ART | EDITORIALS
Says Michael Cruz, one-third of the organizing force behind @ARTpartmentNYC, a gallery space that he newly launched out of his home. Growing up in the Philippines, Michael pursued a singing career and enjoyed a successful run on Filipino singing competition series Star in a Million. After moving to NYC, Michael started an event production venture, settling in Williamsburg right above The Rosemont bar, beloved by Brooklyn queers. Then the pandemic happened.
“Me and my partner Aaron thought, how can we do something productive and come up with a creative project involving the community while we are at home?”
“We thought about gathering some of the best artists that we knew and curating an exhibit.”
The couple has been working with Griffin Editions, an iconic full-service fine-art printing and processing shop that operates out of Gowanus in Brooklyn. That’s where they met Zac Thompson, a multidisciplinary artist and a drag performer.
“We ran into each other at the Rosemont a few months ago, that’s when Aaron and Michael told me about the idea of curating an art show out of their home, and it was a no-brainer. Our ideas were very similar in terms of creating a community and a space for the people that are close to us, in Bushwick specifically,”
says Zac about the origins of the creative trifecta.
“We are leaning into that feeling [of Brooklyn becoming a microcosmos for queer creativity] and embracing it and deciding to make choices and decisions to specifically create care, spaces, and opportunities for each other, instead of being in that weird Manhattan mindset of competing with each other. We can actually do it here, for ourselves and our community, instead of participating in a space that never included us in the first place. This is a different generation, where it feels like what we are doing here is similar to what they did in the ‘80s on the Lower East Side. Things have changed and shifted and it doesn’t work for everyone anymore, or they don't feel safe or comfy in those spaces necessarily.”
"Sally" polaroid by Steve Harwick
Body and Sex Positivity
Their first exhibition is called Works From Home and the theme of the show is “Body and Sex Positivity.” Inspired by Gracie Mansion, who pioneered an art exhibition out of the bathroom of her East Village apartment in 1982, the trio decided to curate each exhibition “to be tailored to the history, vivacity, and perseverance of New York’s LGBTQ+ community.” Works From Home “celebrates the LGBTQ+ artists and photographers who have persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic” and “who have been unable to physically show their work for months” due to NYC coronavirus guidelines.
“Being queer in Brooklyn is so much about visibility,”
“So what happens during the time of quarantine and COVID when people are not allowed to be out or visible, how do you represent or weave your queer experience when it’s just you in your apartment and you are not interacting with people? I think a lot of artists in the show have had to look inward like so many other people and deal with, what does it look like being queer for me, if no one’s watching? I think a lot of the works were made in a headspace like that. So it’s nice to acknowledge and celebrate that. Like sex and body positivity and other queer things and experiences can still exist even if we are not out and proud. But it’s just more personal and you can still celebrate it with yourself and be able to share it or articulate those feelings through visual art, and having an intimate space to look at those—it just feels very special. It’s nice to have different ways to think about what it means to be queer or have a queer body, especially now. You are going through a lot, this isn’t just free fun time, you are trying to survive, how do you incorporate all of those things in the way that there’s harmony and it works for your well-being? It’s not the same for everyone.”
"Hot Buddies 69" acrylic on paper by Sean O'Connor
Michael discusses the exhibition’s theme focused on sex and body positivity:
“I’ve always been fascinated with the subject. It’s weird, uncomfortable, awkward, to some it’s painful. It’s part of who we are and we should give praise to that. So I wanted to touch on that in the beginning of our journey. I come from a conservative place in the Philippines, where we are Catholics and Christians. One of the things I had to face is my sexuality and embracing all of me. Whatever you feel about your body and sexuality, own it, it's about being proud.”
The space is a railroad-style apartment, where the kitchen and the bathroom are facing the backyard of The Rosemont, and the living room’s walls are bedecked with the physical artwork of seven (out of ten) artists. Video projections of the three remaining artists play on a loop on the back wall.
The left wall has three black-and-white vintage prints – two of the photos portray a young man with a nice bubble ass prostrate on the blacked-out floor, with arms stretched out like Jesus on a cross. The third photo in the middle showcases the young man straddling a toilet seat with a raging hard-on. One of the people in the room approaches me and introduces himself as Joe Kaminski, the author of the photographs.
“Those photos are 30 years old. I did a series of all nude self-portraits. Sometimes I look at these and think, where is the ink?”
Joe shows his tattooed arms.
“I forget that I was not always like this. These prints are older than any other artist in this exhibition.”
“But sadly they are still controversial. I can’t post them on Instagram as is. I censored the full-frontal images, and I feel that it’s actually more provocative that way.”
Each print is listed at $200 and, if sold, will benefit the artist as well as @ARTpartmentNYC.
“In the late ‘80s erections weren’t allowed, so that was pushing an envelope a little bit. But just a being a gay man expressing yourself, and saying, ‘But male figures is what I love, why can’t that just be my simple subject matter?’ – it doesn't have to be complicated, but it was still controversial then and still to some degree nowadays. But even an erection is not something you’d find a lot, particularly in fine-art photography.”
Self-portrait by Joseph Kaminski
Still from "Me 2" digital video by Michelle Girardello
"Nip Slip" by Asafe Pereira
One of the videos that plays on the loop is of a female form straddling a chair covered in a crocheted blanket. The frame changes and the body is on the floor still covered in a blanket, but no chair this time. In the next frame the body is on its back, with limbs thrown up towards the ceiling, still covered in a blanket. Every frame is different, but the angle is always the same – a corner of a room. It seemed to represent restlessness and anxiety, being cooped up within four walls and not knowing what to do with yourself, an all-too-familiar storyline.
