Lissa Rivera discusses her work, "Beautiful Boy," included in Bridging Division at The Light Factory with Ashley Kauschinger, the curator or Bridging Division and Founding Editor of Light Leaker.
Ashley Kauschinger: Summarize your work included in the exhibition, Bridging Division, at The Light Factory:
Lissa Rivera: "Beautiful Boy" is an ongoing project focusing on my domestic partner BJ as muse, documenting our exploration of the nuances of photography as a transformative medium. Although our emotional relationship is private and real, we perform a romanticism that is obsessive and decadent. By presenting BJ, who is genderqueer, within the lineage of great beauties, I am re-contextualizing what is attractive and beautiful, while at the same time interrogating the visual language of femininity which is deeply embedded in the DNA of our cultural perceptions.
AK: What do you want others to know about your work?
LR: We are using photography as a testing ground to experiment with identity and desire. We allow ourselves to freely associate our emotional relationship to images within the work. Our work is not intended to be moralistic or didactic. We are testing the power of visual language, assembling a visual record of our fantasies, and exposing the sometimes ambiguous relationship between image-creation and identity-creation. Although the photos are very personal to both of us, we are not looking to show any true self in the work. Both gender and desire are fluid. We are looking to find freedom by repurposing the language of gender, which was once a tool to constrain.
AK: What do you think the role of art and photography is playing in contemporary society?
LR: The language of photography deeply influences communication, identity, and self-image. The media uses repetition as a psychological tool to promote particular ideals of beauty, using familiarity to reinforce recognition. Those ideals are not static; they change over time. Today, the practice of photography is open to almost everyone, and the general public has the tools to build a public archive of their own likenesses and ideals. Art is not threatened by this phenomenon, any more than writers are threatened by the sale of no. 2 pencils. But because of the very human desire to assimilate to one’s surroundings and mimic repeated trends, visual culture remains deeply inflected by both its own history and by the imperatives of capitalism and consumer culture, despite its radical democratization. Physical beauty is still presented to women as an element of survival. These trends tend to reinforce gender roles that police sexuality and relationships. A lot of image culture, especially in advertising, and in mediums closely allied to advertising like television and social media, seems targeted to produce feelings of anxiety and lack. At the same time, artists and photographers have the potential to both interrogate contemporary image-culture, and to transcend it.
AK: How do you view your work interacting with that role?
LR: We are trying to repurpose the techniques, symbols, and histories of femininity in the service of freedom. This does not mean the work does not ask difficult questions or incorporate uncomfortable feelings, but at the same time, we both really love the visual language of femininity in many of its past and present iterations. We want to revel in it and celebrate it.
We are attempting to repopulate the media with new images, using the visual techniques of advertising photography to challenge restrictive gender roles or ideas of what is desirable.
AK: What do you feel your work contributes to an exhibition about bridging division?
LR: In order to empathize with and respect others, it is important to empathize with and respect yourself, to feel confident and free, rather than threatened and boxed in. We hope that our work inspires people to question the signs and symbols of gender—where does their power come from? Is gender something to celebrate or something to transcend, or both?
AK: When viewers walk into this exhibition or view it online, what questions do you hope they ask themselves about the work?
LR: What is gender? Where does it come from? What is a woman? What is a man? What is the relationship between clothing and gender? What is the relationship between color and gender? Do only people have genders, or do things also have gender? What makes an image attractive? What makes a person attractive? How do the images we see effect our identities? What is an identity? Can our identities change over time? What about day to day? Does femininity have a different cultural value than masculinity? Why does wearing a dress have more cultural weight than the choice to wear pants? Does the desire to be looked at have to be categorized as objectification in the negative sense? Does the muse (a role mostly relegated to women in art history) have more power than has been acknowledged?
Empathy and Humanity
June 7 – August 3, 2018
Thursday, June 7 / 6:30 – 8:30 PM
Bridging Division: Empathy and Humanity will explore contemporary divisions through the personal interpretations of five photographers: Priya Kambli, Rania Matar, Zora J. Murff, Melissa Kreider, and Lissa Rivera. In a world of alternative facts, fear tactics, and depictions of violence and disruption, this exhibition seeks to look underneath to our shared humanity. The exhibition will be curated by Ashley Kauschinger, artist and founding editor of Light Leaked, an online photography magazine. Find more information about the exhibition here.
You can see more of Lissa Rivera's work here.