Cellophane Tape, Cosmetic Makeup on Paper
Area-LONG BEACH CALIFORNIA
Paper-THE DISTRICT WEEKLY
Title-WHAT LIES BENEATH
Date-Wed. April 22
The creepy corporeality of ‘The Third Sex’
If you, too, have ever found yourself trapped in a recurring dream where you are encircled by a sea of pale, pastel sleeping faces materializing out from under black water, you will feel right at home in DDR Projects’ latest exhibit—or rather terrified and in an immediate state of tremendous panic. Cue the cold sweat.
With “The Third Sex: Thai Lady Boys,” the gallery has transformed itself into just this, a haunting scene from some eerie and familiar reverie. You are freaked out but entranced—you just cannot leave.
Patrick Thompson, also known as Patrick Evoke, is a Canadian artist who—in his first show at DDR Projects—steps away from his routine pop surrealist paintings and street art. For this particular project, he wandered off the beaten path, all the way to Thailand where he spent some time working with Thai “lady boys,” male to female transvestites, generating portraits of another kind: a new sort of hybrid that curiously straddles the line between photography and painting.
By applying strips of 2-inch cellophane tape to the faces of his subjects and lifting from them heavily applied makeup, Thompson creates literal portraits. The residue and skin sediments left on the tape act as a corporeal imprint. These he arranged on black matte board—a strong gesture in itself, the reconstructing of a face. Hanging beside several of the portraits are photographs documenting the artist’s process and interaction with his subjects.
Thirty-six obscure, phantom-like countenances hang on the walls of the space, scattered. As a collection, they are uncanny. Haunting masks on display, they look like high-contrast photographs of faces emerging from black ink. But then you move closer; you rile up the courage to investigate the individual portraits; you step forward into what feels like a very intimate interaction with each. It’s here that you start to savor the startling details: skin cells, hairs and particles. The pancake-colored powder stands out against the black surface it’s attached to. The dark negative spaces mark out wrinkles in the skin, holes, pores, follicles and imperfections. Iridescent lavenders, peacock blues, pearly greens and golds smear in place of eyelids—black lines stand in for eyelashes. Lip prints are marked by bright red and pink grains, the black creases and grooves creating beautiful lines.
The show has already, since its opening, received several shouts of criticism from disapproving audiences (most of whom never even took the time to go see it in person). Some claim it is exploitative; others have made known their abhorrence, perhaps at the topic of transgender in general. One thing is for sure: This show is anything but exploitative. None of the subjects come from the sex industry. The artist spent time with each of the Thai lady boys, interacting and working with them. These works are as much theirs as they are the artist’s. In fact, the portraits are utterly intimate.
After examining a few, you notice a looming sense of ambiguity in these portraits. These are painted personas appropriated by the artist. You are, in fact, peering into empty masks, left to ponder those who once inhabited them—who continue to do so via skin cells and hair. The glossy surface of the cellophane catches the gallery lighting, and a blurry reflection of your own mug is unavoidable. You become implicated into the work.
Evoke’s project of portraits is creepy, less because of its crude and disquieting corporeality and more because of the power it has to force you to stare at its façades. And all the while—nightmarish visuals aside—in a time when we hardly take the time to really look at each other and to question the dominant notions of gender and identity, Evoke’s work reads mightily.