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Private Interventions: Interview with Jade Yumang
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 setting.

When I first encountered the space I was overwhelmed, not only because of the outdated green walls and its moldings, but the looming presence of a family trace echoed through the wear and tear of the place.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,

“With 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 closet.

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 queer space.

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 it?


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.

MW: 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 work?


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

“What 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 interesting.”” (3)

Sontag is trying to say that we can try to turn a blind eye on beauty, but beauty never really left.

 

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1. Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Eds. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann. London: Continuum, 2002.

2. Reed, Christopher. “Imminent Domain: Queer Space in the Built Environment.” Art Journal 55, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 64-70.

3. Sontag, Susan. “An Argument about Beauty.” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (Fall 2002): 21-26.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Jade Yumang