Curator Efrem Zelony-Mindell’s upcoming book – which we think you should help fund through Kickstarter– uses the work of more than sixty photo-based artists to challenge conventional notions of gender studies.
If you’re reverse-woke-ly scratching your head at this headline, Zelony-Mindell’s book, n e w f l e s h, to be published by Gnomic Books later this year (if funded,) may keep you itchy. A good kind of itch, one that will hopefully encourage you to pause and look deep and figure out what makes you so uncomfortable, while reading some solid accompanying essays by Charlotte Cotton and Ashley McNelis.
Or it might just make you curious about how photography might respond to, or illustrate this question.
The idea of “queering" has taken on a renewed meaning and examination in the past few years. Stemming from Queer Theory, it’s been reclaimed from the homophobic slur of years past to rethinking common understandings of what’s considered “normal” – whether that’s rooted in sexuality or sexual identity, or learned ways of looking at and seeing the world.
It is here where editor Zelony-Mindell jumps off to reimagine how the body can break free from the gazes which have objectified it throughout visual history. What brings his vast selection of artists together is their abstraction of the human form, which he sees as a form of liberation. “These images force us to look beyond the familiar,” he writes, “so that we may see them for what they could become.”
Midway through the book’s urgent and soon-to-expire Kickstarter fundraising campaign, I spoke with Zelony Mindell to dig a bit deeper into his ideas, and why you should help support this publication.
Jon Feinstein in conversation with Efrem Zelony-Mindell
Jon Feinstein: What's the underlying concept behind n e w f l e s h / how'd you come up with the idea?
Efrem Zelony-Mindell: I shared the Kickstarter with someone very recently, someone who I deeply respect and has lived their life looking at pictures. They emailed me back, after supporting the Kickstarter, “I honestly didn’t understand what holds many of them together.” Let’s ignore for a moment that you can’t see the full pictures of all of the works anywhere. My response was possibly a little snarky, I admit, but deeply genuine. I sent the person a screen grab of a definition from the dictionary for queer. “queer - adjective - strange; odd. She had a queer feeling they were being watched.” I included one sentence after the screen grab, “Give me your freaks, geeks, queerdos and weirdos.” Big things often have small beginnings. Whenever I’ve needed guidance looking for n e w f l e s h images I come back to this definition. Those eyes, in the sample sentence, who knows where they are? They see through, or maybe they don’t exist at all. Perhaps the eyes are the women’s own eyes, inside, allowing herself to see something revealing that terrifies her, makes her uncertain, or maybe thrills.
Embracing those possibilities, the self, the other, the unseen, or unknowable, and shouting back is the embrace and power of queerness, to me. It isn’t any one thing, it shapes and shifts and it asks everyone to realize that we’re all different, and because of that together.
Feinstein: n e w f l e s h has existed in a few forms for a few years. Do you see the book as a culmination of it all or just a new chapter?
Zelony-Mindell: I saw it as a culmination; the book has nearly all the artists in it that I’ve been looking at all these years. Until two weeks ago when I started collecting images for a next something of n e w f l e s h. 40 artists in already. I don’t know what it is yet—it makes me nervous. I know I’m onto something when I have to lean into a feeling like that. I don’t want to be comfortable. Some of the new pictures aren’t like what I’ve been looking at for over three years now. The work, the ideas in n e w f l e s h, and the conversations that cluster around queerness won’t end. They will stretch and stretch. Forever.
Feinstein: There's a concurrent exhibition, I understand. How do you see its meaning changing in book vs exhibition form?
Zelony-Mindell: If you drop the book on your toe it won’t break it.
It’s a good question. I’m not sure how much difference in meaning there is for me whenever I look at an exhibition compared to the book. I think people will be able to spend a lot more time engaging with the works in the book and reading the three essays. Hopefully peoples feelings will adapt, maybe they’ll allow themselves to, as I mentioned before, lean into their uncertainties and realize that there are no wrong ways to queer anything: friendships, interactions, the body. I hope that the book will allow people the license to be more of who they want to be and experiment. There are lots of different kinds of works in the book and I’m very happy to say lots of artists who have different ideas and opinions. We don’t have to agree, we have to grow, mostly unevenly.
