wood type form in progress, approximately 12 x 18 inches. Photo by Angela Davis Fegan.
Chicago-based print and textile artist Angela Davis Fegan’s ‘Lavender Menace’ project is unapologetically queer. Using letterpress, textile, papermaking and other text-based mediums, she purposely turns the traditional medium of printmaking on its head. Taking what seems to some an antiquated method, the work “includes approximately 500 to 700 poster objects, the majority of which were printed using handset wood type on a Vandercook Universal 1 on both commercially produced and handmade papers.” These pieces have been made available in gallery spaces, Chicago’s Dyke March and public restrooms.
Fegan’s language surrounding the body, as both a site of erasure and visibility, is on one hand a pragmatic practice, on the other, a resistant manifesto. The artist’s use of menstrual blood as material, for example, she explains, “ becomes a way to highlight the chemical processes involved in papermaking, printing and burning the work. It is also a way of making magic or conjuring witchcraft in the objects before they go out into the world. It is a signature, a mark, a curse, and an aspect of seduction/repulsion.” Indeed.
‘Lavender Menace’ critiques the push for gay marriage or what she calls queer “real-estate” mergers, and aims to focus on the subversive nature of queer communities that “resurrects [a] moment in western lgbtq rebellion history and finds as a target, in 2015, the very popular, mainstream, wealthy, well funded marriage equality rallying, gay rights non-profit industrial complex employment opportunity, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).” Highlighting the undercurrent of commerce and singularly focused strides such as DOMA, she points out that the right for all lgbtq folks to simply exist, can’t be won solely through marriage equality.
In the following interview with The Offing, Fegan discusses the use of public art as messaging, and shifts the gears in how we view each other beyond the binary of bars and chapels.
letterpress printing on french kraft, 24 x 26 inches. Chicago Dyke March, Humboldt Park, June 27, 2015. Photo by Paula Ramirez.
“[I] make works that speak to a marginalized population while also enlisting them to engage with and distribute the work outside of the white cube gallery space. The posters act as a tool for public messaging about radical queer voice and exist in the public realm.”
This seems to be the crux of your project, and attempts to resist the assimilating nature of the HRC marriage campaign. How is your practice informed by your own experience? There seems to be an underlying theme of (the lack of) visibility, both in regards to the gallery space as well as queer identity. Talk to us a bit more about that, from your perspective.
Putting non-threatening (white cisgendered affluent monogamous) gay couples in banking ads on the “El” platform ain’t doing nothing for me or anyone else I care about. We could use the word community here, but isn’t that more about which ‘communities’ I am assigned to by association (identity category), rather than where I live or who I actively chose to surround myself with. Also, all that art that gay white men like Keith Haring or Barton Benes made was cool, but that’s no more inclusive than the bank ads.
laser etched text and linocut print on handmade kozo with lavender inclusions with menstrual blood and copper pigment, 12 x 17 inches. Photo by Chelsey Shilling.
What’s intriguing about the series is how it functions in public space, and the frequency in which you post in public restrooms (in particular, Cole’s Bar located in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago). Given the recent conversation(s) around the disappearance of lesbian bars, and queer spaces becoming more inclusive of the LGBTQIA community at large, how does your placement of the objects participate in (or resist) this conversation?
First off, fuck a lesbian bar. I don’t miss any majority white space full of suburban transplants on the Far North Side that was impossible to park near anyway (and featured terrible artwork). Second, queer people need space to live and exist in daylight. The status quo would prefer us drunk, isolated in some alternate sphere rather than organized in daylight affecting the rest of ‘society’ at large. We need a sense of community beyond the gay bar.
letterpress printing on cotton and onion skin handmade paper with menstrual blood and copper pigment. 14 x 20 inches. Photo by Reginald Eldridge Jr.
I put my work in the bar that I go to, work at and live by because that is where I exist in public space. I want to be able to equally occupy that space as a queer person or which ever of my identities rather than have to live or work or show art in some space specific to one of those things. I can no more exist in fractions than I can separate which of my pieces are specifically sexualized, raced or gendered.
handcut wall text, various recycled handmade papers, vegan leather and letterpress posters, 12 x 14 feet. Photo by Reginald Eldridge Jr.
