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FACET artists celebrate contemporary queer art and culture

Image credit: Rocio Boliver, courtesy of the artist


This October, VSSL Studio at Deptford’s thriving Enclave building on Resolution Way presents the third offering as part of FACET, the series of exhibitions dedicated to the exploration and celebration of contemporary queer art and culture. 


Taking place during the busiest month for art in London, a dynamic group show featuring FACET artists: Benjamin Sebastian, Alicia Radage, June Lam, Rocío Boliver & Marcin Gawin, runs from October 5-29 with a special launch event on Friday October 6. In this piece especially written for Run Riot, all five artists, plus VSSL Studio’s Ash McNaughton and Mine Kaplangi, respond to questions about FACET, VSSL Studio their contributions and what visitors can expect. 


(To Ash McNaughton) You’re part of the curatorial team behind FACET, the current visual arts programme at Deptford’s VSSL Studio. Tell us about the upcoming Group Exhibition and how it sits within the broader context of the FACET programme?


Ash McNaughton: In the realm of the FACET visual arts program, our upcoming Group Exhibition takes centre stage as the third instalment of the series. This eagerly anticipated showcase celebrates the collective talents of the entire FACET cohort including: Rocío Boliver, Marcin Gawin, June Lam, Alicia Radage, and Benjamin Sebastian. While each of these artists is deeply immersed in the world of body-based performance art, this exhibition extends an invitation to our audiences to immerse themselves in the interdisciplinary aspect of each lead artist's practice, while offering a captivating glimpse into the myriad landscapes of contemporary queer expression and experiences.


This curated presentation traverses a rich spectrum of artistic mediums, spanning performance art (thoughtfully documented by camera), sculpture, video, photography, and installation. By drawing together this collective of artists, we establish an inspiring cosmology of queerness for our viewers to journey through. Here, they will discover the inherent connections and dialogues that organically emerge among the artists' individual creative practices, their corporeal expressions, personal identities, and distinctive perspectives on the world.


(To Marcin Gawin) Following your involvement in the upcoming FACET Group Exhibition you have a solo show scheduled for January 2024. Could you give us a glimpse of what to expect in the Group Show and how it relates to what we will see in your ensuing solo at VSSL Studio?


Marcin Gawin: In the upcoming FACET Group Exhibition at VSSL, I will be presenting an installation titled Face to the Seventh. This comprises four lightboxes, each depicting a distinct entity: Great one, Gross one, Careful one, and New one. Each one of them is composed entirely of various internal human organs, excluding gonads or mammary glands, foregrounding the parts that are shared among all human organisms, such as lungs, stomach, or intestines. The installation's name and the names of the entities are drawn from the introduction to an anatomy atlas, where I blacked out pieces of text to create a dialogue among these four entities. This dialogue touches upon themes of transformation, renewal and collaboration in the context of anatomical exploration and curiosity. In my solo exhibition in January 2024, I will further delve into the exploration of corporeal transformation and reconfiguration. I’m currently developing an immersive project that delves into our relationship with our bodies. This involves rearranging the human anatomy into various androgynous organisms. The exhibition will encompass a blend of visual images and a multi-sensory experience that I’m creating in collaboration with CPH:LAB. It will engage with themes of speculative biology, embodiment, and Queerness.


(To Rocio Boliver) FACET and VSSL Studio are offering up something quite unique by exhibiting your performance-to-camera photographic works for the first time. Similarly to Marcin, the Group Exhibition acts as a preview to your solo show at VSSL Studio in November. Could you tell us a little more about what we can expect in both the group exhibition and your upcoming solo?


Rocio Boliver: I am thrilled to be sharing a new photographic series created on the island of La Palma (Spain). Through these performance-to-camera photo documents, I aim to challenge the outdated norms that patriarchal societies have imposed on women. I want to address head-on the oppression that older women face when it comes to their sexuality.


To me, these images are a powerful expression of resistance. They stand against the cultural tendency to make mature women invisible, relegating their experiences and desires to oblivion. I firmly reject the idea that age should limit a woman's ability to explore her passion, sensuality and sexuality.


My decision to pose alongside a younger male lover, is an impassioned feminist statement. It's a way of demonstrating that beauty and desire shouldn't be confined by the temporal constraints imposed by patriarchal norms. These images go beyond any generational divide; they celebrate sexual freedom and authenticity. They also challenge the societal expectations that have controlled and repressed women for far too long.


(To June Lam) Your first U.K. solo exhibition focused on your collage works and took place at VSSL Studio in August, attracting viewers and visitors from around the world. For those who missed it, what can newcomers expect from your works at the group exhibition? 


June Lam: Between 2019 and 2020, I shifted my focus from sculpture to creating collages. This change was driven by my need to express my thoughts and emotions, especially at a time when accessibility was vital. Using family images, I found purpose and excitement in crafting a series of artworks born out of necessity. Collages hold a unique power in their immediacy; they enable me to communicate effectively across communities, uniting ideas and perspectives. Collage-making serves as a medium that captures this sense of urgency. It provides a swift way to express ideas without the need for extensive resources, materials, or funding. This artistic language breaks down barriers, facilitating rapid communication of ideas. In the upcoming group exhibition, attendees can expect to experience this distinctive and urgent form of artistic expression, capturing a specific moment in time and connecting communities through art. 


