Liz Wuerffel’s show on the third floor of the Center on Halsted, “Looking for Lala: Photos and Stories of Queer Beijing,” a photo essay that depicts the LGBTQ community in Beijing, displays the photographic perspective of a visitor who doesn’t speak Chinese, putting viewers on the same level as the photographer. She qualifies the language bias up front so that we know her view is akin to our own. We see these photographs as western English speakers, wandering the back alleys of China’s capital city. The small and intimate photographs draw the viewer in with color and the everyday unfamiliarity of a world that’s tilt rimed with our own. Laudably, the admission of this language bias foregrounds the ways in which straight and LGBTQ communities worldwide rely on non-linguistic ways of showing affection that are both obvious and hidden. The tension in these image emerges from the heightened awareness of the gender scripts that are dutifully playing out in them. People holding hands, a wedding, public presentation of persona, smiles aimed at strangers. These pictures try to universalize the coded ways that ideas about gender and sexuality become dismissible in our everyday lives. Gender nonsense aside, when a place like the Center on Halsted turns its wall space into a gallery, it is fair to say that the art on those walls will not detract from the mission of the Center, whether or not it advances it. “In a safe and nurturing environment, the Center on Halsted serves as a catalyst for the LGBT community that links and provides community resources and enriches life experiences.” So, do these photographs enrich my experience, if I’ve already made it to the third floor? Do they grab me and shake me to the point of enrichment? Not particularly. But nobody’s getting hurt in the process. And they’re beautifully presented, offering a glimpse into a foreign LGBTQ world. (Ian Epstein)
Through October 4 at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted.