The Reservoir

Conversations on Photography

Efrem Zelony-Mindell    The theme that n e w f l e s h—my new publication with Gnomic Book, and exhibit at The Light Factory—deals with, namely: coming into one’s body and identity, is not a path navigated in a golf cart. It requires a machete and sunblock. What excites me about queerness is its philosophy and adaptability. It’s the reason I feel so deeply connected to it and it has motivated me to continue coming back to this body of work that’s focused around that one central theme; queerness beyond the body.

The works of n e w f l e s h are bright; they exude motifs that center around color and experimentation. They may not be what some would refer to as capital P photography. That’s ok—we still need fairy tales. We need art that challenges the preconceived and the normative. I’m tired of having to ask for permission to say something against the acceptability of any establishment. There are many organizations I hope to be against and to question with this collection—with this body. Below, I’ve tried to conduct an interview meant for one person with five of the artists from the Gnomic Book publication, some of whom are also in The Light Factory show. And true to n e w f l e s h form it is at times about the individual artist as much as it is about the body of work I’ve curated. Nothing is straight. We grow, mostly unevenly.

n e w f l e s h, published by Gnomic Book, 2019

Martin Wannam, Selvin Andrés Garcia, Colonia el Esfuerzo. 4 de Noviembre 2009, Guatemala, 2018


EZM    Your work deals with religion, community, and queerness. These societal ideologies influence interpretations of the body and the roles of what is queer. How does your work restructure the presumptions of these systems?

Martin Wannam    Well, first and foremost I see my work as resistance—resistance that we have to endure everyday in Guatemala just by being queer. Within my work I’m interested in disrupting, demanding, deconstructing and creating visibility for bodies that lie outside the norm, and have been rendered invisible or hidden. I do this with the hope of moulding these systems that are killing us. I question these systems and explore the full potential of how a queer body should be, and react, in a society shaped by homophobic, heteronormative, colonial ideologies. I look to create my own space and to cultivate my voice via artistic political resistance by refusing to follow or perpetuate a “Westernized,” heteronormative, racist, and classist culture. I’m currently in Guatemala for a few more days and to be honest I’ve mostly only experienced these normative and westernized ideologies.

EZM    How can objects and home reimage queerness?

MW    We mould them by creating our own vision for our ideals and not the ones that have been imposed on us as a community. In my work, especially in the piece included in n e w f l e s h, I have recontextualized the objects that have been precious to the Catholic Church and these communities as a way to talk about hate crimes that are happening in Central America. Religious views, and heteronormativity are strong with the majority in this region, and are a huge factor for the proliferation of hate crimes. I make these objects that are factors of our represión and segregación to engage in queerness by expounding and corrupting their social constructs and by talking about deaths and not letting names of people disappear. I’d also like to say that in my work I mostly don’t take pictures as an archive, but I construct everything I take pictures of. I find that more exciting and also find it to be a way to change things that are already in place.

EZM    How do you see your work fitting into n e w f l e s h?

MW    Well, I think that queerness is such an umbrella term that it can fit a lot of possibilities. As artists we create our own piece of queerness. In my case, I create queerness through my art that goes directly, in most cases, from an object to a system. I create or take pictures of objects that I deconstruct. My intention is not the physicality of it as an end goal, but the concept of queerness or as I like to say “El lado marica” to dismantle systems. I want to talk about queerness not just as a body and not just as an object, but also as a system. If my body engages in resistance, it goes beyond myself to talk about a collective and that collective stimulates an ideology that deals mostly with change. I believe queerness goes beyond the body.


EZM    I see you as someone who sees deeply past the surface of individuals because you’re concerned for the well being of marginalized folks. You strike me as someone who would drive the getaway car for a queer person in need, so to speak. How does your advocacy and humanity materialize in the work you make?

May Lin Le Goff    I do deeply care about the well being of marginalized people, and it truly warms my heart to the core that you see me as someone who would drive the getaway car—that is without a doubt.

[In terms of materializing humanity,] I believe it comes down to representation and subverting conventions where possible. Making people squirm a little, creating a conversation. Why does this make you feel a certain way? Just because it might not be something that you agree with, does that mean it doesn’t deserve to exist or to be heard? The simple fact that my work triggers a response opens up a space for conversation. The blurred lines between gender, sexuality, social molds, the conventional and unorthodox, is my advocacy at work. 

Exploring identity has always been a fascinating domain for me, and while I don't identify as queer, I understand the notion of living outside of social expectations. As a multiracial woman from parents of both the East and West, and growing up in the wildly capitalist Asian city of Singapore, shit gets confusing early on. Not looking like anyone in my entire family is quite the mind-fuck at times. To top it off, Singapore still has a conservative policy on same-sex marriage, non-traditional family structures (especially same-sex parents & single moms), LGBTQ civil rights, etc. All of these cultural restrictions were and still are extremely frustrating, and as I found my own identity being questioned from a homogenized education system where we were taught to conform rather than stand out. I understand the challenges of exploring a fractured identity.

May Lin Le Goff, It Is What It Is or What Is It, 2013

Moving to New York and getting to know myself with each passing day, de-programming and re-parenting myself has opened up my work to ask those big questions like “who am I?” and, “where do I belong?”

Asking these questions in my own personal life has led me to the community I was meant to find, the queer community, and it continually excites and inspires me. Seeing how this community unapologetically celebrates individual expression paves the way for everyone to be a celebration of themselves. The exploration side of my work, whether it's the hands-on aspect or the curation of intersections of identities and social constructs, lends itself to many positive aspects that contribute to queer ideologies.

EZM    In your work you’re photographing, cutting, gluing, rearranging, and reimaging the expectations of photography. Why is it important to you to push the assumed uses of photography?

MLLG    We live in an accelerating digital age that presents a challenging yet compelling twist in all artistic practices. With a plethora of tools and practices available through new media, I'm always challenged to adapt my creative process to these changing dynamics, whilst exhibiting my own distinctive style.

I find solitude from the relentless pace of our digital world through creating my own space in a blend of new and traditional media forms and techniques. In this space I can find my creative connection to my work through the practice of collage and photomontage. It is very important for me to come back to this tactile process, as that allows me to engage with my work on a physical level. I understand how I have shaped and formed the work with my own hand, rather than the immediate production of digital work.

Within this strong connection, I discover a rebellion from the moulds of conventional fashion or commercial imagery. If the conventional is where my ideas are birthed, then the task of deconstructing, displacing, and then reconstructing them into dynamic photo-sculptures, fractures the notion of the conventional. There is always more than meets the eye. I always love it when I get asked how my images get made, “are they actual collages or digital?” It’s somewhere in the middle, and that is why one is asked to explore the dimension the work exists in. Between the conventional and the unorthodox.

EZM    How do you see your work fitting into n e w f l e s h?

MLLG    I see queerness as the exploration of the infinite possibilities of identity, a rebellion against mainstream society and conformity to what is deemed as “normal”. There is no such thing as “normal” or “not normal”. I also think that identifying as queer really opens up the opportunity for the person to be able to have the space to move through their own lives without the restrictions of cultural, social, and historical constructs. Who you were yesterday doesn’t define who you are today. My process is all about exploration. Cutting and pasting, mixing materials and finding compositions, along with the construct of different identities within the studio imagery, all present notions of exploration of social norms. The rebellion of traditional ideas into a modern culture is queer at its core and my work is a reflection of this movement.