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Queer Rad­i­cal Aes­thet­ic

Del LaGrace Volcano’s Bodies of Resistance Exhibition

by: Wibke Straube and Lotta Kähkönen

Looking at the exhibition at the Tampere Art Museum, the photographic art by Del LaGrace Volcano is striking. Volcano’s work is both aesthetically sophisticated and political. The photos bristle with love, desire and intimacy, offering an affectionate gaze to trans, queer and non-binary bodies. They portray the queer and trans community in bars, clubs, fashion shows, dressing rooms or in the studio to optimize the portrait and lighting settings. The images capture both individual people and groups. The photographs mediate a caring relationship with their subjects and make the community visible to us, to trans, non-binary and queer visitors of the exhibition.

As Volcano explained in the discussion on the opening day, they care deeply about the people they work with. Their work is a political and ethical project that entails a pattern of care arising from histories of oppression and discrimination of queer and trans people. For Volcano, taking photos is a process that involves reciprocity and getting to know the people they photograph by listening carefully to their stories and spending time with them. Understanding people’s stories and their lived experiences takes time and emotional capacity. It also requires attentiveness to privileges and differences (such as race and class) within queer community. Thus, creating portraits involves always more than a photo shooting. In fact, it has more to do with care and connectedness. It is a beginning of a longstanding personal relationship that stays with Volcano after creating the photos.

Beginning in the 1980s, and especially in the 1990s, Volcano’s visual aesthetic was essential in providing a sense of self and community to the nascent queer movement. In retrospect, this was a time that has been a turning point in the understanding of sex, gender and sexuality; a queer politics that challenged the control of the rigid gender binary. In Volcano’s photographic aesthetic, sex and gender became malleable in ways that had previously been unthinkable. At this point of time, philosopher Judith Butler developed their highly influential theory of gender performativity that rejects stable gender binary and facilitates our understanding of gender as flexible; that gender can be expressed in multiple ways, beyond binary notions of “man” and “woman”. This theory underpins our ability to experience our lives – that take place beyond strict gender norms – as liveable, to use Butler’s term referring to life that is more than bearable. Volcano has visually documented this turning point and enhanced a sense of belonging through their radical aesthetic. Their portraits highlight the beauty of bodies which the mainstream society has seen as monstrous and deviant. Volcano’s work has fostered a desire to reflect love and beauty back at us, while redressing the ways of ostracizing queer and trans people in society.

In a world in which gender is still grasped through rigid and binary frames, the images we see in the exhibition continue to provide a sense of belonging and beauty to us. And they will keep affecting us throughout time. Volcano’s radical aesthetic nurtures a deeper understanding of the value of queer and trans lives. The images will keep mattering to us, caring for us, and sustaining love and belonging that is not always easy to find in a hostile world. Volcano’s photography also reminds us of the importance of communal practices of care. We need to keep redistributing and extending care to others. And we need to recognize who needs care the most in different times and spaces.

The exhibition is open until the end of May. It has been carefully curated by Johanna Kangas and Luca Tainio and organized in cooperation with the Trans*Creative project and the Tampere Art Museum.

On February 25th, Del LaGrace Volcano will give a guided tour of the exhibition followed by an artist talk hosted by visual and material studies scholar Eliza Steinbock (Maastricht University, NL). The event is open to the public.

Del LaGrace Volcano: Intimate Inverts, (Zack & Lola Flash), London 1991

Email: tcreative.
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This project is funded by the Kone Foundation (2021-2024).

Web design and development by Xurxe Toivo García (2021-2022).

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