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Bruce Eves
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6. TH: Do you consider yourself as a sexual revolutionary or a politician? Art about politics often depicts conflict. Your art like Bayonets illustrate works in this tangent, showing an on going war between those who support and those who opposed to homosexuality is still present. Do you think such conflicts will ever be resolved and that art will be the path to end this? How do you hope your artwork will function in the public realm?

BE: Hope springs eternal that with growing tolerance, gay people will become integrated into the mainstream. Because we have no history in the traditional sense - neither genealogical links through generations nor the instant imprimatur conveyed by nation-building conquests -- we are simultaneously thought of as banal and bizarre; conservative and contentious; domesticated and dangerous. Judging from the reactions to my work, the feelings of discomfort it elicits obscure my motivation as an artist. While I freely welcome subject matter normally reserved for one hand in the dark, my intent is to trash accepted truths. While some may find the work aggressive and pornographic, the motivation is never to shock. That would be too easy. Given the generally banal nature of the work (by myself and others) that provoke firestorms of protest with seemingly increasing frequency, one cannot assume that any artist has a firm grip on the nature of shock value nor can we accurately predict a response. Given enough lag time, the cultural mainstream has the capacity to assimilate and tame the transgressive, as is easily illustrated by the enduring popularity of work that once caused so much torment. Even when horrified by images that possess only the most superficial aesthetic value, art is not an ethereal calling, nor should it be experienced passively. If this work is an assault on any of your core beliefs about privacy, or propriety, or politics, or sex - then it's for you to deal with. I'm not a social worker.

Knee-jerk reactions to the pornographic nature of much of this work - aside from the obvious homophobia - overlook the fact that at their core many of these projects attempt to counter both authoritarian impulses emanating from the right and forced conformity and dourly pious free-speech posturing from the left. The less said about the right the better: they are simply hopeless. But it is the left that has allowed itself to drift aimlessly in a swamp of identity politics, content to refine its own worst impulses. At once self-righteously smug and myopically self-satisfied with perennial self-victimization, the various anti-isms lead nowhere but into the arms of willing corporations eager to fabricate our subcultures and police their arbitrary boundaries. Our cultures have been pre-packaged as bland, transnational, all-encompassing, easily marketable models of behavior that allow self-criticism and natural cultural evolution to stagnate under the weight of the bottom line.

Setting aside for a moment the obvious self-denigrating persecution complex on display in Self-Portrait with Bayonets, the question arises: is this sexual revolution or mere politics? Is the guy asserting control, preading his cheeks and fingering his asshole, taunting some unseen authoritarian force (and by implication, is he telling you - the art-loving public - where you can kiss it)? While the piece is blunt and mockingly aggressive it remains, as always, open-ended and ambiguous. Recognizing that all relationships are interdependent political ones, I have adopted it as a strategy for the conceptual basis of my work: the ying of comedy is shallow and infantile without the yang of tragedy. That this work is designed to provoke is something I freely acknowledge, but dismiss charges that too easily sideline my concerns as being merely 'political'. Art does not exist in a vacuum. In the current easy-listening world - regardless of what is currently dominating the air-waves -- to think about and question cultural assumptions is in and of itself a radical act. That even the most mundane abstractionist has adopted a conservative political position in relationship to the critic/curator/collector triumvirate only underscores the absurdity of the charges and offers a simplistic reading of the work itself. By avoiding much of the obscurantism employed by much conceptual art practice, the work is designed to be superficially direct and accessible. But the juxtaposition of ideas from mutually exclusive sources renders it layered enough to allow for a multiplicity of meanings. Whether it is through the simple butting together of opposing elements or by willfully leaving the point of view deliberately vague, it is a confrontational challenge for the audience to become more intellectually engaged.

While it is virtually indefinable, this much I know for certain: art is not "suitable for family viewing", nor should it be psychiatrically uplifting. Nothing should be considered untouchable. Art must refuse to kowtow to the limitless demands for the familiar and the safe and the conventional. If offense is taken with the viewpoints expressed, it is a problem for the literal-minded viewer. Art has nothing to do with social work or political stability or with ending negative stereotypes: these are the jobs for propagandists.

Bruce Eves -- March 25, 2003

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