"We live in a moment of collage, of splicing, entering another's space, of coexistence, or of forced coexistence."
I am beginning my eighth year of teaching at Eastern Oregon University, a small college located in the rural northeast corner of the state. I am the only openly gay/queer faculty member at EOU and one of only a handful in the area. Since moving here from Seattle in 2003 it has been and often continues to be a challenge for me both socially and artistically, but one not without its insights and rewards.
Wangechi Mutu’s quote above resonates with me. As the solitary queer faculty member here I feel as though I am entering that “another’s space” and forcing recognition of the “other” upon this conservative, rural culture. This is often a forced coexistence between a small population of diverse backgrounds, ideas and loves and the larger heteronormative culture. Many of the young people who come to EOU to study have lived their entire lives in this region never having so much as travelled to Portland. They have little to no experience of a positive queer culture.
My presences as an out gay man coupled with the work I create provides me with a unique opportunity to force coexistence. In my work I utilize a large variety of found images of men, appropriated from a variety of sources. With these I construct evocative and often humorous juxtapositions illuminating society's reactionary and often ridiculous relation to identity stereotypes. Exhibiting my work in Seattle and other metropolitan areas often led me to feel as though I was preaching to the converted. By presenting my work within the region to students and peers, many of whom are more traditionally conservative in their outlook than myself, has given me a new perspectives on both the presentation and production of my images.
Lately I’ve begun a juxtaposition of images acquired from amateur internet porn websites with art historical reproductions often featuring the male form, often nude. These images are combined with images of flora and fruit cut from contemporary and vintage wallpaper samples. These images are a nod both to art historical depictions of the acceptably naked man (Adam) as well as to the decorative nature inherent in most pedestrian definitions of art.
I find many of my students initially see no purpose for art beyond that of decoration. Having grown up in a similar rural community with similar exposure to art helps me understand these young people’s rather limited expectations and perspectives. Challenging their notions of decoration by splicing together representations of ornamental forms such as flowers and historical portraiture with the brazen images found on the internet compels them, I hope, to consider the dualities embodied in representations of both the male form and the queer: the sacred and the profane, the seductive and the repulsive, the serious and the amusing, and the naked and the nude.
This work and my presence here may not change the world but they play a roll , even if a very small and local one in the movement toward acceptance of both gay people and challenging art.
You can find more of Cory's beautiful work on his website, www.corypeeke.com