Feinstein: Damn that's a lot of artists! Tell me about the selection process. What brings them all together?
Zelony-Mindell: I don’t know man, madness. The voices. “Go make a body of work that might alienate the audience completely.” You know, whispers. Haha.
Selecting is like tripping, tripping is like falling in love. It happens from looking and studying and searching. I’m tripping everywhere, over everything and looking always looking for something supremely bizarre. I’m always doing my best when I’m most uncomfortable, it means there’s work to do and things to figure out. I’m not sure n e w f l e s h is easy. But for me when I look at the works there is something deeply human about their details and eccentricities. Conflicting parts touch, something may feel broken or missing, but these works celebrate what’s possible; new rules, no restraints, a shift in what is typical or acceptable. I’m sick of having to ask for permission to say something that may be against the popular belief of anyone. These works don’t need permission, not when they’re together.
Feinstein: I've wondered for a while...what's up with the spacing of the letters? It looks cool. But is there a conceptual underpinning beneath it?
Zelony-Mindell: I’m obsessed with Stanley Kubrick, specifically The Shining. Dan Lloyd’s character Danny Torrence wearing that itchy looking rocket ship sweater riding his tricycle to Room 237. Little details leave room for myths. I know I drive everyone nuts with the spacing. I’m very grateful that you asked about it because it’s actually very important to me, as is all the letters being lowercase. There are so many different ways of thinking about language and how we communicate. And also how we can misunderstand each other. Letters are shapes that represent sounds that link to things. I always wonder if there’s a way to make words, specifically the letters, as much about communication and understanding as they’re about being visual and maybe as tangible as the things they hold meaning for.
I do believe that most everything can and should be queered. Or at least given the opportunity to try it on.
Feinstein: Who was the first artist you deemed a “n e w f l e s h" artist? What drew you to their work?
Zelony-Mindell: Oh geez! I had to hop onto my computer and look at metadata to even try to skim close to answering this question. It’s hard to say because, truth be told, even when n e w f l e s h was in DEAR DAVE magazine, which was what started this all, the first edit I proposed was full of a bunch of artists who didn’t end up being in the magazine. Looking at the data though May Lin Le Goff seems to have been around for the longest. She’s also the only artist that made that first cut and whose piece didn’t get changed. May Lin has been along for the ride this whole time. I’m so excited to have her in the Gnomic Book and The Light Factory show. Being the only one of the original edit to make the cut into DEAR DAVE has always left me with a soft spot for her and for her piece.
What draws me to all of May Lin’s work is the meticulous usage of material and the curiosity and playfulness of her figures and works.
Feinstein: One of the main reasons we’re doing this piece is to convince folks they should support this exciting book. SO: lay it on us: Why should people fund this project and why now?
Zelony Mindell: This answer comes from a conversation about n e w f l e s h between a very close friend and me. This friend lives outside the art world and regularly grapples with what her place is, if any, as someone who doesn’t make art.
People should fund this project because there are people who will benefit from seeing it. In our individual searches for claiming an identity, the only real estate truly left to claim, we often get stuck with developing our outside before we understand our inside. This is important because by adjusting the way others perceive us, we gain access to information and understanding by self-disclosing with the way we present our bodies. Our culture is so visually categorical that we often don't make it outside of the boxes we've categorized ourselves into which cordons our minds and visions into a corner rather than continue to reach for a self-actualized version of who we'd each like to be. n e w f l e s h represents ideas and artists who are thinking about, and are open to being included in ideals, that deal with their internal goals of self actualization and how queerness may be more about who they are rather than what they are. It's about our collective humanity.
And people should fund it now because queerness has gained traction in the political and capitalist reaches of power dynamics in our society, and that gives us leverage for accepting queerness as individuality rather than simply being labeled as non-conforming. Now is the time to leverage voices on behalf of queer communities. By funding this project, it will exist. And if it exists, it will be seen by the people who need to see it to make positive changes for themselves and it will be seen by the people who need to see it to make positive changes for others.
Help get this project funded HERE.