The month of June is a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community and reflect on the advances of queer people to strengthen civil liberties around the world, even in a moment of great political uncertainty. It’s also a good opportunity to spotlight the richness and diversity of culture we have within the community. Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one contemporary queer artist per day on the website and letting them speak for themselves. Click here to participate.
Age: 30 (almost 31!)
Artistic Medium: Video, Drawing, Sculpture, Performance
Who are you and what do you do?
My work humorously investigates the relationship between individual self-identity and socio-historical contexts. My historical projects combine different moments in history together to create comedic mashups, such as Anne Frank/Justin Bieber and Michelle Foucault (Full House meets Michel). My autobiographical work narrates my gender experiences, faggy failures, and corporeal neuroses with an earnest humor. My visual art practice incorporates drawing, sculpture, pyrography, performance, and video, and my writing has included fiction, poetry, memoir, and criticism. As a live performer, I have mixed stand-up comedy and musical comedy under the persona Stoni Butchell, among others.
I have also co-organized art exhibitions relating to queerness, humor, politics, and history, including the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History (2011), Hysterically Accurate: Comedic Critiques of History (2015), and Queering Space (2016). I attended Sarah Lawrence College and received my MFA from Parsons Fine Arts. I have taught at SUNY Purchase College, CUNY College of Staten Island, and the Leslie-Lohman Museum. I am from Maplewood, New Jersey, where I grew up babysitting gay people’s children and learned sex ed from Lauryn Hill’s cheerleading coach — but my parents are from Texas and Nebraska. I am non-binary/transgender and also Jewish.
What are the top three greatest influences on your work?
Describe your coffee order.
Lukewarm and in a thimble or shot glass; it doesn’t take much to get me buzzed.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
George Chauncey, author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 once said to me, “Thank you for making queer history cool.”
What constitutes a perfect day?
Seeing good art, eating, and laughing with my family. Or telling stories with other queer/trans people at a river or lake. Or both! (I’m lucky — my only sibling is trans, too!)
What was your favorite exhibition from last year?
Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 at Brooklyn Museum.
What would your superpower be if you had one?
To be fearless.
Tell us a lie about yourself.
I’m related to Maya Deren.
What is one question you wish somebody would ask about your work?
“How often do you talk to Anne Frank?”
What is the greatest threat to humanity?
What did you make when you first started making art?
Drawings, with Mr. Sketch markers! The markers were scented. I love the way the drawings smelled. I think this is also a big reason I do pyrography (wood-burning).
Do you prefer spilling the tea or throwing shade?
Spilling the tea.
What is your all-time favorite work of art?
Possibly in Michigan (1983) by Cecelia Condit. I show it to all my video students to their horror, and sometimes delight.
What are your plans for pride month?
Giving museum tours at Leslie-Lohman, preparing to teach a summer video intensive at The New School, going to panels and exhibitions, hosting an out-of-town trans artist friend, visiting Western Massachusetts. And for pride weekend: the trans march, the drag march, the dyke march, and the alternative pride march. Basically just being in community and trying to enjoy being single!
What is the future of queerness?
Hopefully, queerness becomes so prevalent that it creates more solidarity, erases all borders, and ends capitalism as we know it!
Back in my day…
My best friend only saw queerness through butch/femme relationships, which was confusing since I do not at all see myself in that dynamic. I had no examples of trans couples, besides Hedwig — and I’m faggier than the Yitzhak character. In 2008, I was under 21 and had to write personals ads on Craigslist w4w to find dates (I hadn’t yet discovered T4T). When OkCupid came out, everyone was secretive and ashamed about online dating. I carried around maps of New York City, or wrote down directions to queer events. In art school, we weren’t allowed to document our art with cellphone cameras, because the resolution was so poor. We shot video on Mini-DV tapes that were $5 at CVS. In college, I used to drive a 15-seater van to activist conferences, lobby days, and protests. We organized feminist queer-core shows, did banner drops, and flyered our campus to protest the school’s lack of a sexual assault policy. And we won!
After college, around summer 2010, I suddenly stopped talking to straight people, just needing space to figure things out, and came out as genderqueer — the word non-binary wasn’t in use yet. In 2013, a number of people told me I was the first genderqueer person they knew who had top surgery. Back then, it was mostly just trans men who did it. I’m so glad more people have access to gender confirming surgeries now. We have to protect that!
Name one guilty pleasure.
Snacking on Pirate’s Booty.
A pervading sense of existential angst.
Is there enough support for queer artists where you live?
I think there needs to be more support for young queer artists straight out of school, and older ones as well. It’s great that queer artists in the middle have been getting more support and attention, but I want to be able to point my undergraduate students towards continued growth opportunities so that they have time to keep making work, regardless of their class background. It would also be great to see more institutional support for older artists, before it’s a nostalgic fetishization of their career, and well before they’re dead and can’t advocate for their work. Let’s make sure queer artists have consistent opportunities for exhibition and financial support across our lifespans. It hurts to see queer artists “of a certain age” still doing day jobs, despite medical problems, and not being able to just focus on making work. Even though we’re in a particularly visible period for queer people, artists could always use more support. It shouldn’t just be people with class privilege being seen and supported.
How do you stay cool during the summer?
Dramatically wide-brimmed hats while walking the dog. (I’m not a huge sun person.) My neighbors say, “That hat is bigger than you!” And I prefer the beach at night.
What is your favorite type of milk?
“Queer Artists in Their Own Words” is an ongoing feature happening every day in the month of June. For prior posts in the series, please click here.