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A few weeks ago the band Coyote Grace was in town!  They played at UWM and did a workshop the day after through the LGBT resource center (my favorite campus hang!).  They came to Carleton every year that I was there, and each time they did some really interesting workshops (Trans 101, Back Door Basics — cool stuff like that).  This workshop was about womanhood and definitely reminded me of this post at Nourishing the Soul.  We basically made collages about ourselves as women using magazines, glitter, feathers, buttons, and anything else we could find.  The workshop was held at the Studio Arts and Crafts Center (my other favorite spot!), and I was just intending to stop by on my way to class when I saw some friends making their collages!  I asked Ingrid (the singer + double-bassist) what her favorite workshop is and she said this one.  They spend so much time touring that it was nice to relax and make some art.  I totally agree.  Making time for art is crucial to my sanity.  I arrived to the workshop late, but I caught up in no time.  I think my collage (below) accurately represents me/how I’m feeling/things I like.  Things of note: pink microscope, leopard print coat, buttons, antlers, the Mutter Museum/conjoined twin skeleton, a bird made of chocolate cookies, a cat, and someone freaking out.

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My library locker is right next to the ceramics section, and while browsing recently I stumbled onto a book about Howard Kottler.  He was a ceramic artist working in the sixties and seventies on the west coast and was influenced by and worked with seminal west coast artists like Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson.  Kottler uses mass produced ceramic plates instead of throwing his own.  He didn’t want to comment on the plate as an object, but focused on exploring social and political commentary through altered decals of famous images.

Colonial Rockettes (1967)

The title of this post refers to a quote by Patricia McDonnell in an essay on Marsden Hartley to describe how he simultaneously addressed and dodged his homosexuality in his paintings.  Kottler was not a child of the free love 1960s, he was a product of the great depression and World War II.  Like gay artists of that time (Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg), Kottler uses coded references to queer culture in his work.  His plates are whimsical and entirely palatable to a mainstream audience, but simultaneously subversive and loaded with meaning and symbolism.  In Colonial Rockettes every man essentially kick the man in front of him, a funny composite of a colonial image and a modern image but also a big gay orgy (of sorts).

Signals (1967-1972)

In Signals, he took a decal of The Last Supper and cut out only the hands of the figures and a circular border.  The phantom hands float on the plate and bring attention to a part of the painting you might not have noticed before.  Those hands also connote hand gestures that indicate sexual preferences within the gay community.  Like Signals, Sign Language Kottler repeats a hand, removing fingers to that only the outstretched pinkie is left — a gesture connoting effeminate men.  I love that  someone’s super conservative family could be eating their supper off these plates.  Outwardly they are visually captivating and there is a clear thematic idea, whether or not they know what it is.

Twins (c. 1970)

The series that I most like is based on two paintings: The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough and Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence.  Kottler repeats The Blue Boy, cuts him up, reassembles him in different order, changes his size.  In Twins he pairs Pinkie and Blue Boy, but both have Blue Boy’s head.  It’s beautiful and goofy, but also picture of effeminate gay men.

I like artists that explore identity and intersecting experiences, and I especially like that Kottler does that using images from art history.  I also like the idea of putting things that are super gay under the noses of people who don’t get it.  Not all of Howard Kottler’s places are subtle, but the ones I like best use finely tuned visual interest to stir up more interesting questions about sexuality and queer culture.

The book, called Look Alikes: The Decal Plates of Howard Kottler, was part of the Tacoma Art Museum‘s Northwest Perspectives series.  The other book referenced is Dictated by Life: Marsden Hartley’s German Paintings And Robert Indiana’s Hartley Elegies written by Patricia McDonnell.

Panel from "Fun Home". Image from salon.com

I have been reading a lot lately.  This might not be unusual for most people, but it’s quite rare for me.  In addition to my Novel challenge (ha), I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A family tragicomic.  I am most familiar with the Bechdel move test, where in order to pass the movie has to have 1. two named female charcters, 2. who talk to one another, and 3. about something other than men.  I am also acquainted with her series Dykes to watch out for.  We have a ton of the books in the GSC library.

After I finished it, I talked a little bit with Scott (known for his love of all things comic).  He said that he liked it, but thought it didn’t quite succeed as a graphic novel.  That you could have taken out all the pictures and it would have been just as successful.  I can’t say I disagree, though I think the subject matter is far more compelling than any other graphic novels I have read.  I found the book so affecting.  I love reading about how she finally put a name to her sexuality in her college library, and the insatiable desire to read all things queer after that.  She reads Collette, Rubyfruit Jungle, The Well of Loneliness, all books I read in the past four years, and all books in the GSC library that  I worked so hard to wrangle and organize.  I think I’ll donate my copy to the library, because we don’t as yet have one but I definitely think we should.

