Si Yeon Lee Reviews Queer Threads at MICA
Sorry Grandma Betty, these aren’t quite like your Christmas sweaters. Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community is an exhibition at MICA’s Decker Gallery that defines queer identity with thread-based work from five different countries.
The first thing you see, before you even enter the gallery, is Liz Collins’ draping installment of rainbow-colored yarn that is overwhelmingly large, but congenial; the colors are more subdued than the Pride Flag. Combined with “Then and Now”, Larry Krone’s patchwork of rainbow crochet pieces, the exhibition offers an abstract yet familiar idea of queerness. But the works shift in tone to a more confrontational message with a trio of knitted banners by Jessica Whitbread, Allyson Mitchell, and Sonny Schneider that read, “Fuck Positive Women”, “Queer Un-nation”, and “Cum On Everybody”.
A bright yellow, nest-like arrangement hangs from the ceiling in the middle of the gallery. One would never realize that this domestic piece by Jesse Harrod was made with metal cock rings and strap-on supporting O-rings. Aaron McIntosh’s textile print, “Road to Tennessee”, features a woodland scene behind a patterned silhouette of a man, but closer inspection reveals that the woods are actually a print of enlarged gay erotica. The obscurity of the materials used in some of these works can make them feel exclusive, which is a good thing; it is clear that they were made with a queer audience in mind.
Nathan Vincent’s “Locker Room” makes one become conscious about the transformative power of fiber that is used consistently throughout the exhibition. “Locker Room” is the largest work in the gallery, a life-sized installation where Vincent covers the structures of a men’s locker room – shower stalls, lockers, benches, urinals – with yarn. It looks artificial, but pleasant. The role of the locker room in gay culture as a setting for both clandestine sex and high school bullying is somehow elevated into a surreal and cartoonlike environment, where every visitor is allowed to experience the cozy nostalgia it produces.
Queer Threads finds its success by adopting the delicacy and warmth of fiber in works that reference queer culture, which has survived and thrived by embracing the remoteness and promiscuity that others have associated it with. The medium of patchwork and knitting feels inherently humane, no matter what is being portrayed, and it is this transformation that radically challenges, and also playfully reinforces, the range of identities within Queer culture.
Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community is on view at the Decker Gallery until March 13th.
Si Yeon Lee is a Baltimore-based writer from Toronto.
Images courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, René Treviño, Nick Clifford Simko, and Stephen Miller.