During my solo exhibition at VSSL Studio in August, I exclusively featured collages I began creating during the pandemic, continuing this work until today. It was the first time these collages have been showcased together as a comprehensive series. The exhibition presented 25 distinct collages, along with two digital prints derived from collages in my diaries during their processing stage. These works were accompanied by a thoughtful exhibition text written by Donna Marcus Duke. Additionally, for the group show, the VSSL team and I have chosen six collages from this series to exhibit alongside a special print edition.


(To Alicia Radage) The FACET group exhibition will see you re-exhibit two works that were included in the inaugural exhibition of FACET. Could you tell us a little bit more about both of these works and the processes that informed their making?


Alicia Radage: I will exhibit the wearable sculpture ‘Soft Shield (I’ll Settle Here Tonight)’ and the video piece ‘The Journey’. Both pieces feature my stomach. ‘The Journey’ features it as a landscape that 5 worms travel across accompanied by a recorded text. ‘Soft Shield’ is a silicone cast of my stomach, elongated to cover the entire torso with Oak Midribs embedded into the lower stomach to form a written phrase. Within both pieces, my body is offered up as a landing pad and a means of protection. I was reflecting on surviving in a petrosexual society, which functions on a hierarchical system of oppression wherein every other life form on Earth is treated as a resource for cis white men to exploit. When we fear becoming nothing but worm food and can feel overwhelmed at the potential of those hundreds of thousands of eggs inside of our female bodies, these works reflect on the interconnection of beings and ask whether our evolutionary beginnings are our biggest teachers.


(To Benjamin Sebastian) You were also part of the inaugural Facet exhibition, which included a new soft sculpture installation of yours. Can you tell us more about this work and what we can expect as your participation in the group show? 


Benjamin Sebastian: The title of that work is Every Hole A Portal, Every Piece A Bridge. It's a sewn, soft-sculpture installation initially conceived as a site specific work for VSSL Studio. For me it references the interconnectedness of things, approaching that concept through esoteric and erotic aesthetics/technologies. One such technology - magical thinking - underpins the majority of my creative practice. I'm obsessed with our (human) creative potential to manifest something from nothing, and how that can be extrapolated, creating portals or bridges to alternative ways of being in the world.


E.H.A.P, E.P. A. B. is literally a portal, allowing a viewer's gaze to pass through it. The works' dimensions are variable and I'm quite interested to see how it might reconstitute itself when installed in other spaces/contexts such as this group exhibition. While creating E.H.A.P, E.P. A. B. I was also working on another commissioned collaboration between myself, Greater Goods & Nike Town London engaging principles of circular economies, giving rise to novel objects crafted from discarded and surplus materials. This emphasis on integrated systems folded back into how I was working in the studio and really informed the outcome of E.H.A.P, E.P. A. B. In essence, this piece occupies a unique space, serving as both a commentary on integrated systems within the everyday world and an ethereal tribute to the interconnectedness that underlies all facets of existence.


(To Mine Kaplangi) As part of the curatorial team behind FACET at VSSL you have initiated a collaboration between VSSL Studio and Queer Art Projects/Ugly Duck’s upcoming event; Pretty Doomed. Tell us more about your relationship to these projects and what we can expect from this collaboration?


Mine Kaplangi: Alongside my work at VSSL, I co-curate, an online art gallery exclusively for queer art, with Tuna Erdem and Seda Ergul of Queer Art Projects and Istanbul Queer Art Collective. Having launched the platform last year, this year, in collaboration with Ugly Duck in London, we're expanding our digital presence and creating an alternative art fair during Frieze week. Our goal is to explore new economic models and foster mutual support within the art community. Pretty Doomed, a part of this project, features collectives, independent artists, and collaborations with like-minded organisations. Organically VSSL is one of our partners in this project, and  FACET artists Alicia Radage and Benjamin Sebastian, also represented by, will be part of Pretty Doomed. Both FACET and Pretty Doomed exhibitions aim to facilitate conversations about the sustainability of the queer art community in these challenging times. They provide voices to queer communities and seek alternative solutions for our collective future. As we all grapple with a sense of global crisis, it's as if we are collectively experiencing a form of "doomsday." You can find the full programme details of Pretty Doomed


For more information about FACET this October: 


Image Credit: Marcin Gawin, photo by Aleksandra Gawin.


Image Credit: Alicia Radage by Marco Berardi


June Lam - ‘Byss & Abyss’ 


Marcin Gawin - 'Careful One'


Image Credit: 'Every Hole A Portal, Every Piece A Bridge' by Benjamin Sebastian, photo Marco Berardi.

Berardi and Baiba Sprance


Image Credit: Rocio Boliver courtesy of the artist 


Image Credit: June Lam collages at FACET by Marco Berardi and Baiba Sprance

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