I Am Trans at Waterloo Arts is a group show that deals with the struggle between bodies and psyches—paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture and collage illustrating the internal discord when a person’s gender identity doesn’t align with physical parts.
Dealing with the primal urge to make the body agree with one’s perception of oneself might not inevitably lead to graphic realistic images urgently expressing that conflict and the desire to resolve it, but it sure is likely. And maybe this is exactly what viewers would expect of a show about trans-gender-ness. This show has plenty of compelling examples of that, as well as more abstract expressions of body and mind.
We tend to think of expressive painting as gestural, abstract evocation of emotion through colors, shapes, lines, and patterns. The artists in I Am Trans express by showing exactly what their creators are dealing with, a kind of biological civil war, a graphically illustrated battle between the body and its own perception of itself.
One series of photos, the “Schrodinger’s Pussy” series by Oliver Klicker portrays from different angles a person naked except for a brown corrugated box. In one photo it covers his head. In others it covers other parts. It provokes with its cold presentation of incongruities. One reveals that the the hairy, bearded, otherwise masculine figure has no penis. In another, two crescent scars tell the tale of breasts removed. It’s all presented in full, natural light, without any added drama or apparent emotion.
By contrast, on the opposite wall, Iram Roberts’ series of charcoal drawings show active, violent conflict: In one drawing, a person is stitching a penis and scrotum onto a body. Elsewhere in the same series, the person tears at breasts with both hands, apparently attempting to rip them off the body.
Its not a subtle show. For a person who has not dealt with gender identity issues, the show is revelatory: How urgent, how painful to see this struggle portrayed. How can we not have compassion for people coping with such a challenge. A gender identity struggle is clearly not a “lifestyle choice,” or something that a person would choose at all.
Some of the works express the struggle through abstraction and symbolism. For example, two companion pieces by Gavin Rouille completely break rank from the imagery of changing, discontented, and otherwise beautiful bodies and faces. To me, these are the most powerful part of the show.
Rouille’s “sHE Wall” is a printout of the word She. The word is repeated in a matrix of rows and columns, thousands of times, populating a dense grid of 24 point type, maybe 4 feet wide by three feet tall. And in every case, the artist has surgically changed the gender of the word. Using a razor knife, or perhaps a scalpel, he removed the letter S all those thousands of times. He cut them out and left behind thousands of tiny, dark windows, in rows and columns as consistent as wallpaper. So in every case the word is transformed from She to he. It’s an intensely obsessive number of times that the artist changed the gender of the word by cutting it with a knife.
At the left is the companion piece, “Take Your S’s Back,” an ever-changing sculpture on a small wall sconce: All those detached letters are mounded in a pile. They serve no purpose for the artist, and therefore they are not only piled like scraps, but are being given away, free.
You might say this show isn’t about the art, but about the struggle that informs it. Art just happens to be the channel for the torrents of emotion and struggle that inform the work. It just happens to be the result of the necessary outpouring of expression. But then that is exactly what art is. It’s compelling to see an extremely diverse, group exhibition unified by that common urgency.
Through May 24.
15605 Waterloo Road
Cleveland, OH 44110
Opening night Friday, April 3
Trans* Documentary Film Screening at 7 pm Friday, May 1.
Closing night party Sunday, May 24, time TBD.