Tuesday Smillie

I am interested in a slippage between ridged social binaries. This includes explorations of the boundary between the individual and the group, as well as the oppositional “us” and “them.” I engage these inquire through a poetics of protest, and of world building, with the aim of enticing viewers into analyzing their own positioning within societal systems of power. More concretely, my work explores negated histories, potential futures and the potency of imagination as a crucial tool for envisioning how a just and equitable world could be. Through an attention to materials, construction and a visual generosity I entice viewers to consider the propositions proposed by the works.

Reflecting Light into The Unshadow (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 the nuances of 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 at moments painful, including her insistent use of male pronouns for a planet full of un-gendered people. With The Unshadow I celebrate the novels potency, while letting its shortcomings fail. In the textile work Sometimes I acknowledge the inevitability of such failures in grand projects, like re-envisioning gendered cultural norms. 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 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 The Unshadow in a politicized practice of world building. For a second set of prints, I composed more explicate 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 The Unshadow in conversation with the political imaginary.

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, 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. The Unshadow embraces failure as an essential step toward radical change.

My textile works, like Sometimes 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, imbuing the works with a thoughtful urgency.

You Burn Me expresses a contemplative revolt, while rupturing the simplicity of “us” and “them” so familiar in protests. In street protests a banner function as a proclamation, broadcasting a message, but they also evoke a shield. The banner presents a physical barrier between protestors and their target audience. With You Burn Me however, the viewer is shown the back of the banner with frayed unfinished edges and the text legible only through a stitched outline. If a banner is a kind of shield, then the back of the banner presents vulnerability. You Burn Me begs the question: Who is behind and who is in front of the banner?

With Street Transvestites 1973 I reconstructed a banner carried by New York City’s trans-liberation vanguard: Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR). STAR was an organization for and by homeless, trans, and gender-non-conforming people of color. I recreated STAR’s banner as it was documented in a photograph by Richard Wandel. I depict the banner with a slight dip and rippled by shadows. The shadows are composed with swatches of lace and smatterings of embellishments. With Street Transvestites 1973 I honor the trans-justice movement’s forbearers, celebrating and holding them up, even in history’s shadow.

In form and content Again shares a visual vocabulary with protest signage. The small, hand stitched texts however would be lost in a crowded street. The work reads, “The razor blades we’ve swallowed will cut us again as we cough them up, to cut each other.” With the inclusive, disarming pronoun “we” the text asks the viewer to consider the ways that in our culture, everyone has internalized systems of power and how toxic these hierarchies are, even when we leverage them for our own short-term gain.

The queries posed by works like Again and the broadsides of The Unshadow are loaded.  I utilize the aesthetics of protest in part to acknowledge the confrontational nature of asking viewers to analyze their personal relationships to systems of power. The potency of sincere internal analysis however is incredibly valuable. To entice an often-uncomfortable process of critical self-reflection I imbue my works with a contemplative attention to detail and visual generosity. This strategy can be seen in the carefully hand stitched text of my textile work, as well as the clusters of notions enriching Together and the shadows of Street Transvestites 1973.

I am invested in the potency of imagination as a radical tool. Imagination is crucial to the actualization of seismic social change. My creative practice nourishes a fertile field for this collective imagining through the complication of overly simplified social binaries, the recuperation of neglected histories and perhaps most importantly, by inviting 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 heteronormative social stratification.

Solo Exhibitions
‘18 Reflecting Light Into The Unshadow, Participant Inc., New York, NY
(Title forthcoming), Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA
‘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
‘18 Face of the Future, Rubin Museum, New York, NY
Flaneuse, Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, Fort Worth, TX
Cast of Characters, Bureau of General Services—Queer Division, New York, NY

‘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

 

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

Awards
’18 2018-19 Perlmutter Visiting Artist, Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA
‘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, 2016), 12-3
‘15 “Tuesday Smillie” VISION Magazine, September Issue, (Beijing: VISION, 2015) 161-7 ‘12 Qs, ed. Sarah Gottesdiener. (Portland, OR: Publication Studio, 2012), 66, 69-70

Bibliography
‘18 Barry Schwabsky, “Without Warning: Margins and the mainstream at the New Museum’s “Trigger”,” The Nation, (February 12, 2018)
Johanna Fateman, “Fully Loaded: Johanna Fateman on Power and Sexual Violence,”
ArtForum International, (January 2018): 176-83

‘17 Johanna Burton, Natalie Bell, eds., Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon, (New York: New Museum, 2017), 156-9, 226-7, 352
Carl Swanson, “This New Museum Exhibit Wants to Challenge Everything You Think You Know About Gender,” New York Magazine, (September 21, 2017)
Jennifer Krasinski, “What a New Whow at the New Museum Gets Wrong About Gender,” Village Voice, (October 23, 2017)
“Fall Preview,” ArtNews, (September 6, 2017)
“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.