The first painting you see when you walk into "No Fate But What We Make," currently showing at Rhodes' Clough-Hanson Gallery, is not a painting. It is a spell. This is not a weirdly phrased compliment, as the work is not spellbinding. It is an actual spell, colorfully marked out on a large canvas, hung front-and-center in the gallery, and titled Untitled 4.
This spell — or this sigil (according to Wikipedia: a "symbolic representation of a magician's desired outcome") — is the viewer's first introduction to the many alters and auratic objects that make up "No Fate." The piece's thick, inwardly tending brushstrokes suggest a centrifugal spirituality, though for whom or what this spell is aimed is not explained. The artist, Elijah Burgher, may be the only active magician who will be included in this year's Whitney Biennial, but before he was a pagan art star making queer paintings in the ritualistic privacy of his studio, he was the online presence GHOSTVOMIT, and I followed him on tumblr. GHOSTVOMIT's tumblr is an inexplicable reel of video art, nude photos, and poetry.
"No Fate" is as much a collection of queer spiritual and pagan artworks as it is a nod to the spaces and communities where those artworks are created, the tumblrverse included. There are obsessive drawings by the inimitable Edie Fake, a Chicago-based tattoo artist and radical queer feminist; there is an alter of blessed oddments from back-to-the-lander and wayward gay nun Sister Soami DeLux. The exhibition, curated by Rhodes' gallerist Joel Parsons, is both library and makeshift chapel, white box and crying room. It invokes dirty first apartments and distant wooded hollers, stairways to heaven and substances divined from the ground. Parsons writes, "Spirits bless this sacred, vulgar space. Bless the cheap wine and bless the cheese and the cookies from Costco, the blood and the body."
Soo Shin's Battles of Possibility is an array of framed eclipses, black acrylic and pale rainbows arranged into sundial-shape at radial variance with each other. The piece serves as a celestial clock for the rest of the included work, some of which feels graduated from any particular time (Gordon Hall's Not One But Many Silences, a ritualistically folded canvas from a previous performance), and some of which take a scalpel to every single tiny physical minute (part of Ivan LOZANO's ERIK Rhodes Ex Voto reads "I'm losing the drive to put in the man-hours needed to fix this broken machine ... I wanna give up and not look back." Ex Voto, a collection of papers and clippings related to the death of gay porn star Erik Rhodes, is in critical gridlock with DeLux' shiny mystical alter, directly across from it.).
For an exhibition that liberally invokes crystal magic, this show should not be mistaken for what a friend of mine once referred to as "woo-woo sh**." Rather, it is a retrospective in the fullest sense: an attempt to place a queer artist community in time and relationship, be that cosmic or cardinal.
The retrospective mission is most evident in a small side gallery reading room, assembled by Corkey Sinks, where visitors can read RFD (Radical Faerie Digest, the print-circular for queer farmers), listen to audio recordings about the founding of gay spiritual sanctuaries in the 1970s and 1980s, and browse books such as Arthur Evans' Witchcraft and Gay Counterculture. Most of the included material hails from a time when the main discussion in the queer community was not marriage or legal exclusion, but HIV/AIDS and pervasive hate crime. Though "No Fate" is undoubtedly a new-agey show, its works take place in the context of dark and necessary politics. As a speaker on one of the audio transcriptions says, addressing his queer family: "We will find ways and means to survive ... we will not die ... we will invent. We always have, and we do it very well."
Through March 29th