I really like that series. Tell me more about it. How did you select the models?
"If You’re Lonely" is a series of backlit portraits of men I met through online communities in Berlin and New York between 2006–2009. Drawn to the anonymity of these users, I sought to explore the mystery of their physicality through my artwork. Participants came to my studio, removed their shirt, and posed. No information was exchanged, and their identity remained a mystery. People often ask who #9 is, for instance, and I tell them I have no idea [laughs].
Stylistically, I sought to create what looks like a homogenous body of work -- large black images with very subtle detail hung in succession. As viewers spend time in front of each photograph, the individual’s unique qualities emerge out of the blackness.
Thinking about your nightclub interior images, a number of other artists -- I'm thinking about Dean Sameshima's "WONDERLAND" series or my own ongoing "OUTSIDE" series -- have documented venues where men meet to dance or to fuck with other men, so in the age of Grindr and Manhunt, what do you think the lure of this type of space is?
Historically, I see the nightclub as one of the few cultural spaces where fantasy and imagination run wild. For many in alternative communities, the nightclub served as a point of entry into an alternate world, providing a venue for entertainment, sexual desire, and community. What is of paramount interest to me is the meaning found in the physicality of these club spaces. Stripped of their population and persuasive club lighting, these interiors become strange stage sets -- places where bizarre architecture and interior design lay the foundation to create an environment drenched in both the faux and the fantastic. In these spaces, sexual activity was permitted and sanctioned as it often was in the periphery of society, such as parks at night, public restrooms, and vacant urban and rural spaces.
Gay sexuality, for me and I believe many other gay men, shares a relationship to the subversive or deviant. This is in no way universal, and I am not suggesting this prescriptively, but a large part of male-male sexuality is still caught up in the subversive. As gay men (for the lack of a better general term) consciously or unconsciously assimilate into mainstream culture, I wonder how this will affect sexual activity and expression.
In many ways, your question addresses the transition that has taken place in my work in terms of subject. As I was completing the "Nightclubs" series, I became single for the first time in four years and was instantly exposed to the growing importance of the online world. Why go out when you could order in? [Laughs] This ability to identify and connect to an ever-evolving virtual world full of options and specificity has caused, in many ways, the decline of these spaces. I was amazed at what is revealed online, even in my own personal experience, and how a new language is being modified and disseminated through styles of photograph users would post, behaviors and abbreviations that were used. With all that this new community offered, in terms of connecting people who might not live near a bar or urban center, it also created the opportunity for a shadowed virtual community that wasn’t necessarily accountable for its actions. This is evidenced in the increase in HIV transmissions, especially with younger male-male sexual activity. Regardless of where I sit on this debate, these online communities inspired me by providing the resources to create several works including The Merchandise, Boys Showing Off, and If You’re Lonely.
You recently moved to L.A. from Berlin. I've lived in Berlin but have never been to L.A., even though I feel it's probably my spiritual home. From an artistic perspective, how do the two cities compare? Is it easier to be an artist in Berlin?
Berlin and L.A. are the two places that resonate creatively for me. My attraction to both is their big-city qualities paired with a sense of domesticity I found in each. In both cases, the lack of a center allows one to be both on and off the map at the same time, whereas in a place like New York City you are constantly confronted with individuals and opportunities. Many people thrive off that frenetic energy of New York City, however, I’m at my best when I can be present or completely removed.
Both operate in a fantasy state, which is good for me as well. Being creative in Berlin was funded in a large part through a DAAD grant I wrote, and later through unemployment checks. There is an energy to Berlin which I do miss. With my lackluster German skills, I was always surprised how much I made happen there. I guess its this feeling of being an outsider that I associate with being creative. The sunshine and space in L.A. keeps me happy though.
We just had Valentine’s day, do you have a special someone in your life at the moment?
At the moment, I am still taking applications and gathering experiences -- however, there is an end goal of a special someone.
-- STUART SANDFORD
Jesse Finley Reed’s "Olly Olly Oxen Free" opens at the Kaycee Olsen Gallery in Los Angeles this Saturday, February 19, from 5:30–8 p.m., and runs through March 26. The evening will commence with a 30-minute artist talk with Jesse Finley Reed and Kaycee Olsen as part of the ongoing series "In Conversation with Kaycee Olsen." The conversation will focus on the details of Reed's work, particularly the intersection of photography and queer aesthetic. Find out more here and see more of Reed's work here.
Stuart Sandford (UK, 1978) lives and works in London and New York. He received his BA Fine Art, with Honours, in 2006 and since then has exhibited his photographic, video and installation works in solo and group exhibitions in New York, London, Berlin, Basel, Rotterdam, Rome, Madrid, Cape Town, and Vienna, amongst others. In 2010 he curated the group show HUNG and co-curated Boy BANG Boy, both of which took place in London. His work has been featured in numerous international magazines, including BUTT, GT, Maenner, Kaiserin, attitude and Basso. He is currently preparing for a solo show which takes place in Buenos Aires in Spring 2011. For more info, visit his official website here.