Father-daughter relationships are always interesting to me.  Bechdel’s experience with her father was so unlike my own, but there were aspects of that relationship that I identified with.  It is odd to think of our parents as people unto themselves, and she seems to have had some extreme revelations about who her father really was.  It is heartbreaking both that she only started to know who her father was so close to his death and that he had lived so much of his life in secret.

I’ve recently been posting a lot about publications.  Well I just uploaded the GSC’s latest, Bodies, to the internet!

Cover of Bodies, published by the GSC. Photo: Megan Hafner.

From the GSC website:

Our bodies are sites of pleasure, pain, gender, sexuality, joy, shame, and celebration. Our new publication wants to navigate our relationships with our bodies. We want to explore subjects like body positivity, health and illness, fat acceptance, sex, ability, sexual violence, modification, and any other way society shapes the way we view bodies.

It is a really beautiful book made entirely of contributions from the Carleton community.  People contributed poetry, written pieces, drawings and prints (including my print, which I posted about earlier), and their editing and design talents to create a wonderfully cohesive book about so many facets of our human bodies.

You can read more about Bodies and all of the GSC’s other publications here on the website: https://apps.carleton.edu/campus/gsc/publications/

Read it here:
Bodies (Online Book) | Bodies (PDF)

I have been reflecting a lot on post-Carleton stuff lately.  One of the things that is getting me through is looking at the work of Dustin Yager, a Carleton alum from not that long ago.  We met him at NCECA where he had a piece in the La Mesa.  The piece in the show was called “Orgy Basket” — a pristine porcelain basket with simple line drawings of men having sex with other men.  He filled the basket with flowers, which I think is a particularly memorable touch.

Porcelain, 2010; image from ceramicsandtheory.com

Much of Dustin’s work is in series form (with some exceptional titles): “Will You Fake Marry Me?“, the series that the Orgy Basket is from, which includes many other baskets adorned with various masculine/feminine/gay/straight visual indicators; “Rimware“, a porcelain table set with gold lustered rims, on which  are drawn illustrations of various stages of a rim job; and “Cups with Something to Say“, a series of porcelain cups on which he wrote or imprinted phrases often heard in the context of gay/queer culture, but also phrases relating to sexual relationships.  I love how he pairs a very drawing technique with brash and uncomfortable images.  His work is astonishing, and I am very glad to have met him.

Dustin is an artist that I really relate to.  He approaches ceramics as a vehicle to express ideas about culture and form.  He makes beautiful pieces in their own right, but what makes them exceptional is the decorative elements.  He combines drawing, pottery, and commentary seamlessly into his pieces.  They make the viewer uncomfortable, which is something I always appreciate especially because his work deals with queer issues and those are very important to me.  Sometimes I find it frustrating to make ceramic work (particularly thrown work) that isn’t just beautiful and functional.   It’s not that that area of ceramics isn’t valuable and fantastic, but sometimes I find myself aching to make something more meaningful.  It is reassuring to find artists making poignant work combining traditional ceramic forms, substance, and beautiful surfaces.

This is only my second post about paper.  I plan to post mostly about printmaking, drawing, and so such the like, but instead I am going to post about Manuel Munoz.  He is an author of two collections of short stories (Zigzagger and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue) and he recently spoke at Carleton for our Pride month.  He writes about the intersecting experiences of LGBT communities and latino communities.

I love short stories so much.  There is something about a good short story that cuts right through me.  I love reading them, but even more I love hearing author’s read their work.  Last summer I listened to a podcast where Miranda July read an excerpt from “Mon Plaisir” (part of her book No One Belongs Here More Than You).  I did some scouting and I think the podcast is part of the iTunes Meet the Author series.  The story is so beautiful, but hearing the author read, hearing her say the words like she hears them when she wrote them, it makes the experience magical.  And that was even listening to a podcast.  When Munoz read part of his story (he didn’t want to read all of it, for fear that we’d get bored), I cried.  It was so beautiful and moving.  His stories have such earnest portrayals of characters, especially ones that are split between the LGBT community and the latino community.  When he was trying to get his first book published, he had a lot of trouble because publishers couldn’t put it into one category or another.  Gay publishers weren’t sure if it would sell, latino publishers weren’t sure if it would sell, despite the fact that many of his stories had been published individually in big name periodicals.  When he spoke to us he talked about the period where he wanted to give up, but thank god he didn’t because he is so talented and his work is remarkable.  I highly recommend picking up Zigzagger of the Faith Healer of Olive Avenue.

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