Queer Resistance, Queer Resilience: The ‘Mo-Wave Art Exhibition

 Naomi’s Birthday Song | Leigh Riibe & Lynda Sherman
4 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ | Movable type on doilie,text by Rosie “Awesome Witch of Rad” Melero | 2014

Written by Steven Dolan

The urgency of the current moment pervades seemingly every facet of modern life.

Davora Lindner and Steven Miller aimed to capture this energy in their curation of the forthcoming ‘Mo-Wave Artist Exhibition, now in its third year. The curators cite Okwui Enzewor’s introductory essay for the 56th la Biennale di Venezia as a starting point. In the essay, titled “The State of Things,” Enzewor details the Biennale’s proximity to massive and transformative global events and social movements, acknowledging the necessary presence of art alongside tumult. Lindner and Miller envision their curation as a “graphic and sensual call to action inspired by the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter, Transgender Activism and the use of social media in the pursuit of social justice.”

Since its inception in 2013, ‘Mo-Wave, a queer arts and music festival in Seattle, has been about disruption and resisting assimilation. By exhibiting artists that challenge and transcend normative ways of being, the festival has cultivated community that honors a queer heritage and imagines a compassionate, vital queer future.

The exhibition at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, will play close attention to text pieces, as well as “the most constructive forms of human bedrock”: nude bodies, painting, and encampments. The space they will create is inspired in part by another imagined by Benjamin Gazy and Anouk Rawkson, artists and bartenders at the local queer bar Pony, one of few holdouts of what some see as Capitol Hill’s storied past. Reimagining Mortville, the derelict, dystopian fantasy of John Waters’s Desperate Living, Gazy and Rawkson transformed Pony into part gallery, part artist flea market. A banner quoting Waters hung at the bar’s entrance by Grant Rehnberg expressed the unrest felt by many: “ONLY THE RICH SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO LIVE.” In conversation with the changing landscape of the Hill, the neighborhood that Pony occupies, the spirit of Mortville offered a biting critique.


The lineup of artists showing at Vermillion represent a diverse scope of identity and aesthetic sensibilities, connected by their capacities to actively engage in a discourse surrounding queer living in a state of emergency.  The following highlights four distinctive voices the exhibition will showcase.

Medusa Head | Andrew Lamb Schultz | Walnut ink on paper | 11 x 14 inches | 2015

Andrew Lamb Schultz’s illustration merges the saccharine with the deadly serious. With an often simple, linear style that reveres the naive and the cute, Lamb engages ideas ranging from the existential to the political. Some of Lamb’s subjects are aesthetic objects, like potted plants, swimming pools, and pink flamingos. These are in fact, not simply objects, but symbols of aesthetic legacies, passages into alternate, created worlds. Other subjects are historical figures that Lamb interrogates and subverts with their playful hand. In classical mythology, Medusa’s hideousness is meant to incite terror. As Lamb renders her, with circles signifying cheeks and a gentle visage, her misogynistic smiting by history melts away. It’s not that she has been drained of her power. She has just been recognized as part of the depraved family.  With whimsical irreverence, Lamb rebukes the canonical understanding of “serious work.” It is through this critical tenderness that Lamb liberates.

Live Through This Limited Edition Mix Tape | Leigh Riibe
screen printed cassette shell, hand made cotton sleeve, ink, moveable type, 32 minutes | Sleeve Printed at Bremelo Press | 2012

Another acolyte of tenderness exists in artist Leigh Riibe, who will be showing photography, as well as a text piece. Leigh’s work, which has had incarnations ranging from photography, illustration, and art objects speaks to a certain tangibility and physical relationality. Printed matter and the written word are among the most essential facets of her work. This sensibility has been instilled in mixed media sculpture and art objects, lending a poetic quality to these works. “Resurrection,” a piece composed of an alarm clock with a face that reads “Stop Waiting” in script, speaks to the urgency of living and creation. Riibe often makes grand gestures with text, enacting what some might construe as melodrama. An illustration featuring a nude and the text “Sometimes I Dream You Came Back from the Dead Just to Hang Out With Me” comes to mind. With Riibe’s work, however what may read as hyperbole is exacting expression that shows a vulnerability that people are often too afraid to allow themselves. 

