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Digital Visions
Bruce Eves
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2. TH: In your work, Geschlechtsergge, you have cleverly used the photography of Magnus Hirshfeld to emphasis the history of homosexuality, the biased psychological experimentation of the third sex, and the awareness of social discrimination against the status of gay men. What is intriguing about this work is that you have compared two images shot in different time periods to illustrate the developments of social perceptions on homosexuality from the past to the present. However, my question is -- do you think the message that your portraying will sustain itself - will people have the vocabulary to comprehend these montages and will this vocabulary carry forward in time as technologies and ideologies change. Any comment or thoughts about this would be most welcome.

BE: A self-contradicting doubling is explored in Geschlechtsergge where two images from opposite ends of the twentieth century are brought together. This piece juxtaposes a 1906 photograph by the pioneering German sexologist Magnus Hirshfeld of an effeminate she-man and one of a hulking, naked modern-day he-man lifted from the Internet. As a living specimen, the invert is neither wholly man nor woman and bolsters the doctor's theory of the third sex as an early rationale for the sympathetic treatment of homosexuals. He stands in profile, held motionless by a steel brace up his spine. The stud confronts the viewer head-on but is equally trapped inside the sprocketed framework of a filmstrip. Paradoxically, while the piece is almost pretty in appearance, its inherent voyeuristic and objectified approach is the hallmark of clinical medical and psycho/sociological research that continues to shadow gay men. Comforting as it is to think of gay history as a series of ever expanding victories away from a culture that was once unforgiving and intolerant, we confuse tolerance with equality and are in danger of falling into the smug delusion that every advance is a permanent one. Our history is something more fluid. Drawn largely from my gay archive collection, the 1994 "Becoming Visible" exhibition at the New York Public Library documented how our present relative safety and well-being has been matched or exceeded in other places and at other times. The sophistication of Poitiers in the 1150s, London in the 1890s, or Berlin, Paris, and Harlem in the 1920s seemed permanent, only to be destroyed by events beyond our control. The distancing of time and geography have made it easy to overlook that current political discourse often echoes a chilling past. While the rise of neo-Nazi hoodlums and organized militia groups and various flavors of religious fundamentalism are alarming, such grotesqueries of the hard right parody maleness while serving as handmaidens for more socially acceptably banal, groomed, and media-savvy elected officials with popular, bureaucratically inflexible programs. Even with its incomprehensible title (drawn from one of Hirshfeld's published works, and roughly translating as "Transformation"), it suggests the heavy baggage of 20th century history and plays into the subverbal shock of recognition for every gay man. Regardless of our general lack of historical literacy, every gay man is aware of his perpetual outsider status.

3. TH: The medium of photography is associated with the archive - with typologies and other documentation processes. Why have you selected to use photography for this current body - do you see the index being a key motif in your visual classification of your subject?

BE: The evolution of my own work, I can see now in retrospect, has been in line with the evolution of contemporary Canadian art over the last thirty years. While the history of photography is a parallel history, my involvement has been to move from the dematerialization of conceptual art through performance art toward using photo-based work as a conceptual tool to investigate and critique the charged relationships between voyeurism, public display, male vanity, sexuality, and doctrinaire political extremism. While I now work exclusively with digital tools, both ink jet outputs and CD-ROM projections, the vast majority of digital work out there is beneath contempt. There is a faux-trendiness to the use of new media, and I suspect that the accompanying techno-dazzle is a convenient disguise for conceptual bankruptcy. As simulators of painting, most new media artists defensively side-step the interestingly political and conceptual question of visual reliability. Much of the relevant photo-based work in Canada has followed the same time-line, and while it is seldom as butch and antagonistic as some of my investigations, there is a clear tendency to follow the influences of contemporary art rather than the influences of the history of photography. Thus there is less of a problem for artists using photo-based means being viewed on equal footing with painters, which happens so often in other places.

4. TH: Are there any artists and/or movements that have influenced your working strategies to date. I was wondering if you have ever thought of yourself in relation to artists like Evergon and Robert Mapplethorpe?

BE: While my "tastes" tend to be wildly schizophrenic and almost self-negating, there are three whom I find inspiring. Gilbert and George from the UK, and George Platt Lynes (who worked in the US from the 1930s-50s) interest me very much both for the collaborative nature of the former and the bravery of the second who was clearly a role model for the more sexually charged movement of physique photographers in the 40s and 50s. While the political environments they operated in are very different, all were able to make unabashedly homoerotic work. Lynes (and his followers) faced serious legal censure from the intolerance of the time and the G and G duo have been able to forge a very successful career in an artworld that is still shamefully and hypocritically homophobic. I had met Robert Maplethorpe just prior to his death, and as an art director tethorpe just prior to his death, and as an art director throughout the 1980s was very aware of his presence and influence. It's interesting to note that, while his reputation has taken somewhat of a beating in the subsequent years, he looked to the men working in the physique tradition for inspiration. My favourite body of Mapplethorpe's work was the "X Portfolio" which detailed the often baroque sexual practices of backroom New York and were so controversial at the time that they were withdrawn from public view for years. A third favorite is the use of web design by artists entering into the democratic free-for-all of the Internet. The form offers the potential to increase the viewership of contemporary art practice exponentially while at the same time the form subverts the sell or die ethos of the commercial marketplace. The conceptualists from the 60s and 70s attempted this through other means, but the market quickly subsumed their efforts. It is rather amusing to watch museums scrambling to accommodate web-based work in a fruitless attempt to place parameters around something that is by its very nature open-ended (during the same period that the commercial potential for the Internet crashed in flames). The more recent work that I'm particularly attracted to are by the so-called "YBAs", that group of sarcastic provocateurs from London who seem to follow the maxim by Theodor Adorno that the Holocaust made poetry impossible. Poetry is still possible, its just not reassuring anymore.

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