Queer liberation on the blockchain: exploring the artists of SuperTrans and ICONS

Lynden Thrash profiles artists featured in each exhibition and examines the power of queer art.

Jun 27, 2022 Artist Profiles / Events

5 months ago

Pride is about celebrating the queer community’s unique beauty; it’s about embodying the spirit of defiance that revolutionaries used to fight for their rights and inspire change. Although Pride Month is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the history and artistry of queer people, it should ultimately serve as a reminder of how to respect and support members of the community all year. Exhibitions like SuperTrans, curated by Laurel Charleston, and ICONS, curated by Nicole Ruggiero and Sam Clover, are exceptional resources to gain insight into the depth and complexity of queer experiences. Though queer people have seen a rise in visibility, they continue to face discrimination and legislation which tells them to be ashamed of who they are, especially those in the trans community. SuperTrans and ICONS consciously counteract the narrative that regularly makes queer people feel like they need to be fundamentally changed, like they are something “other.” The artists curated for each of these shows not only speak to the diversity of the queer experience, but also demonstrate the innovative contributions the community has made with NFT art. 

Of the many shared experiences represented in ICONS, Svitlana Zavialova and Molly O’Brien’s work “HER Language speaks to growing up in an environment where one feels stifled and finding a covert means of expression. A crucial component to the lived experiences of queer people includes an aspect of becoming, a period wherein someone transitions from a state of fear and self-doubt to one of feeling loved for being their true self. Growing up in Russia, Svitlana understood there was a truth about herself that needed to remain hidden for safety, so she devoted herself to martial arts as a means to escape her environment. Though she didn’t pursue the sport as an outlet for expression, when someone exercises absolute dedication to their craft, a particular kind of beauty emerges and becomes its own language. She noticed a subtle sensuality to her movements, and over time she recognized her practice as a means for becoming, a private way to meditate on the truth of her attraction to women. “HER Language” depicts Svitlana’s abstracted language of queer love in the form of Wu Woman, and Molly’s presence behind the camera deepens the counternarrative and asserts the legitimacy of queer love. It speaks to the challenges queer people face all around the world in their struggle for acceptance and their journey to self-love.

Growing up as a queer Black person in the Christian church, Tyler Givens also experienced the struggle of living in an environment where they didn’t feel like they could authentically express themself. Tyler’s work has an iconographic quality that reflects the religious art they were surrounded by, but they repurpose those symbols to craft a narrative that defies the doom and gloom many queer kids are taught growing up. Through the use of symbols like wings and halos, Tyler shows a clear reference to angelic beings, but they make the distinction that these figures are genderless conduits for the greater good. “PROLOGUE” celebrates the life they’ve created for themselves in adulthood, being able to reclaim religious symbols to speak more broadly about themes of violence, love, and revolution. They are inspired by artists like Tim Walker and Nick Night for their abilities to craft entire narratives in a single image, and Tyler has historically pulled from past experiences to create something more universally available to the queer community. Now they focus more intently on contemporary life experiences, telling stories that reflect the complex lives of queer people while further celebrating the authenticity of those lives.

Just as Tyler Givens repurposes symbols to craft a narrative queer people can more readily relate to, Rita Eme represents a queer paradise for viewers to project onto. When queer people live somewhere not conducive to growth, safe spaces are all the more valuable to escape and develop self-love. Rita’s work is reminiscent of the unique feeling of euphoria that can happen when queer people find somewhere they are celebrated instead feeling continually rejected. Disorienting but captivating, “FANTASY LOVE” is a surreal landscape that inspires a sense of wonder and reflects Rita’s desire to develop a space where all feel welcome. The community is often united around stories characterized by struggle and trauma, but it’s something that ultimately doesn’t define its members. Rita’s work reminds us there is triumphant joy in creating something that represents the particular beauty and perspective of queer people in spite of that struggle. Rita’s improvisational process leans into the magic of making something out of nothing, and there is power in subverting heternormative society with queer fantasy. 

When considering places of refuge, gay bars are keystones of the community and drag queens are their patrons saints. Often at the forefront of change, drag artists like Sam J continue a tradition of trailblazing when they entered the NFT space. At the intersection of performance, fashion, and make-up artistry, drag provides a valuable means of self-discovery for many who don’t conform to their assigned gender. It also translates well into an NFT, where the drag artist’s body becomes a kind of interactable sculpture. In a world based heavily on the gender binary, “The Event” explores the depth and complexity of what it means to exist outside of that system. Often incorrectly thought of as “in-between,” Sam J contributes to the critical component of visibility when representing the diverse facets of nonbinary expression. In an interview, they remark how especially proud they are of artist like Sarah Zucker and Fewocious for how they have shown support and demonstrated strength in the trans community. It can’t be understated how impactful it is for queer people to find others who share their experiences, and Sam’s work offers an expressive insight into the lives of nonbinary people.

