A perfect match is an exciting idea, but an elusive reality. The majority of us are more familiar with matchlessness -- stuck with lone socks the dryer can't explain and dating Web sites full of thumbnail portraits looking for their mates. A refresher on the concept might be helpful: A match is not a set of identical objects or people, but of complementary ones. A match is a dialogue. Think tennis or chess, in which one player's move determines the other player's next move. Back and forth, back and forth. Finally, a match is an object of ignition, an inert stick with the potential to make fire.
I went into Lineage: Matchmaking in the Archive with the hope of finding all of these things: a series of complementary objects, a set of dialogues, and a spark. The exhibit, on view at the GLBT Historical Society, is curated by E.G. Crichton, the society's first artist?in-residence and a professor of art at UC Santa Cruz. Crichton matched 10 living artists with 10 non-living people whose personal effects are stored in the society's archives. Many of the objects merely hint at the owner's biography; the artists were invited to respond, speculate, intervene, and fill in the gaps.
Some of the matches were more perfect than others. I preferred the work that was the most dialogic, in which the artist responded to their predecessor's life and then stood back, as though inviting a counter-response, such as Tina Takemoto's "Gay Bachelor's Japanese American Internment Camp Survival Kit," a care package sent through time to Jiro Onuma. Onuma collected pictures of "muscle men" and belonged to a bodybuilding correspondence school. Inspired by this, Takemoto created imaginary letters and instructional cards on which shirtless men flex and stretch. The objects present methods for Onuma to express his queer desire within the confines of the camp. One flier with the words "The man you have always wanted to be!" with an image of a Caucasian bodybuilder beneath it references the double bind of Onuma's identity; he needs to "pass" in both heterosexual and Caucasian cultures. The work is both whimsical and strangely plausible. Starting from the facts, Takemoto proceeds to re-imagine the past. How would Inuma respond?
Troy Boyd presents an equally engaging, although more straightforward, response. Like Takemoto, he engages with his "match" as a person, not an idea. Boyd addresses deceased AIDS activist George Choy in the form of a letter. It reads like a note from a long-lost brother. Boyd muses on the fact the two men graduated high school the same year and wonders how Choy felt as a queer Asian American in the 1980s. "Thank you for your openness and for challenging me to look deeper into my life," he writes. It is earnest and clear and all that needs to be said.
Some seemed to direct their responses outward, away from their subject of inspiration. Artist Luciano Chessa composed an aria in response to the life of self-taught piano player Larry DeCaesar. His display included a video recording of a male soprano singing the piece. I'm sure a lot of hard work went into it, but the focus seemed to be on Chessa as a composer and the male soprano as a performer (the singer's business card was available beneath the monitor). I didn't get a sense of Larry DeCaesar or his life.
The exhibit demands concentration, more than most art exhibits ask for. While I imagine the majority of viewers, like me, won't mind putting in the time, a group of men who entered while I was there didn't have the patience. "I don't get it," one man kept saying to his friends before they all walked out. Just a warning: Don't go if you're overtired. Also, make sure you read the dossiers concealed in an ordinary looking set of hanging file folders near the gallery's entrance. They contain information regarding the artists and their inspiration and make a big difference (I didn't find them until I was half an hour into my visit; when I asked the society volunteer if there was a list of the works, he said he didn't know).
Regardless of the coherency of its manifestations, Lineage is powerful as both a concept and an exhibit. It begins to illuminate concealed histories and create continuity between queers of the past and queers of the present. Crichton's own photographs of the artists with their "matches" on display visually establish this connection. As the powers-that-be oscillate between legitimizing and delegitimizing queer relationships, Lineage affirms their persistence in the face of legislative whims and celebrates their multiple permutations.
The group of artists include Tina Takemoto, Troy Boyd, Maya Manvi, Crow Cianciola, Camille Norton, Bill Domonkos, Luciano Chessa, Lauren Crux, Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, Camille Norton, Dominika Bednarska, and Elliot Anderson. It is the first installment in the series, as Crichton plans to continue making matches over the course of her residency.
The show is on display at the GLBT Historical Society through October 15, 2009. The society is located at 657 Mission Street, #300. For more information visit lgbtlineage.net.