Ho Yan Pun Nicole – [↑] Hand 1; [↙] Hand 2; [↘] Hand 3 from In & Out series (2014)

As a lesbian artist from Hong Kong, I choose lesbian’s hands as a
site of resistance. Through photographing and exposing different
lesbian’s hand gestures in public, I am making a political statement to
show the existence of the lesbian community, that has been invisible in a
lot of Asian countries. Under the British colonial governance, Hong
Kong had a criminal law against male homosexuality before 1990s. Any
male to male homosexual behavior were banned. In 1991, the Legislative
Council decriminalized the private homosexual behavior. These law
address specifically to male homosexuality. The society largely believed
that only the male homosexual behavior involved the act of insertion.
It was considered indecent and would cause diseases. On one hand, the
legislation oppressed the right of male homosexuals. On the other hand,
this oppression reveals the existence of this marginal group. Their
voice and desire of fighting for their right becomes more and more
explicit nowadays. Lesbian’s voice is always hidden. In Hong Kong,
lesbians do not have a clear social space. Even in the US, when it comes
to bars, the number of lesbian bars can hardly match up to that of gay
bars. This community is always invisible, especially in Asian culture.
Obviously, there are body politics involved. The society presumes
lesbian sex do not have the insertion as sexual activity. Their hands
are not regarded as “sexual organs”. As a lesbian, I believe hands are
precious sexual organs, just as how penis signifies male power. Lesbian
hand embodies lesbian phallus, power, fantasy, erotica. Therefore, by
showing intimate hand gesture, it is a sign of revolt, a sign of
recognition of this community.

source (via @lesbianartandartists)

Kate SmuragaUntitled from nobody important, no one else series (2016)

Three hundred seventy-one days ago, I featured Smuraga’s work.

The photograph didn’t exactly fit the format of this project. But it felt important to include at the time.

I now feel vindicated in my insistence upon including it–and not merely due to the fact that she seems to have recently earned a LensCulture showcase.

In the intervening year and change, her work has continued to mature. I’d have guessed her trajectory would’ve involved gaining a bit of confidence and then mining her work for a more audacious/confrontational tone but she appears to have leapfrogged that phase and doubled down on a more intricately layered and increasingly contemplative approach to creation.

Yet, for all the additional complexity and nuance, the work is simpler and more welcoming while also simultaneously and seemingly improbable: discomfiting.

I’m hesitant to delve into any sort of at all involved exegesis as the recent work feels like a bit like a clever quip or joke which once explained any trace of wit is leeched out. (& since I’m sitting here accusing myself of copping out as a result of not really having anything to insightful to contribute: wave-particle duality and the almost ironic interpenetration of imperfection with the concept of beauty. All of that fits hand in glove with her overarching examination of femininity and the politics of representation, but there’s also some very meta-commentary on process that is unnervingly precocious.)

The other thing I wanted to point to is to illustrate how fundamentally important attribution/credits are for this kind of work. It’s sort of like John Berger’s famous example from Ways of Seeing about how Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows is one context, whereas labeling it as the last picture Van Gogh painted before committing suicide, is another.

The same absolutely applies here. The credits are integral to this piece for a bazillion reasons but the most salient of those are: authorship matters, if you didn’t make something and you like it there’s a duty to due diligence to try to find out who made it (anything short of that involves a level of flagrant disrespect which is rude at best and more than likely marks the credit stripping poster as a real piece of shite); in this case knowing that the author is female absolutely shifts the context of the image–what (with attribution) reads as meditation on the agency that physical embodiment allows women and how that cuts both ways in the current grossly sexist af culture shifts not only if say a cishet man made the image (regardless of authorial intention, a completely BS parameter for any sort of critical consideration, actually since communication has meaning not because words/actions/ideas point to something internally but because they occur in the stream of life and culture and as such occur in context and derive meaning from their positioning within that context), but if attribution is missing there’s not really enough context for the image to really signify anything beyond what it simply depicts. And not that it isn’t rich however you encounter it, but a lot of the things that are wonderful about it have to do with notions of gender and representation, I mean I’m pretty sure this is a self-portrait, too… Suffice it to say that without attribution, the water becomes very muddy, very quickly.

