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As 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, Heller Gallery and Brooklyn-based neon fabrication studio FagSigns teamed up to create an exhibition commemorating the landmark event in LGBTQ history. Presented earlier this month at SOFA Chicago, “Collaborations with Queer Voices” invited ten notable artists from the LGBTQ community, spanning a spectrum of ages, genders, races, and mediums, to imagine works that focused on a single word or phrase in order to highlight the importance of language in the LGBTQ ecosystem.
To learn more about the project, Whitewall spoke with one of the exhibition’s curators, Matthew Day Perez, in advance of the presentation in Chicago.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about the starting point for “Collaborations with Queer Voices”?
MATTHEW DAY PEREZ: FagSigns was started from a series of life events that made me realize the importance of serving my community. If I wanted to generate more diversity within the creative sector I needed to get skin in the game. We collaborate, take on challenging projects, as well as hope to have an apprenticeship program.
WW: How did you want to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall?
MDP: We commemorated the 50 years of stonewall with the opening of “Collaborations with Queer Voices.” This dynamic cohort of ten awesome queer creatives lent their voices and art to be realized in neon. We worked with writers, activists, fashion designers, illustrators, and everyone all along the creative spectrum to show how diverse and awesome the Queer community is.
There was so much energy in New York and we were happy to lend a hand to that. It was also incredible to have this risky show taken on by such an established gallery. Doug and Katya Heller were instrumental in shepherding this project along.
WW: Why was neon a fitting medium for these new works?
MDP: Neon is a bombastic, declarative medium, a bygone marketing tool that is so fitting for the Queer community. Both these marginalized ecosystems pair well together and only aid in creating visibility.
WW: Were any artists in the show working with neon for the first time? What was that experience like?
MDP: The artists did not bend or make the neon but rather supplied the ideas and designs. FagSigns realized these pieces in neon for the participating artists. Many works took several weeks and hundreds of correspondences to get it right; to get it exactly how the participating artist wanted.
WW: Can you tell us about the process for FagSigns to invite the 10 participating artists? How do their reactions to the prompt range?
MDP: Half of the participating artists were already in the FS network and the other half were cold calls. We wanted to take a holistic approach and make sure we had a diverse range of folks involved. There are so many issues within the queer community we wanted to bring up as well as give the individual artists creative expression. I would mine social media, keep my ears open, and research folks doing important work in the queer ecosystem.