aza’s chemtrails is a striking art film through which we venture into intimate snapshots of the artist’s life. Using the screen recording feature on their iPad, aza allows us to look through their own eyes as we listen to music, scroll through photos, and read old notes with them. In chemtrails, aza layers vignettes from their life to paint a broader portrait of themself on film. Yet, when pieced together these individual narratives don’t necessarily make up a larger story. Instead, chemtrails juxtaposes sensual moments with more everyday experiences–like taking out one’s contacts at the end of the night–conflating the two in order to explore how memories and past lessons inform their body, the way they inhabit space, and how they root themself in the present. This convergence also begs another critical question: In what ways are these ordinary, instantaneous moments just as (if not more) illicit and private than more suggestive images?
Sure enough, chemtrails feels so severely personal not because it displays something provocative or taboo, but rather because it turns audiences into voyeurs of the most ordinary moments of the artist’s life–moments that so often go unrecorded and unremarked upon. In a way, aza makes us feel like intruders as we read their dream journal, listen to their music, or watch them eat in the bath. One particularly jarring instance of this occurs when the music, playing from SoundCloud on the artist’s iPad, is abruptly interrupted by an advertisement, bringing our attention to the liveness of the piece. On one hand, the interruption almost feels like a mistake to which we should not be privy, a very raw and unedited moment; on the other, it feels incredibly intentional, blurring the distinction between authentic and performed life.
This liveness is also emphasized through the form of the piece. aza’s use of screen recording allows us to sit directly in the moment with the artist while the film is being created. Similarly, in many instances throughout the film, aza uses the burst feature on their camera to create videos stitched together from a series of still photographs. Here, aza fundamentally interrogates the performance involved in trying to record the passage of time. We also face these themes through the scenes spent scrolling rapidly past thousands of photos on aza’s camera roll. Even though we actively stop time to take these photos, they become almost ephemeral when we gather so many that we can no longer even stop to look at them. Through chemtrails, the artist prods at the illicit, guilty feeling associated with stopping to assess and capture a given moment. In what ways is taking a selfie like breaking the flow of time? How do we reconcile the spontaneity of these private moments with the consciousness of pausing to take a photo?
–Afriti Bankwalla, curator
aza is a performance and visual artist and co-conspirator at No Nation Tangential Unspace Lab. This coalescence is one to galavant in dreamscapes, ancestral juke joints, chaturbate masturbation web temples, fish tanks, and the Heartspace. They organize Smudge Cinema Project, a now-and-then screening series that takes a look at what happens when a film is projected on a wall for people to watch.
Jackson Margolis’s Scratching the Surface Membrane is a two-volume zine series that covers the life of the artist dealing with chronic pain and isolation over the course of 2019 and 2020. Volume 2 will go up on Thursday, July 7th, so please return to this page to view the complete collection. In these works, Margolis, who has a history with the furry community, speaks to identity politics through fetishism. Scratching underscores a tension between fantasy and the self: each zine is a year-long anthology of honest projections of the artist reimagined as anthropomorphized dragons. By juxtaposing truth and fantasy in this way, Margolis seems to question the very core of how we understand identity and realness. What is more real: how we see ourselves or how others see us?
Many of the images in Scratching are sketches upcycled from the margins of readings and notebooks, simultaneously capturing Margolis’s artistic process and representing intimate and candid moments of self-expression. Even the title, Scratching the Surface Membrane, touches on the sheer spontaneity of this piece, which can be best described as a non-literal, superficial exploration of thoughts and ideas surrounding identity without an outside perspective. As such, the zines are fundamentally diaristic, chronicling the artist’s evolving sense of self over time. This change, for example, can be traced through the difference in style of the dragons depicted in the two volumes. In Volume 1, the dragons grab at their marshmallowy bodies, emphasizing their plushness and roundness. Although the softness of the dragons remains an important hallmark of Margolis’s style, in Volume 2, one can observe a far greater presence of angular snouts and muscular bodies as well as less pronounced breasts. This transformation in the dragons’ forms serves as a thought record narrating the artist’s own journey starting Hormone Replacement Therapy in 2020.
