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New York
Josh Faught
Lisa Cooley
107 Norfolk St., New York, NY 10002
June 21, 2012 - August 24, 2012

The familiar and the queer
by Jamie Keesling

On a stifling summer evening on the Lower East Side, the smell of Josh Faught’s current exhibition will reach the viewer before she even sees the work. The warm and muggy waft conjures a romantic image of Josh Faught, the Craftsman, in some dark, sweet studio surrounded by vats of bubbling beeswax and natural dyes, with battered strings of hand-woven hemp and wool strewn about the stiff fresh wood of a constantly clanking loom. The smell is that of craft and kitsch. Like a grandmother’s basement, it is both inviting and unnerving.

On the night of the opening, the gallery’s air conditioning was not running full blast, and the air hung heavy. But perhaps Faught’s works should not be viewed in the comfortable chill of our modern cooling technology. His weavings, composed of knotted and frayed hemp on linen, conjure both blankets and skin. Patchy and quilt-like, spotted with sequined pustules and stringed pink blemishes, they warm from afar, and that they might emit moisture is not inconceivable. This initial impact is a familiar one—fiber as membrane has a history as dense as the gallery air. From Faith Wilding’s Womb Room, to Eva Hesse’s latex integuments, crafting skins seems an inescapable practice for the fiber arts.

Josh Faught, It Takes a Lifetime to Get Exactly Where You Are, 2012; Courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York.

Also present in the exhibition is craft’s legacy of confronting issues of gender and sexuality, questioning the divide between private and the public, and problematizing handcraft’s relationship to the concept of labor via intensive practice. While it is easy to identify these familiar tropes in Faught’s work, it is what challenges the familiar in this exhibition that is most striking. Faught illustrates a tension in a broad sense between the familiar and the queer—a tension that mimics that inherent in the legacy of the term “queer” itself. Appropriated from a derogatory slur, “queer” indicates both a struggle for equality, acceptance, and integration, and a radical challenge to heterosexual societal norms. Faught’s work highlights the unrecognizable in aspects of queerness that have become domesticated and made intimate, such as the family support newsletter, the memorialization of trauma in the AIDS blanket, and the language of queer evidenced in the show’s title: “longtime companion.”

This is accomplished primarily though the strange contextualization of these familiar objects. For example, woven enlarged replicas of PFLAG (Parents, families, and friends of lesbians and gays) newsletters are mounted on elegant red cedar structures, which serve as display space for homemade candles, unwearable felted flannel shirts, crime novels, and DIY literature. Recalling wooden Judd sculptures queered up with thrift store tchotchkes, these works pair the overly familiar with the abstract. The same tendency can be seen in woven patches from the AIDS quilt affixed to pink and mauve panels adorned with wooden blocks. Here Faught plays with art historical influences on a not-so-obvious level. Encompassing familiar objects of kitsch and queer culture in abstraction gives some insight into the relationship between contemporary “queering” and art historical (modernist) “abstracting.” The language and visual representations of queer culture have become familiar, as has abstraction in art—but there are aspects of these things that are not so recognizable to us. The familiar and the unrecognizable are made to clash in Faught’s work, simulating effectively that descent into a grandmother’s basement, both beckoning us and repelling us, both inviting and unnerving.

Jamie Keesling

(Image on top: Josh Faught, Division Destroys Dreams, 2011, Sequins, cochineal, nail polish, political pins, disaster blanket and hemp on linen, 43 x 36 x 2 inches; Courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York)

Posted by Jamie Keesling on 7/7/12 | tags: found objects mixed-media installation textiles

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