Tom Hsu, Two Bananas, 2018. © 2018 Tom Hsu
We Buy Gold
Nicholas Aiden, Lacie Burning, Séamus Gallagher, Tom Hsu, Christopher Lacroix, Wynne Neilly and Kyle Lasky, Isabel Okoro, Michelle Panting and Brianna Roye
Curated by Michèle Pearson Clarke
Presented in partnership with the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies and Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.
In-gallery exhibition dates to be announced
Questions of visibility and representation have long been queer concerns, tied as they are to hopes and demands for greater acceptance and civil rights. LGBTQ+ communities have frequently employed photography to positively reflect their complex and diverse experiences in the face of mainstream absences and distortions. We Buy Gold examines current grapplings with this legacy, alongside more recent strategies that move beyond the impositions of conventional visibility and respectability politics.
In bringing together primarily emerging LGBTQ+ artists living and working in Canada, the exhibition foregrounds the perspectives of younger queer generations. Largely using various forms of portraiture, but also still life and sculptural elements, these artists are concerned less with representing queerness and more with performing, challenging, and interrogating it. Collectively, their images lay bare both the frictions and intimacies of working between community and self to bring the value of their experiences into view.
With Coats (2016–), Nicholas Aiden magnifies perceptions of the body, targeting the simultaneous fascination and repulsion associated with body hair. Draped across the gallery, Aiden’s works take on their own corpulent form as fabric prints, their materiality emphasizing the queer embodiments contained within. Tom Hsu’s photographs play too with the body’s physicality, highlighting the carnal present in the banal and the everyday. Drawn from a larger portfolio of work, loop holes (2017–20) approaches desire as ever-present and infinite.
Inspired equally by drag culture and video game aesthetics, Séamus Gallagher also foregrounds the utility of excess in their elaborately staged and deeply chromatic images. Located at the intersection of performance, installation, and self-portraiture, A Slippery Place (2019) situates Gallagher amid constructed digital 3D renderings to question virtual space dynamics in contemporary queer life. Likewise, Christopher Lacroix deploys camp to interrogate the tension inherent in being concurrently positioned between submission and defiance. The photographs in We do not know when we started, we will not know when we will end (2019) feature the artist brandishing the remnants of foil letter balloons, previously popped in the accompanying video performance. The statements “I AM SORRY,” “YOU’RE WELCOME,” “YOU’RE SORRY,” and “I AM WELCOME” disappear as quickly as they appear, pointing to the negotiations required for self-preservation.
For Michelle Panting, self-portraiture functions to contravene the boundaries set around her identity and appearance by the religious, patriarchal community in which she was raised. Composed with found light and often bizarre gestures, Something like Jangoan (2018–20) troubles notions of a linear progress narrative and the assumed comfort of younger queers. Turning the camera on both themselves and each other, trans* artists Wynne Neilly and Kyle Lasky document their decade-long friendship in their quiet series, Have / Hold (2018–19). In depicting the vulnerability, adoration, and physical closeness between them, their photographs confront the fear and stigma surrounding masculine intimacy, and expand definitions of queer romance.
Kinship also infuses the work of Lacie Burning, whose Blockade Rider (2019) portrays M.V. Williams, a Skwxú7mesh/Wet’suwet’en photo-based artist. Lasso in hand, they straddle a concrete blockade underneath the Lions Gate Bridge that sits on their territory, visualizing Indigiqueer people’s relationships to land, representation, and the gaze. Similarly, the works of Isabel Okoro and Brianna Roye centre relationships forged in communities forever impacted by colonialism, using portraiture to archive Black diasporic worldmaking. Bridging the gaps between Lagos and Toronto, Okoro’s colour and feel (2020–) explores an imagined Black utopia through monochromatic images of the people she encounters. Shooting on medium-format film, Roye illuminates the tenderness and strength of LGBTQ+ people of Caribbean descent in her ongoing series, Out of Many, One People (2018–).
Together, these works assert the queer realities of the artists’ lives, capturing their longings and contradictions, while raising critical concerns. They make legible a queer politic that embraces both ease and discomfort, without yet conceding the desire to be seen.
