We asked SVACE faculty members Magali Duzant and Jeanette Spicer to attend and reflect on Untitled (Gender Representation) symposium, a day-long symposium presented by SVA and BFA Photography and Video, featuring leading artists and theorists addressing current conversations on gender in high and low culture and the ways representation has effected the discourse. We’re pleased to present their original thoughts below.
In introducing the Untitled (Gender Representation) symposium, organizers stressed the deliberate choice of the word “Untitled.” Untitled, it was said, would act as a prompt to allow the audience to have their own take on gender. Over the course of the day’s presentations, this idea only grew more relevant.
Much like in naming an artwork, naming a wide-ranging series of talks and conversations is a challenge. Similar to art, conscious decisions are made in organizing a symposium, but so much is left up to chance interactions, sparks in conversations, and person-to-person connections. A through line across all of the day’s presentations was the power of community, coming together to share, discuss, and support; as well as the power of the artist to create. We create works of art that question the binary (the world?); we create our own definitions and identities. Art may not solve all of the world’s struggles, but it is a powerful force in asking questions, stressing alternatives, filling in gaps, building bridges, and most importantly, in creating safe spaces and empowered communities.
The day kicked off with a conversation between Kate Bornstein and Diana Tourjee who spoke about living beyond the binary and the importance of intergenerational dialogue.
As an artist and member of the queer community working in my practice specifically around the body, body representation, vulnerability, and fluidity in personal relationships, I was impressed and intrigued by Bornstein and Tourjee’s conversation that so eloquently discussed gender and transgender issues while keeping the discussion personal, yet accessible, informative, and hysterical. I specifically enjoyed the balance between Bornstein and Tourjee, both self-identifying transgender individuals, from entirely different generations, which created a wonderful dialogue that acknowledges the necessity for society to understand the struggles, the pain, and the beauty in the transgender and gender fluid communities, which has changed drastically over the last several decades. Bornstein focused frequently on the play and fun that can exist around gender, while also keeping a keen understanding and acknowledgement of the severity of the need for change in how society views the binary and gender, while Tourjee brought a younger generational outlook, and necessary seriousness about the lack of attention to the struggles and horror in the trans community. Bornstein said at one point, “I am both; I am neither,” which struck me. That comment was representative of the entire conversation, and what our society so desperately needs to understand. ( Jeanette Spicer )
Lia Gangitano presented the work of Greer Lankton and the series concluded with a screening of work from M. Lamar.
As a working artist and photographer I was drawn to the presentations of Guggenheim curator Jennifer Blessing and artists and activists Zanele Muholi and niv Acosta. Zackary Drucker led a conversation between both artists that ranged across topics from working as an activist, educating institutions, and audience interaction. In Muholi’s work the power of the archive was a stand out. In creating an archive, one creates a record, proof of the people who have existed, loved, and defined themselves outside of society’s narrower constructs. In documentation comes permanence. Acosta works in performance and dance and spoke of the power of live performance and Afrofuturism as well as the reality of traveling as a Black trans identified person. In negotiating the presentation of the work, Acosta has included a mandatory educational aspect to the work, to provide a course in structural racism as a means of changing the systems that the work is presented within. ( Magali Duzant )
Jennifer Blessing’s presentation on her 1997 Guggenheim exhibition, “Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography,” traced back the importance of representation and documentation, both fictive and candid. Blessing expounded upon the history of blurring the binary from Marcel Duchamp to Cindy Sherman and Catherine Opie to Lyle Ashton Harris. The exhibition came out of research that she was pursuing around the artist Claude Cahun.
Education again is key here, when we learn and explore, possibilities are presented and new ways of looking and understanding are accessible. At SVA, we see a desire to present these opportunities with courses such as #GenderSexPhoto: Queer Studies, Feminist Art and Art & The Everyday, examining how and why we look. In today’s media-saturated world, images are both imbued with a substantial power and tossed aside in favor of the newest and loudest. Learning how to be both visually literate and how to craft an image and a position is a powerful tool, and also an inherent challenge. With courses such as these, art in general, and language, we may not solve the ills of the world in one quick snap of the fingers but we can bring together communities, illustrate and then help build a more accepting world that allows for greater possibility, diversity, and understanding.
- Magali Duzant & Jeanette Spicer