An Interview with Untended’s McIntoch and Harrod on Queer Art, Queer Fiber, and Getting Lost in Your Work
VCU FAB’s gallery is currently showcasing the work of two queer fiber artists, Jesse Harrod and Aaron McIntosh, as part of the “Untended” exhibition. As with queer identities, their craft forms expand upon the practice and subvert our own notions of ‘good art’ to create an interesting queer aesthetic and experience. I was able to catch up with both artists to further discuss their work and creative processes.
How do you define queer aesthetics in your practices?
Aaron McIntosh: I struggle to accept “queer aesthetics” as a well-defined movement, and even though I am not necessarily a proponent, certain themes appear in my work. Like many other queer artists, I am grappling with sexuality, identity, body awareness, non-normativity, composing/constructing gender, and the strictures of hetero-normative institutions.
Jesse Harrod: I think about material choices and how they do or don’t fit into “so called” appropriate art, the materials and techniques I use are often seen as “other”. I am interested in the historical memory of these materials and techniques and how we relate them to moments or locations such as macramé which we often think of as a visual marker for the 70s’s and feminist artist of that period like Faith Wilding or Clair Ziesler. I also think of macramé related to the land movement and the dIY aesthetic of 60’s and 70’s and for me I think about the lesbian movement of that time but I hope to bring it forward by using contemporary materials and forms.
Both of your works involve some very labor intensive work, like macramé and the repetitive process of cutting paper, I wondered what keeps you going and engaged during these seemingly dull periods of time?
JH: It really depends on the moment. In the beginning I am present with the materials. In the middle, I become more automated listening to books on tape. I also watch or rather listen to the Cockettes Documentary repetitively while working. I listen to poetry, music I often just put something on repeat, I am not really engaged with what’s happening around me I’m sort of lost in my head, it’s a lot like going on a very long run, doing a marathon. Near the end of a project I resurface and reconnect with what’s happening outside of my head
AM: Materiality is at the forefront of my practice. In these latest projects, I have been captivated by cut paper and snippets of printed matter, such as gay erotica and porn. As a material, pornography is funny, erotic and strange to work with, to cut apart and reconstruct. So much cutting can be repetitive and boring so I usually listen to dance music, hip-hop or even NPR, and there is the occasional Netflix serial binge.
Photo via Harrod’s Website
You both use widely different materials in your work. I wondered where you source them and if there was any politics behind it?
JH: The politics of my materials are fundamental in my work. I suppose it’s those choices that are the queerest about work. I try to not just rely on color but rather explore the layers. For example in my macramé pieces I had to purchase a lot of the supplies at these survivalist stores that I didn’t really want patronize but I took pleasure in knowing I was buying rope from these largely homophobic/misogynist men to be used in creating my Pensile Arrangements.
AM: I liked used/found materials because they reveal a residue of domestic space, and often exude a certain kind of intimacy. I find myself accumulating stuff like afghan blankets, quilts, sheets, romance novels and erotica for these reasons. A lot of the paper porn I use in works was given to me by friends and friends-of-friends. Certainly, there are diverse politics around the materials in my work. The use of humble home textiles and low-brow literature stands in direct contrast to an art world dominated by high-production values. The Bear is modeled after a family heirloom taxidermy that stands-in as both a hunting trophy and memorial. My remake is also a trophy, but memorializes my own desires. The bear’s pelt had to be made of a material that directly channeled gay urges and stories of conquest—and thus I spent many months crafting fur from gay pornos, most of them leather mags for the darker backgrounds.
Aaron, you use to live in RVA, did you ever go by Diversity Thrift?
Yes, It is the only place in the country where I’ve come across gay romance novels. This, of course, opens up a wider discussion on cultural norms regarding visible queerness in this country. Why don’t gay men and women take their erotic books to thrift stores across the country? Sometimes it feels like sexuality, period, is banned at thrift shops, unless one looks beyond the book cover of lusty romance novels.
Jesse, your work caught me off guard, I couldn’t discern if it was human genitals or I was pushing that interpretation onto it. Do you see your works as overtly sexual?
JH: They are actually abstracted depictions of plant morphology; human genitals are similar. We have historically used flowers and nature as a way to talk about sex, sexuality, gender and gender expression.
You both shared a position at JMU, as a professor in Fibers, with Jesse now holding it. I wondered what made you two want to reconnect together for shared exhibition?
AM: Well we are both fiber colleagues and wanted to show together. We actually applied to curate an exhibition together but did get it but instead got an offer to show together a year ago. Since then, we have really been getting to know each other as we prepared for this exhibition. She approaches fiber from a different place then me and I’m happy to create that dialogue together.
JH: We both approached art making and queerness through different perspectives, using different processes and materials but we have great respect for what we are each doing and we felt our work would be interesting if it inhabited the same space!
What other works are you up to after this exhibition?
AM: Ill be releasing The Chronicles of Cruising, a book project started in 2011 where I did daily cuttings of some of the first erotica magazines. It is a yearlong “calendar” of daily desires with 365 of these cuttings organized by month. I have been steadily working on the book or monthly magazine release, and hopefully it will be out come January 2014. Besides this project, I will just be in a few shows and working in the studio.
JH: Participating in (e)merge fair in DC in October and I am currently also showing work as part of the Fiber Optics show in Fort Lauderdale Florida In the new year I am curating a show in NYC at Cuchofritos. But mostly I am in my studio working on sculptures, writing and drawing!
Read last week’s review here.
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Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
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