Unfixed explores how the concepts of fixing and unfixing operate as metaphorical and artistic strategies in the work of two Toronto-based Canadian artists: Chris Curreri and Laurie Kang. Through works of photography, installation, and sculpture, these artists suggest a network of connectivity between traditional understandings around photography, art history, and intimate personal narratives. They challenge the notion that living things operate through distinct categories and domains, and their work suggests that photography itself creates a rhizomatic, interrelated relationship between seemingly disparate ways of thinking about our bodies, the political, and the social.
Central to photography is fixing an image in time and space, thus capturing an authentic record of an event or moment. Yet the physical reality of the process and the inherent bias of the artist’s eye rarely fulfill that promise. Rather, materials change over time, and what’s left outside the frame is as important as what’s included. To fix and to unfix can be used as lenses through which to view the ebbs and flows of social tides, many of which have been at the forefront of global conversations throughout the last year; the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the precariousness of our health, livelihoods, and relationships, has demanded the rethinking of our social norms so that we can protect one another. Likewise, the dismantling of monuments to racist leaders and imperialists throughout the summer of 2020, and the renewed understanding of the corruptibility of democratic institutions, signalled a social unfixing that was long in the works. That which was once taken for granted as unchanging has been called into question: that which was fixed became unfixed.
Though neither artist’s practice explicitly focuses on identity politics, both artists belong to social groups that struggle against definition by heteronormative and white-supremacist gazes. In Curreri’s Kiss Portfolio, for instance, a state of queerness resides not only in the fact it depicts two men kissing but also in the experience of being uncertain about what, precisely, we are looking at. Do these images depict kissing mouths, or genitals of ambiguous gender? It is this uncertainty that serves to destabilize socially prescribed claims about the order of things. Likewise, Kang’s Mother offers the viewer a visceral and generous parsing of the mother figure as one that expands beyond biological determinism to encompass the many mothers that make a body—including both human and familial mothers, as well as nonfamilial and nonhuman forms and social forces such as migration. The work simultaneously troubles the notion of a clear, fixed biology by incorporating materials and forms that are not human or easily defined.
While elucidating the simultaneous fragility and strength of the human body and the various ways it can be represented, Curreri’s and Kang’s work implies a network of connectivity and interchangeability between all things: orifices are swapped out for one another, guts reveal themselves outside the body, lotus root and seaweed stand in for flesh and bone. The practices suggest that there’s an unfixedness at play under the surface of hegemonic systems, as well as within characteristics we think of as innately human, beautiful, healthy, and enriching.
All Installation Photography by Michael Love. Courtesy AFK and The Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art