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Fifty-six four-letter names of men I met between 1981 and 2008, remembered in chronological sequence (approximately)
Kegan McFadden’s exhibition, titled Fifty-six four-letter names of men I met between 1981 and 2008, remembered in chronological sequence (approximately), takes a conceptual approach to traditional printmaking techniques, offering an exhibition fueled less by skill than by culturally informed research. Traditional silkscreen techniques are used here to discuss how relationships, particularly between men, may be described and subsequently historicized in contemporary cultural contexts. The exhibition references his personal interest in homosocial relationships and how they have become obscured and complicated over time due primarily to a faulty memory.
Almost all of McFadden’s projects involve memory. Kelly & Terry & Kegan at Gallery 803 (Winnipeg, 2010) was an investigation into the lives of three generations of men: his grandfather, his father, and himself. For this exhibition the artist produced life-size photographs of their belongings: glasses, jackets, sweaters, shirts, and belts, along with poems printed for coffin-sized commercial light boxes written for each of the men. More recently he produced the project, With Alec in Mind, about the murder of his great uncle by his great uncle’s grandson in 1995. This was a full-scale exhibition at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba (Brandon, 2012) with fifty artists, close to one hundred pieces of art, an audio walking tour McFadden recorded, a bookwork, and offsite locations in Winnipeg as well as in the page of the journal, Prefix Photo.
The silkscreened prints in this exhibition contain a list of fifty-six names of men that Kegan has known. There are also fifty-six prints and so each print stands in for one of the men listed. These names are remembered in the chronology of when he met them. The process of printmaking is akin to memory in that we print to create a record, in this case of individuals who the artist has met. However, the process is noticeably flawed in Kegan’s unskilled technique, resulting in a varied edition that both offers and obscures information. The list of names on some of the prints is completely legible, while other prints are missing letters or full names all together.
This exhibition features only four-letter names of men McFadden has known either through familial, platonic, or sexual relationships, but there is no apparent distinction between the types of relationships that each name reflects. This blurring of sexual and non-sexual contexts has to do with a more engaged interest in homosocial relationships, and particularly the ambiguous arena where heterosexual and homosexual sentiments intersect. Similarly, the phrase four-letter words refers to a set of English profanities that reference excretory functions, sexual activity, and genitalia. These swear words are often used to describe taboo acts or to insult racial, sexual, or religious populations who are discriminated against.
By limiting the men’s names displayed in this exhibition to only those with four letters, McFadden playfully and indirectly infers four-letter profanities. He may be tauntingly commenting on the homophobic assumption experienced by some heterosexual men that gay men only think about them sexually, and that his act of recalling these names is imbued with vulgar connotations, even when they may not be. He may also simply be implying that the distinction between sexual and nonsexual relations is sometimes unclear, or perhaps he is questioning the importance placed on such a distinction in the first place.
The formal qualities of these prints vary from solid primary colours to slight and bold marbling or mixing of colours, which were employed in an experimental way to echo the individuality of the men’s lives. The nonuniform approach to reproduction through print media in this case further underscores the role memory plays in the work, and especially its lack of sustained information, commonly understood as the holes in one’s memory.
Each of the prints have been placed in commercially available eight by ten inch frames and are standing on the gallery floor. This informal sculptural approach to exhibiting two-dimensional work is meant to be read as a kind of photo album of family and friends laid out in a room to be seen simultaneously, to look back on all at once, and to navigate in a non-linear fashion.
Vancouver is a suitable location for exhibiting work that stems from issues with memory. With its tendency towards the new overshadowing and obscuring memories of the old, the city is a living palimpsest similar to the work that McFadden presents. In many ways, this work reflects exactly that position of past and present. It is a queering of history, or how to present memory in a place where an overwhelming possibility of unsustained interaction leads toward a retelling of the past that is vague and imperfect.
Curated by Justin Muir, Executive Director, Malaspina Printmakers
Kegan McFadden is a Winnipeg-based writer and artist whose practice is informed by questions of memory and its function and implication in socio-cultural contexts. During recently completed courses at Manitoba Printmakers Associations / Martha Street Studio, Kegan began to investigate where traditional printmaking techniques could meet conceptual applications. Almost all of his projects incorporate text, and especially names, in order to question notions of memory and sentimentality in contemporary queer culture.
Kegan has published chapbooks such as everything i heard while not listening to what you had to say… (As We Try & Sleep Press, 2005), and Notes from a Fog, the Vancouver Poems (ampersand editions, 2010), and artist’s books / ‘zines including: what I saw & was I did not see (XXX, 2012), and the self-published Once a Thief, which was included in Re:Shelving Initiative 5 / “THE RESISTANCE TO CHANGE” (eyelevel gallery, Halifax 2012), and is in the collection of the Art Gallery of York University Artist Book of the Moment collection.
Fifty-six four-letter names of men I met between 1981 and 2008, remembered in chronological sequence (approximately) was originally published in 2009 as a poem in the now defunct artist-run magazine, FRONT, and the varied edition / installation as seen here will be included in the forthcoming group exhibition, intimacies, at Martha Street Studio in Winnipeg.
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