Tuesday Smillie

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My work is rooted in imagination as a radical practice. From this vantage, I engage with a poetics of protest, and of world-building. Working with a variety of materials I render destructible icons (humans, books, banners) into illustrations on paper and fabric, making objects that act as my allies. As a transgender woman in a world that violently rejects gendered expressions outside of a heteronormative binary, I make objects that speak on my behalf, occupying and inhabiting space; holding space for me. These icons are forbearers of trans hirstory.[1] That designation includes contemporary activists but also embraces less conventional ancestors of revolt including: unnamed protesters, the rich ongoing work continually produced by the dead, fictional characters and worlds, feelings, and collections of feelings. In honoring this unruly coalition of icons, I beckon the viewer into a collective practice of radical imagination.

By celebrating negated hirstorys, my works invite the viewer to consider the construction of historical and contemporary cultural narratives. By many accounts, time moves in an explicable, linear fashion, overwriting people and ideas that do not suit dominant narratives. Through an embrace of time as diaphanous, my works challenge this obfuscation by carrying our forbearers into the present. The work I create insists that causation is multivariate, and the individual and collective are co-created.

Reflecting Light into The Unshadow, is a broad body of work in which I repurpose Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic feminist science-fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, as a trans-feminist text. Published in 1969, the novel takes place on a planet with an androgynous human population. Periodically these subjects go into heat and develop gendered characteristics in response to their flirtations.

As a transgender woman, reading The Left Hand of Darkness felt like a gift. I draw inspiration from Le Guin’s radical use of her creative practice, imagining other worlds and ways of being. That said the novel’s deconstruction of gender is awkward and painful at moments. With Reflecting Light into The Unshadow I wanted to celebrate the novels potency, while letting its failures fail. In the textile work Sometimes I starkly acknowledge the inevitability of such failures in grand projects, like re-envisioning cultural norms and configurations. On a black ground measuring nine feet across I hand stitched the text: “WE FUCK UP SOMETIMES” in charcoal grey.

With a set of broadsides I further explore the process of attempting to reach a distant goal while our means remain unclear. For one broadside I composed the text, “We take each step forward not knowing where our foot will land.” On another I quote from The Left Hand of Darkness, “Consider the torrent and the glacier. Both get where they are going.” On these prints I employed a poetic open-endedness, but I also wanted to situate Reflecting Light into The Unshadow in a politicized practice of world building. For a second set of prints, I composed more direct texts. One reads, “To build another world, we must first be brave enough to image how that world could be.” Another states, “We will make profound mistakes. The critical question is how we proceed, as our failures become clear.” With these works I ground Reflecting Light into The Unshadow in conversation with the political imaginary.

Reflecting Light into The Unshadow calls for the evocation of new, undetermined ways of being. Looking to The Left Hand of Darkness and Le Guin’s creative practice as a guide, Reflecting Light into The Unshadow charges its viewers to boldly envision new social configurations within our world and dream of new ways of being, knowing we will make profound mistakes in the process. Reflecting Light into The Unshadow embraces failure as an essential step toward radical change.

My textile works, like Sometimes and those apart from Reflecting Light into The Unshadow denote a shift from the intimacy of my drawings and prints. These works are part protest banners and part rarified wall hangings. They are large and evoke the contestation of public debate, while holding a handcrafted intimacy. With hand stitched texts and detailing I saturate these works with a contemplative investment of time and labor. In this way, my textile works hold a thoughtful urgency.

The textile piece You Burn Me reflects this contemplative revolt. With this work I explore the slippery signification of words in varied contexts, exploring the boundary between public and private. The text is a translation of a fragment by the Greek poet Sappho. When I approach this text as a poem it feels vulnerable and erotically charged. The meaning shifts when the words move from the personal realm of the book to a public and confrontational sphere of protest. Words that previous smoldered I thrust forward as an indictment.

Street Transvestites 1973 is a reticulation of a banner constructed by New York City’s trans-liberation vanguard: Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Founded in 1970 by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, STAR was an organization for and by poor, homeless, trans, and gender-non-conforming people of color. I recreated the banner STAR carried in the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade as it was documented in a photograph. In Street Transvestites 1973 I depict the banner with a slight dip and rippled by shadows. I composed the shadows with swatches of lace enriched with a smattering of embellishments. With Street Transvestites 1973 I honor the trans-justice movement’s forbearers, celebrating and holding them up, even in history’s shadow.

I am invested in the potency of imagination as a radical tool. I see imagination as a crucial element in the actualization of seismic social change. My creative practice nourishes a fertile field for this collective imagining, through the assertion and celebration of trans presence, the recuperation of neglected hirstories and perhaps most importantly, by inviting deliberate, reflexive, critical analysis. With these strategies, I am exploring the permeability of the boundary between the individual and the group, seeking to rupture the binary violence of inclusion and exclusion perpetuated by a culture predicated on radicalized, classed, and heternormative social stratification.

[1] The term “hirstory” is a playful intervention in the spelling of “history.” Following the lead of second-wave feminists who changed the spelling from history to herstory, hirstory deploys the same strategy, but utilizes the gender-neutral pronoun “hir.”

