Art

A Space Where Identity Politics Give Way to Queer Minimalism

Aay Preston-Myint, detail of "Untitled (At Night, I Think of U)" (2013), neon lights, plastic laminate, vinyl tile, plaster, paint, cake, human hair, gelatin, metallic pigments, fragrance, nail polish, dimensions variable
Aay Preston-Myint, detail of “Untitled (At Night, I Think of U)” (2013), neon lights, plastic laminate, vinyl tile, plaster, paint, cake, human hair, gelatin, metallic pigments, fragrance, nail polish, dimensions variable (all photographs courtesy the artist)

What happened to the glitter, the queer ideals, the mirror that looks back at the viewer? In Aay Preston-Myint’s artwork, politically charged objects are emptied of their significance. In his solo exhibition (At Night, I Think of You), now on view at Threewalls gallery, sculpture, sound and photographic pieces become abstracted, minimalist works, harkening back to older forms. The artist creates a timeless space where utopian desires take a back seat to basic aesthetic experiences, where we find the true moment of the death of the simulacrum in the life of today’s networked girl/grrrrll/gurl: when the mirror she looks into doesn’t look back and her image becomes her peers looking at her rather than her ability to fall in love with the image of herself. The mirror loses its objecthood, becoming an empty signifier of what it once was, or could have been. And this, my friends, is a relief.

Aay Preston-Myint, detail of "Untitled (At Night, I Think of U)" (2013), neon lights, plastic laminate, vinyl tile, plaster, paint, cake, human hair, gelatin, metallic pigments, fragrance, nail polish, dimensions variable (click to enlarge)
Aay Preston-Myint, detail of “Untitled (At Night, I Think of U)” (2013), neon lights, plastic laminate, vinyl tile, plaster, paint, cake, human hair, gelatin, metallic pigments, fragrance, nail polish, dimensions variable (click to enlarge)

Preston-Myint’s new work operates in an in-between space of destitution, empty arousal, and a past, present, and future queerness. It’s lodged in a time before the AIDS crisis, identity politics, and the HRC-fueled misbelief that marriage equality is the same as actual equality. The exhibition is born from pure physicality, desire and lack thereof — a time before the fragmentation of the mirror and the subject who gazed into it, longing to see. This formalist aesthetic brings a refreshing taste to an overly saturated palate.

Preston-Myint merges minimalism with abstracted and pre-fabricated body parts, food, and other materials — a mess of leftover hair, casts of the artist’s hands, as well as a push against ideas of queer utopias and identity-based politics. Hey boo, the ’90s and identity politics are over. Once upon a time, the mirror was essential to Cindy Sherman’s fairy-tale-girl photography; now it just reflects the type of selfie that is gazeless, anonymous—made for no one and everyone. Preston-Myint takes the mirror one ontological step further. He covers the walls of his exhibition with painted mirrors that do not reflect, refract, or function as anything more than empty signifiers of the mirror as an idea. Everything is a semblance of what it once was. Even the title of the show is cleverly cast in parentheses, suggesting its possible negation and calling to mind bell hooks’s purposeful lowercasing of her name, which attempts to posit the text in a place of importance over the author herself (and, of course, her ego).

Aay Preston-Myint. "A region of material that is chemically uniform, physically distinct, and mechanically separable," (2013). Urethane, pigment, chain links, synthetic rubber, enamel. 29" x 26" x 8"
Aay Preston-Myint, “A region of material that is chemically uniform, physically distinct, and mechanically separable” (2013), urethane, pigment, chain links, synthetic rubber, enamel, 29″ x 26″ x 8″

The artworks in the show are, like Dan Flavin’s minimalist fluorescent light sculptures, underwhelming, neat, and tidy. The titular piece is comprised of skinny purple fluorescent lights in the corners of the gallery; their cold angularity is cut with chunks of edible cake, patches of hair, and nail polish. In “4’33” (2013), which is looped on repeat in the gallery, Preston-Myint channels John Cage but replaces silence and incidental noises with a soundtrack of someone getting off, or at least making the sounds of that action (most likely the artist). It recalls Vito Acconci’s “Seedbed” (1972), minus the artist actually jerking off under the floor; instead, the soundtrack is overlaid with neon shapes that flash for periods of time on the floor, thus subsuming and subtracting the actual phallus.

Aay Preston-Myint, “An organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts” (2013), archival ink jet print, 30" x 44" (click to enlarge)
Aay Preston-Myint, “An organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts” (2013), archival ink jet print, 30″ x 44″ (click to enlarge)

In “A region of material that is chemically uniform, physically distinct, and mechanically separable” (2013), purple hands cast from urethane are plugged into the wall and tilted slightly while a chain loops around the first one, crosses over the second, and connects to the third hand, which effectively hangs from them. These chains suggest a connection to slave narratives, a kind of purple post-black racial aesthetics harkening back to a time far before publicly acknowledged queer histories began. On the opposite side of the gallery hangs “An organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts” (2013), which is a photograph of these same three hands arranged in a triangular shape and laid out on a shiny sheet. Their fingertips do not touch, a metaphor for the motifs of disconnection, abstraction, and a longing for something — something different, further away, perhaps even in the future — that runs through this exhibition.

Aay Preston-Myint: (At Nite, I Think of You) continues at Threewalls gallery (119 North Peoria #2C, Chicago) through June 13.

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