In his latest exhibition, n e w f l e s h, opening this Friday, September 9th at Rubber Factory in NYC, curator Efrem Zelony-Mindell raises the question "What does queer look like beyond the body?" Moving past concrete or literal examples, Zelony-Mindell selects work that pulls apart obvious, or expected assumptions of gender in an attempt to better understand, redefine and ultimately reclaim what "queer" is. The exhibition, which includes photography-based work from Joy Drury Cox, Thomas Albdorf, Ruth van Beek, Ryan Oskin, Dillon DeWaters, and others, uses manipulation and intervention - some digital, some sculptural - as a metaphor for the continuous malleability of the self. Ruth Van Beek, for example, cuts and folds found images of pets, creating a puzzling distortion of how we understand them, and our relationship to them. Playing on similar ideas, Ryan Oskin integrates photographs into three dimensional structures from tarp, vinyl and other construction-site materials, flipping how we interpret their traditional functions. In light of its concurrent publication in Dear Dave Magazine, we invited the magazine's founder (and head of the School of Visual Arts' photography program), Stephen Frailey to interview Zelony-Mindell about his ideas behind the show.
Stephen Frailey: Ideologically, the exhibition seems to posit itself as a correction to mainstream identity studies: you use the word “reclaim” in the press material. Could you speak a bit more about that?
Efrem Zelony-Mindell: I'm certainly not opposed to transgressive notions of correcting mainstream anything, however I hope the gesture of n e w f l e s h is looking to remind and open a door that's always been present. Queer has been added too and become synonymous with many things over many years; it's gotten away from the purely strange and unusual. In it's open-endedness it has become more specific. I think if we say queer today we see something in our heads. The power of the word is in its inclusivity and removal of specificity.
SF: Yes, and I think that part of the strength of the show is that it is not an ideological cul-de sac—the work is not argumentative but eccentric and celebratory. How did you gather the work; what was your process of selection?
EZM: I couldn't have picked a better word: CELEBRATORY! First and foremost in regard to selection it's been most important to me that this body of work represent every shape, size, color, creed, orientation, and age—as best it can. Aesthetically the works are in some ways irreverent, they have literal parts but they also exist in thought or as ideas. Their physicality allows them to move beyond a totally concrete existence. However the metaphor of their intricacies are incredibly humanistic.
SF: I’m puzzled by that last notion of metaphor, intricacy and humanism. Could you explain a bit more? And I find ‘humanism’ to be a very important idea at this election moment and I’m interested in how it appears in the work and your thinking.
EZM: I love a good mystery; it allows for a very open forum of reading and interpretation. I'm interested in the work being abstract or having elements of abstraction because abstraction is no one thing to any one person. It becomes a conversation, people may not agree with each other, that's ok. I think that even if you're looking at a pile of bricks or appropriated collage or even a tracing of dots there's room to relate those parts and pieces to the body. The election. Barriers are being broken, rights are being achieved, others are reverting. We are one race, the human race, and until we stop looking at our difference and start acknowledging our similarities I really don't believe anything is going to happen on capital hill or elsewhere.
SF: Do you differentiate between the idea of the body and that of the flesh?
EZM: The flesh of an animal is regarded as food. There's more wonder to interpret and retain in the idea of flesh.
SF: Speaking of ‘wonder’, from my experience curating an exhibition is a really meaningful learning experience: one begins with a particular premise and the work itself rearranges one’s thinking. Has this been your experience?
EZM: The artists in n e w f l e s h have completely taken over. I wanted to be extremely staunch when I first started this project. I knew what I wanted and I wanted a certain look. As I looked more and pulled more possible works to use I realized the body and breath of what could and needed to be said was more important than any expectations or my own personal taste. It's been thrilling to push against and with these inclinations and challenges.
SF: Are you considering some further curatorial projects?
EZM: About a week ago it crossed my mind that come September 23rd when n e w f l e s h comes down I'll be faced with a bit of a quite moment. "What next?" We certainly haven't seen the last of n e w f l e s h, but there was definitely a bit of anxiety associated with that realization. Yes! I have started organizing and collecting photographers and pooling ideas for a new project. It's very early, but I'm incredibly excited about this new project.
n e w f l e s h opens this Friday, September 9th at Rubber Factory on NYC's Lower East Side from 6pm to 9pm, and will be up through September, 23, 2016.
Stephen Frailey is the Chair of the Photography and Video Department at the School of Visual Arts, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Dear Dave Magazine. His work has been reviewed in the New York Times, Arts Magazine, ARTnews, Artforum, the Village Voice, and the New Yorker, portfolios have appeared in Artforum and the Paris Review. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Art, Houston; the International Center for Photography, New York; and the Princeton University Art Museum.
Efrem Zelony-Mindell: is a curator, writer, and visual artist. He writes and contributes about art and photography for VICE, MOSSLESS, L’Oeil de la Photographie, The Huffington Post & aCurator, and teaches and lectures in New York City. He has previously worked as managing editor and curator on numerous fine art projects and received his BFA in photography and art history with a minor in painting from the School of Visual Arts. He was born in Miami and currently works and lives in New York.