“In putting together a show about complicating visibility, it is necessary to acknowledge that there have been times when queer visibility was life or death. It also must be acknowledged that without violence against queer people — whether physical or the violence of mandating identity — it wouldn’t be necessary to have a conversation around visibility or the need for invisibility,” states curator Ashton Cooper in her essay Abstraction, Queer Embodiment, and Finding Intimacy penned for the catalog of her exhibition Read My Lips. “The presence of violence is why we have to have these conversations and why this kind of work is urgent and necessary.”
In the exhibition, on view at the Knockdown Center’s recently-opened gallery space, Cooper brings together Loren Britton and Kerry Downey, two New York-based artists working in a variety of mediums including printmaking, sculpture, film, painting, and drawing. The duo weave various aesthetic and ideological threads into a remarkable experience.
Bitterly relevant with last week’s election results, the show communicates with distant and recent struggles of the queer community for the sake of visibility. This ranges from the ‘80s when Gran Fury defied prejudice and oppression towards the AIDS pandemic with their “Read My Lips” slogan to the massacre at Pulse and the rising homophobic rhetoric in the wake of Trump’s election.
Corporeality and endurance against heteronormative discourse are rendered through abstraction in Read My Lips. The two artists examine the possibilities and limits of non-figurative patterns for manifestation of queer experience. The limitless territory abstraction provides pushes the artists towards self-expression while unfolding diverse narratives specific to each onlooker’s interpretation.
“While the artists are refusing to be legible, they are not accepting invisibility,” concludes Cooper in her essay, “Abstraction is a way of choosing a different kind of representation.” The power of abstraction stems from that potential to reach such far extents while keeping its methods ethereal and intimate. The fluidity of brushstrokes lead to transformative tales.
The Knockdown Center’s soaring ceilings and light-filled interior houses Britton’s series of large-scale paintings of exuberant color and whimsical juxtaposition, loosely depicting the inside of a mouth covered by a group of fingers. Perched on top of bricks covered in pink, these acrylic paintings, coated with dusts of glitter, gain animate traits through their feet-like bases and bodily connotations, morphing into hybrids of sculpture and painting. The artist’s employment of voluptuous forms to illustrate fingers and tongues are contrasted by the sharpness of monstrous teeth. Their surreal color palette also complicates this deadpan depiction of human anatomy.
Projected on a large wall inside the adjunct gallery is Nothing but net, Downey’s single channel multidisciplinary video merging drawing, illustration and performance. Upon manually animating their cutouts and drawings on the glass monitor of a projector, the artist orchestrates a hallucinatory realm where familiar and strange intertwine, absorbing the audience into an alternative version of reality. Supplemented by a voiceover, throughout which the artist delivers a monologue maneuvering around prose and poetry, the subliminal experience offers a moving version of abstraction and its multifaceted potential. The queer latitude—buoyant, confident, and subversive—intricately built by both artists to complicate imposed dictations of the mainstream.
Knockdown Center gallery hours are Thursday-Friday, 5pm – 9pm and Saturday – Sunday, 2pm – 8pm.