Upon entering the exhibition space you are greeted by white walls, grey floor and several objects that are the epitome of minimalistic art: an oblong structure covered in skin-like material stretches out across the floor; multi-coloured rods – precisely nine inches apart – lean against the wall; brutalist concrete blocks stand on end, three in-line and one facing the opposite direction. Instantly your mind goes to the title of the exhibition: You’re reading into it.
Curated by artist Oliver Doe the exhibition You’re reading into it: Queering Contemporary Minimalism features seven LGBTQ+ artists whose work employs minimalist aesthetics to delve into LGBTQ+ culture and associated socio-political issues.
The body form in the act of embrace plays a pivotal role in the works of both Daniel Chong and Oliver Doe. Chong uses slivers of material, so highly polished they cast reflections of the viewer, to abstract this intimate human embrace and discreetly reference homosexuality – which is still a criminal act in his home country of Singapore. Taking a different tact, Doe heightens the visibility of queerness and sexuality in his work by using nylon chiffon and gloss paint, which also imparts a skin-like quality upon his beautiful paintings.
Having taken the decision to remove the titles from the works in the exhibition, a piece by Rachel Ara extends an olive branch to the inquisitive visitor. A large oblong canvas depicts a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing, generally used by architects, upon which the scene of Ana Mendietas’ death is illustrated and accompanied by a short descriptive piece about the Cuban American artist. This idea of using industrial and inherent machismo and turning it on its head is also mirrored in the adjacent space. Here Charlotte Cullen’s soft, fluffy fibreglass installation is pinned against the wall by an aluminium strip. Billowing out from either side the abstract form questions our individual understanding of the duplexity of gender and sex.
The use of everyday materials in Garth Gratrix’s work hones in on the core attributes of minimalism. There are household paints, metal and concrete; but it is the playful use of language and innuendo – such as painted wooden rods with suggestive names and two polished lead pipes called ‘Nein inches together’ – that moves this work into the sphere of ‘queerness’.
This element of playfulness is also central to Liam Fallon’s sculptural piece, which occupies a large area of the main space. With its visual references, bright colours and thick black lines, it immediately calls to mind pop art. This easy aesthetic draws the audience in and invites them to question its visual codes – a central idea to the pop art movement. Yet in this setting the pop culture delves into sub-culture and the underlying queerness that resides there.
Working under a similar guise of colour and fun, Tessa Hawkes’ work plays with ideas of balance, closeness and the relationship between objects. Drawing on her own personal experiences, Hawkes presents us with her own unique view on queerness through a collection of images and objects relating to industrial spaces.
Whilst the majority of works focus on current issues using soft colours and playful forms, Rachel Ara’s piece punctuates that dialogue. Using a large oblong box, covered in black latex and affixed to the wall, her work repeatedly punches out the words ‘High Clone’. This powerful piece is a staunch reminder to the HIV/AIDs virus that shook the gay community in the early 1990s – and which cost Ara several friends.
You’re reading into it: Queering Contemporary Minimalism, Vane, Newcastle upon Tyne, 13 July – 19 August 2017.
Andrea Allan is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.