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March 19th, 2008 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

Defining Sex

Two shows confront masculine and queer identity.

     
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Untitled by Corey Arnold

There are as many masculinities as there are men, and as many queernesses as there are queers—but that hasn’t stopped two local curators from trying to pin down the essences of gender and sexual identity. At Woolley at Wonder, Mark Woolley’s Alphabet Soup takes on the GLBT-etc. melting pot of post-millennial queerhood. Mary Sharp’s glitter-spangled dildo is a fabulous confection but offers little food for thought, unlike Bobbi Jo Epperson’s dashing Self-portrait as a Man and Jordan Tull’s richly allusive Wall-mounted Object. The show’s most substantive pieces are Ryan Burghard’s photos of twentysomethings wearing strange, genitalic masks, and Stephen Scott Smith’s channeling of a genderqueer Hamlet in a monkey suit. Both works examine the costumes we don to alternately stake out a unique identity and conform to the often diametric expectations of the work world and our preferred subculture. Hey, nobody said living, breathing and fucking would be a cakewalk in the year 2008.

In Quality Pictures’ The Man Show, Erik Schneider grapples with “the psychology of male archetypes and traditionally male activities,” which include lifting weights (Jen DeNike’s Dumbells) and shooting flaming arrows at velour recliners (Brandon Herman’s Untitled). There is much here in the way of chest-thumping one-upmanship and ambiguous male bonding à la Abercrombie & Fitch, but even if taken, generously, as deconstruction, the show sidesteps the starker realities of manhood, which at a certain point are less about achieving washboard abs and more about treating people with dignity, providing for your children and generally sucking it up and doing what needs to be done.

The show’s most striking image belongs to photographer Corey Arnold, who spends three months a year aboard a commercial fishing boat on the Bering Sea. Arnold’s photo of a fellow fisherman with the guts of a 150-pound halibut around his neck like a fearsome fallopian boa, has to be one of the most gruesome images this side of a PETA video. The nubby gills ringing the glistening orifice, the blood spattered on the chap’s hunter-orange slicker, the Neanderthalic stupor across his face—this is a man, all right, and he has slain the messy sea monster of female sexuality, as men are supposed to do. Except. Except that the creature snaking around his neck is phallic as well as gynecologic: a hermaphroditic anaconda ready to squeeze the breath out of him just as he begins his victory lap. We have our fun with gender, we glitter and dance and dally while Nature waits, eyes closed, jaws open.


SEE IT:Woolley at Wonder, 128 NE Russell St., 224-5475. Closing party March 21, show closes March 22. Quality Pictures, 916 NW Hoyt St., 227-5060. Closes March 29.
 
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