remember that you must live

 
 
 

see below for source imagery
of the installation

I know that I must die. I know that the human skull in the painting resting next to the flowers is there to remind me that one day I too will kick the bucket. But what is cyclically forgotten and remembered is that I also must live. When you are born into a system that actively fights against your existence—due to what, exactly? a genetic mutation? cosmic intervention? a glitch in the Matrix?—your inevitable death, possibly at the hands of another of your species, is spoon fed to you regularly. Having had a few conversations with that companionable personification of “the end,” I have time and again had to remember that I exist and continue to exist for a reason.

Looking to established mythologies (here, the narratives constructed by and told to other humans as creation stories and moral codes that appear and dissipate over centuries) I sought to create my own myth of queer creation. Religion, science, and nature have all been erected in an attempt to understand how and why we are, yet these same tools have been implemented to propagate fear, demean the other, and justify slaughter and eugenics. The moralistic maxims of the ancient Greeks or parables of the bible are cannibalized, reborn into tools of oppression. I wish to create an inversion of established human paradigms—to birth a universe of limitless queer potentialities.

To do so I draw from this trinity of religion, science, and nature to deconstruct power and build it anew. Principles of alchemy guide me through this story. Whereas the concept of nature has been written into laws against queer people in most societies, I use elements that belong to the planet as metaphors for monumental change and as the formative objects of new beings. Offering these items in bowls of lead that I have melted and crafted by hand atop mounds of limestone, which itself was crystallized by the calcified remains of our ancestors, I suggest their potential for radical transformation into as-yet unknowable beings. In each are five elements of distinct change—Carrara marble for the human attempt to fashion stone into unobtainable idealism; lodgepole pine cones that reproduce in extreme heat and fire; jet which starts as a tree and is formed through millennia of waterlogged pressure; rainbow obsidian solidified from rapidly cooled felsic lava; and water, the most abundant component piece of the human body. Together, these five pieces weigh as much as I do. Perhaps I was born from them.

 
 
 

triptych 1 — the subconscious builds new structure
triptych 2 — the braid of hair, burned
triptych 3 — the trauma of the ancient breeds
archival pigment prints

 
 

Considering the Church, that most violent organization of queer persecution, I made a triptych in the vein of Hieronymus Bosch and other artists controlled by the centuries of Catholic rule. Lit minimally to mimic the subdued light of pre-electric cathedrals and framed in gold leaf to reference how the Church emphasized narrative control to an illiterate congregation, this triptych revolves around the chimeric capacity of photography. What is a body—my body—and what can it become? What happens beyond the edge of the frame? Instilling autobiography into this world, I burned with the help of friends and healing herbs a braid of 20 inches of hair I had grown over four years of recovery from a trauma, and placed the ashes atop my spine. I believe that identity is formed and broken in cycles; from each pain we grow new appendages into the collective unconscious. Flanking this are a left arm holding a cow’s vertebra and a right arm holding the charred remains of a protea plant, one of the most ancient on Earth, which also releases its seeds in fire. These objects have lived with me for years, long enough to become part of me. They hold memory and are creators of their own. Here, the binaries of left and right, masculine and feminine, light and dark operate to illuminate a whole if only we allow ourselves that fluidity.

 
 
pine cone wall whole_small.jpg

this cosmology is mine, nature is not yours you cannot use it against me
pine cones burned on silver gelatin paper
unique photograms [inverted]

 

To express this space of potential, I inverted 30 of the images from this cosmology is mine from positives into negatives, which they could not be in their initial state as a photogram, giving this 8’ x 15’ wall its own agency to transform. I, the progenitor; they, my worlds, freed.

 
 
 
 

this cosmology is mine, created and destroyed
gallium skull melted or constructed
in my passive hand

 

On the reverse is another universe, one that contains a virus. Gold, that initial pursuit by the first alchemists to metamorphose lead, has been a constant thread of visual representation of divinity, a space reserved for the pious and wealthy. But its creation is imperfect, its threads laid bare. It, too, is a construct, a false idol. In the center of this space is a wheel of 10 opened left hands, each melting or building its own memento mori / vivere. The human skull, the proposed locus of consciousness, a precious thing, really. We die yet it continues on, a signifier of legacy. Made of gallium, a metal that melts at 85 degrees, or when cradled by the human hand, this mold-poured skull lives in precarity. Whose legacy? What legacy? The danger of the queer body, even in its most passive, resting, and subconscious state, is in its ability to destroy empires—to infect paradigms and promulgate alternatives. We are feared, and perhaps rightfully so. We have the power to change.