Stepping into W. Gallery, I am overtaken by the fresh color palettes throughout. Fruits, vegetables and nods to them in photographs and paintings line the walls on all ends. Walking through the exhibition, I cannot help but think about how fruits and vegetables contain so much meaning beyond their nutritional value. The sexual symbolisms placed on them throughout our plethora of visual examples, as well as their historical connotations pertaining to labor and hierarchies, are just some of the many.
Linye Jiang uses brightly colored fruit and vegetable cutouts and adorns them with ropes, glitter and other queer signifiers. Mainly a lens-based artist, their practice extends beyond this parameter. Here their photographs and cutouts are rooted in queer aesthetics, showcasing the way people are consumed just like produce. Our eyes go to the freshest, most colorful selections. Media has a way of doing the same with people. We see creams advocating for brighter and smoother skin and models who don’t have any wrinkles or signs of aging. The editing process deceives us into thinking we need said products to look like what we are seeing. Jiang questions these very tactics and challenges them by using the same tricks as advertisers, drawing us in and, when we get close, we can see the details such as cuts on the banana, the juices building up inside the raspberries, and other intricate details.
Jiaming You entices us with their decisive brushstrokes. They combine personal examples with found images to construct these worlds of identity and power. Who holds power when viewing? Where does your mind go first when you see a body in a painting, a photograph, etc.? You is asking us to think through our preconceived notions of gendering bodies. Much of their work cuts out the faces, leaving us with unidentified bodies and forcing us to manifest what is missing before us. By leaving the gender ambiguous, You is queering the composition and challenging us to think beyond society’s perception of gender and how we consume these established notions of it.
How are societal roles depicted on the individual and mass level? You’s piece “Feather Jacket” and Jiang’s pieces “Untitled: Pomegranate Poise,” “Tenderness” and “Untitled: Squeeze” take this question and expand on how various identities are at play every day. Both artists deal with queering the narrative around softness and toughness and how it varies by our own identities. In Jiang’s piece “Untitled: Squeeze,” they are showcasing how soft raspberries can be. Barely applying any pressure, you can note the soft gestures of both the person’s fingers but also the raspberries and small amounts of juice coming out. The same can be seen with Jiang’s video piece, “Tenderness,” with hands rubbing a silicone pad while water runs over both. The video transitions from black-and-white to color in an endless loop. The gentle strokes of the hands in soft water coming out evoke the ways in which we think about the amount of pressure we can place on given objects. You’s piece “Feather Jacket” showcases violence but we do not know from whom. Leaving the body inflicting pain ambiguously adds to the way gender is at play. What do you immediately think of when you see someone being “tough” as in this depiction? Softness and toughness are rooted in gendered roles, with each gender expected to behave in a certain way. What happens when those roles are challenged? Both Yiang and You want us to look beyond those roles and think how we would handle these objects based on our own identities. How would you hold such tender fruit? Would you throw the silicone pad?
Both artists are using their works to manipulate us. Although contrary to how advertisers use it to make you buy a product, Jiang and You are using it to make you question the consumption of bodies and the perception that is placed on them daily. They are both creating a world we can explore on our own. But we need to be mindful of where our perceptions come from and where they can lead us in both our lived realities and imagined futures.
“;products of desire:” by Linye Jiang and Jiaming You is on view at W. Gallery, 600 West Van Buren through November 11.