Gary Kong


BH: While we happen to live in a relatively tolerant era, lesbian/gay/bisexual transgendered people are still subject to repressive laws and hostile attitudes. Even tolerance must be recognized as a refined form of control. By creating work that honestly expresses their unique identity, these artists defy many of the tenets of dominant culture.

SC: Lydia Matthews, a professor at CCAC, says that the artist is a culture maker. In Western culture, artists have historically been used as agents of propaganda. We've either proselytized a religion or depicted the glory of a king or queen, or, as with the Impressionists, helped to market the values of the bourgeoisie. Art reflects the ideology of the time. Now we possess the sophistication to question our visual ideology.

BH: From medieval sumptuary laws to the pink triangles of the Nazis, those in power have imposed rules in an attempt to define identity and social status. And just as consistently, there have been transgressors who defy the categories, who insist on multiple interpretations. Is that what these artists are doing?

SC: I want to make clear that it's not only government that makes rules. As a society we create, or at least defer to the standards that these artists are challenging. Look at Gigi Rabago, who creates photography-based mixed media pieces that deal with her experience as a beautiful young woman with a port wine birthmark on her face: how would you respond to what you see, would your relationship stop on the surface?

BH: She was born transgressing the norm.

SC: Right, there is no way that she can conform to the standards because she was marked at birth. Her work raises important questions regarding humanity and dignity versus an ideal of beauty. Of course, we know that standards change over time, and vary culturally and geographically. In Europe, for example, gay men don't seem very much into the "hardbody" syndrome so common in the US. How do we come to celebrate one set of beauty standards as opposed to another?

BH: Many gay men glorify appearance over substance; does this reflects our values, or our anxieties, or a sense of alienation?

SC: With the many talented artists in this show, you see a unique collection of people who are striving to simply be themselves. They don't want to be judged and condemned for it.

BH: Many of the artists in this show offer an alternative to the binary system which views the world as either female or male, straight or gay, black or white. Do you see this as a critique of social order and custom?

SC: Definitely, it is. These artists challenge prevailing cultural assumptions, many of which are firmly entrenched within the queer community. Thomas Tymstone is an African-American photographer who casts a black male gaze on white men, confronting issues of racism and exclusion.

BH: In what way does the art offer new perspectives on self-esteem?

SC: Inside or outside, these artists are going to survive and make a place for themselves. I hope that they serve as an inspiration. This show indicates that the "truth" of our reality is something internal, not external. Until we come to see and value this we will continue to compete with each other rather than empathize with one another. Until we stop seeing difference as a threat the world is not going to change. It's up to artists to confront this and present an alternative. The old institutions aren't going to--Madison Avenue won't. They have too much invested in preserving the status quo. Artists are almost always outsiders.

BH: This exhibition demonstrates that there is no queer "style" but suggests that there is a queer identity. What is it based upon? Are we defined by our desires?

SC: Yes. Regardless of our orientation, we are defined by our desires. The terms of our existence can only be renegotiated after realizing that that our lives are constructed by mutual desire. We should recognize that our desires are important, that the body is important, that we are human animals. Our sexual energy is not an enemy to be conquered but a power that must be understood and used and celebrated.

Mircea Eliade has written that "except in the modern world, sexuality has everywhere and always been a hierophany [manifestation of the divine] and the sexual act an integral action, therefore also a means to knowledge." Our sexuality is a way of getting to know ourselves and our place in the world.

"I CAN'T PUT MY FINGER ON IT" will be on view at the Luggage Store Gallery, located at 1007 Market Street, 2nd Floor, near Sixth Street in San Francisco from June 12 through July 12, 1997. There will also be a panel discussion of the show's themes featuring noted academics and artists on Friday June 13, 1997.
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