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!

www.queer-arts.org

www.queer-arts.org/archive/9906/gen_q/index.html