REVIEW: Like Queer Animals: We Hold Your Gaze at the Epiphany Arts Center
By Anatoli Karapanagiotidou
We Hold Your Gaze was an exhibition in the Catacombs, the basement of Epiphany Center for the Arts in West Loop, that ran until this weekend. The exhibition was put on by Like Queer Animals, a multi-project collaborative duo made up of artist Jessie Mott and writer and scholar Chantal Nadeau. We Hold Your Gaze featured a series of fantastical hybrid animals painted mostly in watercolor and accompanied by a series of poems by Nadeau, which center queer rage and experiences of trauma and violence. The works in this exhibition display an immense emotional range of sensuality and tenderness, rage and pain, through which the duo explores a fascination with queer sexuality, love, and solidarity in a tone that is at once playful and sincere.
The two have a very particular mode of collaboration and bounce off of each other’s ideas. Jessie Mott produced all the paintings in this exhibition with Nadeau’s poetry in mind, and would respond to titles that Nadeau provides. Nonetheless, their work undoubtedly differs in tone: while Mott embraces the playful side of sensuality, capturing the joyous experiences of desire with pastel colors and whimsical made-up beings, Nadeau thinks anger is a more fun way to channel creativity. Conducting a careful balancing act between the two, the show embodies the duality that many queer people experience in their daily lives.
Jessie Mott, blood before my eyes, 2021, Ink, gouache, watercolor, colored pencil, acrylic marker on paper, 16″ x 12,” image courtesy the artist and Epiphany Center for the Arts.
Both approaches came together in their collaboratively borne idea of the show’s title, We Hold Your Gaze, to encapsulate the duo’s response to their experiences of being ogled, judged, and othered as queer people: to stare right back. It’s raw, it’s provoking, and it’s certainly not submissive. Nadeau and Mott met at one of Mott’s exhibitions, where the two connected over Mott’s art: “it’s rare that someone really gets it.”
Mott describes her transition away from painting with oil on wood panel to the watercolor on paper she uses in this exhibition, allowing her to play with opacity and translucency as well as the fragility of her paper, fitting in well with her tender subject matter and allowing her to keep her focus on achieving an imaginative and illustrative body of work instead of on fulfilling technical expectations, which she doesn’t find to be of particular interest. Nadeau’s work has its own quirks: the native Quebec French speaker explains that she has her own vernacular in French, which can sometimes be translated and sometimes can’t; some of the titles remain in French to capture a directness and fieriness that translation might dampen. Nadeau notes how the Queer Animals collective has allowed her to delve into imaginative writing, and channel her creativity, a nice break from the sometimes suffocating academic jargon. The duo expressed their excitement for the future of their collaboration, with a book of illustrations currently in the works and many more projects ahead.
About Epiphany Center for the Arts
Conceived with the vision to return Epiphany to a place for people to congregate, the shuttered, historic Church of the Epiphany has been preserved and adapted into the Epiphany Center for the Arts, an iconic cultural hub “For the Good of Art, Entertainment and Events.” Thoughtfully designed, the exemplary 42,000-square-foot campus located on the artsy edge of Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood boasts three distinct venues (Epiphany Hall, The Sanctuary and The Chase House) and a stunning array of amenities. The campus also features eight galleries that serve as a platform for a diverse selection of artists from Chicago and beyond. Epiphany’s exhibitions showcase the work of women, the LGBTQIA community, artists of color, and the disability culture. Epiphany’s top priority is to curate programming that is inclusive, while providing a place established artists can collaborate with emerging ones.
Epiphany’s programming serves to unite community and artists alike while “Bringing Chicago Together.” Visit www.epiphanychi.com to learn more.