NEVVEN is proud to present The Crossdresser & the Phoenix, a group show curated by the Austrian artist and curator Julius Pristauz. Starting from the intersection between an interest in the construction and gender aspect of identities, and some of the most exciting contemporary art expressions, as per usual with the shows curated by the young Austrian polymath, The Crossdresser & the Phoenix draws parallels between two iconic and culturally coded figures – the cross-dresser and the phoenix – and uses their combination and juxtaposition as a starting point for examinations revolving around matters and mechanisms of representation.
The phoenix as a mythological creature can be found throughout various cultures and usually describes and gets depicted as an allegorical bird. The many tales of its constant friction between creation and destruction make it one of the most well-known ancient myths in the modern day. Often associated with the worship of the sun, it is related to immortality, with its symbolism having a widespread appeal in late antiquity. In Islamic mythology, the phoenix was identified with the ‘anqā’ (Persian: sīmorgh), a huge mysterious bird that was said to be flawless but ended up turning into a scourge. However, over time the motif and concept of the phoenix got diffused, altered and adapted – ranging from its use as a symbol for political formations in 20th century Greece all the way to manifold pop-cultural interpretations and iterations.
As a cross-dresser we commonly perceive a person who wears the clothes stereotypically associated with the opposite sex than the one they were assigned at birth. The phenomenon of this kind of drag has historically been used to gender-disguise and to give birth to new identities. However, in nowadays society, it appears to lose significance. It feels oddly outdated and that rightfully so as we continuously understand, accept and embrace different kinds of gender expression more. Similar to the idea of the phoenix, cross-dressing, too, implies a temporal level. In slight contrast to other gender identities, no matter if rigid or fluid, it appears to be something rather time-based. Something that is not necessarily of permanence and repeatedly reinvents itself. For this exhibition, we are interested in this ambiguous, ambivalent, multi-contextual, multi- dimensional and emergent nature of cross-dressing as a simultaneous matter of hiding, subverting and opening up.
One being a media-historically depreciated and misinterpreted character, the other a fictitious sacred animal – these two semi-acting fey subjects, here meet and manifest in the form of various other protagonists. Staying true to an idea of drag as being about the connection of natural and artificial, animate and inanimate, we find this reading turn into a tool that is further demonstrated within the different presented artworks. We, therefore, believe that drag should tend to produce more connections to others and other things than to just represent them. “What becomes visible is that drag is not people, individuals, subjects, or identities, but rather assemblages…”(1) In that exact manner, these stand-ins and alternates, in their togetherness, ask questions as to how context can only exist through and due to drawing parallels. By comparing and linking existing ideas to new
entities, they aim to empower individual ownership and autonomy. With their positionality, they subvert prevailing concepts of roles, power, dominance and submission. Focusing on moments of shapeshifting and reinvention, the exhibition illustrates observations of behavioural and societal patterns. It takes a look at those within ourselves, within community structures, the media and other blatant, more imaginative, realms. It turns into a tool of unfolding other storylines, old and new. Just like a wig, a moustache, a pair of heels or some boots can change a life – just like a jukebox – it activates new tunes and new narratives to hum along.
(1) Renate Lorenz, Queer Art – A Freak Theory, p.21