, this exhibition presents work that explores collective and resistant expressions of queer community existing theoretically or geographically outside of dominant gay and lesbian culture. Artists and collectives were invited to participate in the exhibition for their respective explorations of how a sense of liberated queerness is pursued and mediated within public spaces and behaviors.
Fiercely designating the public sphere as a site for protest and activism, artifacts and ephemera from direct-action group, Gay Shame, documenting a decade’s worth of theatrical strategy and an ever-expanding field of queer concerns, is coupled with Unleashed Power (2010), an installation of looped archival footage, photographs, and legal documents, organized by Oakland-based duo, Killer Banshee (Eliot Daughtry and Kriss De Jong). Whereas Gay Shame’s ephemera represent the scope of their actions, including critiques of the same-sex marriage movement, treatment of the homeless, gentrification, and racist and misogynistic public-health advertising campaigns, Killer Banshee’s haunting installation illuminates the ongoing repercussions of state violence directed at collective queer communities.
New York-based artist, Tara Mateik’s Society of Biological Insurgents project similarly interrogates public space, seeking to overthrow institutions of compulsory gender through playful intervention into gender-neutral territory (e.g. public bathrooms). Coded behavioral expectations of queer people in public spaces are similarly challenged by Seattle-based artist, Steven Miller, in his photo series Reclamations. With humor and aplomb, Miller pictures queer couples in various states of embrace within mundane spaces, transcending real, perceived, and internalized homophobia with bravery and shamelessness while transfixed in a moment of affection.
Work by Oakland-based Lenn Keller and Boston-based Jeannie Simms respectively looks into the lives of marginalized queer women of color in two distinct locales. Keller explores the alternative masculinities and self-organized communities of young, non-gender conforming lesbians in Oakland, California, as part of her photo series, Gender Warriors (2007-2010), while Simms has produced collaborative portraits with- and of- women training to be live-in maids at homosocial agencies in Java, Indonesia and Hong Kong as part of her Readymades series (2007-2009).
Oakland-based Kirstyn Russell turns her lens to the periphery of urban landscapes in the United States and Europe, documenting both real and imagined queer landscapes (discreet gay-bars, small-town businesses that could be read queerly, e.g. Dyke Photography Studio) in her photo-series Where We Are Not Known (2005-2009). The issue of queer anti-urbanity is similarly explored by Seattle-based Mercury Vapor Studios (Timothy White Eagle and Adrain Chesser), who have made frequent visits to a nomadic tribe of people living in rural areas of Idaho and Nevada, documenting their way of life for the series, The Return (2006-2010).
Contemporary lesbian-feminist community politics, and the negotiation of second-wave separatism with third-wave inclusiveness, inform the film, video, craft, and activist work of Toronto-based Allyson Mitchell. Her works are screened in Riot Granny TV Tent (2010), a self-made habitat of abandoned afghans, protest quilts, and textiles. Mirroring Mitchell’s installation is the art-into-life, video-based sitcom satire Falling in Love With Chris and Greg (2008-2010), produced by, acted in, and based on the real-life relationship of Bay Area duo, Chris Vargas and Greg Youmans. In episodic form Chris and Greg tackle “epic topics” facing the odd-couple: gay marriage, open relationships, body-issues, and their liberal/radical, transgender/biological divides.
Smile II (2010), a participatory installation and performance by Chicago-based Aay Preston-Myint, invites visitors to imagine themselves within a post-apocalyptic family portrait studio, where gender and sexuality have become fluid. Vibrant, neon, handmade costumes and scenery, each toying with classic queer iconography, are utilized for the purposes of role-playing, fantasy, and collaboration.
A screening room featuring the work of Bay Area film collaborations concludes the exhibition. At once psychedelic and oddly familiar, Torsten Zenas Burns and Darrin Martin’s experimental film, The Abominable Freedom (2006) is a disorienting, non-linear glimpse into the quest of various omni-sexual commune members to become more honest, ethical, and emancipated lovers. Eric Stanley and Chris Vargas’ film, Criminal Queers (2010) focuses on a fictionalized prison-break organized by a group of radical activists. Incorporating theoretical language, everyday conversations, and humor, this film exposes the institutional violence enacted upon gender non-conforming, trans people.