Carlos Motta, Artist

Group Exhibition | (SIGNAL) at Smack Mellon, March 5 – April 17, 2016

February 24, 2016


Smack Mellon
Artists’ Reception: March 5, 6 – 8 pm
Jess T. Dugan, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, Nicki Green, Rhys Ernst & Zackary Drucker, Young Joon Kwak, Carlos Motta, Cobi Moules, Chelsea Thompto, Gil Yefman, Rona Yefman

(SIGNAL), curated by Alexis Heller, opens at Smack Mellon on March 5 and will be on view through April 17, 2016. This exhibition presents artworks that challenge the gender binary and explore a continuum of self-definition. Working in diverse mediums, these eleven contemporary artists utilize code, collaborative representation, fantasy and play to subvert histories that have denied gender variance. They question authorship over ‘the natural’, make manifest sites of resistance, and reimagine a future where identities are fluid, becoming ad infinitum and celebrated as such.

(SIGNAL), written in a binary code created by Chelsea Thompto, translates into the word SIGNAL.  The exhibition’s title begins communication around what happens when the gender binary becomes illegible. In the absence of fixed gender markers, where can we start to understand each other and how do we make ourselves known?  The code, and works in dialogue as part of (SIGNAL), resists the ability to take a ‘quick read’ and requires a more complex process of discovery.  By engaging history, acts of defiance, real experiences of violence, and imagination, a more nuanced language of gender possibility emerges.

Nicki Green, Cobi Moules and Gil Yefman renegotiate the past’s treatment of transgender bodies by mining cultural, artistic and religious traditions and symbols and recalibrating them to highlight empowered narratives.  Nicki Green’s ceramic vessels and quilted hankies picture androgyny and transformation as divine, with imagery from Jewish mythology and queer code. Paintings from Cobi Moules’ series Bois Just Wanna Have Fun, portray self-portraits of the artist in multiples, playing in stunning wild landscapes. The works significantly integrate his trans body in the natural, a response to the ideologies of his conservative Christian upbringing and the Hudson River School. Gil Yefman also shifts cultural messages about androgyny, with his large knitted sculpture, sound piece and performance, Tumtum. Translated in Jewish law and modern Hebrew to mean ‘unclean’ or ‘stupid’, Yefman instead presents a corporeal being that is at once monstrous and magnetic.

Jess T. Dugan, Rona Yefman, Carlos Motta, and Chelsea Thompto explore active resistance to gender norms and moments of solidarity and brutality faced as a result. Jess T. Dugan’s intimate portraits redefining masculinity reflect on how connections with others help us author our own identity. In her multimedia project spanning 14 years, Rona Yefman documents her brother Gil’s transition, from male to female and then beyond gender, and their fantastical relationship that helped bolster their survival. Carlos Motta’s video portraits of transgender and intersex activists expose the powerful organizing, advocacy, and education efforts of gender self-determining communities and the perilous conditions that make their work vital. Chelsea Thompto’s expansive piece, Trans Effigy 2015, comprises code written in charcoal on the wall, along with wooden sculptures. Given a key to decipher it’s meaning, viewers are engaged in a slow dialogue around deconstructing the gender binary, how we relate to others’/othered bodies, and violence.

Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, Young Joon Kwak, and Rhys Ernst and Zackary Druckerenvision worlds where identities and everyday systems are slippery.  In her short film,When the Kid was a Kid, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh looks at the flux of children’s gender performance and cultural expectations, through a role-playing game set in Tehran. Young Joon Kwak destabilizes held constructs with her reimaging of the icon of feminine beauty, Venus.  Her Venus is reborn formless and without discernible identities, opening space for boundless new interpretations of personhood and desire.  Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker coalesce transgender histories, time and space in their film She Gone Rogue, in an interrogation of our ever shifting bodies and selves and the deep value of intergenerational wisdom and chosen families.

The artworks in this show, much like gender itself, present layered, complicated, and often playful ideas about embodiment. (SIGNAL) enters an ongoing conversation on the failures of the gender binary and what is reclaimed, endured and gained in the move to live beyond it.

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