The 2012 retrospective exhibition, “Live Through This,” featured photography, handwritten memories mimicking diary entries, mixtapes, and other such personal artifacts. Recalling formative moments of the artist’s past, the exhibition recounted discovery and rebellion against imposing Catholic tradition and patriarchy at large. Tracing a feminist awakening through the music of riot grrrl and shared sisterhood, Riibe does not simply document. Portraits of the artist and those close to her capture the revolutionary act of girl love and the creation of space in time. In the spirit of sharing and information dissemination, much of the work was compiled in a zine by the same name.

Avatar: Fannon & Decca | C. Davida Ingram
single channel video installation | 2015 | currently on view at The Frye Art Museum | Genius 21st Century

Visibility also arises in the work of C. Davida Ingram, an artist whose work spans mediums, but is specific in its attention to the experience of being black in America. A recent photographic work, featured at Out of Sight this summer, placed multiple images of (presumably) the artist’s rear in fluorescent bottoms, accompanied by the title, “WHERE CAN MY BLACK ASS GO TO BE SAFE?”  The mind reels, as harrowing news stories abound, detailing police brutality against black women, like Sandra Bland and the student at Spring Valley High School.  It is this kind of confrontation, an upending of the gaze traditionally imposed on feminine black bodies, that makes Ingram’s work so vital. Elaborating on the vast reach, even absurdity, of misogynoir, additional text included, “Define: safe. Is this location actual? In this country? In this world? In this universe? This dimension? In my house? Maybe in her autobiography? Or epitaph?” In an interview coinciding with her exhibition “Eyes to Dream: A Project Room,” at the Northwest African American Museum, Ingram discussed marginalized people “being unimaginable to people in power.” With a social practice and love ethic, Ingram asserts her existence and breaks down the walls that make some invisible.

 Excerpt from ‘bust. a meditation on freedom‘ | Rafa Esparza | Performance

Further calling attention to communities on the margins, Los Angeles-based Rafa Esparza will be elaborating on a past performance, titled “bust. a meditation on freedom.” For the performance, which he enacted facing The Twin Towers Correctional Facility, reportedly “the world’s largest jail,” Esparza encased himself in a pillar of concrete and other materials, using the duration of the 2 hour performance to break himself out with a hammer and chisel. Having surrendered his shoes in panic to the hardening concrete, Esparza plans to salvage them and create a sculpture for the exhibition. The shoes, Nike Cortez, are historically popular among Latino gangs in L.A. Esparza uses them to create “Love Birds” sculptures that serve as an ode to 1990s era Echo Park.  With these sculptures, Esparza nods to the gangs and growing gay community that populated the neighborhood. Photographed in open air, perched above eye level, they act as aesthetic guardians and markers of a fading history, as Echo Park becomes increasingly gentrified.


Answering the call to disrupt the violence of erasure, the artists exhibiting at the ‘Mo-Wave Artist Exhibition incite action and demonstrate the values of communities that an increasingly normative society infringes upon. In the spirit of action and expression, the show runs through December 5th, 2015.


Thursday, November 12th Opening Reception | 6pm to 10pm

Exhibiting Artists :
Andrew Lamb Schultz | C. Davida Ingram |
 Free Witch Quarterly | Grant Rehnberg | Joey Veltkamp | Leigh Riibe | Liana Kegley | Lynda Sherman | Mario Lemafa | Rafa Esparza | Rio Abundez | Tara Thomas | Topher McCulloch | Storme Webber

Live performances by Mal DeFleur and Storme Webber
DJ Ozma Otacava



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