Severed body parts—legs, hands, feet and even human hearts hang on the wall. The knives used to create the ghastly crime scene are still there, keeping them pinned onto the white surface. Cleavers and axes complete the ensemble but don’t be fooled: the setting is not utterly gruesome. “Open House Spatter,” Jade Yumang’s first solo show with Western Exhibitions, recreates objects that reference domesticity—think monochromatic color schemes and bright spatter patterning. The body parts are not rigid, but made out of fabric in the same hues. The weapons include multicolored knives of different shapes and sizes like the rainbow-colored cutlery found in a cool kitchen. The gallery brings a suburban living room to mind: drapery and fabric-covered pieces of furniture give the space a sculptural element. Organs are just laying there, accompanied by the very tools that cut them out. An unexpected synergy is at play.
Where is Yumang going with this? For this scene to make sense, one has to consider another question first: What do two 1964 articles on homosexuality and suburban living in the mid-twentieth century have in common? In the artist’s mind (and work), more than you think. “The Homosexual Next Door: A Sober Appraisal of a New Social Phenomenon,” by Sidney Katz in Maclean’s and “Homosexuality in America” by Paul Welch in LIFE (one hailing from Canada and the other from the United States) addressed queer domesticity for the first time in the mainstream. Between the pages of the magazines and other lifestyle print media from that era are advertisements of aspirational interior designs, one of which is an asbestos vinyl floor tile pattern called “gay spatter” that comes in different colors and iterations—this is the one this exhibition brings to the foreground to examine.
“A million adult Canadians are homosexual. Some are ‘married’ couples living quietly, but well, in suburban bungalows. Most of the others are ordinary citizens in all respects but the one that makes them criminals before the law and outcasts before society,” writes Katz. “The Homosexual Next Door” was published four years prior to the modification of Canada’s Criminal Code; until 1969, homosexual acts were punishable by up to five years in prison. “These brawny young men in their leather caps, shirts, jackets and pants are practicing homosexuals, men who turn to other men for affection and sexual satisfaction. They are part of what they call the ‘gay world,’ which is actually a sad and often sordid world,” argues Welch. The two shed light into gay-rights histories at a time when being gay was considered inconvenient, problematic and dangerous.
Fascinated by the abstraction of the corporeal form, Yumang has been using sculpture, site-specific installation, and performance to conceptualize the abstraction of queerness. Looking at the term “queer” as something that cannot be essentially defined or contained, the artist is liberated of what it is and what it should be. Queerness can be anything. The possibilities are endless. “Open House Spatter” comes in different colorways for that very reason.
Creating a continuum of associations between abstract form and domestic life, Yumang proves queerness can be removed from the sexual and exist within itself. Materiality serves this purpose well. “Riverside Sand No. 747” (2021), for instance, is a combination of archival ink on cotton, wallpaper, batting, cotton, fiberfill, dye, binder’s board, aluminum wire, acrylic nails, pine, basswood, oak and hardware. “Oak Bay Titian No. 250” (2020), is made sigh archival ink on cotton and polyester, wallpaper, cotton, beads, metal clasps, embroidery floss, zipper, binder’s board, dye, basswood, pine and hardware. The mixed-media elaborate structures are eye-catching and thought-provoking. The drapes set a dramatic background providing a peek into a domestic reality where nothing is set in stone.
Approaching queerness as more than the sum of its parts, “Open House Spatter” turns queer aesthetics into a nuanced conversation about form. Nothing specific becomes something very particular, relevant and timeless—and that’s Yumang’s triumph.
“Open House Spatter” is on view at Western Exhibitions, 1709 West Chicago, through December 17.