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Interview / Wilson S Wilson – The fuzzy boundaries of the binary

February 28th – April 11th 2024, Massy Arts will host, Bodyscapes : Rebellion + Revolution, a new group show by queer artists Khalil Alomar, Oliver Rinne, Wilson S. Wilson, and Sean Alistair.

“Bodyscapes: Rebellion + Revolution” showcases an ensemble of artists in different stages of their careers, merging painting, embroidery, performance, and photography to elucidate the nuanced (and political) intersections of queer experiences. This group exhibition offers a contemplative exploration of the complex interplay between the corporeal, gender identity, societal oppression, and the processes of socialization.

The thematic core of the exhibition revolves around the intricate dialogues between rebellion and societal revolution within the context of queer narratives, elucidating the struggles and challenges inherent to the pursuit of authentic selfhood.

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Global Context:

As we enter March of 2024, the political global scenario presents challenges of discussing the intersections of gender and religion, especially given the pinkwashing we are witnessing by Israel as an excuse to commit genocide against Palestinian people. Islamophobia is rampant, with Western media (and Western-funded wars) spreading propaganda and creating monsters out of citizens. Having scheduled this group show in September of 2023, we were faced with the challenge of holding space for discussions around faith-based criticism, while protesting against the horrors that are happening right now, in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, everywhere. 

Recognizing that Massy Arts and Massy Books hold no space for prejudice against community members of religious groups (in the context of this exhibition, Muslims and Christians), we wish this exhibition to raise questions and awareness about gender-phobia and gender crimes committed by institutions throughout history. In this sense, the history of the queer body is also a history of violence upon the body.

By creating a space that is by and for over-excluded voices, we also recognize that many of the identities that are welcomed into our space may have diverging opinions about structures of gender, sexuality, race, class, and faith. By bringing these works to our gallery, we wish to raise questions that lead to a broader understanding of one’s right to their own bodies (and their own lives).

Political art is tough, it is challenging, and it invites audiences to sit within their own discomforts in order to empathize with political freedom. By curating Bodyscapes, we hope to raise awareness about ways society and institutions oppress and suppress gender-based identities, and to highlight and uplift the works of queer artists from our community.

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This project is supported by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver + First Peoples’ Cultural Council.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to: info@massyarts.com.

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To celebrate the exhibition, curator Rafael Zen interviews Wilson for Massy Arts, investigating the relationships between the gendered body, gender socialization, self-conflict, discomfort and defeat.

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Wilson S Wilson – The fuzzy boundaries of the binary

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Rafael Zen – In the upcoming show “Bodyscapes : Rebellion + Revolution”, you are exhibiting a series called “Mother’s Loaf”. Why this title – and why the metaphor between bread and the gendered body? Why proposing a mother figure?

Wilson S Wilson – ‘Mother’s Loaf’ originated as an almost tongue-in-cheek reference to a heritage recipe that my family calls Momma’s Bread. My grandmom’s recipe starts with 12 cups of water… I was preoccupied with the labor that goes into making this great quantity, the very real weight of the dough.

It resonates with how I understand dysphoria: as heavy and fleshy. For me, the formal “Mother” has a heaviness to it. And the ‘Loaf’ 一the recipe, is this set of directions passed down matrilineally, moreso making a connection between recipe and gender as a learned script.

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RZ – In your artist statement, you affirm that this piece addresses your own gender dysphoria, analyzing relationships between the gendered body, gender socialization, self-conflict, discomfort and defeat. How do you think these terms – socialization + conflict + discomfort + defeat – relate to the queer experience? In this sense, what would be Mother’s Loaf main discussion?

WSW – Rather than a discussion it’s more that it’s revealing… I’ve interpreted dysphoria in this way, and others will connect to this representation differently. Before I had the language and understanding of my identity as trans and as non-binary, I was making work, trying to reproduce my feelings of discomfort, and asking people to feel it with me.

It wasn’t satisfying, because it was just discomfort, discomfort, discomfort without closure, understanding or solution. Mother’s Loaf concludes this. It’s different in that I feel I can express why I am uncomfortable, I can identify my experience within concepts like socialization, gender dysphoria, the queer experience.

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RZ – I would like to address the fact that this piece comes from a performance work. Do you feel that performance, as an arts field, allows you to access discussions on the boundaries between human and other? Why putting your own body in the center of the creative process? And, for this piece, what does otherness look like?

WSW – I like to think of performance as action instead of object, process rather than product. It continues with me as I live it and reinterpret it and as I am interpreted by others.

Performance, as I have tied it to my experience and identity, is liminal, blurry and indistinct, continuing and changing instead of being bound in a moment. Similarly, the boundary of a binaried ‘human’ and ‘other’ involves a fuzziness, an in-betweenness that I find myself within, because I am also a liminal being.

This collection of work converges body and bread, but in a stifling alienation of my body from myself. Whichever flesh is attached to me is othered by my refusal of it.

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RZ – Why do you affirm that this piece reclaims notions of objectification? And in that sense, how does it relate to the concept of the colonial-capitalistic-narcissistic-gendered gaze?

WSW – I consider objectification relative to subjectification. My expression of objectification operates through an equivalent exchange of, or sharing of identity between ‘object’ and ‘subject’. If, in taking dough as a body I have subjectified it: we now share in subjecthood together. Even in opposition, Body and I are equals; we are performers of gender: woman.

However, I also participate in and perform the function of the object ‘dough’. And where this may be an object for consumption or pleasure, I feel that Mother’s Loaf denies this pleasure. My bread chimera is a projection of body horror and despair. I don’t think it satisfies the gaze of curiosity or desire.

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RZ – If you could suggest another artist/piece to our readers, one that you feel would dialogue well with your series, what would this artist be? And why?

WSW – Mika Rottenberg has a video work titled Dough that shares in Mother’s Loaf surreality, attention to gender and womanhood in a context of consumption, and well… dough. I looked for this piece years ago when I was first considering using the Momma’s Bread recipe and I connected with Rottenberg’s depicted labor— marginalized bodies as products and producers.

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