–Michèle Pearson Clarke
Exhibition Website Launch
Friday, May 7
In lieu of an in-gallery launch curtailed by the current COVID-19 restrictions, we are excited to launch www.webuygold.art. The website includes short essays on each of the contributing artists’ work by nine writers: Jon Davies, Roya DelSol, Geoffrey Farmer, Connor Garel, Dunja Kovačević, Allyson Mitchell, Jas M. Morgan, Justin Ramsey, and Ricky Varghese.
Art in the Spotlight: Talking Queer Photography
Tuesday, May 25, 4 pm
Online Zoom Webinar
In partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario, join guest curator Michèle Pearson Clarke for a conversation with the AGO’s Sophie Hackett, artists Jess T. Dugan (St. Louis) and Paul Mpagi Sepuya (Los Angeles), and artist and curator Ka-Man Tse (New York) about queer photographic practices. They’ll consider the themes taken up by the artists in the exhibition, while also contextualizing their work within a broader discussion on current strategies and directions in queer photography. For more information, please visit the event page, here.
More programming to be announced.
Michèle Pearson Clarke is a Trinidad-born artist, writer and educator whose work situates grief as a site of possibility for social engagement and political connection. Clarke has exhibited both nationally and internationally, including in Chicago, Lagos, Los Angeles and Montréal, and she has forthcoming solo exhibitions at Mercer Union, Toronto and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Based in Toronto, Clarke holds an MSW from the University of Toronto, and in 2015 she received her MFA in Documentary Media Studies from Ryerson University. She is currently the inaugural 2020-2021 artist-in-residence at the University of Toronto’s Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, and the Photo Laureate for the City of Toronto (2019-2022).
Dutifully using photographic grandeur, Nicholas Aiden conjures the faceless romance of sensuality to entangle the visual modeling of persona with tender queer intimacy. Originally from St. John’s NL, they hold a BFA in Photography from OCAD University. Their work has been exhibited across Canada in galleries such as The Rooms Provinci170 St Helens Ave, Toronto, ON M6H 4A1al Art Gallery, the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Their work has graced publications produced by the San Francisco MOMA, the Madeleine Co., and Mireille Eagan. In 2019, they were longlisted for the Scotiabank New Generation Photography Award. In aid of their practice, they have graciously received support from ArtsNL.
Lacie Burning is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Onöñda'gega (Mohawk & Onondaga) multidisciplinary artist and curator from the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, who is currently working out of Vancouver, British Columbia which is situated on Unceded Coast Salish territory. Their work focuses on politics of Indigeneity and identity from a Haudenosaunee perspective through photography, performance and sculpture. They hold a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design with a focus on photography and Indigenous art. In 2019, they won the Renee Van Halm + Pietro Widmer Graduation Award for Visual Arts, and most recently, they were first runner-up for the 2020 Philip B. Lind Prize and longlisted for the 2020 New Generation Photography Award.
Séamus Gallagher is a non-binary photo and virtual reality artist currently based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax, Nova Scotia). They recently graduated from NSCAD University with a double major in Photography and Expanded Media (BFA 2019). Their work has shown in festivals/exhibitions across Canada, as well as in Germany, England, Switzerland and Los Angeles. They are the recipient of the 2017 AGO | AIMIA Photography Scholarship, the 2018 NSCAD Student Award, and the 2019 BMO 1st Art! Award. They were also recently longlisted for the 2019 and 2021 Scotiabank New Generation Photography Awards.
Tom Hsu is a visual artist whose work seeks to investigate the curious condition of spaces, and their correlation to the bodies that attend them. He comes from a base in analog photography, and this stability allows him to extend into made, found, and choreographic sculpture, all of which deal with the everyday mundane. He currently lives and works in Vancouver and holds a BFA in Photography from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. He undertook a residency at Burrard Arts Foundation Spring 2018 and has exhibited at Macaulay & Co. Fine Art, Centre A, Yactac Gallery, Unit/Pitt, and Index Gallery.
