Anonymous photographer, police department, Three standing figures (1966) (courtesy Kinsey Institute, Indiana University)

Bring Your Own Body: transgender between archives and aesthetics

The Cooper Union
October 13 – November 14, 2015

niv Acosta, Mark Aguhar, Math Bass, Effy Beth, Justin Vivian Bond, Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, Vaginal Davis, Zackary Drucker, Chloe Dzubilo, Juliana Huxtable, Greer Lankton, Pierre Molinier, Genesis P. Orridge, Flawless Sabrina, Buzz Slutzky, and Chris Vargas and the Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art.

Organized by Jeanne Vaccaro and Stamatina Gregory

Bring Your Own Body presents the work of transgender artists and archives, from the institutional to the personal.
Taking its title from an unpublished manuscript by intersex pioneer Lynn Harris, the exhibit historicizes the sexological and cultural imaginary of transgender through a curatorial
exploration of historical collections, including the Kinsey Archives. Bring Your Own Body presents contemporary transgender art and world making practices that contest existing archival narratives in favor of new historical genealogies. Moving beyond the aesthetically defunct category of “identity politics” and the fraught gains of visibility, the artworks propose transgender as a set of aesthetics made manifest through multiple forms: paint, sculpture, textiles, film, digital collage, and performance.

Sexological and diagnostic histories of the clinic and the case study still reverberate in the foreclosure of transgender subjectivity. Bring Your Own Body interrogates the archive’s often violent capture of identity, mining the visual data of “transvestite” photography collected by Alfred Kinsey (1946—) and police records of transgender women of color imprisoned in the 1960s for sex work and female impersonation. Contemporary works animate the archive in their negotiation of inherited representations of transgender. Through collage, Chris Vargas reflects on the links between the psychedelia and self-actualization movements of the 1960s and the eccentric research of “fuckologist” John Money (1921-2006). The film and installation N.O. Body (2008) by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz examines idealized forms of masculinity and femininity through the sex theories of Magnus Hirschfeld and the nineteenth-century “freakshow” performances of bearded lady Annie Jones.

Several artists interrogate the intersections of historical taxonomy and lived experience. Justin Vivian Bond constructs an intimate study of beauty and the search for the “transchild” in watercolor diptychs of the artist and model Karen Graham in My Model / MySelf (2015). Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s polaroids and collages, made with partner Lady Jaye, express the couple’s savage resistance to the “tyranny of DNA” and a commitment to deconstructing the fiction of
self. Early, radical artists working in and around gender and performance are included, including handwritten text by the mother of “terrorist drag,” Vaginal Davis; ephemera from the 57-year archive of legendary drag queen Flawless Sabrina; and photographs by Surrealist outlier Pierre Molinier. Works from the estates of Mark Aguhar and Effy Beth, many of which are on view for the first time, recognize formidable accomplishments within too-brief careers and gesture to the
importance of digital communities mobilized by young artists.

While the exhibition gathers work under an expanded umbrella of transgender, it does so without identatiarian claims. Sculptures by Math Bass and Buzz Slutzky explore formal
relationships between bodily absurdity and physical materials. In DISCOTROPIC | Alien Talk Show (2015) niv Acosta seizes on an elementary medium of transgender exposure—television and the confessional culture of the talk show—to explore the relationships between science fiction, disco, astrophysics, and Black American experience. A performance filmed within the installation on October 22 will later be on view within the exhibition.

Transgender is neither new nor finished, despite recent and unprecedented visibility in popular media. Bring Your Own Body presents a set of archival and aesthetic relations critical to our continued understanding of a richly textured transgender landscape.

Bring Your Own Body | 2019 | about