Participants in the roving exhibition trans.ient, which displayed the work of transgender artists in a U-Haul truck on four street locations throughout Los Angeles, were at the West Hollywood Public Library last night to discuss their practices and the impact of their collaboration.
trans.ient was organized and curated by Kean O’Brien, an multidisciplinary artist whose work primarily concerns community engagement and collaboration. The show featured works in various media–sculpture, photography, installation, sound, and video–by Heather Cassils, Zackary Drucker, Pilar Gallego, Nicki Green, Jules Gimbrone, and Oli Rodriguez. Artists Niv Acosta, Yishay Garbasz, Laub, Madsen Minax, and Finn Paul were not present on the panel.
A number of the artists addressed the importance of creating a space for transgender people to represent themselves, particularly when major institutions aren’t receptive towards their work, and their identity is highly politicized in popular media. This raised an additional question: when is it important to produce self-consciously political work, and when is it important to be personal? In partial answer, Zackary Drucker–who has shown her fantastical films around the world, including the most recent Whitney Biennial–summoned the feminist mantra: “the personal is political.”
Throughout the talk, the queer whimsy of the U-Haul as a site of self-representation and reclamation returned to the fore. O’Brien admired the truck’s ability to squeeze unlikely viewers uncomfortably close together, to address work which unabashedly addressed serious and sensitive topics like violence, sex, sexuality, gender, and familial trauma. He lamented that major art institutions seem interested in transgender artists only when their work focuses on their bodies, and saw trans.ient as a way to combat that tendency.
“The question we pose to hetero, cis culture is, ‘What does it mean to be in a body?'” Drucker said. “There isn’t a space for the body in an object-based art market. There isn’t a space for the body in digital culture.” Prolific and powerful performance artist Cassils noted that early pieces involved melting blocks of ice with their body, as a way to incorporate the body while resisting commodification. But, Cassils added, it’s a complex issue, and each artist has to decide for themselves how to deal with multiple audiences without sacrificing their integrity.
As the panel closed the tour of trans.ient, they made one thing clear: identity is even less stable than a U-Haul truck, privy to the swells of traffic, the potholes in the road, and the slope of parking spots. Confronting this instability is not just a creative concern but a political priority.