Brookbank-Martens_PEEL
Brandon Brookbank & Kyle Alden Martens Peel, installation view, The Fruit Stand, Halifax, 2015.
Photo : courtesy of the artist

Peeling Objects for Queer Play

Geneviève Flavelle
What allows for an object to be recognized as a person? What needs to cohere for a form to be classified as human? How much can be abstracted, alluded to, or conspicuously absent? What happens to the ways in which the body signifies when it is anonymous, partial, or abstracted? In this essay, I look at two collaborative sculpture installations that expand the boundaries of what reads as human by unsettling gender and creating forms playfully poised between the known and unknown. By cropping, segmenting, and playing with the scale of human bodies, the creators of these two collaborative artworks seek out the points at which sexuality loses recognizable form and gender can be expanded into new configurations.

Gender is a core way in which we understand and classify each other as humans. Society is broadly structured to regulate the gender binary of male/female, and gender expression that challenges this binary is often viewed as inconceivable, abnormal, and potentially dangerous. As art historianDavid Getsy writes in Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender, “In order for many to see a body (or an image of a body) as human, its relation to gender needs to be settled.”1 1 - David Getsy, Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015),xiv. When a body fails to cohere as human, especially if gender is unsettled or unreadable, that body is often met with immediate violence. This violence, in many cases directed against queer, trans, and intersex people, has led assertions of humanity and normalcy to be the core focus of many LGBTI+ civil- and human-rights campaigns. This political strategy necessitates that difference be made visible, countable, and open to surveillance, as the foundation of arguing for sympathy and compassion. Although I acknowledge the purpose of these humanizing strategies, it is important to consider the ways in which creating strangeness can be productive. Rather than positioning the non-normative as knowable through representation and, as such, readily available for inclusion, I want to consider how gender and sexuality can be figured beyond categorization and how our valuation of personhood can expand beyond constricting binaries of male/female, gay/straight, and cis/trans.

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This article also appears in the issue 91 - LGBT+
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