(Also as an aside: I adore those knickers. Does anyone know where I might be able to acquire ta similar pair? Thanx in advance.)

Santy MitoChoke de fuerzas… (2016)

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite.  Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong.  We say bread and it means according
to which nation.  French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure.  A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment.  I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can.  Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling.  And maybe not.  When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records.  But what if they
are poems or psalms?  My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton.  My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey.  Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body.  Giraffes are this
desire in the dark.  Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not laguage but a map.  What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

Jack Gilbert, The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

Federica ErraBlack Cloud (2009)

I’m not on board with Erra’s image making efforts. Her compositions are all too busily askew and impose a highly-contrived restricted palate upon the work which comes across as less considered and more reaching toward a sort of Brooke Shaden filtered through a ‘soft grunge’ aesthetic.

I’m posting this simply because despite the above criticisms–that apply here just as much as elsewhere in the work–I’m always fond of things that fuck with the idea that gender is strictly an either/or proposition.

The incomparable @knitphilia, who ran one of my favorite Tumblrs ever would’ve labeled this with the tag #pretty_masculinity. (She also had a #handsome_femininity tag that is equally if not more dreamy.)

Zanele MuholiBeloved II (2005)

I’ve pointed to Muholi’s splendid work before.

I purposely limited my commentary to factual tidbits. This was partly due to the fact that–contrary to how things may appear with my writing here–I don’t think expression is always the best response. Sometimes it’s necessary to sit and be silently present with resonate work. (If you’re a creative individual, a strong sensitivity precedes the development of vocabulary to explain in detail the way in which you respond to the work that moves you.)

The other reason is that although I am hyper-aware of pervasive (and entirely fucking justified) concerns over a lack of diversity in the arts and entertainment, I have no interest in participating in the who’s more ‘woke’, ally pissing contest that is just an elevation of gross tokenism to the status of virtue.

However, looking at this image, my brain automatically jumps to issues of representation. Specifically, like just about everyone else on Tumblr, I’m fond of the series Black Mirror.

When Season 3 was released several months back, a plurality of folks fell all over themselves telling me I had to drop everything and watch the San Junipero episode.

I resisted until I realized it was Black Mirror’s ‘gay’ episode and in the wake of the election and the subsequent spike in hate crimes, and then it seemed like the only thing that seemed like it might be worth watching.

I’m not interested in spoiling it. I’ll only say that I’ve since watched it a half a dozen times. It is every bit as good as I was led to believe. But, there’s something more bittersweet to it that I haven’t be able to put my finger on…

Looking at the image above, I realize what it is–for all the things San Junipero gets right (and trust me, it does get a lot right, a whole lot), the post-coital conversations are flat. I mean they’re shot flat, under too dim lighting. But the interactions are flat, too–I mean compare these scenes with the scenes where they are sitting outside Kelly’s beach rental and talking about their real world lives–some of the most on point dialogue in ages.

Charlie Brooker, the Black Mirror show runner, originally wrote the script to feature a hetero couple. But opted to change it–partly to be subversive (gay marriage wasn’t legal in 1987) and partly for issues of representation. And it works because it’s guided by a fundamental sense of empathy.

Yet, where it falls short, is the assumption that just because self-transcendent love looks the same no matter the race or gender of the lovers, the ways people in that sort of love reach out to each other might as well be as distinct as a thumbprint. These scenes adopt a hetero-post-coital conventional coding–which comes off as flat and lazy.

And that’s why we desperately need greater diversity in not just the characters that populate the stories we see on big and small screens alike; we need the people guiding those stories to tell their stories not according to tradition or convention but from deeply felt personal experience.

