To title an exhibition Lesbian Art Show requires either temerity or naiveté. Azsa West and Mary McAllister, the lesbian couple behind this collaborative effort, have plenty of both. To mount a show under the wide rubric of sexual identity implies an ambition that this show lacks, but there is ample humor and self-effacement here. Ithas the feel of a coming-of-age narrative, with pieces such as A Map Mostly About Opinions scrawled with diary-style confessions of early infatuations, heartbreaks and epiphanies. In A Map Portraying Lesbian Sex Sexuality, idea clusters enumerate phenomena near and dear to the lesbian heart as experienced by West and McAllister: cats, house-music remixes of Cher anthems, disco balls, sex toys, knives and epithets reclaimed from the precipice of hate: “Trophy Dyke,” “Art Fag,” “Carpet Muncher.”
In the gallery’s center, the interactive installation The Well of Loneliness (a collaboration between McAllister and Aubree Bernier-Clarke) takes the form of a one-person saloon, where one pours a shot of whiskey and contemplates oneself in a gilded mirror, surrounded by portraits of the English poet and “sexual invert” Radclyffe Hall. The piece is an exercise in self-examination but also calls out “the lesbian community’s…high rates of alcoholism.” This darker tone is a welcome among the show’s more sophomoric preoccupations. That intensity is echoed in West’s ironically named Progress—a collage where a snail morphs into an arm, which mutates into a doily with pouty red lips, which then terminates in a similar doily, this time adorned with eye-shaped flickers. The relationship of feminism and lesbianism seems implicit: the snail’s-pace advancement of female equality in a chauvinist world, crawling from sexualized appendage to sexualized mouth, finally “evolving” into a creature with eyes but no face. “You’ve come a long way, baby,” Virginia Slims advertisements used to say. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
SEE: Lesbian Art Show at Fontanelle, 205 SW Pine St., 274-7668. Closes June 27.