Education

‘17-Present

City College of New York, Masters: Museum Studies, part time enrollment

‘03-‘07

Oregon College of Art & Craft, Bachelors of Fine Art, May 2007

Solo Exhibitions

‘18

Reflecting Light Into The Unshadow, Participant Inc., New York, NY

‘16

The Right Brain of Darkness, Haverford College, Haverford, PA

‘12

Free Our Siblings///Free Ourselves, William Way Center, Philadelphia, PA

‘11

Satellites are Out Tonight, Little Tundra, New York, NY

‘07

Pass/Fail, Q Center, Portland, OR

‘06

Feminality, Q Center, Portland, OR.

Group Exhibitions

‘17

Trigger: Gender As A Tool And A Weapon, New Museum, New York, NY
Where We Find Ourselves, Abington Art Gallery and Open Lens Gallery, PA

‘16

The Others, 56 Bogard, Brooklyn, NY
He She They Ze, The Arcade Gallery, Chicago, IL

‘15

No Total Weekend, Artists Space, New York, NY
Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects: Legends & Mythologies, ONE Gallery, Los Angeles, CA

‘14

Rock, Paper, Scissor, Green County Council on the Arts, Catskill, NY
Postcard Show, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

‘13

Craftivism, Le Petit Versailles, New York, NY
Small Works for Big Change, Judson Church, New York, NY
No Total, Or Staying Within The Tale, Arika Festival, Glasgow, UK

‘12

Out of Body Ow! Tuf Body, Kate Werble Gallery, New York, NY
Small Works for Big Change, Jack Studios, New York, NY

‘11

Into the Neon, Chashama Project Space, New York, NY
Small Works for Big Change, Jack Studios, New York, NY

‘10

The Artist is Absent, 25CPW, New York, NY
Moonlighting, Hosfelt Gallery, New York, NY
Small Works for Big Change, Participant Inc., New York, NY

‘09

Defying Gravities, Fresh Meat, San Francisco, CA
Small Works for Big Change, Leslie/Lohman, New York, NY

‘08

Momentum, Mama Callzo’s Voice Factory, San Francisco, CA
Riots and Revelations, Fresh Meat, San Francisco, CA
Pink & Bent, Leslie/Lohman, New York, NY
Love Show, Launch Pad Gallery, Portland, OR

‘07

Oregon College of Art & Craft Thesis Show, Portland Art Center, Portland, OR
Oregon College of Art & Craft Student Juried Show, Hoffman Gallery, Portland, OR
Many Voices, WSU Vancouver Library, Vancouver, WA
Cut and Paste Juried Show, Sixth Street Gallery, Vancouver WA

‘05

Bookmobile Project, Toured United States and Canada

‘04

Bookmobile Project, Toured United States and Canada
Wham Bam Trans, 862, Providence, RI

Awards

‘14                       Art Matters, Artist Grant, New York, NY

‘07                     Boekelheide and Brannon Award, Oregon College of Art & Craft, Portland, OR

Residencies

‘16                       Kala Art Institute, Artist In Residence, Berkeley, CA

‘14                       Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art, Resident Artist Program, Brooklyn, NY

‘13                       Freehold Art Exchange, Artist Residency, Freehold, NY

’12                       The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity: An Artist Intensive, Boatel, Brooklyn, NY

‘09                       FancyLand, Artist Residency, Blue Lake, CA

Publications

‘17                       “The Unshadow” AdaNewMedia.org: Journal of Gender, New Media & Technology

‘16                       Issues, ed. Sarah Gottesdiener . No. 1, (Los Angeles: Big Cartel), 12-13

‘15                       “Tuesday Smillie” VISION Magazine, September Issue, (Beijing: VISION Publisher)

‘12                       Qs, ed. Sarah Gottesdiener. (Portland, OR: Publication Studio), 66, 69-70

Bibliography

‘17

“Beyond the Wall: Body, Gender, Sexuality, and Art. A Conversation with David Getsy” Exibart.com
“Exhibit Explores Queer Identity” PSU.edu

‘16

“In Conversation: Reina Gossett and Tuesday Smillie” Randy 2010-2013 (Brooklyn: Capricious), 170-178
Alexis Lothian, “#Tiptree16 and Science Fiction for Transformative Change” QueerGeekTheory.org

‘15

“Revolutionary and Influential Transgender Artists Who Refuse to Be Invisible” Artnet.com
“Your 99 Transgender History Lessons” Advocate.com

Related Work Experience

‘14-Present   Wangechi Mutu Studio: Installation Technician

  • Constructing site-specific installations, under Mutu’s instruction

‘11-‘16              Burke & Pryde Studio: Office Manager

  • Constructed display props, working with a wide variety of materials
  • Rendered digital mock-ups for visual merchandising
  • Managed, evaluated and scheduled freelance employees
  • Developed inventory and organizational systems for materials and supplies
  • Maintained records of income and expenses
  • Maintained website with current projects and blog posts

‘08-‘14              Wangechi Mutu Studio: Studio Assistant

  • Worked closely with major museums and galleries coordinating logistics for the installation of the artist’s works
  • Prepared works for transportation and storage
  • Developed inventory and organizational systems for materials and supplies
  • Designed detailed installation guides for specific works
  • Researched and sourced materials and supplies for artistic production