Interventions: Interview with Jade
by Margo Wolowiec
Margo Wolowiec: I
understand that the piece you created for the Janus Project is a response to
the domestic setting of the gallery space. How has showing in a domestic
space influenced your process, and how did the particularities of the Janus
Project’s interior inform your work?
Jade Yumang: This is my first time
working in such a delineated and provocative space. I think contextualizing
my work as a direct response rather than constructing a detached object is
more effective as an overall tone and experience for the viewer. I am
interested in creating a piece that taints and seeps into the domestic
When I first encountered the space I was overwhelmed, not only
because of the outdated green walls and its moldings, but the looming
presence of a family trace echoed through the wear and tear of the place. All
the rooms on the first floor are clearly divided into small quarters, where
every room in a way retains its own personality and individual mood. Each
room creates its own obscured, narrative space. For that reason, I had to
acknowledge the space by creating a piece that speaks both to its setting as
a domestic place (a living room and dining room) and its architectural design.
On another note, the space reminded me of navigating into the
period rooms in the MET. To me there is a sense of loss, rather than a sense
of grandeur in these spaces. I began to think of Janus Project’s space and
its constrictions and immediately correlated it to the effacing of the body
and personal narrative in replacement of an artificial interior design.
MW: Your own experience
with the Janus Project’s rooms and your comparison to the period rooms at the
MET is particularly apt while remembering that this house arose out of a
“bourgeois interior” style: a historically specific way of organizing and
aestheticizing domestic space that arose out of modernization in the 19th and
20th centuries. Rooms were delineated to divide and define the way time was
spent at home (living room for entertainment, dining room for eating, bedroom
for sleeping, etc.), and were decorated with objects that acted as
definitions of character, identity and status.
This treatment of domestic space that we have inherited today has
often been critiqued as a defensive construction to escape the harsh social
realities of capitalism. Your installation’s focus is a table spanning both
rooms, acting as a foil to the classic configuration of the space. How do see
your installation in relationship to the ideals and problems of the bourgeois
interior? Further, how do you see this relating to your work’s investigation
of queer culture and identity?
JY: Yes, I agree with the
concept of bourgeois interiors as defensive spaces. Objects chosen for these
spaces act as a somatic metonymy to anxieties, whether real or imagined. In Aesthetic
Theory, Adorno describes this space as a symptom of
defense and denial, which is significant to my understanding of bourgeois
anxiety. As he wrote,
the growing powerlessness of the autonomous subject, inwardness consequently
became completely ideological, the mirage of an inner kingdom where the
silent majority are indemnified for what is denied them socially; inwardness
thus becomes increasingly shadowy and empty, indeed content-less in itself.” (1)
My installation signifies “inwardness” and denial that such
spaces uphold. Moreover, the bourgeois interior is a heteronormative ideal as
it comfortably sits in the center of power, albeit unstable, where other
peripheral ethos are expunged. This ideal is determined in terms of a family
setting, especially in relation to the proliferation of suburbs after WWII.
Specifically, this is a nuclear family archetype that rejects any other forms
of kinship. And in a way, to return to this ideal, even if one is “queering”
it (i.e. gay marriage), moves us back into a tight space, back into the
Consequently, in relation to queer culture, this runs oddly
parallel to the museal interior that Adorno alludes to. I see this a lot in
design shows where a sanitized gay man magically transforms an interior space
into a secure and refined abode. However, there is irony in this resemblance
as the bourgeois space is renovated, infiltrated, and transformed into a
In “Immanent Domain: Queer Space in the Built Environment”,
Christopher Reed talks about queering a space as a way to renovate an
existing (heteronormative) one.(2)
Although, I’m not sure if this is enough, as it has to depend on a prevailing
structure. Even if queering this space, it just goes back to the inwardness
that Adorno talks about. Instead of being ideologically radical, the queer
space only reuses a precarious bourgeois mindset.
MW: How do you see your
installation in relationship to this conundrum, is it defining a queer space
as such? Do you see it echoing the same “defensive” nature as in the
bourgeois interior, privately escaping mainstream culture without transforming
JY: I don’t necessarily see
my installation as defining a queer space. That is a daunting and impossible
task. And I don’t think art is capable of that. The insertion of the long
table that restricts an already confined domestic space illustrates my own
frustrations of being ensnared into this battle of attrition. My installation
is instead a reflection of this melancholic predicament of where queer space
is heading. I think of gay marriage, not in legal terms (I do believe in
having choices), as an example of how queering or renovating is not enough to
assess the structure of dominance. Reed’s observation seems too simple now as
such “renovations” are being subsumed within popular culture, which further
aligns queer space to that of bourgeois space. I don’t necessarily think that
renovating, in philosophical terms, is enough to critique a pervading trope.