However, Scratching is just as much a regression as it is a progression. Driven by nostalgia, sentimentality and comfort, Margolis’s work encourages us to connect with our primal child and hug our inner monsters. In fact, this motif is seen literally through the zines where dragons are often portrayed hugging what can be interpreted as their partners, spirits, or twins. At the same time, while Margolis clearly draws influence from contemporary subcultures and the digital age, the artist’s inspirations can also be traced back to antiquity. In particular, Margolis cites the Paleolitihic Lion Man as one of the earliest instances of people showing that they are capable of imagination. So, anthropomorphism becomes a pure form of fantasy that can be traced throughout human culture and time. For Margolis, though, anthropomorphism is not only a way to connect to broader human history but also to the artist’s own past. Margolis recalls being a hyper-imaginative child, obsessed with drawing fantasy creatures, especially dragons, over and over. Thus, the work of Scratching is at once a moving forward and a revisiting. The temporality of the piece becomes jumbled, asking us to consider how memories and histories shape our presents and futures. Similarly, how does drawing the same image over and over for a year represent both the passing and stopping of time?
–Afriti Bankwalla, curator
Pay attention to this space. What do you notice? What assumptions do you make about the person who lives here? Bedrooms are complicated, intimate spaces that mirror ourselves back to us and anyone who sees them. They are where we feel ourselves (and others) the most, where we smell ourselves the most, and where we see ourselves the most. Literally, we see ourselves in our mirrors when getting ready; more abstractly, we do so in the scattered objects that reveal our styles, hobbies, and pasts. How do we root ourselves in our bedrooms and the objects that fill them? More specifically, how do such objects and spaces evoke performances through which our ever-evolving identity is constructed? What are the performances we play out every day, whether there is an audience present or not? In what way is our identity an extension of these performances?
The artists featured in In My Room approach these questions with works that attempt to track personal growth and changing identities over time. Scratching the Surface Membrane by Jackson Margolis is the artist’s exploration of the self through anthropomorphic dragons; it features two year’s worth of sketches that juxtapose themes of nostalgia and evolution. In ted bourget’s virtual world, Some Sludge, the audience can roam freely through bourget’s life in Chicago over the course of four seasons. Time flows abstractly in this world, as players swim in Lake Michigan, wait for the bus, and walk through UChicago’s quad with bourget. aza’s art film, Chemtrails, presents a collage of photographic bursts from the artist’s private life as a way of playing with the strange and illicit disruption of time that occurs when one stops to look, assess, and take a selfie. Through their own whimsical variations on self-portraiture, bourget, aza, and Margolis address the difficulty of capturing something as in-flux as our perceptions of ourselves. They surrender linearity and narrativity in favor of an understanding of the past, present, and future as something more circular and connected.
Each art object in this exhibit also represents a unique understanding of performance and liveness, and by placing them together, In My Room hopes to underscore and bring light to the performances we encounter every day that shape our lives and selves. In her theoretical text Queer Phenomenology, scholar Sara Ahmed posits the social as an arrangement of space. She explains that, even in a dark, hitherto-unexplored room, we find our way due to a basic familiarity with how the social is arranged. We know a room must have walls and a door, so we reach our hand out and feel along the door until we find what feels familiar to us as a doorknob. Ahmed uses this understanding of the social as spatial to riff on the idea of queer identity as an orientation. In what way is our identity a result of the way we are oriented in space and the objects and people towards which we are oriented?
As you proceed through the exhibit, consider the way you move, consider your activity and engagement with each room. As you click through the pages of Scratching the Surface Membrane, allow yourself to think about the interactivity of flipping through a book. As you explore Some Sludge, think about the ephemerality of playing a video game. Can you ever exactly recreate that experience? As you watch Chemtrails, think about the small spectacle of the film format and of taking a selfie or going out to a club.
Please stay tuned throughout the week, as new content will be added regularly.
Enormous thank you to Hot Wheelz Festival as well as Jill, Lauren, Jackie, ted, and aza.
–Afriti Bankwalla, curator
Jackson Margolis is an interdisciplinary artist who holds a BFA in Drawing from the Pratt Institute and is currently an artist in residence in “parents’ basement”. Jackson’s art is Identity-based work, concerned with themes of tenderness, comfort, regression, fantasy and the apocalypse. Particularly fascinated with American subcultures, Jackson makes use of fetish aesthetics to call attention to online spaces. Depicting what are most easily described as dragons, Jackson’s art asks audiences to connect with their primal child self and hug their inner monsters. Underscored in all of Jackson’s art is a desperate search for energy through color and material. Jackson is currently working on a new project that will deal directly with new-age world hurt, regression during the internet age, and the rabbit hole of the psyche.