Elliott Linwood

(Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, 1993)

Amidst the deluge of lesbian, gay and transgendered visual arts exhibitions beginning in Gay Pride Month this June, are two photography exhibitions. At the Eye Gallery, is Lynette Molnar’s Queerly Defined. At SF Camerawork is Robert Kelley’s Hypothalamic In[queer]ies. Both curators spoke about their ideas and the various traditions upon which their venues focus, such as theoretical explorations at Camerawork, and activist-based documentary work at Eye. Interviews with these curators about their vastly different exhibitions revealed overlapping and complimentary interests.

Image from Corey-Cuong Nguyen's Adulterated Fruit Cocktail Series at SF Cameraworks

Image from Corey-Cuong Nguyen’s Adulterated Fruit Cocktail Series at SF Camerawork

Elliott Linwood: What do each of you do at your galleries?

Lynette Molnar: I’m the executive director at the Eye Gallery, but with such a small staff, a little bit of everything actually gets included in my job there.

Robert Kelley: I’m program coordinator at SF Camerawork. I also manage the bookstore, the library and the interns, and do installation.

How are exhibitions curated at each venue?

RK: Marnie Gillett and Rupert Jenkins are primarily the curators at Camerwork, and there’s an exhibitions committee through which everything filters. Since I’m interested in curating, I had to submit a proposal to the pools of ideas coming in from the outside as well.

LM: Whereas, I’m the person primarily responsible for programming at the Eye.

What are some of the other shows each of you have organized?

RK: In Boston I did Fifty Photos – A Phase One Randomized Trial of work by HIV-positive photographers. With Nan Goldin and Doug Ischar, we did an ACT UP Boston show, as well as Positive Light, which was a show by HIV-positive teenagers. Fifty Photos is still traveling, for example, it goes to Portland, Maine next. At the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, I helped set up lectures and workshops and curated shows of emerging local photographers.

LM: Since I became the director of the Eye Gallery, we’ve presented a show each June in conjunction with Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. The first major exhibition I helped organize, AIDS: The Artist’s Response at Ohio State University included the first conference on AIDS, art, and activism. That exhibition confirmed for me that art can really make a difference, in terms of the tangible changes I saw around these issues on campus, within the lesbian and gay community, and in the city of Columbus. Unlike San Francisco or New York, most people there had no prior relationship to AIDS. The long-range impact of this project got me hooked. That what I love about the Eye Gallery. All of our exhibitions deal with social and political issues. We are a forum for many voices which have historically been under represented.

What do the titles of you upcoming shows refer to?

RK: Hypothalamic In[queer]ies is derived from Simon LeVay’s study a few years ago where he said that the hypothalamus gland in the brains of gay men was smaller than that of straight men. He has since retracted this position to perhaps be of less significance than he originally thought. So, being queer myself, it seems to me important to examine these cultural issues and let people know what kinds of things are happening not just in the art world, but for instance, in the realm of science, where they’re still trying to figure out why people are gay.

These kinds of studies seem to especially proliferate in Boston for some reason. For example, sociobiology originating at Harvard in the 1970s, initially argued that gayness is due to an inheritable altruistic gene.

RK: I’m opposed to trying to find an answer for why people are this way or that. It’s much more challenging to accept people for who they are. Biology is only one component of who people are born to be.

Whose work highlights these contentions?

RK: Corey-Cuoung Nguyen’s images of surgical procedures on fruit are metaphoric of that “scientific” sexuality search. In his “Adulterated Fruit Cocktail” series is an image of forceps opening up the inside of a grapefruit which is amazing. Many of the issues the artist in this show bring up are universal in scope, yet ver specific – like a racial objectification within a subculture within a subculture, family portraits with dyke moms, etc.

LM: in Queerly Defined, I was thinking about the intense pressure that lesbians and gay men live under every day. As individuals, the degree continually fluctuates depending on various factors.

Until the election of Clinton, it has been artists who have been the primary targets for public figures such as Senator Jesse Helms, Reverend Donald Wildmon, Pat Buchanan, and the GOP. Resistance by artists and activists to such unrelenting political and artistic pressures has resulted in the proliferation of some very strong, self-defined, queer art. This exhibition is organized around issues and attempts to delineate the parameters of the gay and lesbian body, beginning with the issue of gender identification and moving through other questions of objectification, such as desire and deterioration.

The work strives to redefine the queer body as the debate over assimilation grouse more intense. From the pages of gay and lesbian magazines, to the recent March on Washington, there’s concern about the movement’s rush to be accepted by straight society. This exhibition acknowledges and attempts to define some of the differences between gay and straight culture, focusing particularly on the body.

What does the word “queer” mean to each of you these days?

RK: Though it mostly connotes individuality, I personally connect it to a sexuality that isn’t part of the norm. For example, the show I assembled is not completely limited to homosexuals.

LM: It’s a word I use to describe myself, meaning “not like ordinary,” which is how I feel as a lesbian. I like not being straight or having to do all the behavior that being straight demands. The term “queer” for me is more inclusive of gay men and lesbians, while functioning to reclaim language that’s been used against us.

A lot of people are now queer that could never identify as gay or homosexual, because those terms weren’t transgressive enough to address their individuality.

LM: That’s interesting. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never heard anyone say that. Perhaps it’s specific to a gay male experience or a generational phenomenon. I know there’s a big experiential difference between those of us who came out before and after Stonewall. Now there’s a third wave of people in their late teens and early twenties who have come out against the backdrop of the AIDS movement and a resurgence of activism. I guess I can see how the terms gay or homosexual weren’t transgressive enough – especially for lesbians. However, I think that there is something inherently subversive in not being heterosexual, and it depends on how you act out or act on your queerness.

RK: It does say a lot about how sexuality cross-influences all the other things going on in someone’s life that leads to an odd, very personal way of seeing. It begs the question for someone like me who has dealt with their sexuality – well, now what do I make pictures of? You can see I’m actively investigating what other queers are thinking about, after they make their work about their identity. What do we do after that?