SAN FRANCISCO BAY TIMES
MAY 27, 1999, Vol. 20, No. 17
Queer Arts Resource Features Generation Q:
Queer art and culture on the Internet
Prior the founding of Queer Arts
Resource in the autumn of 1996, a query for "gay art" on your Internet
search engine of choice likely would have turned up boytoys posing in jock straps,
an online Elton John fanzine, or a bulging boast of the latest Tom of Finland
fashions. Indeed, websites featuring queer content were-- and largely still
are-- preoccupied with sex and silliness, which is fine as long as someone,
somewhere is committed to providing an intelligent, informative and sometimes
sexy antidote to the Internet's prevalent porn proclivities.
That someone is Barry Harrison, and
that somewhere is Queer Arts Resource, a three-year-old web site dedicated to
the exhibition and preservation of classic and contemporary fine art made by
and for local and international l/g/b/t communities. With its headquarters in
San Francisco and its presence felt worldwide, Queer Arts Resource has bravely
and beautifully embarked on an exploration of the previously uncharted terrain
of queer art on the Internet.
Until recently, a vast majority of
art historians, curators and critics have ignored, censored or distorted most
material of direct relevance to lesbians and gays. In order to reclaim queer
cultural heritage, QAR has presented nearly thirty online exhibitions featuring
the stylistic-ally diverse, thematically fascinating work of such gay vanguards
as Paul Cadmus, George Platt Lynes, Tee Corinne, Kimberly Austin, David Wojnarowicz
and S. Brett Kaufman. With their stylish blend of educational content and visual
splendor, QAR exhibitions contextualize great works of queer art within related
aesthetic and social realms, thus providing a complex and rewarding picture
of the community's many major artistic accomplishments.
As such, the site certainly is a
welcome, and even necessary, stop on any savvy surfer's cyberspace roamings.
Check it out at www.queer-arts.org, and make sure to visit on June 6, when QAR
raises the digital curtain on three new exhibitions: Queer Francis, a revision-ist
look at disturbed, distorted British painter Francis Bacon; Harvey Milk: Second
Sight, a collection of photos by the Mayor of Castro Street; and Generation
Q: The First Inter-national Queer Youth Art Expo, which gathers the work of
gay and lesbian teens and young adults who express their views and experiences
through compelling visual art.
Generation Q: The First International
Queer Youth Art Expo
Presiding regally over the expatriate
proceedings in her legendary flat at 27 Rue de Fleurs, Gertrude Stein sized
up the wayward ways of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and their coterie of Jazz Age fops
and flappers, and pegged them forever as The Lost Generation. Some thirty years
later, with an artistic and philosophical transition from the cafés of
Paris to the dive bars and underground bookstores of San Francisco, Kerouac,
Ginsberg and their hippy-poet hangers-on collectively coined and embodied their
own bebop nickname, The Beat Generation. Fast-forward to the bland, bell-bottomed
1970s, when American baby boomers dashed the hopes of 1968's worldwide Velvet
Revolution by selling out to the solipsistic Me Decade, during which a generation
of navel-gazers took the money (and tantric sex) and ran.
Enter Reagan and the whining babies
of the baby boomers, tagged Generation X by Douglas Coupland as the '80s crash-landed
into apathy and AIDS. The '90s, which will be over before you'll learn how to
correctly spell "millennium," offered up The Doom Generation as a
sex-drugs-and-electronica vision of New Queer Cinema bad-boy Gregg Araki, whose
celluloid trash-heaps of gay goths and lascivious lesbos nailed fin de siècle
teenage terrors with bloody pomp and slutty circumstance. The kids of the kids
whom The Who stuttered about in "My Generation" had found a generation
of their own, and it was crazysexycool.
And here we are, at the dawning of
a new blah blah blah, and gloom-and-doom posturing is beginning to look like
yesterday's fish-and-chip papers: greasy and outdated. The times they are a'changing,
as Jakob Dylan's dad once sang, and it's time once and for all to lose the Lost,
beat the Beat, doom the Doom, and clear the dance floor for a new crew of movers
and shakers. They're young, adventurous, smart, sly, giddy, a tad sad (who can
blame them?) and absolutely, positively queer, with no apologies to anyone,
thank you very much. Let's call them Generation Q, and let's look at their art.
