It’s that time again–the Christmas creep. As Halloween ends and Thanksgiving looms, the Christmas ornaments, candy canes, blow-up Santa lawn ornaments and Christmas lights begin to fill stores, erasing the divisions between late fall and winter. Using this bizarre space of holiday cheer as a metaphor for blurred temporal distinctions, San Francisco-based artist Josh Fraught’s timely titled exhibition Christmas Creep at Lisa Cooley presents a complex and moving interrogation of the temporality of memory and the preservation of queer desire.
Despite the title of this essay, which was really just an excuse to reference my favorite Christmas song about Santa’s midnight creep, Faught’s intricate and intimate work has little to do with the manic Christmas spirit invading October and November. Instead of mapping the ever-elongating holiday season, Faught’s sculptures and wall-mounted fabric works pose a similar confusion between the past, present and future in the remembering of queer acts and desire.
With titles such as “Scott,” “Andrew,” “Bill,” “Benjamin,” and “Steve” whose names are sewn into the fabric of the works, Faught’s woven pieces each refer to one or multiple of his romantic partners. Not necessarily a simply interpreted portrait of his former sexual partners or their time together–however fleeting, Faught’s works trace an ephemeral history of these relationships, using craft and, at times, kitschy, mass-produced objects as evidence of queer intimacy.
Explained in the gallery’s press release, Faught’s motivation in constructing a queer archive originated with his site-specific project at the Neptune Society Columbarium of San Francisco. A nondenominational internment site where many of San Francisco’s gay community who passed away from complications from AIDS rest, the Neptune Society Columbarium inspired Faught, who took an interest in the personal archive created by the seemingly random objects left by loved ones as a tribute to those lost. A memorial to individuals, as well as the gay community at large, these makeshift memorials influenced Faught’s own work, leading him to employ similarly ephemeral objects as historical evidence of personal queer desire.
In his 1996 essay “Ephemera As Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts,” which inspired this year’s annual Visual AIDS exhibition, Jose Muñoz reveals the importance of ephemera to queer individuals and artists. “Queerness is often transmitted covertly. This has everything to do with the fact that leaving too much of a trace has often meant that the queer subject has left herself open for attack. Instead of being clearly available as visible evidence, queerness has instead existed as innuendo, gossip, fleeting moments and performances that are meant to be interacted with by those within its epistemological sphere–while evaporating at the touch of those who would eliminate queer possibility” (6).
Like Muñoz’s observations about the significance of ephemeral evidence for queer individuals, Faught’s work also acts as a space of innuendo, transitory moments and covert allusions. Without reading the press release in the gallery, viewers would likely have little notion of the works’ connection to sexuality and queer relationality.
Covered with objects from pins which display phrases such as “Immoral minority,” “I don’t have herpes,” and my personal favorite, “I can’t cope with pastel colors,” to plastic food and VHS tapes, Faught’s chosen objects, independent of the artworks themselves, are not outwardly referencing queer sexuality, intimacy or relationships. However, let’s be honest, the appearance of Cher on the box for the film Silkwood is probably a big hint that queerness looms large over the exhibition.
Among closer inspection and taken with the knowledge of the relationships represented by each piece, these objects become, as much as I hate to use this term, “queered” symbols of queer intimacy and identity. For example, a VHS box for Harrison Ford’s film Witness transforms in the context of “Movies (Craig, Mike, Michael, Paul, Matt, Ben, Andy)” as a potential representation of “witnessing” queer desire or even a reference to the seminal Artists Space exhibition Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing, displayed during the height of the AIDS crisis.
Explaining ephemera in a queer context, Muñoz defines ephemera as “linked to alternate modes of textuality and narrativity like memory and performance: it is all of those things that remain after a performance, a kind of evidence of what has transpired but certainly not the thing itself. It does not rest on epistemological foundations but is instead interested in following traces, glimmers residues and specks of things” (10).
Like Muñoz’s notion of “traces, glimmers, residues and specks of things,” Faught’s work also preserves an alternate memory of these occasions of queer desire–an intangible moment in time captured by fabric and ephemeral objects. With spilled wine glasses, tipped coffee and a sadly smashed Cathy cartoon mug on the floor of Lisa Cooley, Faught portrays the messy failure of the impossibility of attempting to represent a definitive memory or narrative.
Looking to academic Raymond Williams’ understanding of “structures of feelings,” Muñoz describes, “Raymond Williams’s influential and oft-cited notion of ‘structures of feeling’ helps further our understanding of the material dimensions of ephemera. Williams explains the was in which art conveys, translates, and engenders structures of feelings–tropes of emotion and lived experience that are indeed material without necessarily being ‘solid’” (10).
Employing craft as his artistic medium, Faught creates material objects that are slightly less than solid. Through weaving, knitting and crocheting, as well as hand-dyeing his fabrics, Faught embraces his imperfect hand, leaving hanging strings, disjointed patterns and other beautiful flaws in his work.
As shown by John Chaich’s masterful Queer Threads exhibition at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, craft has become an essential field for queer artists who mine craft’s outsider place in art history and connection to the history of feminist art. Looking at Faught’s work, the visible appearance of the artist’s hand adds a powerful sense of tactility and touch to these intimate artworks, linking Faught with the physical memory of his former partners.
As Muñoz explains, “Ephemera includes traces of lived experience and performances of lived experience, maintaining experiential politics and urgencies long after these structures of feeling have been lived” (10-11).
A preservation of moments of queer desire through fabric and objects, Faught presents an important representation of the temporality of memory. With clocks appearing throughout the show, Faught’s Christmas Creep captures this ephemeral and difficult to define temporality of memory, standing as an example of a recorded history of queer desire.
Reflecting the power of Christmas Creep, Muñoz affirms, “Queer acts, like queer performances, and various performances of queerness, stand as evidence of queer lives, powers and possibilities” (6).