Questions by Adi Berardini
When I first saw two large-scale collages by Brittany Moore-Shirley, otherwise known as Foxtrapped, I felt nostalgic for moments I’m not even sure exist. The collages, pieced with pastel colours and childhood photos, made me feel a sense of freedom like driving down a highway with my hair tumbling in all directions. I remembered the time I should have kissed someone in a parking lot with slick streets from recent rain. These nostalgic feelings are too often related to temporary freedom or pangs of sadness and regret.
Foxtrapped is a young emerging artist from London, Ontario, currently undergoing studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, pursuing a BFA in interdisciplinary studies. Brittany’s process has grown quickly into an interdisciplinary (post-medium) practice that relies heavily on elements of photography, collage, and installation, alongside sculpture and ceramics. They came out of the closet when they were 17 and have since utilized their position as a visual artist to encourage a dialogue about narratives and lived experiences that are often overshadowed and overpowered by louder more dominant voices. They hope to provide an opportunity for the audience to allow themselves to empathize with these voices and narratives that are often ignored and are commonly scraped from history.
- I find that your work is rooted in nostalgia and some pieces seem tied to childhood memories. Can you further explain the influence of nostalgia on your work?
While I do consider nostalgia to be a part of the conversation surrounding my work, it’s never what I think the conversation is primarily about. Nostalgia, this longing for a return to something, is an exploration mostly through the media; it has a very direct relationship with nostalgia. This is because I’m attempting to document my own history (whether that be personal family history or the history of the various aspects of my identity). The usage of these traditionally nostalgic items is more to analyze than to convey a homesickness or a sentimental yearning for that which was. The items I’m using are done so to displace nostalgia and displace the associations we have with items and memories from our past rather than yearn for them. I want to create a conversation that places those of us with a past we find difficult to navigate, at the forefront. Susan Sontag has this quote from As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh in which she writes: “My loyalty to the past – my most dangerous trait, the one that has cost me most”. To me, nostalgia seems neither good or bad but rather a very delicate and potentially volatile idea. We frequently assume a nostalgia for childhoods or our pasts and I find myself wanting to create from an analytical position that challenges this.
- In your work Queer Ephemerality, you address the fact that home is not a queer concept but one rooted in patriarchy. I found this work incredibly moving, especially since a large percentage of homeless youth are queer. Can you further explain this piece?
Queer people have this very interesting relationship with the idea of home and I started realizing that a lot of queer media centres around that exploration. Of course, the obvious queer relationship to home is one that shifts and may possibly fracture when we start coming to terms with our identities and whether we decide to come out or stay closeted – it’s so much more complex than that. The environment we’ve created wherein queer people have to come out, also means that we’ve created a society where queer people don’t frequently have the privilege of aspiring towards home, both in the classical idea of that term (a nuclear family) and the comforts it brings (security, love, safety, support, etc.). In so many ways, we are exempt from this possibility and we function in this state of homelessness. So, even if our trauma isn’t strictly related to being kicked out of or escaping from a family home, home is still really difficult to navigate as people who exist outside of the patriarchal, heteronormative, and cisnormative ideas of this ‘happy ending’: bury your gays tropes, lack of meaningful representation, the closet, and inadequate legal systems all contribute to this homelessness. Queer people routinely seek alternative homes, places that tend to be temporary. We find these in other people, in community centres, in spaces that are set aside for being queer, or in any possible narrative that presents happiness as a queer option.
My hope is to present queer people (specifically queer youth) with the various possibilities of home – so that while we’re mending the harm caused by the patriarchy and cis/heteronormativity we can still find comfort, safety, security, and love in our own ways.
- In your work A Childhood in Pixels, you use abstracted childhood photos that are reduced to pixels with subtle variations of colour. Can you further explain this work?
This is a good example of my attempts at documenting and deconstructing my own history. Family photo albums are these amazing objects — almost everyone has family photos and so they’re this incredibly accessible object. They often hold so much importance to us as individuals but they mean nothing if they’re not yours. The clarity of the image becomes pointless. At no point in these pixelated photographs does it matter if you can see my father and I’s feet in the sand when I tell you that’s what the photo is of. [Consequently], you are asked to bring your own experiences and relationship to symbolism to the work. Each print is part of a photo from my childhood, I’ve isolated the parts of the photo that sticks out to me – the punctum. I further this by asking the viewers to hold the voxels (a 3D pixel) placed on plinths in front of the photographs in their hands. Each voxel is painted to match a pixel within the print, making the photograph physical and pairing that with the trust of asking my audience to hold something that is so ephemeral and fragile in its relationship to myself.
- Your work addresses queer (in)visibility and the lack of empathy towards the queer community. What first inspired your series, Look Who’s Really in Pain, about the lack of empathy and objectification of HIV/AIDS patients?
Three months before I was born my Uncle Steve took his life after a lifetime of abuse from our family – I’ve slowly started uncovering his life and collecting the few remaining pieces of him – the horrendous obituary and the only photo of him I could find. I want to protect him. I feel the same regarding those who were directly and indirectly impacted by the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s.
There’s this huge gap in queer history, you can read so much on how we practically lost an entire generation of people and AIDS survivor syndrome has altered the rest. Yet so many of us don’t know this history —and certainly not as well as we ought to. This generational gap is scary because it means we have less ownership of our history and history in our current world comes with a sense of belonging and the right to our identities. Somewhere along the lines older queer people and younger queer people stopped communicating. We, as a community, survived the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s because we fought for and with our lives. Their deaths are the reason I have the privileges I have today, yet so much of that history suffers from being rewritten with a hetero/cisnormative bias. Now it frequently serves to give fame to the straight and cisgender people who were empathetic to us. These pieces largely stem from that frustration. I am extremely protective of our history. These people who had so much taken from them: if their stories aren’t being told truthfully, they are being used as pawns to sell this completely false narrative about how painful the AIDS crisis was for straight people – I want to undo this. Disrupting the imagery serves to relieve them of their indebtedness to this false history. In the end, drawing direct attention to a washed over history, protecting them from these lies, and stitching queer narratives back together.
- Who are some artists you find influential?
I have had the privilege of being surrounded by artists I truly admire and gain inspiration from so I’d like to mention some of them as well as those I’ve come to know through research, so in no particular order and from no particular time: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Robert Mapplethorpe, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Annie Leibovitz, Claude Cahun, Hank Willis Thomas, Lynn Park, Brooke Tomlinson, Brody Weaver, Monica Joy Peeff, Madison Powers, Jeffrey Heene, Julian Miholics.
- Where do you see your art practice going in the future?
So much of my work depends on an understanding of contemporary assumptions that we make, I look forward to the day when the work I’m making now becomes contingent on its history and setting. There will be a day when people look back and have to remind themselves of the assumptions we used to make because we’re no longer making them. That will mean things have changed for the better, and I can move on to critiquing some other system in place and helping these changes continue to grow.