Hailing from Russia, Canada and the
U.S., the ten artists featured in Generation Q: The First International Queer
Youth Art Expo reveal themselves as surprisingly savvy observers and interpreters
of their wide worlds and complicated lives. They are true internationalists
who know quite a lot (too much? too soon?) about the ways in which asserting
one's identity-- sexual, cultural and otherwise-- can invite persecution as
often as it elicits admiration. While much of their work is not overtly queer
save for some decidedly homoerotic images, it's clear that these young adults
(a term which I hope doesn't sound patronizing) understand all-too-well the
personal and political consequences of asserting a minority perspective.
From surrealistic flights of fancy
and sophisticated representation to beguiling abstraction and unflinching self-portraiture,
these artists run the gamut of stylistic devices, while touching on themes of
solitude, genetics, sexuality, the pandemic and pop culture. Perusing their
vigorous, varied and always vital work, we might quip that this Generation's
"Q" stands as much for "quirky" and "quixotic"
as it does for "queer."
Photography has proved a particularly
rich medium for lesbian and gay artists in recent years, and several of the
Generation Q participants employ both its capacity for veracity and its darkroom
trickery as means of documenting exterior truths and interior secrets. Sherisse
Alvaraz plays with light's ability to act as both wave and particle in her eerie
black-and-white portraits that deliberately conceal more than they reveal of
their subjects (perhaps a metaphor for the deep, dark closet out of which gay
youths must emerge). James Owens, Jr. similarly plays peek-a-boo with viewers
in his fetching, androgynous self-portrait, while his stark botanical studies
transform nature into abstraction. Simon Tribault also turns his camera on figures
with hidden faces who crouch and cower in otherworldly landscapes that the artist
has embellished with scratches of paint and layers of subliminal meaning.
Just as this trio tracks the rocky
terrain that must be crossed during the coming-out process, Mollie Biewald,
Sara Davidson and Daryl Vocat navigate the equally confusing territory of adulthood
as they attempt to figure out just what it means to declare oneself a (lesbian)
woman and a (gay) man. Biewald's formally seductive three-dimensional constructions
toy with gender roles. In Butch, the loaded phrase "I am a good girl"
is adorned with pink hearts and domestic filigree (sugar and spice and everything
nice), yet the smashed Joseph Cornell box of Seven Turns Broken suggests that
this "good girl" has grown up bad and prefers the company of riot
grrrls to that of good little boys. In her deliberately childlike drawings and
collages, Davidson explores rites of manhood and learns that there's more to
becoming a man (or woman) than learning to shave, to drink, and to knot a necktie.
Vocat's transformation from boy to man comes courtesy the Boy Scouts, (though
I don't recall seeing such, um, explicit diagrams last time I thumbed through
their rulebook.) His intimate, elegant monoprint etchings convey the thrills
of adolescent crushes and late-night circle jerks, and they poignantly equate
lovers' vows with idealistic zeal.
The remaining Generation Q artists
plumb a plethora of creative styles and provocative themes. Using acrylic and
spray paint, Rocio Arteaga mimics the freestyle frenzy of graffiti guerrillas
in desperately violent scenes, including Suicide, that mix the gallows humor
of William S. Burroughs with the tortured loathing of Francis Bacon; somehow
they also manage to be quite cheery. Victor Hsieh's computer-generated images,
such as Zenith and Division of Relationships, resemble strands of DNA, and provide
appropriate digital corollary to the ongoing nature vs. nurture debate. In his
intricate, fantastical drawings, Viktor Kotelnikov presents a booby-trapped
portrait of the artist as a young man (Recall) and a lepidopterist's nightmare
(the butterflies-are-not-free scenario of Beauty of the Death). Finally, Aaron
Sciandra gets down but not too dirty with his mixed-media assemblages of manipulated
stroke books, leather whips and other accouterments of after-hours, behind-closed-doors
behavior. (It seems that at least some members of Generation Q haven't abandoned
the proud homo heritage of porn.)
If they're looking for a motto, the members of Generation Q might well consider an anony-mous quote hidden in one of the exhibition's artworks: "Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching." The thing is, we are watching, and we like what we see. Please, kids, don't get Lost. A launch party for the Queer Arts Resource June'99 Siteworks will be held June 11 at Media Alliance, 814 Mission Street, San Francisco, from 6 to 8 p.m. Free!