The Offing is not only interested in centering marginalized/less visible voices, but in particular, intersections of experience(s). What does intersectionality mean to you, and how does it present itself in your work?
Intersectionality is a term that originated from Black queer feminist thought. I fuxxxs with it super hard.
I try to consider how the phrases I print or the issues I am trying to address apply to multiple oppressed identities at once. If this is a coded question about how I self identify, then I am a biracial radical queer dyke left handed vegetarian from the South Side of Chicago with two advanced level art degrees. If this is question more providing a space for me to point out how useless white feminism is or how the “gay agenda” is about creating new niche Super PACS, I think someone else on the internet has probably already done that.
letterpress printing on recycled handmade papers, 14 x 20 inches. Chicago Dyke March, Humboldt Park, June 27, 2015. Photo by Paula Ramirez.
Print work on handmade paper seems a laborious process, and takes a great deal of care, intention, and expertise. There’s a meditative, patient air about it–how do you prepare yourself to enter that space? Are there rituals you practice: long walks, organizing your time, taking breaks, listening to particular music?
I had the benefit of being in graduate school during the production of this work. I pretty much listened to ‘Seeds’ by TV on The Radio, ‘Dark Light’ by The Lovers, all of JD Samson’s DJ mixes on soundcloud, ‘Electric Lady’ by Janelle Monae and ‘Down on My Luck’ by Vic Mensa (over and over and over again, mainly while running the laser cutter) and didn’t really do anything besides be at school or be in the dive bar across the street from school and spend the weekend reading books in bed. I wouldn’t say that I was balanced at all.
letterpress and offset printing on cardstock with menstrual blood, 6 x 6 inches. Public restroom, Logan Square. Photo by Amy Leners.
One very real aspect of making art (visual, music, literature, you name it) is how to sustain; how to afford materials necessary for one’s practice, how to gain enough visibility in order to participate in spaces that will provide, well, a living. What does living as an artist mean to you? How do you create a holistic space in which you can work, and foster a practical/paid space to continue to create work that pushes, complicates, and questions difficult narratives?
I keep being told by the poets around me that I am living as an artist. I work two part-time jobs to afford my life and to give myself the flexibility to make time to print or show or do any of the tedious administrative stuff that comes with not having gallery representation or a legit studio that runs as a business a la Mickalene Thomas/Sophia Wallace/Lorna Simpson or whoever.
lavender menace sticker over Human Rights Campaign logo sticker, approximately 2.5 inches, Chicago Ave, March 2014. Photo by Angela Davis Fegan.
Acquiring art, for some, still seems high brow. Talk to us about your sliding scale, to whom and why you will give work away, and how that functions as part of your politics surrounding visibility and public messaging?
I was not about to spend all this time researching and positioning this project as a response to the current political climate of being a queer person of color, and then turn around and sell it for profit to the most marginalized population. I had the privilege of making this work while at school with facilities access and what not, and it was more important for to work to get out there than for me to be able to live off of this one project that I was going to make anyway.
letterpress printing and laser cut text on various recycled handmade papers, french kraft, with menstrual blood, roses, lavender and copper pigment, dimensions between 8.5 x 11 inches to 24 x 26 inches and cotton twill letterpress jumpsuit, size 14. Photo by Reginald Eldridge Jr.
If you came to see my thesis show, or came to my apartment for an event or came out to a pride event in Chicago, I gave away the work free of charge. If you were a straight white person who asked me strange acquisitional questions that made me nervous or suggested how profitable the work would be as a t-shirt design, I charged anywhere from $25-50 for a poster.
letterpress printing on french speckletone, 12.5 x 19 inches. Public restroom, Logan Square. Photo by Amy Leners.
What’s next? Where do you see your work progressing, changing, expanding, etc.?
I no longer have access to a paper studio or a laser cutter, so the aesthetics and the way the objects are made will change. I don’t know what the next thing is, but I have invested in letterpress printing for the moment, and am shifting my approach to designing the posters. For now I am trying to distribute/show/circulate my remaining inventory of posters so I can move on to something different. I won’t be able to move on in my work until I know where this work is going to live. I have spent the time since school modifying the existing objects with spray paint, overprinting, oiling them and throwing more blood on ones that lacked magic or were looking a little sparse.