Editorial 8: Queer(ing) Craft

Queer(ing) Craft is guest edited by Daniel Fountain.

In 2014 John Chaich curated the exhibition Queer Threads at the Leslie-Lohman Museum to celebrate the ways in which artists have engaged with themes of queer identity through thread-based materials, techniques and processes. Within the exhibition catalogue Chaich states that ‘craft has been long considered the queer stepchild of fine art’.[1] But why so? What makes craft especially ‘queer’? What might queer craft look like? This issue deliberately takes a broad and interdisciplinary approach to explore these sorts of provocations, provide a platform for multiple voices and to showcase the breadth of exciting work taking place relating to these themes.

Such questions have also informed both my artistic practice and research for several years now, resulting in work that uses craft based-process to comment upon my own sexuality and identity. For example, Faggoting (2019) and Faggots (2019-20) are part of a series that delights in the slippages between faggoting as a form of needlework or process of bundling, and the derogatory term that has often been hurled at me. Through their embrace of the ‘low’ and aesthetics of ‘bad taste’, these works offer a camp, celebratory and unapologetic performance of queerness. As supported by the other contributions in this issue, the material nature and physical suppleness of such craft processes seem to offer particularly fertile ground in which to ‘queer’ narratives, imagery or materials. They allow for the adequate exploration of the ‘open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excess of meaning’ in relation to both gender and sexuality.[2]

Daniel Fountain, Faggoting (2019)
Daniel Fountain, Faggots (2019)

Although all of the submissions within this special issue are written by people self-defining as LGBTQIA+, queer will not necessarily be utilised here as an identity politics. Rather, when utilised as a verb – a process of ‘queering’ – it can offer a strategic ‘undercutting of the stability of identity and of the dispensation of power that shadows the assignment of categories and taxonomies’.[3] This approach is perhaps best demonstrated in our first article whereby Claire Mead discusses her work with local members of the LGBTQIA+ community who co-curated the exhibition Living Beyond Limits at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. This exhibition sought to re-explore the institution’s collection and through various approaches Mead’s case study demonstrates the ways in which institutional spaces can be queered in order to disrupt traditional hierarchies and systems of classification.

After Mead’s article, our attention moves towards the work of two artists who both engage with craft-processes to explore themes of gender and sexuality. Firstly, through his abstract and often abject sculptures, Matthew Gale ruminates on relationships between bodies and ecologies. His practice is particularly interested in the alignment of art and science; their ‘shared purpose of describing human experience’ and the inherent queerness of the non-human world. Secondly, Sarah-Joy Ford then presents an overview of her practice-research into quilting as a methodology for revisioning lesbian archives. Through her meticulously embroidered quilts, she explores how ‘the loving attention and protective qualities of the quilt offer a reparative site for investing in lesbian archives’. In doing so, Ford delights in the potentials for re-defining quilting in contemporary practice, disrupting traditional associations of the quilt through both form and function.

Our first spotlight feature includes the work of award-winning American-Nigerian artist Adejoke Tugbiyele. We discuss the hybrid nature of her practice which encompasses drawing, sculpture and live performance, to name but a few. Often through performing with her intricately woven objects, Tugbiyele seeks to ‘queer dominant spaces and narratives pertaining to race, gender and sexuality’ and help us to ‘imagine new ways of perceiving and being in the world’.

Injecting a welcome dose of modernism into the issue, Jonathan King considers the queer legacies of the Bloomsbury Group, particularly as it pertains to queer home-making and the maternal experience. Lot Kessels’ Charleston Doll’s House (a miniaturised rendering of the historic East-Sussex home associated with the Bloomsbury Group) is used as a particular site for analysis. In doing so, King expertly demonstrates the queer lineages between the Bloomsbury group’s ethos and contemporary craft today.

Included in this issue is also an interview with the artist LJ Roberts, who’s first museum commission was recently shown in the critically acclaimed 2019 show Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewallat the Brooklyn Museum. The conversation emphasises how craft plays an essential part of many queer lives; that we often have to quite literally craftour own spaces, the homes we are born into, and even our own ‘chosen families’. Roberts therefore demonstrates how ‘craft and queerness enable each other beneficially’ and explains the influence that queer theory has had on their practice.

Our second spotlight feature is devoted to the work of emerging artist Osgood Bender who uses a variety of craft-based processes to explore themes of gender and personal histories of body modification. Working in a variety of material processes including ceramics, textiles and sculpture, Bender uses craft techniques in a subversive manner; not only to challenge the very associations of craft, but also to interrogate and deconstruct ‘the borders between the mind and the body, the self and the other, the original and the modified’.

Finally, we leave you with an excerpt of Shola von Reinhold’s debut novel LOTE (2020) which immerses readers in the pursuit of decorative aesthetics and queer beauty. The novel follows present-day narrator Mathilda’s fixation with the forgotten black Scottish modernist poet, Hermia Drumm and calls into question issues of erasure, whilst also celebrating opposing ideals of beauty. From art to alchemy, this novel has it all.

Words: Daniel Fountain (he/they)

More about Daniel’s work and research can be found here.

About the Editor

Daniel Fountain is an artist, lecturer and researcher based in Leicestershire. Between 2018-2021 Daniel is the recipient of a practice-led PhD scholarship at Loughborough University working on a practice-led project entitled ‘All That Glitters Is Gold: Queering Waste Through Campy Craft’. The research project aims to further establish connections between craft and queerness, whilst also exploring how waste as ‘abject’ matter might relate to queer identity. They have exhibited work on a national and international level, most recently the 2020 Queer Art(ists) Now exhibition at the Archive Gallery, London.

[1] John Chaich, Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community (New York: Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, exhibition catalogue, 2014) 5, 31 March 2015. Available at: <http://www.leslielohman.org/exhibitions/2013/queer- threads/QueerThreadsCatalogue_FINAL.pdf>

[2] David Getsy, Queer (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016), p.15.

[3] Ibid.