About the Artist
Joseph Liatela is a multimedia artist based in New York City working in performance, sculpture, printmaking, and video. His work explores the way we perceive the body, gender, sexuality, memory, trans/queer intergenerational connection, and the self.
They completed their BFA with distinction from the Individualized Honors program at California College of the Arts (2017) and have performed/exhibited in numerous galleries, including exhibitions for the the National Queer Arts Festival (2016), the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival (2017), SOMArts (2017), Denniston Hill (2017), Human Resources LA (2017), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (2018), Trestle Gallery (2018), Paul Robeson Galleries (2018), Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (2018) Field Projects (2018) and BRIC (2019). Liatela’s work has been featured in Artsy, SF MoMA’s Open Space, KQED Arts, Strange Fire Collective, and the East Bay Express. They are a recipient awards and fellowships from the Zellerbach Family Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, The Wassaic Project, Denniston Hill, California College of the Arts, and Banff Centre. He has completed residencies at Signal Fire Arts, Denniston Hill Clifford Owens Seminar, Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s La Pocha Nostra Performance Seminar, The Kala Institute, and Vermont Studio Center.
Upcoming exhibitions and performances include The Other Is You at BRIC in Brooklyn, NY, On Site at Trestle Gallery in Brooklyn, NY and SUBLIMATION at Stellar Projects in New York, NY.
This fall he will begin pursuing an MFA in New Genres at Columbia University.
Questions by Sarah Potter, December 2018
Your work deals with gender and the relationship with one's own body through a variety of materials and media. I love the way you play with dualities through your materials by juxtaposing soft and hard or warmth through fleshy silicone displayed on cold metal. Tell me more about your relationship to your chosen materials and how you arrived to working with them.
Absolutely, the choice of material definitely plays a significant role in the meaning of the work. In previous pieces, such as ‘Shedding’ (2017) and ‘Surface Tension I-IV’ (2017), I was taking images of my body and turning them into translucent garments or textile pieces in order to illustrate a shedding process and notions of illegibility. For this piece, I was doing the opposite, in that I was taking old clothing and turning them into bodily forms as a way to complicate what is constituted as a “complete” or “correct” bodily formation. There are also medical and sexual connotations with silicone and stainless steel. Lately I have been thinking about how to incorporate elements of the medical industrial complex and BDSM more strongly into the work, as these two subjects, in my opinion, are closely tied to trans and queer identity/history in that one is a proponent of pathologization, and the other of sexual empowerment and deviance.
How much does environment and presentation factor into the overall meaning of your work? (I feel that the context of your pieces can greatly change due to the way it is displayed.) Can you tell me more about this and if these ideas factor into the creation part of your work? How early in the stages of creation are you considering this?
Yes, environment and presentation play a huge role in the meaning and creation of the work. To me, figuring out how the work behaves or exists in a space is a central component of creating a new piece and is something I consider early on in this process. Often when making a piece, I’ll build custom objects to hang or display the work from in order to best take advantage of how the work will exist in a space.
Considering the context the work is presented in is also incredibly important to me. For example, my solo show at The Center for Sex and Culture gallery and archive in San Francisco contextualized the work in a space that was already centering issues of identity, sexuality, and queer history. The Center for Sex and Culture is an incredible cultural resource and reflection of queer San Francisco history. As someone who came of age in the Bay Area queer arts community, I was grateful to have had my work in dialogue with the archive in this way.
I find your work to be incredibly moving and evocative which I feel is largely due to the honesty and vulnerability you are able to show so openly. Even though we have not shared the same experiences, the emotional depth in your message is so relatable. Is relatability something that is important to you or even a factor to you while creating your work?
Thank you so much! Absolutely — although much of the work is informed by first-person experience, it is important to me that the work also conveys a more general, emotional experience with multiple entry points for people of a variety of experiences and backgrounds to relate to and connect with. I believe dominant culture in the US is currently experiencing an empathy crisis, and the vulnerability of the work could be interpreted as a response to our current moment in this way.
I love your series of mono prints which show the "ghosts" of your old clothing. How does printmaking fit into your studio practice? Is this a newer evolution of your work or did it develop alongside your sculpture and performance pieces?
I studied printmaking in undergrad, and see it as the root of my practice. I didn’t begin making sculptures or performances until later on in my practice. Printmaking is such a wonderful medium for discussing issues of projection, identity, transformation, and perception, because its processes require the artist to literally imprint an image onto a surface in order to change how it is perceived or related to. There is also something about the repetition and physical movement of operating a printing press that I see as indirectly influential to my performance practice, and how I think about gender as a stylized repetition of movement.
I am really interested in your piece "Feedback Loop" which I saw the early stages of during our first studio visit. Can you tell me more about this piece?
Absolutely! I am interested in the thin line between seduction and disgust, the notion of bodies not having clear borders, and how our lived experiences shape our physical forms over time through the repetition of the movement. ‘Feedback Loop (cast chest binders)’ (2018) consists of my old chest binders (clothing items used to flatten one’s chest) cast into silicone abstract bodily forms on top of stainless steel plates and hung with shibari rope ties. I was thinking about the cyclical process of how our bodies inform our identities, and also how our identities shape our bodies over time. For example, wearing chest binders literally changed the shape of my physical form over time from the durational daily act of wearing them. This piece is about that cyclical process, complicating what are considered the borders or edges of a body, and questioning what is considered a “complete” or “correct” bodily formation.
Your performance work often tests the limits of your own body. What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced with your work and how did you move through it?
One of the more challenging performances I have done was ‘A Tremendous Burden’ (2018) in which I had two dancers in military garb force me into a hospital gown and drag me several blocks to the nearest hospital where they left me on the steps. This work was inspired by protest tactics used by ACT UP in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and was a commentary on recent legislative attacks on gender affirming healthcare access implemented by the Trump administration. More generally, this work is about the ways medicine and law work together to uphold and perpetuate gender normativities.
Something I love about performance art is the components that unfold unexpectedly through creating a public work with an audience. The performance was far more physically and emotionally challenging than my collaborators and I had anticipated. The stakes of how important it was to me for the work to exist became even more clear because of how difficult it was to complete, and it was these challenges that also motivated me to go through with it.
Photos by Jeff Barnett-Winsby