Do This Do This do This
a thesis by Paul Simon '19
Do This Do This Do This evokes the complexities of gender and sexuality by complicating the viewers’ relationship between figure, ground and their own vision. I explore formal qualities of shape, volume, and color through photography, collage and sculpture. Working in a studio environment, I photograph and re-photograph the assemblages that I create to query the relationship between the actual and the virtual. I often use my own body as a subject to challenge the patriarchal power of biblical narratives through abstracted and figurative representations of the male body. Using self-portraits allows me to explore our contemporary need to document ourselves and to materialize idealized fantasies into reality. I am critiquing existing narratives about identity by presenting altered, new ones. Rejecting the use of digital cut-and-paste tools, I operate within the innate limits of the image, oscillating between and regurgitating three-dimensional forms and flattened, two-dimensional prints. Employing the various characteristics that are native to paper—creases, bends, tears—I fragment the body, symbolically breaking down its ideologies and mythologies to reinforce the idea of identity as construct.
As observed in Christianity, Christ’s body is an abstraction, emphasized through rituals such as Communion. Communion is about accepting the body of Christ as an acknowledgement of sin and Christ’s death as the ultimate price for our sins. The social act of communion uses bread as a representation of Christ’s body, and the wine as a representation of blood. Symbolically using my own fragmented body as a stand-in, I am reimagining the act of communion as a queer one. The visceral red cylinder in Body and Blood protrudes the diptych, mimicking an asshole, glory hole, or perhaps the penetrated hands of Christ crucified. I visually juxtapose this homoerotic act with the representation of Communion: Body and Blood.
Historically, trompe l'œil techniques were used to create more accurate representations of reality through visual trickery. In my work, I don’t disguise the “trickery”. In fact, it is foregrounded through the harsh cuts, creasing of the paper, and the configuration of inorganic shapes. Similar to the trompe l'œil effect, I visually extend the photograph by incorporating paint onto the frames.
I aim to bridge the channels between photography and sculpture to make new ways of understanding dimension and volume. I use collage to disrupt the simplification and classification of gender and sexuality in order to better understand it. Through the work, I question how virtual or intangible mythologies can shape our ideas and permeate our actual, physical realities, including our own bodies and the identities we form around them. There is a symbiotic relationship between the forms, the images, and the installation, all of which play equally active roles in the construction of meaning. From the performative mode of capture in the studio — alone, creating light from darkness, action from impulse — to the printing, cutting, and re-photographing of the male nude as a way to challenge the concrete body and mortality — the act of doing defines and narrates the work. Do this to see. Do this to live. Do this in remembrance of me.