“At the beginning of the quarantine I started to crochet, so it's kind of where the video came from,”
“In my work I’ve always dealt a lot with domestic space. Then in the past year I started to introduce the queer body to the space and then during quarantine I started making these blankets for my friends – it was kind of like the extension of me to them. And then I decided to do these photo shoots with the quilts before I gave them away. I’m a photographer, so the crocheting is weird and I’ve had conversations with my friends, saying ‘Oh no, I’m just crocheting, this is nothing’ and so I am just trying to be conscious that I am doing that. ‘No that is something Michelle, stop beating your fucking self up, you are making stuff and still getting shit out.’ I feel that it’s so hard right now and I’m beating myself up, because I am not making art, you know? So I feel like this kind of deciphers where I end and meet again and date again and then the space begins morphing.”
"Light Up" by Marianna Peragallo
Still from "Grapes" digital video by Shannon Stovall
Being one of those creatives that started participating in the sport of “beating yourself up” for not lactating with your best creative juices during the quarantine, I’ve also found myself indulging in a cocktail of depression with a side of self-pity every now and then. In one of the looped videos, Shannon Stovall is luxuriously sprawled out on a satin pillow, repetitiously spewing out grapes out of their mouth hole.
“I feel that this video was my attempt at trying to find a way to be creative and indulge in a moment of playfulness while also really feeling the anxiety and tension that was going on during the lockdown,”
“To be honest I was having a lot of trouble sleeping one night and I thought about how cute the raccoons are while they eat grapes with their little hands and I thought about how it brought me a lot of comfort. A raccoon has to really adapt and live their life in kind of a scrappy way and patchwork things together in order to live day to day, which is kind of how I also felt at the time. I was thinking about how I would eat grapes right now if I was resonating with that energy. Honestly it's sort of a visual representation of a lot of emotions and feelings that I was having at the time and feeling really stuck in my own body and not really knowing how to tap into play. How do you tap into joy and play and creativity when you are so depleted all the time? To me the whole video, even though it's really playful and kind of silly, just feels like it's a big wrestling match with how to feel, how to exist, how to play, how to be sexual and how to explore that when you are isolated and depressed.”
A lot of us trying our best to continue to tap into this well of joy and creativity which is almost dry, there's a couple of droplets down at that well, how do you take a little suction vial of that and turn it into something that can make you feel that you can keep on moving forward in the way of being productive?”
For Marianna Peragallo, who contributed three anthropomorphic polymer-clay sculptures to the exhibit, the stay-at-home orders were all about paying attention to little things, like love and dust pans.
“I’ve been making these works that are anthropomorphic sculptures, these objects that are morphed into bodily things. It's a cross-section of love, endurance, and support. I like to say they are almost overbearing in a way, they are physically transformed to become the object.”
A severed clay hand is propped up on a small red shelf, the pointing finger is transformed into a light bulb, a lone thick cord comes out from the chopped-off wrist and stretches itself into an electric socket; a small mirror on the wall looks like it's holding itself up with its own fingers; the dust pan has a finger that’s supporting it in place, and the bristles of the broom have become fingers as well.
“I started to think a lot that we have a very clear definition of what hate looks like. Love is sort of an amorphous thing where people think that it's just soft, fluffy, and sentimental but it's actually this very radical thing, it's like an action, it's something that you have to do. It's something that I had to define for myself and turn it into sculptures. These are all bodies that are trying to perform some small loving gesture. That's kind of what these works are about.”
When I first looked over the objects, “taking things into your own hands,” was resonating in my mind.
“It's polymer clay that I used when I was a kid,”
”they are sort of childish, a little cartoony, they are reminiscent of children's books, that's where we learn or mislearn about love. We've all been spending a lot of time in our houses and these are kind of like guts of our spaces, these sort of mundane daily quotidian things that we kind of take for granted but they are really essential, so I think about how love is kind of that way too – we just continue to take it for granted.”
"Haze" by William Donovan
Still from “Those Big Brown (Almost Black) Gay Eyes” short by Jason Elizondo
Jason Elizondo explored the relationship with their mother and almost taking her love for granted in a 6-minute 35-second video titled “Those Big Brown (Almost Black) Gay Eyes.” The digital art piece priced at $800 is entirely narrated by Jay’s mother Missy and is part of a bigger piece called, well... “Missy.” The performance was filmed in Jason’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
“Essentially the work is me performing as my mom to better understand how my queerness has strained yet deepened our bond, you hear her going through the trials and tribulations of my coming out and how it affected her. I asked her to read passages from her diary and record her voice doing it. She cleans houses for a living so there's always Lemon Pledge in the house, so I bedazzled it. Those objects appear in the video as I’m performing, which was another way of clearing the way for her to talk about this queerness that was brought upon her that she didn’t ask for, but had to embrace because her child was queer.”
Jason brings the video full circle with a powerful ending, their mother says that Jason has become very judgmental of the people that were judgmental of “him,” and that “he” was a hypocrite. The last line of the short is
“That being said, there’s more to the story. Sorry buddy, but gay doesn’t define you.”
There is so much more to all of our stories than what we are willing to see in ourselves – it must have been very cathartic for Jason and their mother to mend their relationship in such a powerful way.
“Crimson" by Ish Peralta
Shop the art pieces or book your 30-minute visit to the gallery via artpartment.nyc and view the rest of the incredible works by Asafe Pereira, Ish Peralta, Jason Elizondo, Marianna Peragallo, Michelle Girardello, Joseph Kaminski, Sean O’Connor, Shannon Stovall, Steve Harwick, and William Donovan before December 4.
Special thanks to all of the artists for allowing Sidewalkkilla to use the images of their work for this article.