I engage the film subgenre of 'body-swapping' as a tool to explore what the body brings to identity. Through a lens that traverses pop culture, fine art, queer theory, and labor, I create works that debunk binaries, and revel in the subversive. As an example of my work as a whole, I will deconstruct a single project, elaborate on references, and provide trapdoors into my work. The first iteration of, Meg / Sydney / Alec I created in 2012. The performance includes the use of a two-man saw, a casket mimicking Donald Judd's stacked sculptures, a magician's table used during the iconic illusions of sawing a woman in half, and the movie Prelude to a Kiss. These references create or reinforce norms about the human body, telling us how to be; they are also a remnant of subversive queerness.
In 1920 British Magician P. T. Selbit invented the very first iteration of ‘sawing a woman through,’ This illusion holds a unique place in the history of magic as being the first to set a new standard, the female magicians assistant. In Meg / Sydney / Alec, the female body is removed from a position of being ‘sawn in half’. A solid mass of paint replaces her position, functioning as a sacrifice. This paint mass is created in the gallery over the course of three months. The labor is witnessed, there is no illusion. This solid paint mass is cast inside the Donald Judd casket, (modeled after his stacked sculptures, a symbol of masculine modernism). The scene is set. The performance that follows involves the work of laborers entering the space in jumpsuits, wielding the six foot long two-man saw, and sawing the solid paint mass in half. After rolling the magicians tables apart they continue to segment the paint mass into roughly two inch slices. These segments are then displayed against the wall, or on the interior of walls, at various heights, but often along the floor. Lastly, they will be reconfigured into various forms and displayed on pedestals, or become pedestals themselves. Unlike the original illusion, this ‘body’ of solid paint is not magically restored. Instead this body, sometimes presenting in a liquid form, continually transforms, is altered, never restored.
I have absorbed pop culture in large doses, like many growing up in the 80s. Yet when I’m watching movies like Prelude to a Kiss, I’m looking as a queer person desperately searching for queerness in the world — something that could show me possibilities and allow for my own existence. Disguised as a seemingly heteronormative romance, Prelude to a Kiss tells the story of a young bride and an older man nearing the end of his life. The body swap between theses two ‘straight’ individuals allows for an exploration into what the body brings to identity and positions us all as more queer, fluid, and undone. As Vito Russo writes in his ground breaking text, The Celluloid Closet:Homosexuality in the Movies: “American society has willfully deleted the fact of homosexual behavior from its mind, laundering things as they come along, in order to maintain a more comfortable illusion. The censors removed it; the critics said, ‘Well, look! It isn't there’ and anyone who still saw it was labeled a pervert.”
It is with this fact in mind that I revel in the power of the subversive, how it sneaks in and makes change, how it works undetected because it has had to. These are gestures that have created possibilities in their time. Much like the paint that is poured into the cracks to solidify Meg / Sydney / Alec, these spaces are connectors. I employ them and remake them, starting with an artifact of the subversively queer, some nugget of queerness wedged within a seemingly straight world. This editing of source material is used as a tool to level hierarchies, unearth these subversive queer narratives, and infiltrate exclusionary spaces, such as art history, the labor market, interpersonal dynamics; questioning who is valued, and what we are allowed.
As I Frankenstein this body back together. My editing tools include the obvious and archaic. An antique two-man saw is used to segment a solid mass of paint. X-ACTO knives are used as often as paint brushes. Dialogue is spoken and modulated through animated paint bricks, ungendered and without a stable form. Through these methods art history is reinterpreted through an inclusive queer, and often messy, lens.
It is revealed that the magic that allowed for Meg and Sydney to swap bodies was born of empathy, fear, and desire; a curiosity and envy for what the other individual body allowed. As it goes for Meg and Sydney, so it also goes for the art objects in my work. Paint is pushed as much toward what we think sculpture should provide, and sculpture is pushed toward painting. Or it might be more accurate to say, there is a disregard for what is painting and what is sculpture — used as a metaphor for how to discuss and disrupt other absurd binaries.
This work cares that we are remade of our own volition. Let us consider a constant remaking of self through play, rebellion, necessity, and exploration. Within one body a multitude . . .
And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God, And I'd get him to swap our places
Tell me, we both matter, don’t we? - Kate Bush, Running Up That Hill