Christopher Lacroix (b. 1986, Edmonton) is an artist of Scottish, French, and Irish settler ancestry. His ancestors participated in the colonial project as farmers, arriving to this stolen land between the early 1700s and early 1800s. In the hundreds of years since their arrival, Lacroix has lost all emotional connection to his ancestral homelands in Europe, leading to the false naturalization that he “belongs” in the land occupied by Canada. He lives and works in Vancouver which is located on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations.
Kyle Lasky (b. 1989, California) is a visual artist living in the woods of Upstate New York. Their photographic work centers around trans* and lesbian/post-lesbian identities in a mission to contribute to a living archive of the queer experience. Kyle’s work has been exhibited across the United States and Canada, including at the Annenburg Center for Photography (Los Angeles, CA), Art Gallery of Burlington (Burlington, ON), and Gallery 44 (Toronto, ON). In addition to their artistic practice, Kyle serves on the board of Allies in Arts, a non-profit supporting artists who are women, BIPOC, and LGBTQQIA2S+. In 2020, Kyle cofounded @transanta, a viral social media campaign that facilitated over $500,000 in holiday gifts for trans youth in need. Kyle has three cats.
Wynne Neilly is a Canadian, queer and trans identified, visual artist and award-winning photographer who is currently working out of Hamilton, ON. His artistic practice, most often, is an investigation into engaging with the queer and trans identity, both on an individual level and relationally within the community. Since completing a BFA in 2012, Wynne has continued to focus his practice on investigating and observing the vastness that lies within the individual identity and the outdated ideals of intimacy through portraiture and self-portraiture. Over the years, several of his works have been included in exhibitions at The Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives; Gallery TPW; Joseph Gross Gallery (Tucson); The Art Gallery of Burlington; International Center of Photography (New York); Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles); The Annenberg Space for Photography (Los Angeles); and Sørlandet Art Museum (Norway).
Isabel Okoro (b. 2001, Lagos NG) is a photographer and budding director currently living, working and schooling in Toronto ON. Isabel developed an interest in photography at the age of 12 while attending a boarding school in Lagos, but it wasn’t until she moved to Toronto in 2016 and received her first camera that she began to develop her artistic practice. Isabel is currently in her senior year at the University of Toronto completing a double major in Neuroscience and Psychology. Isabel’s work largely focuses on the Black youth experience and exploring the interactions between the motherland and the diaspora. She is interested in how photography and film can be pushed to tell stories that we need to see but haven’t been awarded the opportunity to create. A self-proclaimed dreamer, Isabel’s work is a combination of thoughts that acknowledge the past, confront the present and imagine a future.
Michelle Panting (b.1987) is a lens-based artist living in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Treaty 1 Lands. Rooted in photography, Michelle’s practice extends the medium to material explorations of installation and sculpture, and troubles themes of memory, identity, and perception. Michelle graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a Bachelor of Arts and Education in 2010, and while working as a teacher, she ran the culture blog FULL from 2013–2018. She left public education after seven years to explore her identity as a queer artist. Michelle’s arts practice is tethered to her queerness, pursuing the question, “How might queerness aid in developing a politic for a more just society and healthier planet?” A 2018 graduate of the Cartae Open School program at aceartinc., Michelle has exhibited in Canadian galleries and businesses.
Brianna Roye is a film photographer specializing in portraiture. A graduate of Humber’s photography program, she has accumulated six years of experience where she has extended her lens to Adidas, had her work featured in publications like MacLeans and FLARE and shot festivals inclusive of ManifesTO and Afropunk. Inspired by her Jamaican roots, she uses her ongoing project, Out of Many, One People to chronicle portraits of queer, Afro-Caribbean people. Using intention as a guiding principle, she strives towards a level of organicness in her imagery. “I try to take photos of people as they are. I like to capture people's beauty and essence in as much as an honest way as I can,” she says. Hailing from Toronto’s west end, Roye is passionate about using her talent to tell stories and document underrepresented communities.
About the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies artist-in-residence: Michèle Pearson Clarke is the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at University of Toronto and We Buy Gold was developed through this collaborative residency. As part of her process of conceptualizing the exhibition, Pearson Clarke has collected and shared a series of documents, articles, notes, questions and reflections, which can be accessed here.
We Buy Gold is presented in partnership with:
Thank you to our production sponsors: