By J. R. Uretsky
Many of the artists included in Locally Made responded to a series of questions about their materials and process. A selected response follows.
Name: J.R. Uretsky
Location of residence: Providence, Rhode Island
Location of work (studio/office): Providence, Rhode Island
Process: Bromance is a three-part conversation that searches for non-normative masculinities within American masculinity. Using puppetry, costumes, and video, I will create three public events that will occur in the summer and fall of 2013.
The first installment will showcase videos made for the Bromance project and a conversation about masculinity facilitated by local drag kings. This event will be held in July at the Dirt Palace, a feminist artist collective located in Olneyville Square.
The second event will be a performance on July 18, 2013, at the RISD Museum’s Design the Night block party that is happening in conjunction with the opening for the Locally Made exhibition.
The final piece of the Bromance project will be a public discussion held at the RISD Museum. This conversation will be free and open to the public and will feature a panel of local artists and gender theorists whose personal practices involve investigations of masculinity, queerness, and gender performance. I will interview four white American males whom I have intimate relationships with: a former boyfriend, a friend, a mentor, and my father. I will approach editing these interviews by culling them for vulnerable moments that present “non-normative” aspects of masculinity as lived by these four people. This audio will then serve as the voiceover to accompany both the video and live puppetry. While the imagery will be visually abstract, the amalgamation of the actions performed and the voiceovers will generate a narrative link that illuminates and celebrates the non-normative masculinities that were originally found in the four interviewees. By transferring their stories to abstract puppet forms, I hope to make these new narratives representative of other larger complexities in gender and masculinity.
The videos will first be showcased at the Dirt Palace and then will be screened again, but this time as an accompaniment to a live public performance held at the RISD Museum in July. This performance will explore American masculinity by locating a variety of masculinities within my interviewees and transferring their stories to abstracted bodies (performing objects, costume and puppets). In doing so, my goal is to expand and abstract stereotypical notions of masculinity.
Context: Bromance is a project about navigating hegemonic (heterosexual, white, able-bodied) masculinity. American masculinity has been a hot topic in contemporary gender theory. It was thrust into the mainstream after the 2012 Newtown shootings when the media pointed to masculinity as a way to understand the violent acts that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. Critics had a variety of responses to Sandy Hook in conjunction with male violence all of which called for meaningful dialogue around masculinity but very few discussed vulnerabilities produced by and located in white male bodies.
Bromance is a video and performance piece that explores the complexities and vulnerabilities of the American white male. The performance, however, is not a stand-alone artwork. I want to contribute to larger conversations about masculinity, gender, feminism, and queerness. By situating the piece within a series of public conversations, Bromance will serve as a catalyst for public dialogue around these questions both locally in Providence and national academic ones through panels with local artists and theorists.
To quote queer artist and activist Sean Gyshen Fennell, “I have come to the realization that masculinity has an analogous relationship to the invisible mechanisms that cause systems of oppression. I plan to use this perspective and to begin investigating masculinity and how it functions in relationship to queerness.”
While hegemonic masculinity has served, and continues to serve, as the oppressor, I believe it is time not to reexamine American masculinity (yet again) but to give voice to the men who have responded to (consciously and/or subconsciously) the postmodern feminist cry for inclusion. Bromance is a call for a different critique of white male privilege. It does not overlook or celebrate the privileges white males have over other demographics; rather, it features four men who struggle with the anxieties of whiteness and maleness. The goal of my project is to offer these anxieties up as something to be heard and valued within the feminist conversation.
The interview questions I’m asking the men in my project are structured to mine the interviewees for vulnerable answers. In my initial interviews, I am finding a myriad of responses that range from vulnerable to stereotypically guarded, even macho. This spectrum of answers is at the heart of my project. American males, while privileged, are socialized to not experience gender variance with freedom or creativity. They are taught to buck up or be a man in the face of adversity. Boys are socialized to be violent. They are not encouraged to be sensitive for fear of seeming gay, wussy or worse – girly. However, the result of American male socialization doesn’t only resemble stereotypical notions of the high school jock, the frat boy or the Bro. Men have responded to this socialization in a variety of ways. By relocating their voices from their white male bodies to a strange, non-gendered object, my hope is to queer their stories. To bring the Bro into a conflicted body that is queer because of its multiplicity, fluidity, and failure is an act that makes this project both incredibly generous and also subversively violent.
J.R. Uretsky, b. 1985, Monterey, CA., is an interdisciplinary artist who navigates the complexities of human emotion through an autobiographical voice. Uretsky’s work uses humor and empathy to both, celebrate and critique a disruption of personal space through anthropomorphic sculpture, puppetry, performance and videos that are visually and emotionally intense. She has been an artist in residence at Fine Art Base (California), The Dirt Palace (Rhode Island), Big Red & Shiny (Massachusetts) and Arteles Creative Center (Finland). J.R. Uretsky’s work has been published by online and video journals such as Gaga Stigmata and ASPECT: The Chronicle of New Media Art. Uretsky currently lives and works in Providence, RI.