For the show, Nico, a Vancouver-based butch, interdisciplinary artist, investigates the not-so-overt homosocial relationship that exists between x-rated queer transsexuality and ultra-masculine blue-collar identities. Drawing from archival research, they allow their material to speak and exist with carefully informed alteration, often paying homage to the resourceful and hand-made aesthetics of historical queer kink objects.
Combining synthetic materials like latex and silicone with second-hand athletic gear, man-cave collectibles, and construction tools, they conduct a conversation between disparate cultures, casting a lustful haze over the so-called lines that separate hyper-masculinity and hyper-queerness.
Bridging the gap between explicitly queer identities and stereotypical cis-masculinity, they create hot and heavy avenues from which their sculptures enter a strangely romantic dichotomy between the macho and intimately obscene.
The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.
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To celebrate Blue-Collar Sex Kitten, Rafael Zen interviews Nico for Massy Arts, investigating queer kink as an aesthetic that mediates discussions on the performance of identities, and how parody can invite audiences to unsettle the ordinary.
Nico McGiffin / Identity is formed by transforming knowledge
Rafael Zen – The title of your show, “Blue-Collar Sex Kitten”, seems to work through parody and contradiction (tough and soft, rough and fluffy), mocking stereotypical conventions of gender performance. Do you think your pieces work through parody? By creating these surreal scenes that subvert the ordinary, what conversations do you wish to establish – and with whom?
Nico McGiffin – I agree that parody is the right term to define what I do. Most of my work relies on mocking the boundaries of particular subcultures that I can consider myself part of or excluded from.
At the core of what I do, I’m trying to establish some sort of ground between queer trans-masculinity and cis-heterosexual masculinity through the examination of lived experience, object resonance, and sex – a special concoction I’m defining as a ‘hatefuck’. Through the modification of my objects, I like to simultaneously ask individuals from ‘disparate’ subcultures to consider whether their identities are so far gone from each other.
I’m aware of a sort of tension that many trans-masc and butch individuals experience with cis-men. There’s this sort of resentment that can build between people as a result of social hierarchies, envy, prejudice, and straight-up hatred – so I think I’m trying to unpack the very serious dilemma of existing as a trans-masculine person using a bit of slutty humour, double meaning, and relatability.
I want my work to reach trans people – I want the conversation I create to centre the trans experience, delving deeper into the way identity is formed through seeing, watching, doing, listening and transforming knowledge like a repurposed object, into and unto something new.
RZ – Could you guide us through your material research? What are the central objects that you are bringing to this show, and why did you choose to work with these materials / found objects?
NM – For Blue-Collar Sex Kitten I’ll be showing three of my sculptures. These sculptures are mostly made up of found objects; dart boards, a pool table, and a basketball hoop. All of my found materials are the result of encounters at the thrift store or obsessively scrolling through ‘free stuff Vancouver’ listings.
I usually have an idea of the sort of object I want for a project, but I almost always have to negotiate with fate on the final thing I end up using. Alongside my found objects I like to use a combination of synthetic and natural materials.
Most of my artworks have leather, suede, and brightly tinted silicone or latex parts to them, referencing the soft plastic or durable leather used to create sex toys.
RZ – Why choosing queer kink as an aesthetic to discuss trans experiences? What can you borrow from this universe to mediate discussions on the performance of identities?
NM – I’m interested in queering the concept and use of the objects, physical spaces and tools that are iconic to hetero-masculine aesthetics. By queering the use of an object, I’m asking the viewer to consider how objects can be used in ways that were not intended, or by individuals for whom they were not created.
I’ve been trying to reconsider objects with socially and sub-culturally loaded uses; objects meant to help accomplish some sort of physical result or goal. The comparison of construction tools or game and sport objects to kink objects felt interesting to me because they are all things with specific subcultural links and specific known uses.
Part of why I’ve chosen this avenue to discuss queer transsexuality is because I think the objects I create offer a physical avenue to understand the way some trans people form their identities – taking and splicing one or many seemingly separate parts of gender with another to create something new and transformed.
RZ – Your artist statement mentions the “romantic dichotomy between the macho and intimately obscene”, and I really want to know more about your ideas on how they intersect. What does your work inform about negotiating “explicitly queer identities and stereotypical cis-masculinity”?
NM – When I first began the research that created Blue-Collar Sex Kitten I had just come out as trans-masculine. When I talk about this “romantic dichotomy” I’m talking about the trans experience of longing to be like someone or something else.
For myself, this was a simultaneous feeling of repulsion and envy-fuelled admiration for the cis-heterosexual men around me. Through the observation of these men, I began exploring a desire to reform masculinity for myself, to take on stereotypically masculine traits and change them to meet my needs and my community’s needs.
Ultimately I think my sculptures can epitomize the queer and trans-masculine experience of negotiating which parts of masculinity one takes on as they are, and which they have to reform in a more favourable way.
RZ – Currently, who are artists that inspire or even influence your practice? What artists would create interesting dialogues with “Blue-Collar Sex Kitten”?
NM – Esmaa Mohamoud, Nicolo Gentile, and Chloe Sherman are some of the artists I’ve been paying close attention to lately. Also, I’ve been generally influenced by concepts seen in vintage gay porn. Anything with a kitschy locker room scene, repair man, or involving sports and the gym. This sort of media from the past helps remind me that machismo aesthetics are a queer tool, and constantly changing face to satisfy the desires of people in the present.