I don’t want to fall into a revisionist trap.
With gay marriage now passed in NY, I am curious as to where
queer culture is heading. I question this imagery that is currently being
designated here in North America. For me, it’s reshaping it to the same
constricted mold that even most heterosexuals could not, and some even refuse
to, partake in. I am not really taking sides here, but am particularly
interested in how I can translate this into visual form.
This melancholic frustration that you are navigating seems to have a profound
relationship to your subtle handling of sexual imagery that you sample from
online pornography sites. Although many of your works depict explicit sexual
acts, the delicate, repetitive layering of abstracted forms obscure the
imagery rendering it at times unrecognizable. Can you talk about your
aesthetic choices and your gravitation towards repetitive, craft-based processes?
JY: I prefer a delayed
effect. I use patterns as a way to lure the viewer into my work. The
intricate technique becomes an access point for viewers to gestate before
they are confronted with an explicit sexual act. It mitigates viewers’
assumptions as a method to question their own fears and desires. Instead of
hitting them over the head I prefer to wine and dine them first. It also
positions the viewer’s own level of comfort while engaging with the work.
There is space to shift focus between the surface technique and what is
embedded. I use labour-intensive techniques both to leave my trace visible
and as a form of beauty to frame my ideas of what should be exposed and what
should be hidden.
MW: Are you trying to
portray explicit sexual acts as beautiful to push the sexual imagery beyond
its usual pornographic read? Or does beauty play a different role in your
JY: Form and how it is
carried out is important to me. As much as I am invested in theory, if it is
not visually sound, it fails to do anything. Beauty brings it back to the
basics in terms of persuading a looker to actually look, not read what’s
beside it. I don’t want to deal with conceptual emptiness. My concerns are
about trying to make form out of queerness and not incessantly agonize about
its politics. I would not be in fine arts if I solely chose the latter. As
for the explicit sexual acts, I embed them through excessive ornamentation.
Most of these acts are exaggerated and embellished in the first place and my
technique of repetition is a reflection of that.
MW: I understand you are
very influenced by the return to beauty in art that took place in the 1990’s,
after the “anti-aesthetic” turn of the 1970’s-80’s. How do you see your work
in relationship to this history? Also, what role do you think beauty plays in
contemporary art, when art is no longer expected to be beautiful?
JY: I was taught as an
undergrad to privilege the sublime and have a laissez-faire approach to form.
Sincerely, I just could not fathom dealing with any ideas without a solid
form first. Thus, I resisted. I’m tired of looking at art that forces me to
be vaguely interested because the artist (or the curator, or the art
historian) tells me that it falls under a certain category. I was trained to
be afraid to look at art and say that it is “beautiful” without having any
theoretical baggage. Ironically, the scholarly writings on beauty, 90s and
onwards, have given me a glimpse of optimism in such a cold art world. I
think writings on beauty are still being redefined and I don’t know if I want
to classify my work in a history that is still occurring and being contested.
Again, I am interested in coalescing the force on the universal image of
queerness and how it relates to writings in beauty. Both of these concerns
began to materialize at the same time and I am in the midst of exploring them
through my work.
I think Susan Sontag aptly expresses my concerns in “An
Argument about Beauty”, by affirming that
is beautiful reminds us of nature as such–of what lies beyond the human
and the made–and thereby stimulates and deepens our sense of the sheer
spread and fullness of reality, inanimate as well as pulsing, that surrounds
us all. A happy by product of this insight, if insight it is: beauty regains
its solidity, its inevitability, as a judgment needed to make sense of a
large portion of one’s energies, affinities, and admirations; and the
usurping notions appear ludicrous. Imagine saying, “That sunset is
Sontag is trying to say that we can try to turn a blind eye on
beauty, but beauty never really left.
1. Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Eds. Gretel
Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann. London: Continuum, 2002.
Reed, Christopher. “Imminent Domain: Queer Space in the
Built Environment.” Art Journal 55, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 64-70.
Sontag, Susan. “An Argument about Beauty.” Daedalus:
Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (Fall 2002): 21-26.