Imagine if Yorkie asking Kelly when she knew she was bisexual, had played out in a shot like Muholi’s above instead of the shot-reverse shot of the episode as it is? That would’ve been something because of separating the characters–from each other–you show them together negotiating the context that will come to be their mutual reality as a couple. Small, seemingly insignificant things like this make a world of difference. Or, to borrow advice I was given by someone much wiser than me: sweat the small stuff, the big picture’ll take care of itself.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

I have no idea where this image comes from but I absolutely love it.

It’s partially an aesthetic thing. Customarily, I’m not a fan of close-ups–to my way of thinking they excise too many crucial contextual cues/clues.

An acquaintance who attends the same monthly book club I do and is currently pursuing a Philosophy PhD has pointed out to me that she doesn’t completely buy my objection as she seems something valuable in close-ups ability to essentially build a context that allows one to see the foreign in the familiar.

I counter that this sounds an awful lot like those awful activities in children’s magazines where they show a close-up of the pattern on a manhole cover and invite the reader to identify the object they’re viewing.

She’ll fire back with Suren Manvelyan as an example of how an identical framing can serve as an impetus for the creation of art.

And I get tripped up because I don’t know whether I’m inclined to suggest her example is the exception that proves the distinction I’m drawing or if due to the dual notion of infinite–i.e. both the set of all real number extending in both negative and positive directions endless, while also the endlessly divisible space between any number in the above set–that Manvelyan is actually terribly disingenuous to the spirit of the initial premise. (Yeah, I know: I’m insufferable.)

A third thought occurs to me writing this now: perhaps, I’m not being entirely honest, either. I mean: I really dig a good bit of Lina Scheynius’ work–and she employs close-ups frequently–granted with just enough of a hint of context that you can usual fill-in any requisite blanks.

Come to think of it, the above image is actually something very much in keeping with Scheynius’ work. The perspective, angle of view and how the scene is presented in a fashion which pinpoints a specific, emotionally resonant detail and then provides enough of the surrounding context to insinuate an idea is very much a skill set she exemplifies. (Despite compositional and tonal similarities as well as the implication of bathing/water, it’s definitely not her work–the color is entirely too saturated to be hers.)

I’ve had this image lurking in my drafts for the better part of a year–knowing unequivocally that I am going to absolutely post it at some point.

The trouble is I’ve never really know what to say beyond the above knee-jerk reflection; however, the events of the last three months–in particular–and the last three years in general, render this image especially meaningful at present.

I’ve at least twice (1 + 2) before about how thoroughly amazing my living situation was during my junior year of college. Amadine, who is mentioned in the second post and that’s also not her real name, and I recently reconnected. It was intense–in a wonderful way and the immediacy and profound intimacy of the way we interact with one another has set my brain on fire.

The realization that I’ve come to is that being a severely damaged individual, I seek out others who have also been broken by life. I’ve spent most of my life surrounding myself with folks who have hard eyes and sharpened edges.

More and more, those are not the people I want to share my mind, my energies and my body with. I think that due to growing up in an environment where kind words weren’t offered unless they were inextricably tangled up in bitter, criticism. For example, my parents would always be like: oh, you could be doing so much better at this if you just tried and it’s disappointing for us but it doesn’t make us love you any less. Like what the actual fuck?

Increasingly, I’m attracted to kindness. Amadine was the first person who was ever kind to me seemingly without any sort of selfish motivation. And if I’m being honest, I am more than a bit smitten with her. But our respective situations make these feelings (which have been validated as mutual, or did I imagine a subtext that wasn’t present yet again?) extremely complicated. Also, we are tentatively discussing collaborating on the most ambitious creative project I’ve undertaken in more than a decade…

Really, that’s why I’m finally posting this because the feeling in this image holds a faint glimmer of what it’s like to share time and space with Amadine… for whatever that admission is worth and means to any of you out there.