Many artists selected for the pride curation speak about how their relationship with gender exists entirely without regard to the binary system, so instead they focus on a more existential relationship with their body and its limitations. Most of those who don’t belong to the broader trans community take for granted the relationship they have with their bodies. It takes a high degree of self-awareness to authentically reflect on one’s gender identity, and it takes an extraordinary amount of bravery to challenge that norm and exercise authority over one’s gender expression. It’s one of the things that makes the community so special: queer people subvert the cultural standard of what is perceived as good, right, and beautiful, and supplement it with something that is entirely their own.

Zak Krevitt describes their experience with the puppy play community as particularly liberating to this effect. They talk about “queering” the body in a more universal sense of the word, dissolving the limits of their physical form, and, in turn, the barriers between people, to uncover a broader feeling of love and connection. “Superpositions of Truth” takes what they learned from documenting the puppy play community and explores how those core concepts interact with the lenses of observation. Many who subvert heteronormativity are more acutely aware of attracting attention everywhere they go. At times liberating and revelatory, at other times scary and dangerous, being “visibly queer” makes navigating society exceedingly complex. Inspired by the legendary club kids from the ‘90s, Zak uses a ghillie suit and CV dazzle makeup to engage the dichotomy of standing out with pride and blending in for safety. Those not belonging to the queer community often incorrectly perceive makeup and clothing as a superficial or surface-deep means of expression, but Zak’s body of work demonstrates how they allow queer people to reflect and explore a deeper sense of truth.

Internet culture adds another layer of complexity to the journey of knowing one’s self, and for many who are unable to safely experiment in the real world, it provides an effective avenue of exploration. For Kate the Cursed, being able to create an in-game avatar helped catalyze her journey as a trans woman. The gaming community can be an especially volatile and unwelcoming place to queer people, but it’s also a common means of escape for many who struggle to exist happily in their bodies. As Kate puts it, “Digital avatars can help us to understand just who we are and where we’re going.” Following in the footsteps of Jamie Fay Fenton, a trans artist credited with the invention of glitch art, Kate uses the oscilloscope to create mesmerizing videos that prompt viewers to pause and meditate on the nature of identity. Especially as trans people around the world continue to face discrimination, Kate is proud to be included among those gaining the recognition and visibility they deserve as leaders in the artform. 

Ikaro Cavalcante shares a similar experience of self-discovery through the medium of video games, but as a nonbinary person, they are inspired more specifically by liminal spaces in technology. Citing how files on the computer are “alive in between the RAM and the storage drive,” Ikaro feels a deep connection to how files are taken apart and reassembled, often existing in a state of transition. This emphasis on computer science makes their work perfectly suited to engage unique ideas more specific to the NFT space, but their art remains stylistically connected to their upbringing in Brazil. From the neon lights that reference queer night life to the bioluminescent plants that express escapism through nature, Ikaro’s body of work effectively represents the many facets of their lived experience. “Flowers of non-death” was their first time portraying hidden feelings about troubled relations they had in their childhood, and their work with SuperRare, “Virtual Memory,” includes a flower which operates as a visual gateway to that genesis work. Much of Ikaro’s queer experiences are represented in covert ways, but there is an evident depth to their expression that provokes viewers to dig past it’s glossy surface.

Although many people struggle with their relationship to beauty standards, many queer people find the need to cultivate their own concept of beauty that is largely independent from those conventions. Rejecting the very nature of beauty standards, Sasha Katz seeks to create harmony between realism and affectation. From more incisive works like “Languor” to more vulnerable works like “Kiss me quick.” We are all dying, she represents both fragile vulnerability and unbreakable strength, challenging the objectification of women and asymmetrical gender standards. Historically, women facing barriers to success have gone to such lengths as to create masculine monikers to be taken seriously. “In the heat shimmers the cat snores deeply” represents Sasha’s persona, Boris Luxe. Now just an old tool for a patriarchal world, the work denotes the freedom she feels because of the respect and attention she has garnered in the world of NFTs. It’s inspiring to consider her art among the visionary women who contribute to an authentic representation of feminine strength and authority. She continues to inspire dialogue and asserts, unapologetically, a more real representation of the human form as intrinsically beautiful.

Art is an invaluable resource to understand the depth and diversity of queer peoples’ lived experiences. It’s the perfect avenue to not only listen to those who need to be heard but also to appreciate the particular beauty of their expression. Purchasing art is an excellent way to support queer artists, but something as straightforward as looking at art and discovering its meaning contributes to the growing sense of acceptance the community needs. Shows like ICONS and SuperTrans not only declare the value of queer voices, but they also provide the resources to actively and attentively listen to those voices.

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Lynden Thrash

Lynden Thrash is a nonbinary artist and writer who grew up in Metro Atlanta. While obtaining their B.F.A. in drawing from The University of Georgia, Lynden sought ways to exercise their proclivity for writing by working as a publications intern with The Georgia Museum of Art. Having the time and space to study the collections closely helped them realize their passion for writing about art. After graduating, Lynden moved to Chicago in search of somewhere they could thrive being their authentic self. From teaching to painting murals, they have always found ways to engage their natural love of art. Now they are in search of freelance work to develop their writing portfolio.

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