In South San Francisco, Josh Faught’s studio is filled with multiple in-progress pieces: a diptych bound for 99 Cents or Less at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; additional works for a three-person show opening May 25 at San Francisco’s fused; and countless scraps of fabric and plans for future weavings.
“This is such a strange time in my studio,” he says, explaining how, until recently, the space was entirely consumed by one gigantic project -- Sanctuary, a 45-foot tall hand-woven work for Seattle’s Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral.
“It took up every piece of square footage I had,” Faught says. He spent a year and a half working on the piece (which is actually “50 feet with the fringe,” he clarifies) before it was installed at the end of January, 2017. Prior to Sanctuary, Faught’s largest textile work was the result of another commission -- as a 2012 SECA awardee during SFMOMA’s years of building expansion. But BE BOLD For What You Stand For, BE CAREFUL For What You Fall For, a site-specific piece installed in the atrium of San Francisco’s Neptune Society Columbarium, was only 20 feet tall.
Sanctuary, which will remain on view in the cathedral for 18 months, contains all the hallmarks of a Josh Faught textile work: hand-dyed cotton, gold lamé, pop culture references, pockets filled with loose objects and references to queer communities of the past.
Lyrics from Belinda Carlisle’s 1987 album Heaven on Earth run down the right side of the piece, which shifts from red hues to blue ones as the tracks flip from side A to side B. Along the left side, 36 DVDs peek out of woven pockets. “At the end of the day,” Faught says, “that piece is one big DVD cozie for a soap opera called Passions that I would skip school to watch.”
“I wanted to do this thing where every year I watch a season [of Passions] and make something to house the season,” he explains. Passions, a claustrophobic show known for its Christian undertones and extreme time dilation, played every weekday beginning in 1999; that’s 260 episodes in the first season alone.
Bridging Passions and Heaven on Earth is a matrix of ephemera from Seattle queer history, the nexus, in Faught’s mind, of those cultural touchstones. “I don’t think anybody would consider Passions to be a really politicized series,” he says, “but when it’s put adjacent to these archives of this gay club in Seattle that went out of business because the owner was basically running a drug and sex den, yet it was one of the few places that young queer people could come together and experience a sense of community, Passions automatically gets politicized.”
Sifting through the printed material left behind by queer communities of the past -- either in archives like San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society, or informal settings like the incredibly fruitful thrift stores of Palm Springs -- is an integral part of Faught’s practice. In the studio, he shows us a zine he recreated from an original issue of Hobby Directory, an international index of “who’s who in hobbies.” For subscribers of the 1940s and 50s, men seeking to connect with other men used hobbies as a coded language of personal ads.
“Interested in photography, color, of birds, travel and historical places. Also in health, diet and reading. Seeks several congenial correspondents, any age,” Faught reads. “It’s just these strange euphemisms: Hairdresser and artist. Interior decorating. Oil painting.”
He revels in the linguistic strangeness of these archival documents. For Between a Rock and a Hard Place, part of the fused show Curious and Curiouser, the left half of the diptych features words found in the top corners of a 1982 edition of Gay Areas, “the world’s first gay telephone directory.”
Some of the alphabetical pairings are absurd, others heartbreaking. “Alcohol Treatment Centers -- Bars” is followed by “Moms -- Renaissance.” Like the Hobby Directory, Gay Areas was a directory meant for a specific community -- a printed support network. A text banner draping from the top left corner of the piece spells out “CONCESSIONS” in a circus-y font.
It could be a sign for a hot dog stand, or a reference to the compromises certain members of society once made and continue to make when it comes to living openly versus living safely. As Faught says, “The construction of identity is full of holes. It’s full of a lot of inconsistencies. And it’s full of a lot of competing impulses.”
The right half of the diptych is a Jacquard-woven rendition of a red brick wall, balancing the hours of labor that went into hand-weaving and piecing together of the horizontal strips of text on the left.
This material mixture of high and low (Faught describes Jacquard weaving as “a really cheesy process”) appears again and again. He hand-dyes his yarns and usually keeps an indigo vat going in the studio, but he also revels in found, extremely kitschy objects. In one of the woven pockets of another work titled I Forget Where I am While I am at Where I am Going, also part of the fused show, is a copy of 10-Minute Clutter Control, the type of book you’d likely find in an office free pile. Pinned above it is a button that in all probability once belonged to an employee of TGI Fridays.
Similarly, his works include references that range from explicitly political messages to more coded -- or as Faught would say, coy -- affirmations of identity. “I’m really interested right now in that space between politics and activism,” he says. “We need a lot of activism, we need a lot of direct action protest, but I don’t see art always as the thing to do that.”
“It can, for sure. But I see my job and my mission as more about finding the places where politics and activism don’t so neatly match up.”
See more of Josh Faught's work in a three-person show with Julie Béna and Courtney Johnson, 'Curious and Curiouser,' opening Thursday, May 25 at San Francisco's fused (1401 16th Street). For more information, click here.