Transformer’s “Queer Threads” Reflects on Identity
October 16, 2020 @ 3:52pm
This fall, Transformer gallery in Logan Circle is home to “Queer Threads: Curious Spaces,” expanding into The Corner at Whitman-Walker. A showcase of two textile-based works by queer artists curated by John Chaich, each exhibition examines color and texture as it contrasts and connects to identity and what it means to be queer.
Much like the queer identities shared through the art of this exhibition over the years, “Queer Threads” is ever-evolving and expanding, and this particular iteration in D.C. celebrates the sixth anniversary of the exhibition’s initial works, first presented at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York City in 2014.
Since then, “Queer Threads” has come to include 30 contemporary artists and many cities, including the two on display in the District. At Transformer’s P Street space, you’ll find “Darn” by Zoe Schlacter. The colorful art created through yarn, papier-mâché, fabric and more incorporates a double meaning into its name as well.
“Darn means to mend a hole, but it’s also a cuter way of saying, ‘Damn,’ in a way that’s not as explicit,” says Katie Lee, Transformer’s exhibition and programs coordinator. “That carries the tone of everything else.”
Lee, who helped Schlacter install “Darn” in Transformer’s space alongside Schlacter’s partner, Buzz Slutzky, notes how the artist wanted to create a playful, colorful and vibrant space within the gallery to be viewed almost as a diorama. The exhibit was slightly altered by Schlacter upon realizing it would be viewed through Transformer’s storefront.
“[Schlacter] created this portal, fully aware that the exhibition would be close to the public,” Lee says. “That really informed the way [the artist] realized their show. Now, there are these black-and-white tiles [Schlacter] wouldn’t have necessarily put in there if they knew people would be walking around it.”
The structure and eventual set up of “Darn” is also representative of an examination of transness within Schlacter’s work.
“There’s this tension of representational and nonrepresentational forms, and [Schlacter] really thrives within that ambiguity [that can be] affiliated with a trans body, where it’s in flux,” Lee explains. “You’re not identifying with one or the other.”
“Queer Threads” spans to The Corner at Whitman-Walker, where André Terrel Jackson’s “Crowns” fills the 14th Street space with headpieces hand-crocheted by Jackson in honor of Nina Simone, Venus and Serena Williams, and Alice Walker.
“They love to juxtapose materials,” Lee says of Jackson’s work. “In a single headpiece, you’ll see a mix of yarn, but also these wrench-like hardware tools. Materials will be both soft and hard, or matte and glossy. It creates this tension. [Jackson] really loves contrasting that, and it creates this really striking visual appearance.”
Jackson takes inspiration from Black femme culture, fashion and churchgoing attire. After crafting these material fusions into headpieces, the artist often photographs themselves and others in them. One such photo is Jackson in their Nina Simone headpiece, which serves as the backdrop to the “Crowns” exhibition.
“It’s demanding attention to the queer body [and] to the Black body – to the bodies that society deems not acceptable,” Lee says of Jackson’s photograph.
Whether examining transness, Black femme identity or what it means to be queer – and even at times combinations of all these themes – “Queer Spaces” comes to D.C. at an important time for all of these identities to be seen and heard.
“[Jackson’s] work demands visibility because so often Black bodies and queer bodies are on the sidelines, disregarded and not respected. It really did pay homage to these three women that [Jackson] dedicated these headpieces to while also summarizing, ‘Our bodies need visibility.’ Trans bodies – especially Black trans people – matter and are very susceptible to violence.”
Lee says that both shows came at an interesting time and place, being displayed in the center of U.S. politics at the height of election season with a Supreme Court vacancy and looming nomination.
“It’s not super explicit, but it carries these undertones,” she adds.
Lee and Transformer have also organized a whole host of programming including “Queer Threads: Fresh Voices,” a conversation between Chaich, Jackson and Schlacter as well as “Queer Threads: Mending 101,” a live event by Sew Queer DC instructing viewers on ways to fix and create threads of their own. Though all virtual, these events and those prior give viewers a way to interact with both the art and the artist, strengthening their connection to the work and its important themes.
View André Terrel Jackson’s “Crowns” at The Corner at Whitman Walker through October 24 and Zoe Schlacter’s “Darn” through November 14 at Transformer. Both exhibits can be safely viewed from outside the spaces and are free to attend. Corresponding programming is also free. Visit here for a full list of programming and to register for the events. To learn more about Schlacter and Jackson’s work, visit www.zoeschlacter.com and www.andreterreljackson.com.
Transformer: 1404 P St. NW, DC; www.transformer.org // @transformerdc
The Corner at Whitman-Walker: www.whitmanwalkerimpact.org/the-corner // @thecornerdc
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