A Developed Sense Of Touch

The 2016-17 Season of SOMarts’ Curatorial Residency Program begins with a varied treatise on tactile titillation.

Menstrual Rorschachs. Formicophilia. Fisting bowls.

This year’s Curatorial Residency Program at SOMarts is kicking things off with a somatic bang, presenting Touch On, a group exhibition brought to you by emerging curators and all-around guys about town James Fleming and Kelly Lovemonster. The show marks the duo’s first large-scale joint collaboration, and invites viewers to explore their relationship with touch — across the work of 14 artists.

“Touch is this experience we all have but it’s this tactile sensation. We had to ask ourselves how we could curate a visual art sensation as well as an experience and an emotion,” says Lovemonster, who produces queer hip-hop performance party ‘Swagger Like Us’ at El Rio and SF Oasis.

He also put out an online magazine called 4U Mag, where he and Fleming first collaborated with one another creatively — although Fleming did point out that the two share a “small but really awesome circle of queer art makers in different respects.” Fleming’s background is rooted in the literary and performance arts and he currently facilitates artist residency programs at CounterPulse, an experimental downtown arts organization.

Kelly Lovemonster and James Fleming. Photo: Stephen Jackson
Kelly Lovemonster and James Fleming. Photo: Stephen Jackson


The Curatorial Residency Program, now in its seventh season, is a 9-month incubator that gives emerging artists and curators the opportunity to exhibit work in a highly visible setting. Residents are given up to $5,000 in project grants, exhibition space in the main gallery (one of the largest of its kind in the city), technical and event production support, and mentorship from the SOMarts staff.

“They’ve been incredible in terms of being ears to bounce ideas off of and connecting us with other individuals and institutions within the Bay Area they think would really jive with the ideas we’ve been mulling around,” Fleming said about the program. “I’m just so excited to see a residency of this nature continue to expand. … The Bay Area just needs to be supporting this type of work. SOMarts has been incredible.”

Lovemonster and Fleming hope to challenge those who enter the exhibition — which will comprise sculpture, installation, performance, traditional art and digital mediums — to allow themselves to be “touched” in different ways.

“As collaborators, we were looking at how to commit to and develop a queer curatorial practice, and what would be some recurring themes in doing so. … And we very quickly landed on ‘touch’ because it’s sort of this umbrella topic for an exploration of perceptions of people, perceptions of bodies, of completely different cultures and how they relate to themselves,” Fleming says.

“Also how, in queer tradition, we engage in all sorts of different relationships, not only to our own bodies, but to those of our lovers and things like that.”

Exploring the notions of “consent to touch” is self-taught artist Craig Calderwood, whose massive soft sculpture piece, Beast of Burden, hangs prominently in the main gallery and beckons folks to steal a caress in the face of cultural norms and uptight gallery etiquette.

“By creating [the installation] in a place where people aren’t actually allowed to go in and touch work, you create a tension where people have to deal with the stresses of wanting to be in contact with something but not be able to be in contact with something,” says Calderwood, who will also be featuring Bug Chase, a drawing in which a figure’s genitals are playing host to a group of mosquitos.

Xandra Ibarra's 9/2016.
Xandra Ibarra’s 9/2016.


While the piece overtly explores the notion of “formicophilia,” a fetish where people get off on having bugs crawl all over their bodies, Calderwood also expressed a fascination with the sexually symbiotic relationship afoot in this practice — a partnership that, for some, truly stands to challenge normalized views of “consent.”

Touch On, however, seeks to transcend the inevitably sexual overtones of its theme and into the more subtle avenues of what it means to be touched by something.

Social practice artist Ramekon O’Arwisters travels from city to city, engaging people in “crochet jams” in which participants work together creating a collaborative knit amalgam which is either left behind or brought along to be incorporated in future pieces. The crochet-based artwork he’s installing at the reception tonight (Thursday, Dec.1) will feature a person actually enmeshed in the piece, representing what Fleming describes as the “deep body-based aspect of the crochet jam” in which people connect with one another through the experience.

“It felt like the most literal piece in the show,” Lovemonster adds, “but when you talk to Ramekan about his work there’s all these emotional and emotive aspects that I don’t think people necessarily consider as well.”

The show will also feature a wall of menstrual Rorschach tests (which are exactly what they sound like) by Oakland-based performance artist Xandra Ibarra. They are part of her She’s on the Rag project, in which she intends to create a period blot test of every menstrual cycle she has until she reaches menopause. She also does psychodynamic consultations where she claims to “read” buyers of her prints and expose “psychological disorders like light-weight racism.” A video of these interpretations will be on display along with an ensanguined body of work from this year’s cycles.

The list of participants in the exhibition goes on to include many others, like Courtney Trouble, who has created a series of ceramic sculptures called “fisting bowls”, thrown unconventionally by spinning clay on a pottery wheel around her fist. “I love those pieces being in the show, because right here we’ll have these three dimensional objects that were literally fisted into creation,” said Lovemonster of Trouble’s work.

The opening reception will feature performances by internationally acclaimed performance artist boychild as well the Bay Area’s own Dia Dear, and each will leave a piece of “visual ephemera” behind to be displayed throughout the remainder of the exhibition. “They’re activating the show,” Lovemonster explained.

“Their performance is kind of like the Champagne on the ship.”

Touch On, Dec. 1 – Jan. 12, 2017, at SOMArts, 934 Brannan St. Free. somarts.org/touchon/

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